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FitzRandolph ready to challenge in Salt Lake
By Tim Brant
Special to ABC Sports Online

Heading into the World Sprint Speed Skating Championship, it looked like the Germans and Canadians would dominate the Olympics next month with the United States having an outside chance at a medal.

But after the championships in Hamar, Norway, I have changed that opinion.

Casey FitzRandolph
Casey FitzRandolph won the silver medal in the 500 meters at the World Sprint Speed Skating Championship.
Leading the parade for the United States is Casey FitzRandolph. The Verona, Wisc., native not only won one of the two 500 races and won the silver medal, but he also skated well in the 1000. He now has a legitimate shot at gold in both the 500 and 1000 in Salt Lake City.

Growing up, Casey looked up to Eric Heiden, the Wisconsin idol who won five gold medals in Lake Placid. Just five at the time, Casey was inspired to get into speed skating. He was a good athlete growing up. He played soccer and was a soccer-style kicker in football. (He once kicked a 60-yard field goal.) But his parents saw that he was quick on the ice and they said he was going to be the next Heiden.

In 1999, he started working out with Canadians Mike Ireland and gold medalist and world sprint champion Jeremy Wotherspoon. By training with them every day, he became one of those guys. And it's evident how much the three of them are gearing up for Salt Lake. They finished 1-2-3 in Hamar -- Wotherspoon, FitzRandolph and Ireland.

After the events of Sept. 11, FitzRandolph is expecting the Games to be very emotional. He's hoping America can do well like the U.S. hockey team did in 1980 with the Miracle on Ice in Lake Placid, the same Games that Heiden starred in. He's hoping that not only these Olympics will be the safest, but that they will be the most patriotic and serve a purpose of bringing this nation closer that it already is.

Another American to watch is Joey Cheek. He's a former in-line skater from Greensboro, N.C., who set an American record in the 500 and took the top spot in the 1,500 at the Olympic Trials.

But the skater everyone will be gunning for in Salt Lake is Wotherspoon, who won the 500 and 1,000 at Hamar. He began winning titles during the '98 Olympic season, and has become dominant ever since then. He's only 25 and is a three-time world sprint champion.

He's tall, lanky and the most dangerous sprinter in the world right now. He's smooth and confident on the ice. He is explosive off the line and never missteps. He's the world-record holder in the 1,000 and set the track record at the Viking Ship in Norway in the 500. Once he gets on the ice, regardless of who he is paired with, he carries an air about him that he is not going to be beat by anyone.

It should be one hell of a 500 in Salt Lake. Wotherspoon is the favorite, but he should get great competition from FitzRandolph, Ireland and Japan's Hiroyasu Shimizu.

The 1,000 is a two-and-a-half laps around the track, more of a controlled sprint. Wotherspoon is the world-record holder and won both 1,000s in Norway. He'll be the favorite.

Women to watch
On the women's side, everyone is talking about Chris Witty, who won the world championship in 1996 and medalled in Nagano. She is one of only nine Americans to have ever competed in both the Winter and Summer Olympics -- she competed as a cyclist in Sydney.

She has a chance for gold in the 1,000, but while in Norway, she was diagnosed with mononucleosis. She will continue to train, but how much this will hurt his chances in Salt Lake is unclear.

Another American woman to watch is Jenny Rodriguez. She did not go to Hamar, but she is being compared to Bonnie Blair. She's skipping the 500 and opting for the longer distances (3,000 and 5,000) at the Olympics. Bonnie likes her a lot and thinks she is the United States' best hope for a medal by a woman in Utah.

The woman to watch in Salt Lake, however, is Canadian sensation Catriona LeMay-Doan. She's spectacular. She is the world-record holder in the 500 and swept the 500 and 1,000 in Norway.

Germany's Monique Garbrecht and Sabine Volker said they are trying to peak at the Olympics, so they were not at their best in Norway. Garbrecht was the three-time defending sprint champion, but finished fourth in the 500. Volker won one of the two 1,000 heats.

Watch out for them in Salt Lake.

Tim Brant will call the World Sprint Speed Skating Championship with Bonnie Blair on ABC on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET.  HELP |  ADVERTISER INFO |  CONTACT US |  TOOLS |  SITE MAP
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