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U.S. OLYMPIC FESTIVAL LOS ANGELES 1991 : SPEEDSKATING : Blade Is on the Other Foot Now

July 21, 1991|LONNIE WHITE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When Amy Peterson competed in her first U.S. Olympic Festival in 1985, she was no match for short-track speedskating specialist Bonnie Blair.

After all, Peterson was only 13 and Blair was a future Olympic gold medalist, who would go on to set Festival records for total gold and overall medals.

"I saw her as this person who was just unbeatable," Peterson said. "I was just happy to be competing then because I didn't think I would do well."

Six years later, Peterson finds herself in Blair's role as the Festival's skater to beat and Saturday night at the Iceland Skating Center in Paramount, she put herself in the record book next to her former rival.

Peterson, 19, of Maplewood, Minn., skated to victories in the 500 and 1,500 meters before an announced crowd of 250 to tie Blair's record of 10 gold medals. She will have a chance to break the tie today in the final day of competition in the 1,000 and 3,000 meters and 3,000-meter relay.

In winning the 1,500 meters, Peterson set a Festival finals record of 2:48.18, breaking Blair's mark of 2:48.44 set in 1986. Peterson also holds the Festival record in the event of 2:48.00, set in a preliminary heat last year.

"My motivation this year has been chasing after Blair's record," said Peterson, who skated with Blair on the winning 3,000-meter relay team in the 1987 Festival. "It's nice to be looked up to by the younger skaters, but there is more pressure on me now because I'm expected to win."

Peterson also set a Festival record of :49.92 in the 500 semifinals before returning Saturday night to win the final in :50.20.

While long-track speedskating has been an Olympic sport since 1924, the short-track version will become a full-medal sport for the first time at the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville.

Peterson is one of the nation's best hopes for a short-track speedskating Olympic medal in 1992 based on her efforts this year. She finished 13th overall at the world championships in Sydney, Australia, and she won a silver medal in the 500 meters at the World University Games in Japan.

In last year's Festival, Peterson won four gold medals and five overall to tie Blair as the only woman to win five medals in one Festival.

Peterson, who is competing in her sixth Festival, at 19 is the oldest speedskating competitor. She comes from a speedskating family; she is joined at this year's Festival by her mother, Joan, the East team manager; and her sister, Lynn, an East team coach and former Festival speedskater. Also, Peterson's uncle competed in the 1952, 1956 and 1960 Olympic Games as a speedskater.

"Speedskating has always played a big role on my mother's side of the family," Peterson said. "I started skating when I was 2 and started speedskating when I was 6."

Peterson began her skating career as a figure skater, but gave it up to concentrate on speedskating when she was 14. It was a decision she has not regretted even though short-track speedskating is not a well-known sport in this country.

"It bothers me a little that we don't receive a lot of exposure," she said. "We train just as hard as any other sport, but without recognition. The sport is growing and it is going to take some time."

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