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Hedrick Sets Up for Heiden's Zone

Texan qualifies for a chance to win five Olympic speedskating golds. He sets world record in the 10,000 by more than two seconds.

January 01, 2006|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

KEARNS, Utah — First Chad Hedrick said he was going to challenge Eric Heiden's record of five Olympic gold speedskating medals. Then Hedrick went out and set a world record.

Hedrick, an outspoken, competitive Texan who is only three years into his speedskating career, set a world record time of 12 minutes 55.11 seconds in the 10,000-meter race Saturday at the 2006 long-track championships at the Utah Olympic Oval. Hedrick, 28, is the only American who has qualified to skate in five events at next month's 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.

Hedrick, who won 50 in-line skating world championships before switching to speedskating in 2002, had predicted last week that he'd break the 10,000-meter record of 12:57.92 set by Carl Verheijen of the Netherlands last month.

"I put pressure on myself," Hedrick said. "Everybody else wants to go out there and say, 'I didn't skate my best today, but I'm pretty happy with this part of my skating.' You know what? I'm here to win. I'm not here to get second place. I'm not here to skate good and get second place. I'm here to win, and if I don't win I'm going to be better next week. So that's my mentality."

Heiden, from Madison, Wis., won gold medals in the 500, 1,000, 1,500, 5,000 and 10,000-meter races at the 1980 Games at Lake Placid, N.Y.

If Hedrick is to match that performance he will have to rely on teammates in one race. Hedrick doesn't compete in the 500-meter sprint, but for the first time at this Olympics is a new event, the team pursuit, where teams of three skaters race simultaneously for eight laps. The winning time is based on when the third member of the team crosses the finish line.

So Hedrick will compete in the team pursuit, the 1,000, 1,500, 5,000 and 10,000 events in Turin.

Hedrick dug deep for his world record Saturday, skating his final lap in 28.96 seconds after his five previous laps were clocked at about 31 seconds.

"That's the first time that's ever been done on a last lap of a 10K in speedskating, ever," Hedrick said.

"I wanted it more than anybody else," he added. "My desire to win is always a little bit more than everybody else's."

Last week Hedrick had wavered on whether he would skate the 1,000 (his weakest event) in Turin, even if he qualified. But Saturday his coach, Bart Schouten, said Hedrick planned to accept his spot on that team.

"Maybe something will happen in Turin to change his mind," Schouten said. "But his plan is to go for it."

Hedrick also finished second Saturday in the 1,000-meter race behind Joey Cheek and ahead of a disappointed Nick Pearson, a 2002 Olympian.

With Shani Davis and Casey FitzRandolph already Olympic-qualified based on World Cup performances, Pearson needed to finish at least second. Or hope that Hedrick would decide not to race the 1,000.

"I definitely think this is going to be our strongest team ever," Pearson said, even as he fought back tears. "The 1,000 was the hardest race to make. All four of our guys have a chance to medal. We could go 1-2-3."

In women's races Saturday, Jennifer Rodriguez won the 1,000 meters in a time of 1:14.42, almost two seconds ahead of three-time Olympic medalist Chris Witty. Amy Sannes qualified for her third Olympics with a third-place finish.

Catherine Raney, who has trained for six years in Calgary with the Canadian women who are among the strongest distance skaters in the world, broke her own U.S. record while winning the 5,000-meter race. She skated 6:56.92, blasting away her record of 7:03.23.

But the day belonged to Hedrick. Heiden, a graduate of Stanford's medical school, works with the U.S. team. Hedrick said he has spoken often to Heiden about the herculean task of skating five events.

"I have a chance to do what Eric did," Hedrick said. "That's a really big and important thing. We have a lot in common, in here, in the heart. He was a fighter just like me. You don't win five gold medals without heart. It's hard to race all those different distances."

So Hedrick has laid out his next challenge. He doesn't care who knows.

* Speedskating results, qualifiers: D11

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