- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 13, 2002

KEARNS, Utah As Casey FitzRandolph turned into the final curve, an orange cone suddenly ricocheted off his right clapskate. He wobbled a bit, his left hand dangling along the ice as he struggled to stay upright.
Dan Jansen revisited? No way. FitzRandolph had come too far to suffer another disappointment.
Erasing his own agony from Nagano, FitzRandolph won the 500 meters yesterday in a stirring speedskating duel with defending Olympic gold medalist Hiroyasu Shimizu.
"There's too many things going through my head and they're not sticking around long enough to grasp any of them," FitzRandolph said. "I guess I realize that I just won the gold medal."
He gave the United States its first speedskating victory of the Salt Lake City Games, and it came with an unexpected bonus unheralded teammate Kip Carpenter took the bronze.
FitzRandolph persevered through a mistake-filled pairing with Carpenter, the most glaring glitch coming at the start of the last turn.
Carpenter cut the corner too tight as he switched to the outside lane, his left knee catching the small pylon that divides the lanes. It flew into FitzRandolph's right skate, nearly causing him to fall.
He managed to stay on his feet, though he swung wide out of the turn and sent another lane marker flying.
"I didn't have a great race," FitzRandolph said. "I knew I had to drop the hammer and just go for it."
FitzRandolph became America's first 500 champion since Eric Heiden won all five events in 1980. Jansen was favored in three straight Olympics, but a fall, a slip and a slushy track denied him a medal in his favorite event.
"I think D.J. should have gotten one," FitzRandolph said.
But enough of the bad memories. The Americans have three medals through the first three events at the Utah Olympic Oval, putting the home team in excellent position to reach its goal of 10 medals, including the short-track competition.
The speedskating squad, which has never won more than eight medals, leads traditional powers the Netherlands and Germany, which have two apiece.
FitzRandolph edged Shimizu by a mere .03 seconds about the length of a skate. The blonde-haired, blue-eyed Wisconsin native threw up his arms when he saw the final standings, breaking out in a smile that appeared more relief than jubilation.
FitzRandolph skated an Olympic-record 34.42 seconds and had a .19 advantage over Shimizu after the first round Monday. He needed the entire cushion to hold off the world-record holder, who had the second-best time of Day 2.
FitzRandolph crossed the line in 34.81 for a two-day total of 1 minute, 9.23 seconds, another Olympic mark. Shimizu skated the 11/4 laps in 34.65, giving him a 1:09.26 total.
"I really could have done better. I feel a bit of regret," the Japanese star said. "I was not able to give it my ultimate. I didn't even come close to my own world record."
The 27-year-old FitzRandolph was inspired to take up speedskating by Heiden.
"I was playing hockey back in 1980 when Eric won his five golds," FitzRandolph said. "Apparently, he impressed me more than our men's hockey team did."
At his first Olympics in 1998, FitzRandolph's medal hopes were dashed by the introduction of the clapskate. He struggled to adjust to the equipment, settling for a sixth place.
"I thought it might happen in Nagano," FitzRandolph said. "Then the clapskate came out and really threw me for a loop. Now here I am, finally, 2002, I win my gold medal."
Heiden, who works with the U.S. team, watched his protege bring the title of world's fastest skater back home.
"It's almost like a reward for myself," Heiden said.
Carpenter actually beat FitzRandolph in the second heat (34.79) to finish third overall at 1:09.47.
"I had a confidence inside that when the day came, this would be the best performance of my life," said Carpenter, who was 17th in the World Cup standings.
He edged Dutchman Gerard van Velde by .02 seconds for the final medal. The fourth-place skater tossed his gloves in disgust when the results were posted.
FitzRandolph was all smiles as he skated a victory lap, tugging along a flapping American flag. He was joined by Carpenter, another Wisconsin native, hauling a national banner of his own.
As the two skated, "We Are The Champions," blared over the loudspeaker. The sellout crowd of 5,200 chanted 'U-S-A, U-S-A."
"To do it here in America before so many friends and family, and in these times, makes it perfect," FitzRandolph said.
Shimizu still holds the world record of 34.32, set last March on the same ice. This was the first time in three Olympic events that the old mark stood up, scuttling predictions that all 10 records would fall on the world's fastest oval.
The United States claimed half of the top six positions, with sixth-place Joey Cheek missing a medal by only .13 seconds. The other American, Marc Pelchat, wound up 28th after falling on his first run.
Canada's Jeremy Wotherspoon, expected to contend for a gold, tumbled to the ice just four strides into his first race Monday. He had the fastest time on the second day (34.63) but still finished tied for last in the 38-man field.
Wotherspoon has another chance to medal in the 1,000, his strongest event.
At the end of his victory lap, FitzRandolph stopped to hug his parents and sister. Then he moved to the finish line, where fiancee Jennifer Bocher was waiting.
The couple is planning to wed July 20.
"He worked so hard for this," Bocher said, tears smudging the American flag that was painted on her cheek. "This was 24 years in the making. I just can't believe it happened."


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