- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 14, 2002

KEARNS, Utah (AP) Four years after winning as the overwhelming favorite in Nagano, Canada's Catriona Le May Doan put herself in position to retain her 500-meter Olympic speedskating title.

Le May Doan posted the fastest time yesterday, retaking her Olympic record after seeing it broken earlier.

Le May Doan skated 37.30 seconds, just .08 off her world record of 37.22 set in December at her home oval in Calgary.

None of the four Americans has a shot at a medal. Bonnie Blair's gold in 1994 was the most recent in the 500 for the United States.

Chris Witty, a two-medal winner at the 1998 Nagano Games, opened her third Olympics by skating 38.37 seconds just .01 off her personal best but only good for 17th among 31 skaters.

Last month, Witty was diagnosed with mononucleosis. She felt relief, finally having an answer to the puzzling fatigue that had plagued her for a few months.

Now, the mono is gone, but Witty still has to strike a careful balance between getting enough training and enough rest. She skates every other day, always gauging how she feels each time.

Monique Garbrecht-Enfeldt of Germany was the second-fastest skater at 37.34. She was eighth four years ago, and sixth in 1994.

There will be another 500 meters today, with a combination of the two times deciding the winner.

Le May Doan showed she is in top form and poised to break her world record. She skated the opening 100 meters in 10.22.

She is undefeated at 500 meters this season, winning all six World Cup races. Her victory in 1998 was Canada's first women's speedskating gold medal.

Earlier in the session, Japan's Tomomi Okazaki went 37.77, briefly lowering Le May Doan's 1998 Olympic record of 38.21 before the Canadian reclaimed the mark.

Andrea Nuyt of the Netherlands was third in 37.54. Russian Svetlana Zhurova was fourth in 37.55, followed by fifth-place Sabine Voelker of Germany in 37.62.

For the second consecutive day, no world records were set at the Utah Olympic Oval, considered the world's fastest ice.

Witty's best hopes for a medal are in the 1,000 and 1,500. Her 100-meter split of 10.78 seconds was the second-slowest among the eight pairs who skated after the ice was resurfaced.

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