Gangneung, South Korea • There’s a specific type of torture here at the Olympics, and it’s in the middle of the Gangneung Oval. That’s where the athletes who have finished their long-track speedskating events are seated on the pads at the edge of the ice. And that’s where the wait begins.
If you’re lucky enough and put yourself into contention, your wait can last a while. Put in a medal-level performance and the laps of your competitors drag and drag.
Over the course of watching eight skaters after she finished, Brittany Bowe saw her second-place time tested. The 1:14.36 skated in the women’s 1,000-meter event Wednesday night at the 2018 Winter Games put her in medal position. Then? A lot of sitting and watching.
“That’s the name of the game,” she said.
Second place teetered and eventually fell to third. With just two pairs left, a misstep, heavy legs or just a bad skate from some of the world’s best would have sealed it for Bowe, the 29-year-old from Ocala, Fla., who has lived in Utah full time since 2010. Japan’s Miho Takagi had bumped Bowe from prospective silver to bronze, skating a mere 0.38 seconds faster than the American.
In the second-to-last pairing, Japan’s Nao Kodaira dropped her teammate to bronze, and dropped Bowe to fourth. In the end, Bowe will have 0.38 to stew on for the next four years. A few tenths of a second that signifies the what-could-have-been. U.S. Speedskating has not earned a women’s Olympic medal since the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. Bowe was brutally close.
She smoked her first lap, staying within striking distance of Jorien Ter Mors, the eventual gold-medal champion who also set an Olympic record of 1:13.56. But during the last turn on the oval, just before the straightaway, Bowe slowed for a brief moment.
“Just didn’t have the legs there at the end,” she said.
Bowe now has a fourth- and fifth-place finish at these Olympics, her best performances on this stage yet. Considering all that she has endured the past 18 months, it’s a testament to such perseverance on the ice that she’s here skating faster than any other American speedskater. She was sidelined with severe post-concussion symptoms for a year and a half before finally returning to World Cup full time this fall.
“Really proud of myself for where I’ve come, obviously disappointed right in this moment falling short of the podium,” she said. “Best finish yet at the Olympics, but it doesn’t matter if it’s not Top 3.”
Ironically, it was Kodaira who also took Bowe’s world record in the women’s 1,000-meter in December on Bowe’s home ice at the Utah Olympic Oval. Now she has a few days before one more go at it Sunday in the women’s 500-meter.
“Got another chance on Sunday to skate the best one lap that I’ve ever skated,” she said, “and hopefully make a statement there.”
American skater Heather Bergsma struggled once again. The top-ranked U.S. skater finished eighth in the 1,000 after finishing eighth in the 1,500. She won both events in last year’s 2017 world championships on the same ice here in Gangneung.
“This was definitely my best shot [at a medal],” Bergsma said, “so yeah.”
Kearns native Jerica Tandiman made her Olympic debut with her family in the stands inside the oval. She finished 28th.
“I couldn’t stop smiling,” she said. “I was really excited to be there and I felt honored to experience and to have worked hard to get to that point and race on the biggest stage, that was awesome.”