Hedrick on track for statement-making victory in strongest event
Chad Hedrick may not get the accolades of teammates, but don't count him out
Hedrick will take part in his strongest race, the 1,500 meters, Saturday
Already a bronze-medal winner, Hedrick likes his chances with the slow rink
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Is Chad Hedrick poised to become speedskating's Julia Mancuso, with Shani Davis playing the part of Lindsey Vonn?
Like Vonn, Davis attracted the pre-Games hype and bagged a gold medal in his first targeted event, Wednesday's 1,000 meters. But Hedrick, Mancuso-like, snuck onto the podium in the 1,000 with a bronze, a result he says "nobody expected ... nobody except for me." And, like Mancuso, a two-time medalist in Alpine skiing at these Winter Games, Hedrick can point to a career in which he has done things that his more highly touted rival hasn't -- like winning Olympic medals at four different distances.
Indeed, the 1,500 -- which goes off Saturday at 7:15 p.m. ET -- is Hedrick's strongest distance: He has beaten Davis two of the last six times they've contested it, most recently at a World Cup event in Calgary in December. And that was on very fast ice, not the slow stuff at the Richmond Olympic Oval, a.k.a. the Sloval, that Hedrick calls "very favorable to my style of skating."
Two years ago Hedrick's wife, Lynsey, posted a list of goals on the back of the door leading out of their home in Spring, Texas. "I had to see it every time I went out," her husband says. At the top of that list: 1,500-meter gold in the 2010 Olympics.
"Shani's got one in the bag already, so the pressure's on me," Hedrick said after his morning skate on Friday. "But nobody puts more pressure on me than myself."
As for Davis, on Wednesday night, speaking of the 1,500, he said, "I get tired just thinking about it. But I've learned a little trick, and it's called skating with your heart. If I do that, I'll be happy with the result."
Davis remains the favorite. That December loss to Hedrick in the 1,500 was his only middle-distance defeat all World Cup season. He'll have the advantage of skating in the final pair on Saturday, aware of the time to beat. But Hedrick, who'll go off in the next-to-last pair, will have an advantage of his own: He'll start in the outer lane, which will allow him to get a draft on the first lap behind the Netherlands' Stefan Groothuis, the strong skater he's paired with. And, finishing on the inner lane, he'll have the psychological edge of seeing Groothuis in front of him and chasing him down.
"We drive each other," Hedrick says of his relationship with Davis, which has morphed from feud to rivalry. "I think we make each other better."
Davis and Hedrick can share credit for turning the 1,500 into more and more of a sprint, with the world record, which Davis currently holds, dropping almost three seconds since 2003. But four years ago in Turin neither won the gold, which went instead to Italy's Enrico Fabris, another medal threat Saturday. Hedrick this week called that race "the one that got away" from both Americans.
Also keep an eye on South Korea's Mo Tae-Bum, who already has gold in the 500 and silver in the 1,000; Canada's Denny Morrison, who'll be out to banish memories of his disastrous 13th in the 1,000 Wednesday; Norway's Havard Bokko; and a longshot, 5,000-meter gold medalist Sven Kramer of the Netherlands, this season's favorite for the Heisman of speedskating, the Oscar Mathisen Award.
No, it's not named after the slovenly half of The Odd Couple, but rather a great Norwegian skater from the mid-20th century. Though it does make you wonder: Will curling establish a Felix Unger Trophy, in light of all of that sport's fastidious broomwork?