Le May Doan sets Olympic speed skating recordPosted: Wednesday February 13, 2002 9:16 PM
Updated: Wednesday February 13, 2002 9:36 PM
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 Wednesday, 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.
"Catriona had a very good race," Canadian coach Sean Ireland said. "But she's capable of a better performance. I'd like to think of her as unstoppable."
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.
Witty's best hopes for a medal are in the 1,000 and 1,500.
"If there was a race I'd throw out, it was the 500," she said. "To skate within one-tenth of my personal best is great."
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.
There will be another 500 meters Thursday, with a combination of the two times deciding the winner.
"I'll definitely go to bed prepared to race, but if my energy isn't there, I'll go to the 1,000," Witty said.
Her 100-meter split of 10.78 seconds was the second-slowest among the eight pairs who skated after the ice was resurfaced.
There were two delays before Witty sped off down the straightaway at the Utah Olympic Oval. She was warned by the starter to stand still at the line, then Canadian Susan Auch false-started in the inner lane.
"The starter made me feel cautious," Witty said. "I just held back on the second start."
Monique Garbrecht-Enfeldt of Germany was the second-fastest skater at 37.34. She was eighth four years ago, and sixth in 1994.
"That certainly puts a little more pressure on Catriona, but she's going to be fine," Auch said of her teammate. "She knows how to go fast."
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 declined to speak to reporters afterward.
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 oval, considered the world's fastest ice.
Auch is a two-time silver medalist who won't duplicate that feat in these Olympics. After the 30-year-old's false start, she skated 38.84 for 20th place.
Second-generation Olympian Elli Ochowicz of Waukesha, Wis., skated 38.85 and was 21st. Her mother, Sheila Young, won three medals at the 1976 Innsbruck Games, including gold in the 500.
Amy Sannes of St. Paul., Minn., was 22nd in 38.86. Becky Sundstrom of Glen Ellyn, Ill., was 23rd in 38.89. Sannes was 26th in Nagano and Sundstrom 17th.