Duluth speedskater poised to make U.S. Olympic teamSpeed skater Anna Ringsred planned on retiring after the season. Now, the Duluth native isn’t quite so sure. Ringsred is expected to be selected to the U.S. Olympic Team after finishing second in the women’s 3,000 meters on Friday night at the U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials in Utah.
By: Jon Nowacki, Duluth News Tribune
Speed skater Anna Ringsred planned on retiring after the season.
Now, the Duluth native isn’t quite so sure.
Ringsred is expected to be selected to the U.S. Olympic Team after finishing second in the women’s 3,000 meters on Friday night at the U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials in Kearns, Utah.
Ringsred, of Calgary, Alberta, finished in 4 minutes, 13.8 seconds, more than four seconds off Jilleanne Rookard’s winning time of 4:09.66.
The U.S. will announce its team on New Year’s Day, but Ringsred already will know if she qualified for her first Olympics by then, based off results of other long-track events being held in Kearns today through Wednesday. The Winter Olympics are Feb. 7-23 in Sochi, Russia.
“To be honest, it hasn’t even sunk in yet,” Ringsred said by phone Saturday. “The whole experience has been surreal. I was sort of the underdog going in. I wasn’t expected to make it, especially in that event. I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t quite believe it. It’s a dream come true. I’ve been waiting for this my whole life, and now, it’s finally here.”
At 29, Ringsred approached Kearns as her last Olympic shot.
Ringsred was always known as a good all-around skater who was never quite great enough in any one event to make the U.S. Olympic Team. That is, until now.
After just missing the Winter Olympics in 2010, Ringsred retired. The 2003 Duluth Marshall graduate took 18 months off from skating. She earned a
degree in chemical engineering from the University of Calgary and went backpacking in Europe. About two years ago she decided to come back to competitive skating, putting her engineering career on hold.
“I wasn’t handling the pressure very well, and I was getting tired of training every day and pushing myself,” Ringsred said of walking away from the sport. “You have to make a lot of sacrifices, and I wanted to do things like travel and go backpacking and go skiing, and just do things that normal people do. But then I realized that I really missed it. I was so close, so it’d be a shame to just give it all away. I decided then that I had to try it just one last time.”
Ringsred came back a smarter, more experienced skater.
After years struggling to control her nerves, she learned how to cope with them. She began to approach the mental aspect of the sport differently. She even goes to a Calgary sports psychologist. Nowadays, before a big race, she is more relaxed and understanding. If her best isn’t good enough, she is fine with that.
“I used to have a fear of racing,” Ringsred said. “It was never fun. It was always scary and nerve-racking. Now I’m at a place where I’m able to overcome that. I’m more level-headed. I just go out there and forget about the results and do it because you never feel so alive as when you go out there and give it everything you’ve got. I sort of fell in love with it again.”
Longtime coach Andrey Zhuikov of Duluth, who Ringsred said is like a second father to her, dismissed the notion of retirement for his prized pupil. Now that Ringsred is at the top of her game, Zhuikov said, she should see if she can take it even further.
“I think her focus right now is trying to join the elite. She’s had a change of mood,” Zhuikov said. “This puts her on the map, and with advanced training and coaching opportunities, who knows how far she can take it?”
Ringsred said if she plans to pursue her career further, it would likely require her to leave Calgary.
“I love it. I don’t really want to give it up quite yet because I can’t imagine anything else making me happier,” Ringsred said. “Going into this year I was planning this to be my last competition. If I made it, I’d continue to Sochi and that’d be the end. If not, I’d hang up my skates. Now, I’m starting to think I might go for another year. This past fall has been pretty incredible for me. I feel like I’ve take it to a new level. I’ve kind of gotten over the hump.”
The 1,000 meters has been Ringsred’s strength in the past, but she appears to be getting better in the longer events as she enters her prime, which is as common in speedskating as it is in distance running.
Even after her grueling 3,000 on Friday night, Ringsred maintained her speed for Saturday, with a time in the 500 meters just a sliver off her personal record.
Ringsred will compete today in the 1,000 meters, which will air on KBJR-TV Channel 6 at 2 p.m. On Tuesday she competes in the 1,500 and on New Year’s Day the 5,000.
Ringsred believes she is the only woman to be racing all the long-track events. She said she can handle it if she is smart about it.
“As long as I can sleep,” Ringsred said, laughing. “I didn’t sleep at all last night — too much adrenaline.”
Ten women’s long-track skaters make the U.S. Olympic Team. If Heather Richardson and Brittany Boe continue to do what they’re expected to do the rest of the trials, that is, dominate, Ringsred’s selection will be a mere formality.
“It’s not 100 percent just yet,” Ringsred said, “but it’s highly likely. I can’t say with 100 percent confidence that I’m going to the Olympics. So I’m still kind of waiting, but I still also have a chance to qualify in some more events here. I’m in a great place. Now anything else will just be icing on the cake.”
“Hannah is disappointed, but she is still young,” Zhuikov said. “Her future is bright, and this was still a great learning experience for her.”
U.S. OLYMPIC SPEED SKATING TRIALS
Where: Kearns, Utah
When: continuing today through Wednesday (long track)
TV schedule: 2 p.m. today: 1,000 meters (KBJR-TV Channel 6); 5 p.m. Tuesday: 1,500 (NBC Sports Network); 4 p.m. Wednesday: men’s 10,000/women’s 5,000 (NBC Sports Network)