Our Views: Fredricks could bring winter cheer

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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Wisconsinites consider ourselves hardy souls, and a winter like this makes us so. Perhaps the season does help us, however, identify with Winter Olympic athletes.

Some of us enjoy skiing and snowboarding, sledding and ice skating. This brutal winter, however, has left many of us hunkered down, hibernating and awaiting spring.

The 2014 Winter Olympics get underway Thursday in Sochi, Russia, though the Opening Ceremony is Friday. The games will feature 12 new contests. Here in Janesville, we've been inventing possible new Olympic sports of our own. We're talking the Court Street Uphill Slalom, the Shoveling Marathon and the Sidewalk Skate.

But when we're safely indoors, we can stay warm, watch and cheer on U.S. Olympic athletes through Feb. 23. The Badger State's rich history of Winter Olympics success adds to our interest. Topping the memories are the five speedskating golds that Eric Heiden won in 1980 and the key roles Wisconsinites played in the U.S. men's hockey team's “Miracle on Ice” that same year.

Who among U.S. athletes will become the newest household names after these games? Will any Wisconsin competitors again help shine a spotlight on our state? Tune in nightly on NBC and catch our sports sections for full coverage.

Janesville will again have a particular interest in these games. Speedskater Tucker Fredricks, a 2002 graduate of Craig High School and son of Dan and Shawn Fredricks, is back for his third try at an Olympic medal. Unfortunately, terrorism threats prompted the speedskater to tell his parents and wife to stay home rather than accompany and support him in Sochi. His event, the 500-meter race, starts at 7 a.m. our time Monday, Feb. 10. Fredricks finished second in the U.S. Olympic Trials in late December. A Sports Illustrated report suggested Fredricks could medal in Sochi, based on his notching a World Cup gold medal this season in Calgary.

Fredricks finished 24th in the 500 during the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy, and 12th in the 2010 Vancouver games. He declared this to be the final year of his speedskating career and says he's out to enjoy each minute.

“I'm just gonna have fun with it,” he told Gazette Sports Editor Eric Schmoldt in a phone interview from his Utah home in December, before the Olympic trials. “That's why I skate, because it's fun. I've just got to get back to that. So far this year, that's been working, and I'm having a blast.

“In Vancouver, I was too focused on winning a medal,” he added. “I don't think I was very mentally prepared. I've been working on that this time around.”

If Fredricks adds ideal mental preparation to his considerable physical talents, he might give area residents something to cheer about even before those first signs of spring.

Godspeed, Tucker.

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