Fredricks closes out Olympic career with 26th-place finish
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
SOCHI, Russia-Tucker Fredricks was more bewildered than he was disappointed. And he was plenty disappointed.
The Janesville native has been America’s top long-track sprinter for a decade and has won a chest full of speedskating medals on the World Cup circuit, but he has had a maddeningly frustrating Olympic career.
He’s been to three of these things and has never sniffed the podium.
On Monday, the 500-meter specialist finished 26th in his final Olympic race and was even beaten by teammate Shani Davis, a middle-distance star who was using the 500 to prepare for his other races.
“Worse than I thought,” said the 29-year-old Fredricks, who plans to retire after this season. “I don’t really know what to say. I guess I’m meant … I don’t know. I feel like I’m fine. I wish I could have performed better.
“At least when I have kids I haven’t set the bar too high for them.”
Fredricks managed a laugh, but it was not a happy laugh. Inside, he had to be hurting. He finished 25th in the 500 at the 2006 Turin Games and 12th at the 2010 Vancouver Games—the latter after a Zamboni broke down and caused a long delay just before his race.
“I would say I was unlucky and maybe a little bit underprepared at times,” he said.
While Fredricks was searching for answers in the mixed zone at Adler Arena, the Dutch were celebrating another podium sweep on the ice.
Michel Mulder won the gold medal with a two-race combined time of 69.312 seconds, just 0.02 ahead of teammate Jan Smeekens. Ronald Mulder, Michel’s twin brother, took the bronze medal with a combined time of 69.46.
“When I crossed the line I just didn’t know and then I saw that I had won and I couldn’t believe it,” Michel Mulder said. “Now I have won everything there is to win. After all this work, I’m the Olympic champion. I can’t believe it.”
It was the second podium sweep for the Dutch, who also did it in the men’s 5,000 and have won seven of a possible nine long-track medals so far. Historically, the Netherlands has been known more for its distance skaters than its sprinters.
“They’re doing something right,” Fredricks said. “I don’t know what they’re doing, but they’re doing it right. I have no idea. No idea. I want to know. I’m retiring so just let me know what it was.
“They’re doing awesome. They’re owning the podium.”
Davis had times of 35.39 and 35.59 for a combined 70.98.
“I go out there and I try to win any race I’m in, but I’m realistic and I know I’m not much of a 500-meter skater,” he said. “The things I did well today was I got some good top speed out there and I was comfortable off the line and I made some corrections from the first race to the second race, even though the second race was a bit slower.”
Fredricks was timed in 35.278 seconds in the first 500 and was tied for 18th place. His chances to medal were over. He skated the second race in 35.721.
“I felt faster than what the time showed so that was kind of discouraging,” Fredricks said of the first race. “But it was fun. Being paired with (Russian) Dmitry (Lobkov), the crowd was awesome, and I fed off that energy.
“But it was kind of a surprise when I crossed the line and it was 35.2 instead of something faster.”
Fredricks has always been very fast at altitude tracks in Calgary and Salt Lake City but unfortunately his three Olympic Games were held at sea level: Turin, Vancouver and Sochi. He trains in Salt Lake City.
“Tucker is a tremendous talent,” Davis said. “He’s a very, very technical skater. He’s one of the best out there. The conditions have to be exactly what he’s used to. But unfortunately the Olympics are never at high-altitude tracks.”
Fredricks wouldn’t use it as an excuse.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I mean, I’ve won at sea level before. Today was one of those days. Yesterday I could have been 35th. Tomorrow I could have been first. Who knows?”
Mitch Whitmore of Waukesha, skating in his second Olympics, finished just behind Fredricks in 27th place. His times were 35.34 and 35.71. Whitmore holds the U.S. record of 34.29.
“Definitely disappointed,” he said. “The World Cup season this year has been pretty good. I finished near the top quite a few times. So it’s disappointing not being up there because I know I can. But that happens in the 500. Some days it’s just not there. The timing is off or something.
“It stinks, but there’s some good things I can take away from this and I’ll put it towards my skating for the next four years.”
Brian Hansen, who trains at the Pettit National Ice Center, skated the first 500 in 35.64—his fastest ever at sea level—but opted out of the second in order to save his legs for the 1,000 and 1,500.