Before this year, the last time Tucker Fredricks didn’t compete in the Winter Olympics was in 2012, when they took place in Salt Lake City.
As coincidence would have it, when the world’s best speedskaters were competing in Pyeonchang, South Korea, last month, Fredricks was back home—in Salt Lake.
Someone had to man the fort for those still training and practicing at the Utah Olympic Oval.
“I stayed back. The national team coaches and one of the transition coaches (from Salt Lake) had some athletes over at the Games, so I stayed back and took care of my team and a couple other athletes while they were gone,” said Fredricks, now a high-level head coach, in a phone conversation Wednesday. “I wouldn’t say it felt weird, but it was definitely a little different watching it on TV.
“I hadn’t watched a Winter Olympics on TV for a while.”
With two kids at home, Fredricks didn’t have a lot of time to take in curling or luge, but he said he didn’t miss a speedskating event.
“I think I was either teammates with all of them (the Olympic qualifiers) or coached all of them at some point,” Fredricks said. “So I knew all of them pretty well.”
Fredricks competed in the 500 meters during his three trips to the Olympics in 2006, 2010 and 2014. He is one of two Janesville natives to ever compete in the Olympics, and he captured 30 medals—11 gold—on the World Cup circuit in his career.
Team USA won just one long-track speedskating medal in Pyeonchang, a bronze in women’s team pursuit.
“I thought, actually, the team did quite well,” Fredrick said. “A couple of them were just on the wrong side of the tenth (of a second). There were some really close times to the podium, and they were just on the wrong side.
“It could have been a different story on any given day.”
While the Olympics ended a week and a half ago, Fredricks’ busy schedule continues through this weekend. Salt Lake plays host to the World Junior Championships, an event that Fredricks knows all too well as he won gold in 500 meters at the 2003 event. Fredricks said three skaters from his main team will be competing.
He was also in Milwaukee—where his speedskating career began at the Pettit National Ice Center—for the U.S. Olympic Trials during the first week of January.
“It was nice to finally have it back there,” said Fredricks, a 2002 Janesville Craig High graduate. “Through my career, they had one Olympic Trials that I was too young, or too slow, to compete in. The rest of them were in Salt Lake City.”
Fredricks is now a long track FAST team head coach at the oval in Salt Lake. Depending on the season, he coaches junior, development and elite skaters ages 16-33, he said.
“I get a mix of a bunch of different athletes,” said Fredricks, who has been coaching since his last Olympic competition in Sochi, Russia. “Each year, I’m learning a lot and getting more and more comfortable, understanding this side of it a little bit more. Just like an athlete, there’s peaks and valleys through a season, but on a whole, it’s the next closest thing for me to skating, so I’m really enjoying it and it’s fun to give back to the sport.”
Fredricks has high hopes heading into this week’s World Junior competition.
“I’m pretty excited,” he said. “We have a pretty good group this year. They’re still young. I think it’s only two of the athletes’ last year as a junior, or maybe three out of the 10. The rest are fairly young and going pretty quick for their age. It should be a pretty good showing.”
Who knows? Perhaps for a young skater or two it’ll be a step toward competing in the 2022 Olympics in Beijing. Or, for Fredricks, a step toward returning to the Winter Games as a coach.
Eric Schmoldt is sports editor of The Gazette. Reach him at email@example.com.