Kearns • Just past halfway through the race, speedskater Heather Richardson knew she had it.
She had put away all her doubts and fears, shook off the pressure that had haunted her the day before, and was blazing her way to a record-setting victory in the 1,000 meters at the World Sprint Championships at the Utah Olympic Oval on Sunday that clinched the first overall title for an American woman in eight years.
"I’m glad I was able to hold onto it," she said. "I knew that I had to be faster, but I just wanted to go in as relaxed as possible, because yesterday I was so tense. I just took all that pressure off me. I just said, ‘skate and have fun today.’ "
Done aaaaand done.
The 23-year-old from North Carolina entered the last of four races over two days needing simply to finish faster than defending champion Yu Jing of China, who raced in the previous pair. And thanks to her renewed level of confidence and calm, she did it easily, clocking 1 minute, 13.19 seconds to beat Yu by 0.46 seconds.
"She looked a lot better today," coach Ryan Shimabukuro said.
A lot happier, too.
When she crossed the line, Richardson raised her hands in the air — a wave toward her mother and aunt in the stands — and smiled broadly as she glided around the curve and into celebratory high-fives with Shimabukuro and other skaters.
The win was her first of the championships, after finishing third in both the 500 and 1,000 on Saturday and then fourth in the 500 earlier Sunday. Her overall total of 148.015 points in speed-skating’s samalog scoring system was a world record.
"I’m just really excited that I was able to pull it off for everyone," she said.
Not since Jennifer Rodriguez won the overall title in 2005 had an American woman so much as medaled at the world sprint championships, and Richardson joins a prestigious list of previous American champions that also includes Bonnie Blair, Chris Witty, Sheila Young and Leah Poulos.
"That’s the one thing I told her this morning, just skate confident," Shimabukuro said. "Even though she’s deserving of the title, she’s got to go get it. So I’m glad that she really attacked it and was aggressive today."
Not everyone was so lucky, though.
Teammate Brittany Bowe had to ease up and put out her hand to avoid crashing into the Czech Republic’s Karolina Erbanova coming out of the penultimate turn of the 1,000, costing her precious time. Erbanova was disqualified for interference, but Bowe figured she lost as much as a half-second in what turned out to be a 1:13.83 — fifth-fastest of the day.
"I would have obviously liked to seen where this 1,000 today would have finished if we didn’t have that mix-up," said Bowe, who still wound up eighth overall. "But you know, that’s racing. … At the same time, you know, I have to be happy for my teammate, because she just won overall world sprint champion."
The Netherlands’ Michel Mulder won the men’s title with a world-record 136.790 points — lower is better — after finishing second in the 1,000, ahead of Finland’s Pekka Koskela and fellow Dutchman Hein Otterspeer, who won the 1,000 for the second straight day.
American Mitchell Whitmore finished 12th overall.
But for local fans, all eyes were on Richardson, who said she hopes her performance installs her as the favorite in the 1,000 heading into the 2014 Sochi Olympics barely a year from now.
"Hopefully," Bowe said, "we can keep pushing each other and be 1-2 in Sochi."
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