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(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Shani Davis celebrates a fourth place finish in the Mens 500 meter at the U.S. Olympic Time Trials, long track speedskating at the Olympic Oval in Kearns, Saturday December 28, 2013.
Speedskating: Despite DQ, Garcia finds silver lining

Missing transponders nullify 27-year-old’s Olympic-worthy run.

First Published Dec 28 2013 04:49 pm • Last Updated Feb 14 2014 11:50 pm

Kearns • Jonathan Garcia pumped his legs and waved his arms searching for as much speed as he could find in a sliver over 35 seconds. Soaring solo around the track at the Utah Olympic Oval, the 27-year-old searched for a time that could get him to Sochi.

Because the best 500-meter race his skates had ever produced, a 34.85 in the second of the two men’s heats in the Olympic qualifying trials Saturday afternoon, had been disqualified. He’d forgotten to strap the velcro transponders — the third timing device officials look at during qualifiers — to each of his ankles prior to that second run, a result that would have assured him one of the four nominations for the U.S. long-track speedskating team.

At a glance

U.S. Olympic trials schedule

At the Utah Olympic Oval, Kearns

Long-track speedskating

Sunday »  Men’s and women’s 1,000, 11:30 a.m.

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So having been tasked with burning another 500-meter race searching for an Olympic result, Garcia lined up alone 30 minutes after the competition ended for a re-skate he was awarded. The packed crowd rose in acknowledgement as he sped through straightaways and edged through turns.

Two-time gold medalist Shani Davis, who sat in the fourth spot, clapped and screamed in support of his friend and teammate. But Garcia’s third run wasn’t enough. His 35.33 time, coupled with his first run of 35.19, put him out of contention.

"I’ve been to the Olympics four times, I remember a special feeling I had when I went the first time, and I was really pulling for Garcia to pull through and make the spot, even if it knocked me off the team," Davis said. "He’s a friend of mine and I clearly want the best skater to go. If someone’s clearly faster than me, then they deserve it."

After Mitchell Whitmore sprayed his victory champagne and after Tucker Fredericks and Brian Hansen earned nominations for the Sochi Games, Garcia found the silver lining — his 34.85, official or not, was Olympic-worthy.

"I know that was good enough to be on the team," he said. "That’s something nobody can take away from me."

Having raced his first heat with the transponders on, Garcia said he was in the zone prepping for his second race, "thinking about everything that was kind of in my control and I forgot to put them on."

"It should be the athlete’s responsibility," Garcia added. "I’m not putting any blame on anybody. I should have had them on. It’s nobody’s fault but mine that I didn’t have them on."

He said it wasn’t for a few minutes until after the 34.85 race that coach Ryan Shimabukuro approached Garcia and told him his personal best had become a sudden DQ.

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"That’s a bummer," Fredericks said. "To be completely honest, I don’t know why we have transponders. We’ve got electronic timing and a photo finish — why do you need a third one?"

Garcia, a Houston native who lives and trains in Utah, qualified for the fourth spot in the men’s 500 meters on the World Cup circuit, but now faces bigger challenges over the next few days. He’ll be tasked with qualifying in the men’s 1,000 meters Sunday or the 1,500 meters Tuesday.

"Tomorrow’s another day," Garcia said. "Hopefully I can skate again well again tomorrow … and make the team."

In the women’s 500-meter event, stars Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe earned nominations, going 1-2, while Lauren Cholewinski finished third. Sugar Todd, 23, earned her first Olympic nomination, finishing fourth.

Sugar Raeshelle-Faye Chelsea Todd left her Nebraska farm 14 years ago to further pursue her dream of speedskating in Milwaukee. She’s lived and trained in Utah since May 2012.

Describing her feeling of being Sochi-bound, Todd conjured up: "Immeasurable joy."


Twitter: @chriskamrani

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