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(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kelly Gunther took fourth place in the Ladies 1000 meter at the U.S. Olympic Time Trials, long track speedskating at the Olympic Oval in Kearns, Sunday December 29, 2013.
Speedskating: Kelly Gunther cements comeback from horrific injury
Speedskating » West Jordan resident earns ticket to Sochi.
First Published Dec 29 2013 04:12 pm • Last Updated Feb 14 2014 11:50 pm

Kearns • The reminder is inescapable.

Before every training session, before every race, before any moment Kelly Gunther snags her skates and preps for time on the ice, she’s required 15 to 20 minutes of treatment on her lower left leg. It needs stretching out if her blades are to get her where she wants to be.

At a glance

U.S. Olympic trials

At Utah Olympic Oval, Kearns

» Long-track speed skating

Monday » Off day

Tuesday » Men’s and women’s 1,500, 3 p.m.

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On Sunday afternoon, Gunther’s whirlwind journey from narrowly missing the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver to nearly losing her foot in a horrific, double-compound fracture crash in March 2010 was complete.

She’ll skate in Sochi.

The 26-year-old West Jordan resident finished fourth in the women’s 1,000-meter Olympic trials qualifier at the Olympic Oval in Kearns, on the same ice where her career was suddenly flung into the unknown nearly four years ago when her leg snapped in an American Cup 500-meter final.

"I’m a really big believer that everything happens for a reason — there’s a reason for that, there’s a reason why I fell at this rink, so making this 2014 team is just icing on the cake with everything I’ve been through and skating every day," Gunther said.

The icing was also a personal-best time of 1 minute, 16.43 seconds, beating our her previous best time of 1:16.58 set on Dec. 13, 2009. Aiming for a new personal best in the 1,000 was a goal Gunther set out for entering the event. Before starting the 12th of 14 heats, she took laps rocking to Miley Cyrus’ "Do My Thing."

"I kept my cool," Gunther said. "I wasn’t really nervous at the line."

It showed.

The former figure skater and in-line World Cup circuit medal winner stamped her spot in Sochi.

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"For Kelly to go through what she went through four years ago now is something really special," said longtime friend and 1,000-meter world record holder Brittany Bowe. "Talk about perseverance and never giving up — that’s the definition of it right there."

But it took some time. Six months after the gruesome injury, Gunther healed in Colorado Springs, Colo., at the Olympic Training Center after having 10 screws and a metal plate inserted into her foot to keep the broken bones together. Never had she been away from the ice and her skates for that long.

"Having them off for six months was very hard for me," she said. "I had to fight back and knew I could do it."

True to form, Gunther fought her way back onto the ice, into shape and in 2011 garnered a spot on the World Cup team. On Sunday, the Lorain, Ohio, native held a bouquet of flowers and smiled standing on the podium next to fellow 1,000-meter qualifiers Heather Richardson, Bowe and Sugar Todd.

The memory of the crash which left her foot dangling from her leg is always there for Gunther. That necessary 15-to-20-minute window prepping for each race is simultaneously recalling what happened and moving forward.

"It’s a reminder every day actually how bad it was," she said. "To keep fighting and how strong [the leg] is now, it’s almost stronger now than before I had fallen."

One day after being disqualified in the men’s 500-meter event for not wearing his ankle transponder, Utah resident Jonathan Garcia punched his ticket to Sochi finishing fourth in the men’s 1,000-meter qualifying race. Two-time Olympic gold medalist and world-record holder Shani Davis won the event as Brian Hansen and Joey Mantia also earned qualifying nominations.

Once the final heat concluded and Garcia earned his spot, he took a victory lap, holding each ankle transponder to the sky.

"Not to sound weird or cocky, but I kind of feel like I already made the team," Garcia said. "This obviously feels really great, because now I’m actually on the team and I’m going to Russia. Don’t get me wrong, it feels awesome ­— it feels amazing."


Twitter: @chriskamrani

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