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(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Shani Davis leads Trevor Marsicano into a turn during the 1500 m men's race in the U.S. Olympic Long Track Trials at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns, Tuesday, December 31, 2013.
Speedskating: Richardson, Bowe close friends despite evolving rivalry
Speedskating » They finish 1-2 in 1,500 meters to cap a stellar week.
First Published Dec 31 2013 07:18 pm • Last Updated Jan 01 2014 04:42 pm

Kearns • Jilleanne Rookard remembers seeing Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe go at it as 10-year-old in-line skaters. Even then, Rookard noticed the budding rivalry between the two currently best American long-track female speedskaters.

"I watched them beat everybody on in-lines," said Rookard, who will skate in the Sochi Olympics in the 3,000- and 1,500-meter events. "Now I’m watching them beat me, unfortunately."

At a glance

U.S. Speedskating Olympic Trials

At Utah Olympic Oval, Kearns

Wednesday » Men’s 10,000 meters and women’s 5,000 meters, 1:30 p.m.

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Yet, decades later the pair are learning about their still-blooming rivalry and the evolving friendship.

Richardson, a High Point, N.C., native, and Bowe, a former Florida Atlantic University star basketball player from Ocala, Fla., have traded off podium steps the last 18 months, going 1-2 in several competitions. That didn’t change this week in the U.S. Olympic qualifiers at the Olympic Oval in Kearns as Richardson won the 500-, 1,000- and 1,500-meter events, finishing a sliver above Bowe in every race.

But after winning the 1,500 meters on Tuesday, Richardson was quick to counter, reminding everyone that Bowe swept her races in the U.S. long-track national championships in the fall.

"We’re going back and forth," Richardson said. "It’s all fun."

And the fun continues off the ice, too.

When the skaters aren’t jockeying for medals against one another on the World Cup circuit or World Championship stage — and soon to be Sochi — they lounge. Richardson, 24, and Bowe, 25, hit the movies and lie on the couch when they aren’t fine-tuning technique and rounding tight corners.

The bond between the pair, which both say is above any sort of rivalry, has stayed organic due to the nature of the sport.

"At the end of the day, whoever’s the fastest is going to win," said Bowe, owner of the women’s 1,000-meter world record. "It’s you against the clock — it’s not you against anyone else. I think that helps our friendship."

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So as the relationship between Richardson and Bowe enters its next phase six weeks away from the their first Olympic Games together, the two Americans will enter Sochi as favorites to make the podium in any of the three qualified races.

These Games will be Richardson’s second, four years after making her Olympic debut in Vancouver, while Bowe earns the title of Olympian four years since stepping onto the ice with aspirations of skating competitively.

So, how will they handle the attention with the world gunning for them?

"We don’t even pay attention to it," Bowe said. "It’s nice to have your name in some headlines, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. We’re out here doing our best day in and day out, and that’s all we can control."

Said Richardson: "I’m getting more used to it."

The storyline has added fuel to a strengthening women’s long-track side entering Sochi.

Rookard said seeing Richardson and Bowe go 1-2 at so many high-profile events only pushes other skaters to up the ante.

"All of us have known each other and we’ve watched each other crash and burn and have success," Rookard said. "We’ve been practicing being happy for each other for years, so why stop now?"

That sentiment was on display Tuesday evening when Richardson handed the celebratory bottle of champagne to Bowe, who promptly popped the cork to cap a week in which the close friends who room together, train together and "do everything together" earned tickets to Sochi.

"It was a really nice moment to share," Bowe said.

Two-time Olympic gold medalist Shani Davis won the men’s 1,500-meter qualifier two days after winning the 1,000-meter race Sunday. Brian Hansen, Joey Mantia and Jonathan Kuck also earned nominations after finishing top four.

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