Olympic Speedskating: Rookies poise for record-breaking drama in Turin

American Chad Hedrick's record setting hat trick in the past two months has built the momentum for his first-ever Winter Olympic Games in Turin in February.

The 28-year-old speed skater had a spectacular 2005. Barely three years after switching from inline skating to the ice, he has set marks in three of the five Olympic men's individual events in a row, an encouraging warming-up for Turin.

He became the new world record holder of 1,500 meters in November. Although his 5,000m record, also set in November, only lasted six days before being bettered by Sven Kramer of the Netherlands, he gave another record toppling performance in 10,000 the following month.

Spearheaded by Hedrick, a burgeoning new generation created a whirlwind on the oval rink last year, updating all the records in the men's disciplines. And it will surely continue through next month.

Hedrick will be the busiest long-track speed skater in the Turin Games. He qualified for five of the six men's events --1,000m, 1,500m, 5,000m, 10,000m plus team pursuit, a brand new category for a Winter Olympics.

But he will not be alone.

The rising star will be joined at Turin's Oval Lingotto by compatriot Shani Davis, who overwrote Gerard van Velde's 1,000 meters record in November, to form the US team's backbone.

Davis, 23, the first African American to qualify for a U.S. Olympic speed-skating team, has come up quickly in the years after Salt Lake City, when he was an alternate on the short track team and didn't skate.

He failed to make the US short track team, leaving him free to focus on budding rivalry with Hedrick in the 1,000m, 1,500m and 5,000m.

The men's 500 meters reserved better chance for Japan's Joji Kato, another Olympic rookie who was still competing in juniors' events in 2003 but successfully shaving 0.02 seconds off Hiroyasu Shimizu's record in November.

The 20-year-old, along with veteran Shimizu, will give Japan a strong 1-2 sprint combination.

To much of the speed-skating world's surprise, the dynamic Dutch duo of Jochem Uytdehaage and Gerard Van Velde did not qualify for Torino to defend their titles from 2002.

In Salt Lake City, Uytdehaage set the then-world record in both the 5,000 and 10,000 meters men's events, and Van Velde set the then-world record in the 1,000 meters.

However, the Dutch men will send Carl Verheijen who for a short time last December held the 10,000-meter world record before Hedrick broke it on New Year's Eve.

The women's 500-meter world record, set by Canadian Catriona LeMay Doan in September 2001, withstood the Salt Lake City Games and the four years after that.

Can it stand in Torino?

Germany's Jenny Wolf, Russia's Svetlana Zhuriva, the Netherlands' Sanne Van der Star, and American Chris Witty will each try to surpass Doan's mark.

Although the Americans are super in the men's lineup, their women's squad is not as deep. The biggest gold hope pins upon 30-year-old Chris Witty, who still holds the world record in the 1,000 meters that she set in Salt Lake City.

Canadian Cindy Klassen is the current world record holder in the women's 1,500 and 3,000 meters events, all set up in last November. But she'll still face tough challenges from both Germany's Anni Friesinger and American Jennifer Rodriguez.

The 3,000-meter specialist Claudia Pechstein of Germany is aiming to become the first speed skater to win four Olympic gold medals in the same distance. She is currently tied with American Bonnie Blair -- the 500 meters Olympic champion in 1988, 1992 and 1994, for three consecutive Games.

In the team pursuit, the Netherlands, the United States, Norway and Italy are expected to be in contention for the men's gold while Germany, Japan and Canada have been the top nations in the women's field.

Source: Xinhua

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