Sports
5:00 am
Wed February 5, 2014

North Carolina's Heather Richardson: Not Her Olympics

Empty speed skating rink at the Sochi Olympics
Heather Richardson tweeted this image from Sochi. Her caption? "I'm back."
Credit Heather Richardson / Twitter

Heather Richardson was born to skate. She found success on rollerblades first, and then moved onto the ice. Before the Sochi Olympic games, she was favored to win three medals in speed skating. But she's come up empty.

Sports Illustrated writes:

Richardson said she was happy and proud of her race Sunday, noting her 1:57.60 was one of the best sea-level times she’s ever put up. But happy and proud was not the face that stepped off the track. She sat still on a bench in the infield of the oval for a long while, elbows on her knees and staring out to no point in particular. When a coach walked over and put a hand on her back, she didn’t even flinch.

Here is our original story, "She Just Might Be North Carolina's Next Gold Medalist":

Heather Richardson is a pro at gliding along smooth surfaces, long strides with the right leg, then the left, arms moving synchronously, breath even. Richardson is a long-track speed skater, speeding along for 500, 1000, 1500 meters.

She's a rising star in the sport, winning medals in the 1000 meters 15 times, and she's only been on the ice since 2007.

Richardson was able to gain her skills so quickly because she was an elite competitive rollerblader first. (These days, many inline skaters are finding success on the ice.)

It wasn't a totally smooth transition from the roller rink to the ice rink though. She told Sports Illustrated that the first couple of weeks of practice "I was ready to go home."

Heather Richardson
Heather Richardson
Credit U.S. Speedskating

To an outsider, the sports seem similar, but the feel of the skate is very different. On rollerblades, the athlete is on top of the surface. In ice skating, the skate is actually embedded in the ice itself.

Many expect Richardson to medal at these games. Her hometown newspaper quoted legendary medalist Dan Jansen: “I don’t know how to handicap Heather’s chances. I mean, what’s the best odds there are? She’s one of the top three skaters in the world at three different distances. So if everything just goes normal, she’ll win three Olympic medals."

Richardson represented the US at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. She came closest to winning a medal in the 500 meters, finishing 6th. Since then, she's gotten stronger.

Here's a beautiful video from Sports Illustrated that details Richardson's story. Her closest rival for gold in Sochi is her best friend: