U.S. Speedskaters Get A Little Help From Their Friends : The Edge U.S. Olympic teams have been more successful in speedskating than in any other winter sport. The secret to their success includes talent, skill, hard work, and a network of support.
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U.S. Speedskaters Get A Little Help From Their Friends

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U.S. Speedskaters Get A Little Help From Their Friends

U.S. Speedskaters Get A Little Help From Their Friends

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. A second gold for Team USA at the Winter Olympics this morning. Jamie Anderson won the women's slopestyle snowboarding event. Now, all eyes are on the speed skaters of Team USA. Two-time gold medalist Shani Davis is looking to win a third gold in Sochi. Overall, the U.S. speed skating team is looking for at least a half-dozen gold medals. NPR's Sonari Glinton has this report from Sochi.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: At some point during these Olympics Games, you can probably expect to hear something like this:

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: But Shani Davis across the line. He's getting close. He could beat it. He does. Shani Davis moves into first and takes the gold.

GLINTON: Now, that was years and in that same time, Davis has brought so many kids into the sport he's beginning to compete with them, like his teammate Brian Hansen.

BRIAN HANSEN: Well, just look at Shani Davis, you know. He's, you know, two gold medals and two silver medals, first black athlete to ever win a gold medal in the Winter Olympics in an individual event. And, you know, in my opinion, he's underrated.

GLINTON: Because, as Hansen said in Sochi this week, as good as Shani Davis is or any of his other teammates are, when you're in a sport with legendary names like Apolo Ohno or Bonnie Blair or Dan Jansen, the expectations are high - real high.

HANSEN: You know, sometimes we joke, you know, gold medal's almost not enough. You need a gold medal and a story, or you need three gold medals.

GLINTON: Part of Hansen's story is that he trained in Milwaukee even though he lived in Chicago. Hansen is one of the speed skaters who grew up in the sport, but many of his teammates have switched from in-line skating - roller blades - to ice skates. Brittany Bowe is one of them. Not only was she a competitive inland skater but she played college basketball. And of the teams she's been on, Bowe says this one is different.

BRITTANY BOWE: We all help each other. We all pick each other and we make each other better every day. But having Heather next to me, who is one of, if not the fastest women in the world is definitely an advantage to have.

GLINTON: The Heather she's talking about is Heather Richardson, her teammate and roommate. Richardson and Bowe are considered favorites to medal during the Winter Games here in Sochi. Richardson says even though there's a lot of pressure on the speed skating athletes to succeed, when you know and skate with people who've won gold, it doesn't seem out of your reach.

HEATHER RICHARDSON: One person has a medal and then everyone else is going to want a medal, you know. So...

GLINTON: Is eight medals, though, is that realistic looking at it? I don't know how...

RICHARDSON: Oh, definitely. I think that's realistic.

GLINTON: Part of what makes all that realistic is the help that the speed skating team gets. A New York doctor gave each of the athletes Lasik eye surgery for free if they wanted. And Lockheed Martin and Under Armour, the sports clothing company, helped make new space-age suits that kind of look like Spider-Man's outfit. Joey Mantia is new to speed skating. He switched from inline also. He says Lasik surgery helped to be able to see and gave him confidence. And so did the new suits, because he know they did legitimate.

JOEY MANTIA: Legitimate R&D, not just some guys, you know, skating out and doing a couple of laps, saying, oh, it feels faster. They actually put these things, you know, in a wind tunnel and did hundreds and hundreds of hours or testing in different positions, different skating positions. So, you know that the science checks out on that. And that's just a, you know, a big confidence booster in the back of my mind.

GLINTON: Mantia says with new eyesight and a new suit, you never know what could come next.

MANTIA: Bionic legs. I'm going to go bionic lege. I'm going to get the procedure done. Never get tired again. Because, you know, big legs get tired. So - but you never know who the next mad scientist is going to dream something like that up. But, you know, we're just real lucky that we have a lot of good support and staff like that to give us these little benefits as we come into the Olympics.

GLINTON: But really how much could that really matter? The legs that have are probably the fastest in the world. Sonari Glinton, NPR News, Sochi.

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