Sunday, February 17, 2002
Witty sets world mark; Rodriguez takes bronze
KEARNS, Utah -- Chris Witty was stunned when she looked up
at the scoreboard and saw a world-record time.
Why wouldn't she be surprised? Witty never expected to go from
mono to an Olympic gold medal.
Just a month after doctors told her she had the strength-sapping
illness, Witty broke the world record in the 1,000 meters Sunday to
earn an improbable gold, the third medal of her career.
Chris Witty gave the U.S. its sixth speedskating medal in six events.
Another American, Jennifer Rodriguez, took the bronze.
"If I was healthy, that time would have been a surprise," said
Witty, who covered the 2½ laps in 1 minute, 13.83 seconds. "I was
shaking a little bit. I'm going to have to wake up tomorrow morning
and pinch myself. I still can't believe it."
Witty figured she was a medal long shot after learning in early
January that she had mononucleosis. She got the news at a hotel
room in Norway, where she was preparing for the World Sprint
Team physician Eric Heiden and coach Tom Cushman delivered the
"I had that shaky feeling, like I wanted to cry, but I said,
'Don't. That's stupid,"' she said. "I know a lot of people
counted me out. Some people said I shouldn't skate the Olympics. I
was so determined to overcome this."
Witty eclipsed Sabine Voelker's record of 1:14.06, set in
December on the same ice. Voelker of Germany took the silver, also
bettering her former mark.
"I didn't feel a thing," Witty said. "It was an effortless
race. It was one of those races where you don't really think of
anything, you just float."
Witty skated flawlessly, holding her form together on the
grueling final lap while many other top skaters faded. When her
time flashed on the scoreboard, she threw up her arms and broke out
in a huge smile.
"I don't know where that came from," Witty said. "Yesterday,
I felt awesome. Today, I didn't feel so good. I was a little
She was paired with two-time 500 champion Catriona Le May Doan,
who won a 1,000 bronze in Nagano. This time, the Canadian was
Witty pulled away with a final lap of 28.90 seconds, which was
beaten only by Rodriguez (28.61), who nearly fell on her opening
"I thought if I could come out with a bronze, I'd be so
incredibly happy," Witty said. "The gold medal was something I
Voelker was second in 1:13.96, while Rodriguez finished in
1:14.24. Defending Olympic champion Marianne Timmer of the
Netherlands was fourth, just 0.21 from a medal.
"I don't think anyone was expecting that race out of Witty,
including her," Rodriguez said.
Witty felt sluggish throughout the World Cup season, the worst
of her career. The mono forced her to cut back her pre-Salt Lake
City training at a time when most skaters were gearing up their
"There's some days when she can't give much more than a regular
warm-up," Heiden said.
Witty won the only two U.S. speedskating medals at the Nagano
Games four years ago. At these games, the Americans have won six
medals in six events at the Utah Olympic Oval, more than any other
Voelker's silver was her second medal of the games and Germany's
Witty, who won silver in the 1,000 at Nagano, lopped more than a
half-second off her previous best time on the world's fastest ice,
where four records have been set during the games.
The 26-year-old Witty skated a victory lap with a U.S. flag
draped around her shoulders. "Go C.Witty in S.L.City," said a
sign held up by one of her supporters.
Rodriguez, a former inline skater from Miami, wobbled on the
first turn but finished stronger than anyone, a testament to her
distance training. She's skating four events in Salt Lake City,
including the 5,000.
"The worst part of my race is the start," Rodriguez said.
"I've been working so hard on it and what do you know? That's what
I screwed up on. I slipped pretty bad and thought I was going to
fall. Then I had two good laps, but I didn't think it was going to
be good enough for a medal."
The influx of inliners is a major reason the American team has
improved. It is on pace to break its previous mark of eight medals
from the 1980 Lake Placid Games.
Rodriguez's fiance, KC Boutiette, coaxed her to switch to the
ice just 18 months before the 1998 Nagano Games. She's the third
ex-inliner to win a medal, joining 5,000 silver medalist Derek
Parra and Joey Cheek, who took bronze in the men's 1,000 on
One of Rodriguez's fans held up a sign, "Miami Ice. En Fuego."
Witty followed a more traditional path to the ice. A native of
America's speedskating mecca, West Allis, Wis., she began skating
At the last Olympics, Witty was the only American to win more
than one medal, the silver in the 1,000 and a bronze in the 1,500.
Witty also is one of just nine Americans to compete in both the
Winter and Summer Games. She finished fifth in a cycling race at
Sydney two years ago.
"I would love to try to go to Athens," Witty said.
Twenty of the 31 skaters went faster than the old Olympic
record, Timmer's 1:16.51 to win gold at Nagano.
Becky Sundstrom, who finished a surprising sixth in 1998, was
16th and the other American, Amy Sannes, was 14th.
After a strong 2000-01 season, Witty appeared poised for another
run at the medals in Salt Lake City. Then, mysteriously, she didn't
seem to have any energy when the new season began.
"I couldn't run a lap without getting tired," said Witty, who
arrived at the Olympics without a World Cup medal.
She was relieved when doctors finally diagnosed the mono. But
she had to rest for a full week, then cut back her training.
"Now, it's like a great mystery as to how I will do," she said