Ice Network

Salt Lake shavings: Oval's 'fast ice' lives up to hype

Super-slick surface receives high praise; Lee breaks own 500-meter mark
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Sang-Hwa Lee of Korea took home her third 500-meter gold medal this season, besting the field with a world-record time of 36.57. -Getty Images

Amy Donaldson collected news and notes from around the Utah Olympic Oval on the first day of competition at World Cup Salt Lake City.

Who knew ice could be so fast?

Dubbed the "fastest ice on earth" during the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, the Utah Olympic Oval lived up to that name as 16 new national records and one world record were set in just the top level of competition at Friday's World Cup.

"The storm came in, caused some low pressure, so you didn't have to try that hard to go fast," said Tucker Fredricks, who skated a personal best in the 500-meter race, finishing in 34.30 seconds. His time was faster than his gold-medal performance in the same event last weekend in Calgary, but in Kearns that time was only good enough for fifth place.

His teammate, Mitchell Whitmore, set a new American 500-meter record with a time of 34.29, but that wasn't even good enough for the podium as he finished fourth.

"The ice is very fast," said Brittany Bowe, who swept the U.S. Single Distance Long Track Championships on this same surface just a few weeks ago.

Heather Richardson, who earned a bronze in the 500 on Friday, said she couldn't wait to get on the ice after seeing the B Division's record-setting times.

"For all the skaters out here, the ice is really fast," Richardson said. "They did a great job. You can really feel the glide. The glide on the ice is definitely better than anywhere else I've been so far."

Two-time Olympic gold medalist Shani Davis may have had the toughest task of the day. He skated in the last pair in the last race of an eventful day.

"It's a big challenge not to get too excited," Davis said, grinning. "You've just got to believe in yourself more."

He admitted to being excited for his turn on the ice Friday afternoon.

His response to the clock's time?

"Wow," he said. "It's a big step in the right direction. It's the fastest time I've skated in probably four years. I think everything is a go. We're looking good heading into Sochi."

Lee quietly goes about her business

For Mitchell Whitmore, it was inspiring to watch the women's 500 before he raced the same distance.

He watched as Lauren Cholewinski skated her fastest time ever, followed by Bowe's personal record. Then Richardson, the reigning World Sprint champion, not only skated a personal best (36.97) but set a new U.S. record.

Two pairs later, Korea's Sang-Hwa Lee established a new world record with a time of 36.57.

"When they do well, it makes it even easier on me to do well," he said. "I'd rather see [one of my teammates] set the record, but it's cool to see a world record either way. You kind of knew beforehand that [Lee] was going to go really fast."

Lee didn't want to talk to the media after her race, but she did participate in a ceremony honoring her accomplishment.

Her coach, Den Dutson, is from Utah and said she "is in a good place right now."

As the women shattered personal, national and track records, Dutson said Lee didn't look to him for guidance.

"We didn't talk about that at all," he said. "She's not thinking about the Olympics right now. She's thinking about one race at a time and doing her very best to stay in shape and keep doing what she's doing."

His pupil's personality is low-key but intense, he said.

"This is just business as usual," he said. "She's trying not to get into the hype of everything."