Ice Network

Time on hardwood trained Bowe to excel on ice

Former college basketball star now primed to contend for Olympic medals
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Brittney Bowe called her three-medal performance at the World Cup in Salt Lake City -- one that also included her setting a world record and a national record -- "the best weekend of my speed skating career." -Getty Images

The moment was unforgettable.

Brittany Bowe raised her arms triumphantly into the air as a video board at the Utah Olympic Oval flashed "World Record" on Nov. 17. She slapped hands with her coach as she skated by him on her cool-down lap. Her record time in the ladies 1,000-meter race at the World Cup event: 1 minute, 12.58 seconds.

By the end of the day, after all the applause had finally silenced in Utah and the last word of congratulations was offered, Bowe discovered a treasure of tweets sent to her by her former college basketball teammates.

No surprise there. Bowe's Olympic dream began four years ago when she was a star point guard for the Florida Atlantic University (FAU) women's basketball team, running around in sneakers, not gliding on skates.

To understand Bowe's determination to compete at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, a trip back to 2010 is important.

She still remembers the night.

"I was just watching the 2010 Games in my living room in college with my roommates," she said. "I was just like, 'Man, this is just so cool.'"

Bowe told her coach, Chancellor Dugan, that she would be on the U.S. Olympic Team when the Sochi Games rolled around. A former inline skater at the world championship level, Bowe had already demonstrated the speed. Having watched Bowe turn into a starting point guard and captain of the basketball team in four years, Dugan never doubted her. (Bowe is among nine players in FAU history to score more than 1,000 career points and was an All-Sun Belt Conference selection.)

"She said, 'Coach, I'm going to make the 2014 Olympics.' And I just looked at her and said, 'Of course you will,'" said Dugan, now the head women's basketball coach at Bellarmine University in Louisville.

"When she puts her mind to something, she just does it."

Bowe will be among the medal contenders at this week's World Cup in Astana, Kazakhstan. She is coming off not only a world-record performance in Utah but also a silver medal in the 1,500 (in a national-record time of 1:52.45) and a bronze in the ladies team pursuit.

"That's definitely been the best weekend of my speed skating career thus far," Bowe said.

Hers is a speed skating career that has developed quickly. Four years ago, she was watching the Olympics on television and had never been on ice skates. After finishing college in 2010, she joined US Speedskating's Wheels on Ice Program to learn the technique of racing on ice, just as her teammate, Heather Richardson, had done before her in 2007.

By 2012, Bowe had won silver medals at the 1,000- and 1,500-meter distances at the U.S. Single Distance Long Track Championships. She finished the 2012-13 season by winning bronze at the World Single Distance Championships.

"We tried to fast track her development, so to speak," said Ryan Shimabukuro, US Speedskating long track head coach. "A lot of that is on her. She's very coachable. She learns pretty rapidly."

That can be traced directly back to her basketball days at FAU, and before that her days in club soccer. The point guard experience, Bowe says, did help her transition to speed skating at a world-class level.

"When you're a point guard, you have to have good court awareness," she said. "You have to be aware of what your body's doing, where the ball's at, can you pass the ball without looking? You're kind of one step ahead almost.

"On ice, just having that awareness -- the self awareness, the body awareness, kind of just being a step ahead of the game -- I think really works to my advantage."

She is, Shimabukuro suggests, a coach on the ice.

"From a coaching perspective, she's almost like a coach's dream because she's very coachable, very athletic, learns to stick to the process and not get too wrapped up in the results."

"She knew what I wanted before I wanted it," Dugan said. "She's mature like that. She takes responsibility for her actions. She just always wants to do things the right way."

With Bowe's quick rise on the long track team, the United States now has at least two women positioned for success in Sochi -- Bowe and Richardson -- and both of them are from the South: Bowe, from Ocala, Fla., and Richardson, from High Point, N.C.

Both are also trying to become the first Olympic ladies medalist in long track for the United States since Chris Witty won gold in the 1,000 on the same track that Bowe broke the world record.

"To have Heather, who is arguably one of the fastest if not the fastest girl on ice, to train with day in and day out is a blessing and a great opportunity," Bowe said. "We push each other day in and day out. … We make each other better. We just up the level every day.

"At the end of the day, whoever's the fastest on that day is going to win. It could be either one of us on any given day. That's the beauty of it."

The relationship between Bowe and Richardson reflects the friendly but competitive nature of the long track team entering the Olympic season.

"Everyone helps each other. Everyone wants the best for each other," Shimabukuro said. "I think that the culture of atmosphere that we built around the sprint team and the long track team has helped foster that quick growth through the sport."

The battle for berths on the U.S. Olympic Team won't come until late December, when the Olympic trials are held at the Utah Olympic Oval.

The long track trials are Dec. 27 through Jan. 1, followed by the short track trials Jan. 2-5. It is then that Bowe hopes to realize her long-awaited Olympics wish.

"Every two years when the Olympics come on, whether it be summer or winter, I just get this kind of rush," Bowe said. "It gives me the chills to watch people compete in the Olympics, which is the highest platform of being a sportswoman. Some people dream of being doctors, police officers -- I have dreamed of being an Olympian all my life."

The question is, how many events will she skate?

"I would say the 1,000 is her premier event," Shimabukuro said, "But she's made a big jump in the 500 as well. I wouldn't count her out of the 1,500. She has a lot of weapons in her arsenal, just like Heather."

And watching closely, but from afar, will be Bowe's college basketball teammates at FAU and former coach.

"It's just so awesome to have their support," Bowe said. "They're really involved with my journey. It's special to be able to share that with them because I consider them family."