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    Sunday, December 28, 1997

    Americans getting used to clap skates

     WEST ALLIS, WIS. (AP) -- David Cruikshank is known as the master mechanic on the U.S. Olympic speedskating team for the hours he's spent tinkering with the squad's newfangled clap skates.
     Cruikshank finally mastered the little buggers himself, qualifying for the Nagano Olympics with a second-place finish in the men's 500 meters Sunday at the U.S. Long Track Olympic trials at the Pettit National Ice Center.
     "I really, really struggled learning how to skate on these new clap skates. I made a couple of fine adjustments within the last two weeks which seemed to work," Cruikshank, 28, said after qualifying for his fourth Olympics.
     Cruikshank is married to five-time Olympic champion Bonnie Blair, who said she wishes the move to clap skates had been delayed until after the 1998 Winter Olympics.
     "Some skaters are adjusting and some aren't. It would have been nice for skaters to have three years to adjust instead of three months," Blair said.
     Clap skates, introduced last year by European skaters, allow the heel to lift off the blade, which has produced faster times. But it takes a long time for skaters to alter their technique, and Americans began training with them only last spring.
     Cruikshank dived wholeheartedly into mastering the new technology, and soon he found himself working on his teammates' skates, as well.
     "These are my teammates," Cruikshank said. "So I owe it to them to help put their skates together and do whatever I can to make us a better team."
     As it has for many other, the clap skates became an obsession for Cruikshank.
     "Train in the morning, spend six hours on my skates, train at night," he said. "And I know that sounds crazy, but when you're learning how to do something and you're cutting a different piece off here and it doesn't work and then you've got to cut something else off, and it's just forever. But people around the world I'm sure are doing it and it's going to be a rat race until the Olympics to figure out what you're happy in."
     One speedskater still trying to master the clap skate is Casey FitzRandolph, who was the top qualifier in the 500 on Sunday but who must wait until next weekend to try to earn a spot in the 1,000, his best event.
     "All I can tell you is when people do figure it out, their times really slide down by drastic measures. Mine haven't done that yet," said FitzRandolph, a three-time U.S. sprint champion.
     "It seems like every week somebody dials it in and their times come down almost a second a lap," added FitzRandolph, of Verona, Wis. "I'm going to keep playing with them and hopefully that will happen."
     The top three finishers in the men's and women's 500 and the women's 1,500 on Sunday made the team that will compete at Nagano. One more qualifier in each category will be determined next weekend.
     Cory Carpenter of Brookfield, Wis., and David Tamburrino of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., joined pre-race qualifier KC Boutiette of Tacoma, Wash., in the men's 1,500 on Sunday.
     Thanks to a breakout weekend, Carpenter also joined FitzRandolph and Cruikshank on the medal stand in the 500.
     Chris Witty, of West Allis, who qualified in the women's 1,000 on Saturday, qualified in the 500 and 1,500 Sunday with a two-day time of 78.8 seconds in the 500 meters and 2:01.17 in the 1,500 race.
     Witty is America's best medal hope in Japan.
     Becky Sundstrom of Glen Ellyn, Ill., and D'Andrea Moira of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., also qualified in the 500, as they did in the 1,000.
     Sundstrom qualified in the 1,500, as well, joining former inline skater Jennifer Rodriguez, who qualified for her first Olympics.
     Rodriguez, a Cuban-American from Miami, is the first female with a background on inline skates to make a U.S. Olympic speedskating team. Her boyfriend, Boutiette, was the first male to do so when he qualified for the 1994 team after only a few months on ice skates.
     Rodriguez, who spend just year on traditional skates, said her transition to clap skates went smoothly.
     "It seemed to have come natural to me because clap skates are similar to inline skates," said Rodriguez, who switched to ice only year ago.
     Speedskating Trials Results
     MILWAUKEE (AP) -- Results Sunday of the U.S. Olympic Long Track Speedskating Trials at the Pettit National Ice Center:
     500--1, Casey FitzRandolph, Verona, Wis., 36.53. 2, David Cruikshank, Northbrook, Ill., 36.79. 3, Marc Pelchat, Chelmsford, Mass., 37.03. 4, Cory Carpenter, Brookfield, Wis., 37.05. 5, KC Boutiette, Tacoma, Wash., 37.06. 6, Nathaniel Mills, Washington, 37.41.
     1,500--1, Carpenter, 1:52.83. 2, David Tamburrino, Saratoga Springs, N.Y., 1:53.34. 3, FitzRandolph, 1:54.70. 4, Timothy Hoffmann, Waukesha, Wis., 1:54.77. 5, Jondon Trevena, Fort Collins, Colo., 1:55.00. 6, Mills, 1:55.05.
     500--1, Chris Witty, West Allis, Wis., 39.40. 2, Rebecca Sundstrom, Glen Ellyn, Ill., 40.35. 3, Moira D'Andrea, Saratoga Springs, N.Y. 40.61. 4, Amy Sannes, St. Paul, Minn., 40.77. 5, Kim Strzykalski, East Troy, Wis., 40.92. 6, Chantal Cermak, Rockford, Ill., 41.45.
     1,500--1, Witty, 2:01.17. 2, R.Sundstrom, 2:02.85. 3, Jennifer Rodriguez, Waukesha, Wis., 2:03.54. 4, D'Andrea, 2:03.96. 5, Kirstin Holum, Waukesha, Wis., 2:04.52. 6, Sannes, 2:06.86.