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    Friday, February 13, 1998

    Witty holding out hope for first medal

     NAGANO, Japan (AP) -- Chris Witty still thinks she has a chance to win America's first speedskating medal at the Nagano Games. All she has to do is skate like a Canadian.
     Feeling tense and skating conservatively, Witty wound up sixth in the first round of the 500-meter race Friday. Her time of 39.09 seconds was 0.7 behind leader Catriona Le May-Doan and made it unlikely she could win a medal.
     Then again, that's what they said about Jeremy Wotherspoon of Canada. He was seventh after the first round of the men's 500, but won the silver medal with a great run in the second.
     "It could happen in the 500," Witty said. "Somebody could slip, somebody could do the same thing I did -- get too tense. I have the first outer (lane), so whoever I'm with I'll be able to chase them. And I like to chase."
     Barring a slip or some other time-consuming mistake, it looks doubtful anyone can catch up with the Le May-Doan or Susan Auch, the clap-happy Canadians poised to win their country's first Olympic gold in women's speedskating.
     Le May-Doan didn't break her world record of 37.55, but she was good enough to set the Olympic mark of 38.39 and lead Auch, the silver medalist at Lillehammer, who finished in 38.42.
     They were followed by the surprisingly strong showing of two Japanese skaters, Tomomi Shimizaki and Kyoko Shimizaki.
     "Some of the other girls skated great races," said Canadian sprint coach Derrik Auch, Susan's brother. "But Catriona is in first place. That's where she's supposed to be."
     Ever since the Canadians tried out the new hinged-blade clap skates in June, they have taken over in the 500 -- especially Le May-Doan.
     She finished seventh in the World Cup after the 1996-97 season, put on the claps and has been virtually unbeatable since. Le May-Doan has won five of six World Cup events, and the only woman to break the 38-second barrier has done so four times in the past three months.
     Even an average race -- like the first 500 meters -- is usually good enough for Le May-Doan.
     "Catriona didn't race her own race," said U.S. coach Gerard Kemkers. "She should have skated a 38-low or a 37-high, but she's probably the same story as Chris. She'll do a lot better."