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    Monday, January 5, 1998

    Patience will be golden for U.S. speedskaters

     WEST ALLIS, Wis. (AP) -- It's on to Nagano for the U.S. speedskating team, which doesn't have a sure-fire gold medal contender such as Bonnie Blair or Dan Jansen.
     Instead, this group hopes to use its Olympic experience to build toward the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City.
     "I think one or two medals would be great," said Gerard Kemkers, the national team's all-around coach. "This is the first Olympics for many of them where they'll be under medal pressure."
     The American catchword for the Nagano Games is patience.
     "Let them go through these Games, hope they perform pretty well and use this as a steppingstone to Salt Lake City," Kemkers advised.
     The U.S. Olympic trials concluded Monday with races to select three team members for both the women's 5,000 meters and the men's 10,000 meters.
     Kirstin Holum, 17, of Waukesha, Wis., who made a stunning announcement last week that she'll retire after this season, set a track record at the Pettit National Ice Center with a time of 7 minutes, 23.51 seconds. She already had qualified in the 3,000.
     Holum was followed by two other women who already had made the team -- Jennifer Rodriguez (7:28.84) of Miami and Becky Sundstrom (7:42.89) of Glen Ellyn, Ill., both of whom qualified for four events at Nagano. Only seven women made the team since five are skating more than one race.
     In the 10,000, David Tamburrino of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., also set a track record at 14:22.05, followed by KC Boutiette of Tacoma, Wash. (14:34.50) and Jondon Trevena of Fort Collins, Colo. (14:41.68).
     Rodriguez, Boutiette and Trevena are all former inline skaters who switched to ice.
     The inline transfusion is helping the Americans rebuild a speedskating program that was dominated for a decade by Blair and Jansen. Both retired after winning gold at Lillehammer.
     Of the 16 skaters who made the American team, only five have Olympic experience -- and none of them have finished higher than 19th.
     "Bonnie and D.J. were exceptional talents," Kemkers said. "They had established themselves over years and years and years. They had the kind of experience that those skaters we're working with now don't have."
     No one knows how an athlete will react at his first Olympics. That's why team officials are downplaying medal expectations, though program director Nick Thomet believes five Americans will be podium contenders in Nagano: Boutiette and Casey FitzRandolph for the men; Chris Witty, Holum and Sundstrom for the women.
     Only one of those five, only Boutiette, 27, is older than 22.
     "Please look past what Dan Jansen and Bonnie Blair did," Kemkers said. "If you do that, you'll see the depth of this team is so much better. ... We'll look good in Salt Lake City. That's not our goal right now. But Nagano is a step toward that goal."
     The national trials, held over two weekends at the country's only indoor rink, provided some compelling stories for a sport that's still basically an amateur event in the United States.
     Marc Pelchat, a 30-year-old former hockey player from Massachusetts, qualified in the 500 even though he has been a long-track speedskater for only two years. He's the oldest member of the team, just ahead of 29-year-old Moira D'Andrea, a 1992 Olympian from Saratoga Springs, N.Y., who bounced back from a case of hepatitis and serious injuries suffered in a 1996 cycling accident to qualify in three events.
     Of course, there was also heartbreak of those who fell just short of a trip to Japan.
     Tim Hoffman of Waukesha, Wis., whose mother is seriously ill, was edged for a spot on the team in both the 1,000 and 1,500. The combined margin of missing the team in those two events -- 0.13 seconds.
     Linda Runyon, a 33-year-old Wall Street analyst who moved to Milwaukee in 1994 to take up speedskating, missed by less than three seconds in her one and only chance to make the Olympics.
     Runyon skated the race of her life to finish fourth in the 5,000, taking more than 14 seconds off her previous best. But only three skaters will be taken to Nagano.
     "It's been a phenomenal experience," said Runyon, who has continued to work as a vice president for Merrill Lynch out of her home while making time for her late-starting athletic career. "Of course, I wish I could fought a little harder, dug down a little deeper. But I did the best I could. I'm glad I did it."
     Speedskating Results
     WEST ALLIS, Wis. (AP) -- Results Monday of U.S. Long Track Speedskating Olympic Trials at the Pettit National Ice Center:
     5,000 Meters
     1, Kirstin Holum, Waukesha, Wis., 7 minutes, 23.51 seconds. 2, Jennifer Rodriguez, Miami, 7:28.84. 3, Becky Sundstrom, Glen Ellyn, Ill., 7:42.89. 4. Linda Runyon, Boston, 7:45.64. 5, Sarah Shapiro, Milwaukee, 7:48.86. 6, Catherine Raney, Elm Grove, Wis., 7:51.39.
     10,000 Meters
     1, Dave Tamburrino, Saratoga, N.Y. 14:22.05. 2, KC Boutiette, Tacoma, Wash., 14:34.50. 3, Jondon Trevena, Fort Collins, Colo., 14:41:68. 4, Jason Hedstrand, Shoreview, Minn., 14:44.20. 5, Mark Delanoy, Chicago, 14:58.37. 6, Danny Frederic, Salt Lake City, 15:07.11.