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February 29, 1988 - Image 47

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The Michigan Daily, 1988-02-29

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spiked gloves. The four-foot-long, two-foot-
wide fiber-glass sled accelerates to 45 mph
within the first 10 seconds and can reach 80
mph. Sliders don't just hang on; they steer
with small body movements. In a sense, the
sled is not much different from the Flexible
Flyers that children use to belly-flop down
hills. "This is just the Indy of sledding,"
says Hughes.
Always popular in Europe, the sport is
dominated by the high-tech, well-coached
East Germans and Italians. But the United
States is gaining ground. A refrigerated,
Olympic-certified run (the only one in the
nation) was built for the 1980 Lake Placid
Games, and corporate sponsorships now
ease the team's financial plight. More trav-
el to meets and better equipment mean a
greater ability to vie with Europeans. Last
season, the United States placed fifth over-
all in the World Cup competition. Masley
took a silver and teammate Bonny Warner
. won a gold in one meet, and three women
placed in the top 10 overall. A medal at
Calgary is unlikely, but for the first time
American lugers are really in the running.
CHRISTOPHER M. BELLITTO inLakePlacid
Bladerunners
Katie Class cut her first ice when she
was only four years old. But figure
skating soon palled, and, at six, Class
told her father, "I don't like this. I want to
go fast." Speed has been her essence ever
since, and now the Minnesota junior is one
of three collegiate speed skaters on the U.S.
Olympic team. A marketing major, Class
finds that academe offers a welcome con-
trast to her demanding sport. "With skat-
ing and training, sometimes you can't real-
ly see the immediate results," she says. "In
school, you can."
Balancing academics and athletics is dif-
ficult. Six to eight hours a day for two
months of preseason practice and six hours
a day during their November-through-
March season means that speed skaters
must often carry lighter course loads. Dur-
ing Olympic training and competition,
most contenders "stop out" for a year, so all
three of 1988's student Olympians, who
were also on the '84 team, are older than
their peers. Class is 24, as is Minnesota
sophomore Nick Thometz; Jan Goldman,
23, is a senior at MIT, where she is grinding
through a premed major. "You can't give
100 percent in four different directions,"
says Leah Poulos Mueller, executive direc-
tor of the U.S. International Speedskating
Association. A three-time Olympic silver
medalist, Mueller earned her college de-
gree 17 years after her high-school gradua-
tion. "By the time you're working out eight

PHOTOS BY WILLIAM MEYER
Love of the sport, not money: 500-meter world record holder Thometz

hours a day, school kind of has to take a
back burner," she says.
American speed skaters have often been
outshone by their flashier, figure-skating
cousins-even though they've captured
twice as much Olympic gold. But in 1980 an
honors student at the University of Wis-
consin won five gold medals-and scored
new status for speed. The vivid sight of Eric
Heiden roaring down the ice at Lake Plac-
id, powered by the muscles of his 29-inch
thighs, made many Americans realize just
how compelling speed skating could be.
(Heiden now attends Stanford med school
and competes in professional bicycle rac-
ing.) Even as fans warmed to the sport,
however, financial backing remained hard
to find. A fund established through profits
from the 1984 Olympics did allow U.S. skat-
ers to compete in European meets last year.
Yet there are no college scholarships for
speed skaters-there are no intercollegiate
teams-and corporate sponsors are scarce.
Katie Class receives backing for her train-
ing from A & M records, but neither Tho-
metz-who has already broken Heiden's
world record for 500 meters-nor Goldman
have corporate backers.
Less massive: Like decathletes and cross-
country skiers, speed skaters must stay for-
midably fit for a competition in which they
flash around the 400-meter rink at speeds
over 30 mph. Most practice outdoors in the
winter and bike, run, lift weights and
roller-skate to keep in shape during the off
season. "You have to do everything to imi-
tate skating year-round," says Mueller.
But with exceptions like the 6-foot-1, 185-
pound Heiden, U.S. skaters have tended to
be less massive than their East German
and Soviet counterparts. Smaller skaters
like Goldman (5 feet 3/2 and 115 pounds),

Fast woman: Minnesota's Class

Class (5 feet 5and 135 pounds) and Thometz
(5 feet 9 and 167 pounds) often perform best
indoors, where they do not have to fight the
wind. And since speed skating will take
place indoors at Calgary for the first time in
Olympic history, American chances may
be better than usual.
Thometz, who has been timed at 36:55 for
500 meters, is given the best shot at a medal
among the three American students. Gold-
man is expected to rank among the top 15
women in longer distances, and Class is
considered a top-six possibility in one or
more of her mid-distance events. No matter
how she does, Class says, she'll be glad to
return to full-time scholarship. "I need a
break from real, serious competition," says
theyoung woman who has spent 20 years
going fast on ice.
KAREN SPRINGEN

MARCH 1988

NEWSWEEK ON CAMPUS 27

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