Sunshine state becomes the hot spot for U.S. speedskating
The hot spot for speedskating in the United States is ... Florida?
In a continuing testament to the influence of inline skating on the American program, four athletes from the sunshine state are among 13 members of the long-track team at the Pyeongchang Olympics.
Contrast that with Wisconsin, the traditional home of U.S. speedskating but represented on this team by only one skater, Mitch Whitmore.
Brittany Bowe, Joey Mantia, Erin Jackson and Mia Manganello all grew up skating on wheels for Renee Hildebrand, who runs one of the nation's top inline clubs in Ocala, Florida.
Hildebrand traveled to South Korea to cheer on her former skaters, though she has to do it from the stands.
Inline skating is not an Olympic sport.
"I'd much rather be down there with my kids at an inline competition instead of in the stands watching from above," Hildebrand said. "It would be fantastic if our sport was in the Olympics. At the same time, I can't hold someone back if they want to be an Olympian."
A majority of the U.S. long-track skaters got their start as inliners. Heather Bergsma and Kimani Griffin are both from North Carolina. Jonathan Garcia is a Texas native.
Inline skating has made repeated bids to get on the Summer Games program, only to be rebuffed each time. That has led many of the top skaters to switch to the ice in pursuit of an Olympic medal.
"I still have a bumper sticker from 1980 that says, 'Roller Skating: Next Stop, Olympics,'" Hildebrand said with a chuckle. "All of my skaters were very happy on inlines. They had no desire to change sports. But they did have a desire to be Olympic champions."
Inliners have become a dominant force within the U.S. speedskating program, accounting for 11 of its last 18 Olympic medals. But that pipeline could be in danger of running dry.
Hildebrand said a lack of U.S. inline facilities and repeated rejections to become an Olympic sport have taken a toll on roller blading's popularity. At the most recent world championships, the Americans didn't win any gold medals.
"America doesn't dominate like we used to," she said. "We're not as good on the world scene as when Joey, Brittany and those guys were winning world championships in inline."
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