By: Melissa S. Wollering
With the Olympics fresh on the minds of many Midwesterners as a result of the Chicago 2016 bid, we here at The SportsBank.net wanted to share one of the region’s best-kept secrets. You know, things that are “kind of a big deal.” Every so often in our new column Sidetracked, we’ll branch out to bring you the best in non-mainstream Midwestern sports talent. We start with speedskating. If you don’t know him now, you will by Vancouver 2010. He’s the next big name headed to the Winter Olympics in his sport; Janesville, Wisconsin native Tucker Fredricks.
Wisconsin has been home to its fair share of Olympic speedskaters, many of whom became household names like Dan Jansen, Casey Fitzrandolph, Bonnie Blair and Kip Carpenter. I even went to high school at Milwaukee Pius XI with Olympian and 1997 Jr. All-around World Champ Kirstin Holum, whose mother was also an Olympic speedskater. Back then, Kirstin’s largest worry was finding herself a good pair of jeans that fit her incredibly strong and muscular legs. That’s saying something for an average 16-year-old who just wants to shop at the mall.
But speedskating isn’t your average sport. And if your parents didn’t pass their love for the sport and a pair of their old skates on to you, how in the world would a kid become interested?
“I got my first pair of hockey skates when I was two,” says Tucker Fredricks. “I played hockey until I was about nine or 10-years-old, and at eight or nine I got into speedskating. One of my father’s friends in Janesville was in the Madison Speedskating Club and my dad took me there to try it. I was really small when I was younger but I was also fast, so it was a fairly easy transition.”
Tucker traveled to Madison twice per week during his first few years on the oval. By the age of 14, he had increased his number of practices per week to five or six. By the age of 18 he was practicing everyday. That’s when he moved to Salt Lake City, Utah to become a member of the National Team. Training intensified to two practices per day.
“These past few years, I have been putting 100% of my efforts toward training and it has really paid off,” says Fredricks. “When I am feeling healthy and skating well, I can place in the top five at World Cups. I feel as though I have a great chance at doing very well in the Olympics. Summer training has gone well and I’m very focused.”
October is a huge month for the sport. Tucker Fredricks will compete in this month’s World Cup Qualifiers, where he will have a shot at one of four spots for the 500m. From among the top four qualifiers, three are chosen to represent USA as members of the Olympic Team. The final spot then reopens for competition at the U.S. Championships in December. Fredricks has already earned the title of Junior World Champion in the 500m but says he’s constantly setting the bar higher.
“The goals speedskaters set for themselves are very different; anything from just feeling good on their skates
to winning Olympic gold,” says Fredricks. “A few of the goals I would still like to accomplish would be to earn the
title of World Champion in the 500m, World Record holder in the 500m, and yes, an Olympic Gold Medal in the 500m.”
Tucker’s goals are set with a certain amount of humility. Fredricks isn’t arrogant; on the contrary he feels grateful to have traveled around the world in his pursuit of the sport, meeting people from many different backgrounds and cultures. He says the experience has helped him grow as a person and an athlete. It’s certainly a far cry from I-90 and Janesville, Wisconsin.
“I’m very proud to be from the Midwest. It’s a great place to grow up and the quality of people is just amazing. I’ve had a lot of support from the people in my hometown and I hope I can make them proud.”
I asked Tucker if he’s going to be a “big deal;” leather-bound books and mahogany wood and all. He laughed and told me he’s just going to have fun and that he’s very excited. Mark my words, friends: that’s a good, modest answer. But I can tell you, if Wisconsin’s speedskating tradition holds true, Ron Burgandy ain’t got nothing on Tucker Fredricks.
Look for more as we follow Tucker on his journey to World Cup Qualifiers, the U.S. Championships and hopefully, the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. We’ll also ask for the scoop on Tucker’s speed from 2002 Olympic 500m Champ Casey Fitzrandolph. Remember, you read it here first at The SportsBank.net.
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