Allison Baver continued her historic trek toward the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia this weekend. The 2010 Olympic Bronze Medalist’s victories at the Long Track North American Championship/American Cup Final and Short Track American Cup last month, positioned her for the podium in Sochi next year.
Known for her success as a short track speed skater, this weekend she captured the gold in the Long Track North American Championships in the 3000m and silver in the 1500m. The Long Track Speed Skating event took place in Salt Lake City, Utah and was a competition between USA and Canada.
“My long track coaches (Marion Waltrob, Matt Kooreman and Tom Cushman) are awesome. They believe in me, which inspires me.
“After winning the silver in the 1500 meter, they decided to make my lap time goals for the 3000 meter a bit higher! We were all very satisfied that I exceeded the times and won gold,” Baver said.
Great coaches make a difference
“With her time of 4:14.49 and posting the 6th best time by an American female speed skater this season, Allison showed clearly her aspirations and ability for qualifying a spot on the 3000m Olympic Long Track Team coming year.
“She was able to implement the technical and strategic advice from the coaches into her race and has a very high capacity of tolerating pain. Considering that she has only been skating Long Track for a few months makes me believe that there is a lot of good things coming her way,” Waltrob said.
“It was clear when I first started working with Allison that she has real ability, real talent. And more than just physical ability, she has a clear understanding of what she needs to do and to learn to keep improving. Most importantly, she has the discipline to follow through and do what it takes to get back on top,” Cushman said.
What is amazing is that this came only weeks after she recently swept the Short Track American Cup in Midland, Michigan where Baver won the 1500 meter, 1000 meter and both 500 meter event last month. American Cup victories in both short track and long track speed skating events in Salt Lake City, Utah this weekend.
“I love short track. The feeling I get when I race, there’s nothing like it,” Baver said.
The 1500 meter Short Track American record holder, who is also the most decorated US short track speed skater in the world during the past three Winter Olympic Games, is now unofficially qualified to compete in both the Long Track and Short Track Olympic Trials and is on the path to the Olympic podium once again.
My series of interviews with Baver during the past two years has documented her rise to worldwide fame. From the Reading, Pennsylvania suburbs that she grew up in, to the Olympic medal that she held at the Vancouver Winter Games, this high-achiever continues to aim for a developing set of lofty goals.
Four years ago, during a 1500 meter World Cup event in Sophia, Bulgaria, Baver’s right leg was shattered as she went to make a pass to win the race. That life-threatening crash broke her tibia and fibula and also caused a spiral fracture that extended into her ankle joint.
“Hearing of Lindsey Vonn’s crash was deja vu for me in many ways. I know what she needs to do and I’ll be rooting for her to qualify and to be on the podium in Sochi,” Baver said.
Vonn fell last month during the super-G of the Alpine world championships in Austria. The Olympic skiing champion needed to undergo reconstructive surgery after tearing ligaments in her right knee and breaking a bone in her lower leg.
After Baver’s horrific injury in 2009, an initial diagnosis projected the end to her racing career and also suggested that she would never walk normally again. One year later, with the help of the right medical and rehabilitation team, she stood on the Olympic podium with a bronze medal.
Last month, two years after having a plate removed from her leg, she triumphantly stood on the top step of the America’s Cup podium with a gold medal. Her sweep of all distancing events reaffirmed that she’s back on track for Sochi.
“With my focus on the Olympics and rehab therapy, I’ve been skating both long track and short track. It’s been a great break for me going back and forth long track and short track with the intensity and emotional energy required for rehab every single day.
“Skating both has reminded me of my talents and passion for speed skating in general. Long Track has been like my mental break, with no expectations and constant improvement it’s helped me in a lot of ways. I am very thankful that my times are right where they need to be and are improving. I’m excited to finish my rehab during the next few months and see what happens once I’m 100% again.
“My coaches keep asking me which I’m going to choose, long track or short track. Currently, I’m still in rehab therapy from having the plate removed from my leg and don’t believe I’ll be able to decide until that’s complete and I’m back at 100%. Performing well in both makes for a very difficult decision.
“As I progress in rehab, I’m able to add more and more to my training. I’m making gains that I’ve never done in my career and had to focus on things more technically and training attributes more specifically.
“I knew that in order for me to go for the gold in 2014, there was no choice but to have the plate removed. I could feel my bone flexing, but the plate not flexing upon impact.
“You need a coach in your corner, a team that’s encouraging you to do it, to wipe the blood and sweat off. The fight isn’t about your opponent anymore, it’s against yourself. That’s where I’m at right now,” Baver said.
The final round
As one of the most preeminent short track skaters of the decade pursues another Olympic moment, this consummate multi-tasker continues to help people around the world through her “Off the Ice” foundation and is also preparing to launch her own fashion line.
“Although I’ve taken some time off from international racing to complete my rehab, the goal is Sochi 2014.
“I think that round one is over. I’ll be more prepared than anyone when the bell goes off for the final round. And hey, can I get some bling for these boxing gloves please?” Baver said.
Sean O’Brien is based in the Philadelphia region and has written professionally for over two decades. You can follow him on Twitter @SeanyOB and also read his blog Insight.
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