Eric and Beth Heiden, Dan Jansen, Bonnie Blair and others have established Wisconsin as a hotbed for Olympic speedskaters.
The Wisconsin tradition will continue at Torino in February with six skaters from the state - three men and three women. The men include Casey FitzRandolph of Verona, Tucker Fredricks and Kip Carpenter, both of Janesville. The women are Chris Witty of West Allis, Catherine Raney of Elm Grove and Maria Lamb of River Falls.
Witty of West Allis leads the women and has already established herself as part of that state speedskating tradition. Torino will be Witty's fifth Olympic venture -- four Winter Games and a Summer Game in Sydney cycling competition.
She is the 2002 Olympics 1000m gold medalist and won two medals (silver, 1000m; bronze, 1500m) at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games -- America's only double medalist at those Games. She is only ninth American athlete to compete in Summer and Winter Olympics.
At 30, Witty will be the veteran of the women's team. "I think I'll have that advantage over other athletes, where it may be their first time around or even their second and they might not be sure how to handle it. It might be a shock to them, but for me I'm used to it and I know what to expect," Witty says of her veteran status.
She also is well aware of the tradition of Wisconsin speedskaters. "I've looked up to people like Carl Lewis, Flo Jo (Florence Griffith-Joyner), Eric Heiden, Dan Jansen and Bonnie Blair," she says. "I learned from the Wisconsin speedskaters."
Raney, 25, qualified for the Olympics in 1998 and 2002. She finished 22nd in her first competition.
"I wish I could have held it together a little better in the last three laps, but it was a great Olympic experience," Raney said.
As a youth she competed at the West Allis Speed Skating Club in Milwaukee. The club claims more than 17 Olympic champions, more than 50 World Team members and more than 95 national champions as alumni, including Witty and Jansen.
Lamb, 20, will be competing in her first Olympics. She is the 2005 U.S. National All-Around Champion and Junior All-Around Points National record holder
FitzRandolph of Verona will be one of the leaders of the men's team. He won the gold medal in the 500m in 2002 in record time and will be competing in his third Olympics at Torino.
The Wisconsin speedskating tradition -- particularly Eric Heiden -- inspired FitzRandolph. "I was four when he won all his medals. I started skating right then," he said.
FitzRandolph, 31, started his speedskating career with the Madison Speedskating Club, training on the same outdoor rinks that produced the legendary five gold medal winner, Heiden, of the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Games. He stayed with the sport during his high school years and while at Carroll College. He also played football and soccer.
After he retires from skating, FitzRandolph would like to try to kick for the Packers. With place kicker Ryan Longwell a free agent, and the Packers' punter at the end of the season a former bartender, FitzRandolph might want to try out.
Carpenter, 26, is the 2002 Olympics 500-meter bronze medalist. He qualified for the 2002 team in the 500- and 1,000-meters events. The bronze medal was a great thrill, and Carpenter still feels what he calls a "fire inside."
"It's (winning the medal) something an athlete dreams and works towards for their entire career. It was a dream come true," he said. "There's a fire inside that burns to represent my country well and do 'right' for America and American athletics."
Fredricks, 21, will be in his first Olympics. He qualified for the 500m team by finishing second in the World Cup Championships, just ahead of Janesville neighbor Carpenter.
The speedskaters are not the only Wisconsin representatives on the U.S. Olympic team. Maureen Brunt, 23, of Portage, will compete on the curling team. She serves as what is called the "lead" for the Cassie Johnson rink of Bemidji, Minnesota, which won the Olympic trials.
Ski jumper Clint Jones also was born in Monroe, while his parents were visiting the state, but he has called Steamboat Springs, Colorado, home for most of his 21 years.
But, the speedskaters give Wisconsin the most representatives and will help give the U.S. a strong team. The Wisconsin skaters join Chad Hedricks, who has been given a shot at equaling Heiden's medals record by some, world champion Shani Davis and other strong skaters.
Bart Schouten, who coaches Witty and other top skaters, is among those who are predicting a big medal count for the Americans in Turin.
"I think it's the strongest team we've ever fielded," he said. "Eric Heiden was probably the strongest individual with five gold medals in 1980 but team-wise I think we're stronger than ever."
You can find a list of all U.S. athletes by going to usoc.org and get more information about the Winter Olympics at torino2005.org. The Torino Games run Feb. 10-26. Speedskating competition starts Feb. 11.
Go For Gold in 2016
While the Winter Olympics are the focus right now, Milwaukee officials should look ahead to 2016 and to the south along I-94.
A proposal for Milwaukee to join with Chicago in an attempt to land the 2016 Summer Olympics makes a lot of sense.
First, Miller Park, the U.S. Cellular Arena, what likely will be a revamped Bradley Center and other sports facilities in Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha could provide nice supplements to Chicago sports facilities.
It's not unusual to travel 90 miles to different venues during an Olympics. When this reporter covered the Olympics in Sydney in 2000, rowing and other sports were held in the Blue Mountains, more than 90 miles away, and some sports were held in Melbourne.
The Olympics might serve as a catalyst to actually build the high speed rail system between Chicago and Milwaukee that has been in the discussion stages for years. Many spectators traveled from venue to venue in Sydney via rail.
The Games also might promote increased cooperation with Chicago in many other economic development areas. For too long, Milwaukee tried to stand as an island in fear of being swallowed up as a "northern suburb" of Chicago.
Some cities have lost their economic shirts hosting Olympics. But, those were cities that built new sports facilities and housing from scratch. Between Chicago and Milwaukee, many of the venues and housing already are in place. Add some additional motels and hotels, and other tourism facilities, along the I-94 corridor, and the combined metro areas could serve as good hosts.
A Business Journal poll ran about 80% in support of an attempt to get the Games. Of course, that's not a scientific poll, but it could serve as a straw poll of public opinion on the issue. If people are behind the effort, city and country officials should move on it.
This writer watched the 2000 Olympics help transform the image of Sydney from a place "down under" to a world class city. People from all over the world saw the city and surrounding area on television and the internet, and that developed from Games that were shown back in the U.S. and elsewhere at odd times because of the time difference.
By joining with Chicago in the effort, Milwaukee could show it too has world class potential.
Gregg Hoffmann has covered Wisconsin sports for almost 30 years and covered the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, for several Midwest media markets.