MILWAUKEE (AP) – All Joey Mantia needed to do to qualify for the mass start in the Olympics was to finish at the U.S. Speedskating trials.
He took it a little easy to begin the race Sunday before adrenaline kicked in.
The fifth-place finish on Sunday clinched Mantia’s spot in the mass start at the Winter Games, where the reigning world champion has bigger goals in mind.
“I really wanted to let those guys race it out and then I got a little hungry with a half-lap to go. I thought, ‘Maybe I can win this,'” Mantia said.
Brian Hansen took the event with a time of 7 minutes, 48.24 seconds Sunday, the final day of the trials. Mantia and Hansen finished 1-2 in the overall rankings to secure the United States’ two entries in the mass start, which is debuting this year as an Olympic medal event.
“I think we can put together a solid plan. I think he’s on board for working for me, as the designated winner for the Games, but we’ve got to see how it plays out and who’s feeling the best when we get there,” Mantia said. “But I’m very confident having a strong teammate like Hansen.”
The mass start is speedskating’s version of a NASCAR race on ice. Foregoing the traditional time-trial format, all entries were on the oval at the same time for the 16-lap, 6,400-meter free-for-all that included four sprint laps.
“You never know what’s going to happen in that race,” Hansen said.
Asked if the goal was to help Mantia, Hansen added “We’ve got three weeks. I don’t know what exactly the strategy is going to be yet.”
With 24 entries on Sunday, the men’s race was a little more hectic than the eight-entry women’s race in which Heather Bergsma finished second and Mia Manganello third. That gave each skater, who had already qualified in other events, enough points to finish atop the rankings to clinch the U.S. berths.
Consider the combinations of Mantia and Hansen, and Bergsma and Manganello, as two-person squads at the Games.
“I think that’s the best way that we can get a country medal at the Olympics, is working as a unit,” Manganello said, “and I think with (Bergsma) and I, I think we’ve got a great opportunity to do so.”
Maria Lamb won the women’s race at 9:15.17, but could not pass Bergsma and Manganello in overall points in order to qualify. The women’s roster for the Olympics is complete with six skaters.
Mantia and Hansen had already qualified in other events. U.S. Speedskating added Emery Lehman as a specialist in team pursuit to complete the seven-member men’s squad.
Lehman, a 2014 Olympian, will have to interrupt his junior year at Marquette University, about a 10-minute drive from the Pettit National Ice Center in Milwaukee.
“I have to email my adviser, withdraw from classes,” Lehman said.
The mass start wrapped up what U.S. Speedskating high performance director Guy Thibault considered a successful trip to Milwaukee. The trials drew sellout crowds for all six days in the return to the Pettit for the first time since 1998.
Once considered the American mecca for the sport, Pettit had been overtaken by the Utah Olympic Oval in recent years as the home for top speedskaters.
“I’ve never seen the Pettit Center so busy,” Thibault said. “That was actually pretty amazing.”
Now it’s on to Pyeongchang, South Korea, where the United States hopes to erase the painful memories of getting shutout four years ago in Sochi. It was the first time that Americans failed to earn a medal in speedskating since 1984.
“As far as selection goes, I think we ended up with the best team,” Thibault said.