2014 Olympic Speedskating: Preview and Predictions for Women's 500-Meter Race
When it comes to an exciting way to spend about 40 seconds of your life, you could do a lot worse than the women's 500-meter speedskating competition.
It's exciting, quick and dramatic.
What more could you ask for?
The women's 500-meter race, unlike longer distances in speedskating, requires two heats. This setup ensures that each skater gets to race on both the inner and outer lanes—this distance is too short for changing—and corrects for the slight advantage given to the skater on the inner lane.
Times are added together to create an overall time, with the lowest times eventually securing medals.
In this event, there is literally no margin for error if you want to hit the podium.
This is your complete preview of the women's 500-meter speedskating event.
Schedule, TV and Live Stream Info
Unlike some of the live action from Sochi, the women's 500 meters will take place at a near-reasonable hour on both coasts.
Date: February 11
7:45 a.m. ET, women's 500 meters, Race 1 of 2
9:35 a.m. ET, women's 500 meters, Race 2 of 2
Live streams will be available at NBCOlympics.com.
Tape-delayed TV schedules can be found at NBCOlympics.com/TV-Listings.
How Did We Get Here?
For the American women, the road to Sochi concluded in December and January with qualifying races at the Utah Olympic Oval. The United States seems to have qualified its strongest long-track team since the 2002 Winter Games.
Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe came in No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the 500 meters to secure their tickets to the Winter Games. They are joined by Lauren Cholewinski, Kelly Gunther and Sugar Todd.
For Richardson, it will be her second shot at cracking the podium after coming in a disappointing sixth in the 500 meters in Vancouver.
Bowe, a former inline skating champion who took up speedskating just a couple of years ago, will be making her first Olympic appearance, and she represents one of the United States' better chances to medal on the big oval.
Along with Richardson, she comprises a formidable one-two punch for the American team.
Can the American Women Reach the Podium?
The U.S. speedskating team captured four medals—one gold, two silver and a bronze—in Vancouver four years ago.
But people are calling this the strongest American team since Salt Lake City in 2002—where the host United States captured eight overall medals including three golds—and there is an air of expectation this time around.
Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe are the United States' best chances to make the podium in the 500 meters, and it wouldn't be a shock if one or both ended up there. And if they do, they'll become the first American skaters to medal on the big oval since Salt Lake City.
Can Sang Hwa Lee Repeat Her Gold from Vancouver?
The 500-meter race relies on speed. Unlike in the longer distances, you don't pace yourself early in order to save something for the final push. You need to get right out of the gate and blister around the ice if you want to have a chance at gold.
Lee did just that in Vancouver, and she came out on top of a very talented field to capture her first career Olympic gold medal.
She's looking to repeat in Sochi, and if she does, she'll join Bonnie Blair and Catriona Le May Doan as the only women to capture back-to-back gold medals in the women's 500 meters.
Who Are the Sleepers?
Do you know where Brittany Bowe was during the 2010 Winter Olympics?
She was the starting point guard for the Florida Atlantic University Owls women's basketball team.
That makes speedskating the third sport—joining inline skating and basketball—in which she's excelled. At some point, we'll need to acknowledge that she's a supreme athlete who can do anything she puts her mind to doing.
She has tremendous speed and mental toughness on the ice. At the U.S. speedskating trials in December, she tripped at the start of the 500-meter race, but refusing to go down, she rallied to come in second behind Heather Richardson.
Looking to improve on her bronze medal in Vancouver, Wang comes to the Sochi Games in a strong position to medal again.
Vancouver was a drastic improvement over her highly disappointing 2006 Games performance. In Turin, she entered as one of the favorites to capture a medal in the 500 meters, but she didn't come close after a disappointing seventh-place finish.
If she keeps improving, another bronze, or even something nicer, is a possibility.
Wolf was once the world-record holder in the 500 meters, until China's Yu Jing took that from her in 2012. The record has since been beaten four times by Sang Hwa Lee, including on back-to-back days in a World Cup event at the Utah Olympic Oval in November of 2013.
The German skater, who captured four gold medals in the 500 meters at the world championships, took silver in Vancouver. She's clearly one of the biggest threats to Lee's continued dominance.
Who Is the Favorite to Win Gold?
Sang Hwa Lee is the defending gold medalist in this event, and she's the clear favorite to retain her crown.
She set the world record in the 500 meters four times in 2013 alone, and she hasn't really been challenged in competition over the last year. Until proven otherwise, she remains the class of this field and should be heading toward her second gold medal.
But then again, this is the Olympics, and the favorite doesn't always win.
Is it impossible for her to be upset? No. But it is improbable.
Complete Medal Predictions
It's very tempting, given the depth of the American squad, to go with an upset here. Many would be surprised, but few would be shocked, if someone were to knock Lee off her lofty perch in Sochi.
After all, this is an extremely deep and talented field.
All three medalists are back from four years ago, the American team is stronger than it's been in a decade, and gold medal repeats are difficult to achieve.
But in the end you have to follow your mind and not your heart.
Gold: Sang Hwa Lee (Korea)
Silver: Heather Richardson (United States)
Bronze: Jenny Wolf (Germany)