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VANCOUVER, British Columbia – There is just one more race for Chad Hedrick until he skates off into a future that has nothing to do with ice and pain.
Saturday's team pursuit final is the end of a long and frozen path in speedskating for Hedrick; a career that saw him cross over from inline skating to become a two-time Winter Olympian. After a few more minutes of lactic acid torture, a new adventure will begin.
"I can't wait," said Hedrick's wife Lynsey. "At last I get my husband to myself."
The pursuit also offers the chance to pull off what would be the most unexpected American gold of these Games, with Hedrick and the United States squad of Jonathan Kuck, Trevor Marsicano and Brian Hansen going head-to-head against Canada at the Richmond Olympic Oval.
Like any battle between the border rivals, Saturday's showdown will prompt a rowdy and vibrant atmosphere. Yet Hedrick will take a moment for personal reflection as he steps to the line – and it won't just be because this is the last race of his life.
The 32-year-old Texan carries with him a personal loss that still burns fresh into his memory bank, the moment last year when Lynsey called him with the news she had miscarried what would have been their second child.
"It was a pretty horrible thing to happen and I wouldn't wish it on anyone," Chad Hedrick said. "There is sadness and loss and all those things that more women than we realize have to go through in that situation."
Hedrick was deeply shaken by the loss and spent some weeks in "a daze." Struggling to comprehend the reality of the situation, he battled to maintain his training regimen for what would be his final competition before becoming a "full-time father and husband" and exploring some business ventures.
It was with Lynsey's assistance that he discovered a renewed focus and philosophy, finding a collective strength that helped each deal with the pain.
"She is a special woman and she has made a lot of sacrifices to allow me to pursue my goals and dreams," Hedrick said. "For that reason I see them as shared dreams, anything that I do and achieve is just as much down to her."
The focus on skating, on Chad performing his best, helped the Hedricks cope.
"I am certain that what happened has made us stronger and better and brought our relationship even closer together," Chad Hedrick said. "To have her here with me has been wonderful and I want to sign off in the right way."
And so that sign-off happens here Saturday, as Hedrick – the two-time Olympian who won gold in the 5,000 four years ago in Turin – takes to the ice with the honest expectation that his efforts could produce a fifth career Olympic medal.
"Everything you go through in life can act as motivation but especially the really hard times," he said. "If you keep your head and your belief then good things can happen."
Good things certainly happened for Hedrick on Friday after a mixed bag of results in Vancouver so far. An impressive bronze in the 1,000 meters earlier in these Games was followed by failure to reach the podium in his favorite event, the 1,500.
But then came the team pursuit, in which Team USA entered as one of the rank outsiders. In fact, many experts tipped them for a finish no better than sixth out of the eight competing teams. And when a quarterfinal with Japan was safely negotiated, a semifinal defeat to an almighty Dutch squad featuring superstar Sven Kramer seemed inevitable.
Yet Hedrick produced one of the performances of his life to steer his young colleagues home and book a place in the final.
He was a picture of determination in the closing stages against the Dutch; mouth open, right arm flailing, hurting himself for a cause he believes not only is an opportunity but also a duty.
Hedrick is a hard-nosed competitor and makes no apology for it. Yet he also wants to offer something back to U.S. Speedskating and never for a moment considered not competing in the team event.
Shani Davis, who could have turned the Americans into instant favorites by agreeing to participate, opted instead to focus on his individual races, even though his program was completed several days before Friday's pursuit heats.
Few could have predicted what followed. In the quarterfinal against Japan, the Americans took an early lead and never let it slip, with Kuck and Marsicano showing a maturity beyond their years in perfect pacing.
Hedrick was assisted by Kuck, Marsicano and Hanson, and it soon became apparent that the youngsters were coming of age as their lungs and thighs reached bursting point in Hedrick's churning slipstream.
Now they are just one step from what would be a truly remarkable gold medal.
"To win a gold medal would be an amazing way to end," Hedrick said. "I haven't always skated my best at these Olympics and it hasn't been everything I hoped for.
"We didn't really expect this much from the pursuit though. … We didn't know how it would play out."
Now one more gold dangles within Hedrick's reach as he prepares one final burst of effort to bring down the curtain on his career. Not that he needs that medal, but …
"I am more interested in Chad the husband than Chad the skater," Lynsey said. "He knows I am here for him whatever happens.
"But I will be screaming for him to bring home the gold, because no one deserves it more."