Richardson, Bowe rivals on ice, friends off it

PAUL NEWBERRY (AP National Writer)
The Associated Press
Richardson, Bowe rivals on ice, friends off it
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Heather Richardson of the United States skates in the women's 1,000-meter race of the World Sprint Speed Skating Championships in Nagano, central Japan,Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe love to chill out together, whether it's going to the movies or just lounging on the couch watching TV.

Sure, they're competitors on the ice.

But their friendship isn't affected in the least by who finishes first at the speedskating oval.

''We always talk to each other after our races,'' said Richardson, who shares as apartment with Bowe in Park City, Utah. ''We congratulate each other, then we go home and hang out.''

The former inline skaters are two of the top U.S. medal hopefuls heading into the Sochi Olympics, though it may come down to one beating the other for gold.

Richardson and Bowe are ranked 1-2 in the World Cup standings for the 1,000 meters, with Richardson on top even though Bowe set a world record at the Utah Olympic Oval in November. They'll also compete in the 500 and 1,500, with Richardson considered the stronger of the two in the all-out sprint, while Bowe is more of a medal threat in the longer event.

Amazingly, racing each other for much of the same hardware hasn't affected how they get along. If anything, it has spurred Richardson and Bowe to greater heights as competitors, while bringing them closer together during their down time - a far cry from some of the more heated rivalries in the sport, such as Shani Davis vs. now-retired Chad Hedrick.

''We have a really special relationship,'' Bowe said. ''We're teammates, friends, competitors and roommates. It's really special to have one of the fastest, if not the fastest, girl in the world on my team, working with me day in and day out. We're really lucky to have each other.''

The 24-year-old Richardson will be competing in her second Olympics. She gave a glimpse of her potential at the Vancouver Games, posting a pair of top-10 finishes while still a relative neophyte on the ice, and her expectations are much higher this time around.

A native of High Point, N.C., Richardson won the world sprint championship last season and has been a consistent podium finisher on the World Cup circuit.

''I definitely think there's going to be pressure,'' she said. ''I've just got to remember to take deep breaths and have fun. That's when I skate my best.''

Bowe, who grew up in Ocala, Fla., took an especially unique route to the Winter Olympics.

In addition to being a former inline star, she also played point guard on the basketball team at Florida Atlantic from 2006-2010. She hoped to play professionally overseas - until she watched the Vancouver Games on television during her senior season. Just like that, she decided on a different path, moving to Utah to join the national speedskating program as soon as she was done with college.

''It started with the opening ceremonies,'' Bowe recalled. ''Then I saw Heather race, and Lauren (Cholewinski) race, and Chad Hedrick race, all my past friends and competitors (from inline skating). I just knew if they could do it, I could do it too. I just said to myself, 'I have to give this a try and go for it.'''

Bowe's rise to the top of the sport has been meteoric, but this was her goal all along.

''My mind was definitely set on Sochi,'' she said after the recent U.S. speedskating trials in suburban Salt Lake City. ''When I moved out here in 2010, my goal was to be an Olympian in 2014 and be on the podium in Sochi. I've never changed that.''

Bowe still feels like a bit of a rookie on the ice, but she and her fellow inliners have been a huge boost to the American speedskating program.

Of the 17 U.S. skaters who will compete on the big oval in Sochi, six learned to go fast with wheels on their feet, not blades. The team is comprised of more athletes from Ocala (Joey Mantia also grew up in that central Florida city) than Minnesota, not to mention a third Floridian - Eddy Alvarez from Miami - who made the short track squad.

''I don't think inline skating gets enough recognition,'' Bowe said. ''I will be forever grateful for that time in my life. I hope we keep producing a lot of great inline skaters who will make the switch over to ice at some point during their careers.

While firmly focused on the Olympics, she hasn't given up on her other love. Bowe heads to the gym whenever she can, intent on keeping her basketball skills sharp so she might be able to play professionally after Sochi.

''I do miss basketball a lot,'' she said. ''Basketball is in my blood and always will be. But I'm working on getting a gold medal at the Olympics. I have to put basketball on hold for now.''

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