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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, February 17, 2010

U.S. speedskaters off to bumpy start

 •  2010 Winter Olympics results
 •  Olympic TV schedule
 •  Men wage great skate battle
 •  Hockey teams save day for U.S.
 •  Four years later, another Jacobellis disappointment
 •  Olympic daily schedule

Gannett News Service

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

U.S. speedskater Jennifer Rodriguez, left, received directions from coach Ryan Shimabukuro, from Hawai'i, in a practice session at the Richmond Olympic Oval.

MATT DUNHAM | Associated Press

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Title: Speedskating coach of U.S. Olympic team

Age: 36

Hawai'i tie: Raised in Honolulu (Salt Lake area).

How he got interested: In 1980 at age 6, he was captivated by speedskater Eric Heiden.

How he got started: Skating at The Ice Palace.

What happened: Left Moanalua High School when he was a sophomore to pursue his Olympic dreams. He finished at Waukesha North High School in Milwaukee. His parents also moved there.

Athletic career: Competed in the Olympic Trials in 1994 and 1998. In 1994, he finished 10th in the 1,000 meters. In 1998, he finished sixth, missing out on one of the top four qualifying spots by a second.

Coaching career: Coached Junior National Team from 1998 to 2002 and was elevated to U.S. head coach after 2002 Salt Lake Games.

Achievements: Coached Joey Cheek to a gold medal in the men's 500-meter event at the Lingotto Oval in Turin, Italy, in 2006. "Obviously, I felt a sense of pride. I had a stake in that gold medal," Shimabukuro said then.

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia Ryan Shimabukuro is doing his best to keep his focus on the ice.

That's part of the problem.

The U.S. speedskating team and its sprint coach have had a bumpy go in the early days of the Vancouver Winter Games.

Problems with the ice surface at Richmond Olympic Oval plagued the competition Sunday and Monday. Poor American results have plagued Shimabukuro: Ninth place was the best U.S. finish through the first three days of competition.

Better days in both respects are ahead, he said.

"It's been a rough start to the Games for our team," he said yesterday, "but at any point, it can turn around just as fast."

Shimabukuro, 36, a Honolulu native who lives in Utah, reveres the Winter Olympics as much as anyone. He was 6 when he saw Eric Heiden win five gold medals at the 1980 Lake Placid Games. The performance hooked him.

Shimabukuro skated competitively until he failed to make the U.S. Olympic roster in 1998, then shifted into coaching. He guided Joey Cheek to a gold medal in the 500 meters at the 2006 Torino Winter Games.

He knows how special the Olympics are to speedskaters who toil in anonymity for most of their careers. That's why the issues with the ice surface pain him.

"It's not like a World Cup where you get eight chances a year," he said. "It's once every four years. You want things to be fair; you want things to be consistent."

Shimabukuro urged officials to postpone yesterday's men's 500-meter race after an electric-powered ice re-surfacer malfunctioned. He considered the ice to be unsafe, especially for an all-out sprint. He also felt the imbalanced treatment of the inner and outer lanes threatened the integrity of the competition.

"The water just wasn't laying right," he said. "That's been one of the main issues since we've gotten here. Certain spots on the ice would be nice and smooth, other spots have strips of these. It looks like ripples in the ice, and that's cause for unstable blade contact (for the skaters)."

Organizers said a new ice-resurfacing machine has been flown in from the Calgary Olympic Oval to replace the machine that caused the problem.

"It has been a couple of tough days," chief ice-maker Mark Messer said. "We've been working through it. We apologize for the delays."

U.S. skater Shani Davis, who withdrew from the 500 on Monday after the first of two races, shrugged off the conditions.

"It's part of the game. It happens. Bad ice is bad ice," he said.

Shimabukuro says he is ready to start talking about skating and American success instead of bad ice.

"We're here now competing," he said. "We're here now to do work."