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For Hedrick, hat trick is still a nice fit

THE BALTIMORE SUN

TURIN, Italy -- It was not the sort of moment Chad Hedrick would have considered worth applauding two weeks ago. But with the residual ache from competing in five grueling events over 14 days, he could finally appreciate his accomplishment.

Though falling short of the advertised goal of matching Eric Heiden's 1980 achievement of five gold medals, Hedrick became just the third American in Winter Olympic history to win three medals in a single Games yesterday, finishing behind gold medallist Bob de Jong of the Netherlands in the 10,000 meters.

The turning point in the race, an event in which Hedrick set the world record at the U.S. Olympic trials in Salt Lake City a little more than a month ago, came on the third-to-last lap. Hanging onto second place while trying to keep Carl Verheijen of Holland at bay, Hedrick knew by then that the day would yield a silver at best.

Hedrick said he "rested" for a few laps before that, allowing Verheijen to catch up, then went into a dead sprint, finishing with a time of 13 minutes 5.40 seconds, nearly four seconds behind de Jong but almost 3 1/2 seconds ahead of Verheijen. "He gave his opponent an Armstrong, looked him in the eye and then took off," said his coach, Bart Schouten, referring to cycling champion Lance Armstrong. "It was unbelievable. I've never seen anything like that before on the ice."

Three short years after forgetting to remove his skate guards and falling down on the ice in his first attempt at speed skating, Hedrick's silver medal gave him a complete set at these Olympics after winning the gold in the 5,000 meters on the first day of the Games, then a bronze in the 1,500 behind teammate and rival Shani Davis.

"I can honestly say I went out there and left it all on the ice," said Hedrick, a former inline champion who had beaten himself up after the bronze finish and said he considered anything less than gold to be a failure. "After four events, I could feel it taking a toll on me.

About midway through the race, Hedrick said he was spent.

"I felt great at the beginning of the race," he said, "but eventually, with about 10, 15 laps to go, I lost my edge. These guys skated a great race but at the same time, they were competing in less events than I had,. The 1,000 and 1,500 meters took a lot of snap out of my legs. I just didn't feel like myself, but that's part of the deal when you pick five events and try to go for something spectacular. You end up sacrificing some time in different events."

There was also the suggestion that perhaps Hedrick had been sapped by controversy and his public feud with Davis, which reared its head over Davis' decision not to compete in the team pursuit event last week. But he said the negative publicity would not diminish his overall experience here.

"You guys [in the media] think more about Shani than I do," Hedrick said. "Shani and I were out there skating fast. We're not worried about what each other are doing. We might have done it for one race because there was this boiling point that you guys pushed on us. We went out there and competed hard.

"[And] you guys haven't seen the last of Shani and I. We're going to be in Vancouver [in 2010] and we'll be leading a new group of U.S. skaters. Everything is going to be fine."

Davis attended yesterday's race to cheer on Hedrick, and afterward Schouten said the two are even considering training together. "As we've seen time and time again, these guys bring out the best in each other."

Yesterday, Hedrick's best was not quite good enough, but, though disappointed, he said he was satisfied with his effort, which gave the U.S. men's speed skating team a total of seven medals, including a gold and silver won by Davis.

"Today was the first race I didn't win where I went out there and tried hard," Hedrick said. "I really dug deep and I wasn't going to lay down for anybody. I could have quit with 10 to go but I didn't. I was going to prove to everybody how big my heart is."

His Dutch competitors can appreciate that but also seem to get a kick out of Hedrick's boldness.

"Chad is an excellent sportsman," Verheijen said. "He competes on a very high level and we all respect him for that. Sometimes he has an attitude in the media that we're not used to in our sport. He brings something, I don't know, American, to the sport, something new. That's OK. But it is different from the normal bond between us skaters."

As to Hedrick's claim of having the "biggest heart of anyone out there," Verheijen said, "He likes to say that. He fought hard, but I think the one with the biggest heart is the one who won, Bob."

De Jong didn't disagree. "He can say a lot, say 'America rules,' but today, Dutch rules and he couldn't beat me."

"I'm very happy with my accomplishments but at the same time I felt like I left a lot of medals out there and I didn't skate perfect," Hedrick said. "I let myself down a few times, but at the same time I have to hold my head high."

Melissa Isaacson writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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