Timonium's J.P. Shilling lives on the fringe of short-track speed skating greatness.
He has dined with Olympic gold medalist Cathy Turner and he practices daily with the U.S. National short-track team at Northern Michigan University.
When the U.S. women won an Olympic silver medal in the short-track 3,000-meter relay last month in Albertville, France, Shilling said: "I went crazy. I had chills throughout my body."
But Shilling, 20, wants more out of the sport that gave medals for the first time in the 1992 Winter Olympics. He wants to make the U.S. National team, so he can receive tuition, room and board, airfare and clothes from the U.S. Olympic Committee.
Those benefits not only will help him get an education at Northern Michigan but also aid his push for a berth on the U.S. team in the 1994 or 1998 Olympics, said Shilling.
His first step toward that goal will come in the world short-track trials in Glen Ellyn, Ill., March 21-22.
"If I can make the top 10 or the U.S. National team, I'll get money and clothes from the USOC," said Shilling. "After that, my goal will be to make the top five who go to the world championships in Denver, April 2-4."
Eight men and eight women are chosen for the U.S. National team following the short-track trials. Five men and women go to the world championships.
Shilling enhanced his chances of making the U.S. National team when he enrolled at Northern Michigan last fall.
Turner, gold medalist in the women's 500 meters in Albertville, and the rest of the U.S. short-track squad trained at Northern Michigan in preparation for the 1992 Games, and it will continue to be the U.S. short-track practice site.
"If you want to get on the U.S. National short-track team, you almost have to go to Northern Michigan," said John Miller, who is president of the Maryland Speed Skating Association. The local group conducts twice-weekly short-track practice sessions for 12 to 16 skaters at the Northwest Ice Rink.
Miller talks proudly of Shilling, who is the first skater from the Maryland association to make it on the national scene. Shilling broke onto the national scene when he became the first Baltimore-area speed skater to make the U.S. Junior Olympic team that competed in the Olympic Festival in Minneapolis in 1990.
Shilling still likes to come back to the Northwest Rink to work out when he is on break from Northern Michigan, although there aren't any skaters on his level of competition.
"When I'm here, I don't train a lot because there is no one to work against," he said last week after a brief session at Northwest Rink. "I do a lot of off-ice work on my own like running, working on weights and roller-blading [skating on any smooth surface with wheels on skates]."
While the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, remain the primary goal for Shilling, he said he would not be overly disappointed if he had to wait until the 1998 Winter Olympics.
"I'll be 27 and in my prime in 1998," said Shilling. "If I ever won a gold medal in the Olympics, my whole life would change. Cathy [Turner] will be getting a lot of endorsements and making money. She won't be skating anymore. She knew she had a great chance for a gold medal but I still can't believe [she won it]."
And what about that dinner with Turner?
"It wasn't like it was just her and I," said Shilling with a little smile. "There were four of us. She is an outgoing person. We all faxed her a letter when she won the gold."
Shilling's mother, Joan Clark, helps conduct the Northwest Rink drills and has watched her son develop as a speed skater since age 6.
"He has the right build, 5 feet 10, 180 pounds, for short-track racing," said Clark. "Long legs are a problem in short-track because you're constantly turning and need to be very agile. J.P. has improved 50 percent since he began staying at the Olympic training site and going to school."
* Among the other Maryland Speed Skating Association skaters who gather at Northwest Rink on Mondays and Thursdays, top prospects include Marie Bullamore, 16, Patrick Miller, 13, and Jonathan Gross, 11.
Bullamore started out as a figure skater in the first grade at Bryn Mawr, but always seemed to be going too fast on the ice.
"I thought speed skating would be great, the faster the better, that seemed to suit me," said Bullamore, who hopes to make the Olympic team in 1998 or 2002
Miller is back training full time after giving up speed skating for a year. He finished fourth in the national short-track midgets competition [11-12 age group] in Paramount, Calif.