Shilling is 1,500 flash on the ice

Baltimore native skates `race of life,' finishes in 14th place

Parra captures gold medal

American sets mark, is first since Heiden to win multiple races

Winter Olympics

Salt Lake City 2002

February 20, 2002|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

KEARNS, Utah - J.P. Shilling skated the race of his life on the world's fastest ice against the best on the planet.

And with 20 members of his family and friends watching, the Baltimore native finished 14th in the 1,500-meter long-track speed skating event yesterday at the Utah Olympic Oval.

On a day when the world record was set and broken and the United States increased its medal count to 20 - including Derek Parra's gold in this event - Shilling did exactly what he set out to do in the most competitive long-track race at the games.

"This race, you had to attack it like a sprint, and I attacked it hard," said Shilling, 30. "I just exploded."

His start carried the race, and helped give him a first-lap time of 26.1 seconds. At the halfway point, he had a 49.87, a near-world-record pace. As he entered the last lap, Shilling dropped both arms and pulled hard, finishing at 1 minute, 46.29 seconds, nearly two seconds faster than Keiji Shirahata of Japan in the other lane.

The top of Section 108 was filled with his fans waving Maryland flags and banners, one of which said, "Baltimore's Newest Champ. J.P. ... Go Hon!"

After he crossed the finish line, Shilling pumped his fists and waved to his supporters.

"I'm extremely happy with the result. I don't care if I finished 14th or 214th. I skated the race of my life, and no one can ever take that away from me," Shilling said immediately afterward.

He stayed trackside to watch Parra break the world record set earlier in the competition by Jochem Uytdehaage of the Netherlands. Parra became the first American since Eric Heiden in 1980 to win multiple speed-skating medals at an Olympics.

Parra, who won a silver medal the first day of the Olympics in the 5,000-meter race, set a blistering pace, but slowed in the final lap. Nonetheless, he clocked a 1:43.95, breaking the Dutch skater's mark by 0.62 of a second.

"I got a little tired at the end," he said. "I never saw [the skater he was paired with], so that helped me concentrate."

He then waited anxiously while two other top contenders, teammate Joey Cheek and the 1998 gold medalist, Adne Sondral of Norway, skated in the same heat.

Cheek, the bronze medalist in the 1,000, had a commanding lead, but ran out of gas in the final lap and missed the bronze medal by 0.08. Sondral finished with a time of 1:45.26.

Uytdehaage, who beat Parra in the 5,000 the first day of the Winter Games, lost the world record, but won the silver medal.

Parra, the three-time national in-line skating champion switched to the ice in 1996. Last year, he set an American record in the 1,500 (1:46.20) at this track.

"I can't dunk, so I have to skate," said a joking Parra, 5 feet 4.

After the race, Shilling posed with Heiden, who won a record five gold medals at the 1980 Winter Games, and hugged everyone in sight.

For Shilling, the Olympics puts a punctuation mark on a skating career that started at the Northwest Skating Rink in Baltimore in 1977.

"I have to be honest, I'm glad it's finished," he said. "I'm drained mentally, physically and emotionally."

He said he wasn't sure when he woke up yesterday morning that he was ready. He was even less sure after a practice skate.

"I didn't feel very good in warm-up. My legs didn't feel as good as they did [on Monday]," he said. "I put my legs up for about an hour and a half, closed my eyes and tried to relax."

His family stayed away from him for the days leading up to the race, and jiggled around nervously in the bleachers while waiting for his heat to begin.

"When he started, I'm thinking, `I can't believe I'm watching him in the Olympics,' " said his mother, Joan Clark.

But his father, Robert Shilling, said "deep down" he knew his son had what it took to make the Olympics.

"From the time he saw Eric Heiden in 1980, he never wanted to quit," he said.

Shilling said he wants to compete in the world championships next month, attend the wedding of teammates K.C. Boutiette and Jennifer Rodriguez and "get back home to Baltimore to go fishing, chomp some crabs, drink some beer and get dirty."

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