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Local speedskater Heather Richardson claims world championship

Thursday, February 21, 20131141 views

Heather Richardson, 24, entered the Essent ISU World Sprint Speed Skating Championships as a favorite to win the title. That pressure got to the 2010 Olympian on Jan. 26, the first day of the competition, when she slipped in the 500 and 1000 meter races, placing third in both events.

Richardson said she went back to her hotel to relax and remind herself of “why I do this” and returned the next day to win the World Sprint Championship.

“I’m still trying to have this all sink in,” she said. “I knew right after my 1000-meter race that I had won, and I was so happy to have won gold in Salt Lake at my home training facility. To have my mom and Derek Parra [former coach] and my coach right there to support me and be part of this with me -- it couldn’t have felt any better.”

Richardson’s coach, Ryan Shimabukuro, has now coached three world champions.

“It is an awesome feeling that I never get tired of,” he said. “I’m extremely proud of Heather. She stepped up the second day and did amazing.”

Richardson, who lives in West Valley City, has reached the podium in all of her 500-meter races this season, and currently leads the overall World Cup standings. With the three competitions remaining in the year, Richardson is aiming to capture the World Cup as well as the 1000-meter title in preparation for her ultimate goal: a gold medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

“Heather’s having a great pre-Olympic year,” Shimabukuro, who is in his 11th season as national sprint team coach, said. “This world title is just going to keep her even more motivated going into next year.”

Richardson grew up at a skating rink watching her parents compete in speed skating. She took up inline skating at the age of 9 and competed in five world events until after high school, when she made the switch to the ice so she could compete in the Olympic Games.

Gold medalist Derek Parra, who also moved to the ice after being an inline skater, coached Richardson for a year and a half and helped her advance to a world-class level. The past four years, Richardson has been coached by Shimabukuro while being a member of the U.S. National Team.

At the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, she placed fifth in the 500 meters, ninth in the 1000 meters and 16th in the 1500 meters. Since then, she has continually risen in the ranks of the top sprinters in the world in claiming the overall World Cup title in the 1000 meters in 2011 and the U.S. Sprint Championship the same year.

In November, she swept all five races – the 500 meters, 1000 meters, 1500 meters, 3000 meters and the 5000 meters – at the U.S. Single Distance Long Track Speedskating Championships.

“Heather is definitely the leader on our women’s squad,” Shimabukuro said. “She works hard, is coachable and contributes a lot of positive feelings to our team.”

Richardson loves the speed aspect of the sport she competes in and the fact that the fastest person always wins. She trains four to six hours a day to maintain her world-class standing and strives to keep one simple goal in mind.

“I want that gold medal,” she said.

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