It isn’t supposed to be this easy.
Some Olympians spend an entire lifetime chasing medals and records and never get there.
For Brittany Bowe, it might just take all of 44 months.
Bowe, a native of Ocala and a graduate of Florida Atlantic University, is already halfway there. The American speedskater is the new world record holder in the women’s 1,000 meters – a feat all the more impressive when you consider this: the 25-year-old didn’t lace up an ice skate until July of 2010.
Just three and a half years after taking her first awkward steps on the tracks of the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns, Bowe became the best the world has ever seen, with eyes gazed on the medal stand in Sochi, Russia and the 2014 Winter Games in February.
“Oh yeah, I can taste it, that’s for sure,” Bowe said. “I want to be an Olympic champion.”
Bowe set the world record on her home track Nov. 17, finishing in 1 minute, 12.58 seconds, a tenth of a second faster than the previous mark. The record time and World Cup gold medal continues a torrid year in which Bowe claimed bronze in the same event during the world championships and her first gold in a World Cup event in Germany, setting a track record there too.
The day before her world record in Utah, Bowe took home silver in the 1,500 meters.
“When I first stepped onto the first-place podium in Germany, it was the first time I felt victorious in a really, really long time,” Bowe admitted. “And ever since then, I haven’t wanted to get off that podium.”
Bowe will compete in two more World Cup events before the U.S. Olympic Trials in January which will determine the American team for Sochi.
Making an Olympic roster has been the plan all along, but it’s the sport that’s surprising. Bowe went to FAU on a basketball scholarship, putting her mark on the school’s record book. The former point guard is eighth on the Owls’ all-time scoring list, fourth in assists and ninth in steals.
“I wanted to be an Olympian all my life,” she said. “I thought at first, of course, it was going to be basketball. That’s my first love. “
During her senior year in Boca, Bowe was mulling a professional basketball career overseas.
“But you come to the realization of where you stand with things, and I knew I wasn’t going to fulfill my Olympic dream through basketball," she said.
Luckily for Bowe, she had a second love in her life.
“When I was 8 years old, I was at the local skating rink in Ocala for a friend’s birthday party. The inline skating team had practiced directly following this party and the coach must’ve gotten there a little early. She saw me racing around the track and invited me out to a practice. That’s where it all started,” Bowe recalled.
From 2002 to 2008, Bowe claimed 32 world championship medals in inline skating and three Pan-American golds in 2007.
Much of Bowe’s life has been balancing hoops and skating.
“I grew up in the basketball gym with my dad. He taught high school and coached football, basketball and track. I could dribble when I could walk. I played basketball, football, baseball, volleyball, soccer and inline speedskated. Anything and everything I could get my hands on, I did.”
Bowe starred at the point for Trinity Catholic High School, earning runner-up honors for 3A Player of the Year. Once speeding in sneakers was done for the season, Bowe would speed on wheels.
“I loved both of them. They never clashed. I always made them work and they were always fun for me.”
The balancing act continued through college. As graduation neared, Bowe felt herself at a crossroads.
“In February of 2010, I watched the Winter Olympics in Vancouver and I saw a lot of my friends and competitors from inline skating walking in the Opening Ceremony and competing and it just lit a fire within me. I need to do this,” Bowe said.
“[Gold medalist] Derek Parra ran a program that took the top inline skaters and transferred them over to ice but that was back a few years before I graduated. I wanted to get my degree.”
And Bowe did. She earned a degree in sociology.
“Fast forward a few months, I decided I’m going to commit to this. I’m going to move to Salt Lake City and try to make this dream come true,” she said.
Bowe packed up her bags and left Boca and Ocala behind, heading instead to the elevated air of Utah.
“When I first landed here and saw the mountains, I was like, oh man, there’s no beach. There’s no ocean. What am I going to do?”
While Bowe was a prodigy on wheels, switching to a blade on ice would take some adjusting.
“The first time I put on my skates, I was out there hanging onto the wall,” she joked. “Thankfully there were some ex-inliners out there who didn’t make me feel as dumb as I thought I felt.”
“It was very, very intimidating. Skating is a very difficult sport. I would say I definitely underestimated it. Seeing the national team skaters out there was also very intimidating, but I knew it was something I want to do and I knew that it would be a steppingstone to the top.”
Clearly, Bowe is a fast learner. Her progression has her trying to qualify in three separate individual events: the 500, 1000 and 1500 meters.
“It’s taken a lot of hard work and a lot of time. You have 37 seconds, give or take, to give it your best. One slipup, one misstep, that’s the end of it for you. It’s very cutthroat. It needs to be perfect from beginning to end.”
For now, the pride of Ocala continues to hone her skill, getting increasingly anxious.
“When I’m sitting around, just daydreaming, it’s in my mind 24/7. It’s something I thought about since I was just a little kid. The thought doesn’t change, it’s just the details that change a little bit," she said.
With Sochi just around the corner, Bowe hopes the best is yet to come.
“The Olympics is the highest platform of being a sportsman,” Bowe said. “And I want to be the best in the world and that’s being Olympic champion.”
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