On the wrong side was the defending Olympic champion, and current world-record holder in the event, Hiroyasu Shimizu of Japan. It was a very big day for speedskating in America: not only did FitzRandolph capture the gold, but his teammate Kip Carpenter took the bronze. Three speedskating events down, seven to go, and already the U.S. has three unexpected medals in these Winter Games.
FitzRandolph's story in a nutshell: he took up the sport as a seven-year-old after watching Eric Heiden win all his gold in Lake Placid. "I gave up hockey," he said. "Apparently Heiden impressed me more as a kid than that Miracle on Ice team did." The 27-year-old has been focusing on the sport ever since and says it has taken him 20 years to get where he wanted to be.
Although an Olympic gold was always a goal (along with place-kicking for the Green Bay Packers), FitzRandolph says, "I didn't know if maybe time was running out." For the last three years he has spent time in Canada, training at the Calgary Oval, and last fall completely left his teammates, "his support system", to train exclusively in Calgary. It was a move, he said, that could have worked either way.
It went almost exactly the right way: in the first of the two 500-meter skates that each competitor must execute in the competition, FitzRandolph set an Olympic record with a time of 34.42 while Canadian Jeremy Wotherspoon, considered a definite medal favorite, didn't finish his race. That left FitzRandolph in first place coming into Tuesday's second run; Shimizu second. Twenty-four hours to think about what might be accomplished. "The last 24 hours haven't been too relaxing," he admitted. He and Carpenter, who skated the third best time on Monday, retreated to living quarters that they are sharing, and relaxed by watching "hunting shows" on TV. "I'm not too fond of that," Carpenter said later, "But Casey was pumped."
Tuesday, in a somewhat serendipitous coupling, FitzRandolph and Carpenter came to the starting line together as the final twosome to race. Shimizu was in first place with a combined time of 69.26. FitzRandolph needed a 34.83 to win. He would skate a 34.81."I didn't get off line well," he explained later. "Kip was kicking my butt after 20 meters. It told me I needed to drop the hammer."
And how did he feel about following in his idol's footsteps, the first American since Heiden to claim the gold in the 500-meters? He grinned. "I couldn't have written a better script."