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Timmer Denies Witty Gold in Women's 1,000

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 20, 1998; Page D10

 Chris Witty lost her golden chance in the 1,000 meters. Coach Gerard Kemkers said: "I would be happy with the silver if I knew it was a great race."
(Joel Richardson/The Post)

NAGANO, Feb. 19 — After the medal ceremony for the women's 1,000 meters today, U.S. speedskating coach Gerard Kemkers said it would take some time to overcome his disappointment. American speedskater Chris Witty acknowledged that she, too, could not help but feel sad about the day's result at the M-Wave. The 1,000 meters was her last race of these Olympic Games. It was her last chance for a gold medal.

She finished second.

The Netherlands' Marianne Timmer once again surprised her speedskating rivals, winning her second gold medal here in three days. Only unlike Tuesday, when she set a world record in the 1,500 meters, Timmer merely managed an Olympic record with a time of 1 minute 16.51 seconds.

Canada's Catriona LeMay Doan claimed the bronze medal in 1:17.37, after Witty's second-place time of 1:16.79.

For most athletes, an Olympic silver medal qualifies as a dream come true, but for Witty — the world record holder in the 1,000 — the silver felt like a consolation prize.

"Maybe in a couple of days, I will look back on today and be real happy," Witty said. "But when you come so close to the gold, it's hard."

Witty, 22, finished 10th in the 500 meters last week but won a bronze medal in the 1,500 meters on Tuesday.

While Witty entered this Olympics with high expectations — she said weeks before that she intended to win three medals — Timmer entered her first Olympic Games with none.

"These are two really big surprises," Timmer said. "Two gold medals, that's really a dream come true. ... I thought, 'I have nothing to lose here, let's see what happens.' ... I did it again. Unbelievable."

Said Witty: "She exceeded everyone's expectations here. But what a time to do it — in the Olympic Games."

Timmer skated in the second-to-last pair and had the distraction of having to skate by a fallen partner. Germany's Franziska Schenk took a tumble about 300 meters into the race.

Witty skated in the next, and final, pair. She was called for a fast start, which, she said, might have made her more cautious on the restart. Her real problem, however, was skating on the inside lane in the turns. She couldn't control her speed there.

"You could see right in the race that something was not clicking," Kemkers said. "It was looking to me like her will to win, her will to get to the finish line, just was taking her over a little bit. ... I would be happy with the silver if I knew it was a great race. I need another hour. Maybe then I'll be happy."

Witty has been the only American to win medals in speedskating in these Olympics. Throughout the Games she has carried the burden of trying to replace not only American speedskating legend Bonnie Blair, but also Dan Jansen, who like Blair, retired after the 1994 Olympics.

"I think getting my own medals, now hopefully I have my own name," Witty said. "I won't have to live in the shadow of the great Bonnie Blair."

Witty and Timmer have much in common besides sharing the podium in two races at the M-Wave.

Witty is 22 and Timmer 21. Both come from humble backgrounds. Timmer's father, Lucas, raises sheep on a small farm in Sappemeer. Even now, her job at home is taking care of the sick lambs. Timmer's mother is a hairdresser.

Witty's father, Walter, lost his job as a welder after layoffs at a factory in West Allis, Wis., when Witty was 12. For the next eight years, Chris Witty said, her father worked occasionally and she grew accustomed to being without spending money.

"I saw a lot of kids have things handed to them and I don't know if they appreciated it," Witty said. "I didn't have anything growing up and I think it made me stronger."

The two skaters became good friends last year after vacationing together in Mexico with their respective boyfriends. Witty is dating skater Kevin Curtis; Timmer is dating Canadian speedskater Kevin Overland, who won the bronze in the men's 500 meters last week. After a race in Calgary, Timmer, Witty and the two Kevins traveled to Cancun, where they fished, snorkeled and went horseback riding.

"It was great," Witty said. "We had a lot of fun."

Witty said she is looking forward to the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, when she hopes to win some gold medals on her home turf. But the first order of business on Witty's sports calendar is the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney.

Witty was an alternate on the 1996 Olympic cycling team. She intends to take some time off from speedskating next year to devote more time to cycling.

Witty's disappointment aside, she and Timmer seemed to have a good time before and after they received their medals, sharing hugs, laughter and conversation.

"We were mostly saying congratulations, good race, way to go," Witty said. "And we were trying to plan what we are going to do tonight."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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