From basketball court to speedskating rink

Bowe has made such great strides that she could be long-track U.S. Olympic speedskater in 2014

When Brittany Bowe watched the 2010 Winter Olympics on television, she saw several of her old skating friends on the ice in Vancouver such as Chad Hedrick and Heather Richardson.

Bowe knew them as in-line speedskaters, champions in the non-Olympic sport they had left to become Olympians. It also was the sport she had left after 2008, with eight senior world titles on her resume, to concentrate on basketball at Florida Atlantic University.

"She was a baller," said Michael Bowe, her father and her basketball coach at Trinity Catholic High School in their hometown of Ocala, Fla.

Watch the highlight video of her career that Florida Atlantic put on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0xPBaQDbk8Y), and you will know that is not just a proud parent's view.

The 5-foot-7 point guard wound up eighth on Florida Atlantic's all-time scoring list because she has quicksilver feet to penetrate for easy layups as well as a solid outside shooting touch. The three-year captain is fourth on the school assists list and ninth in steals, and she was third-team all-conference as a senior.

Bowe was a senior in 2010, looking at options to play basketball in Europe, when the sight of Hedrick and Richardson changed her plans.

"It lit a fire inside me," she said. "One of my dreams always was to be an Olympian."

Bowe seems likely to turn that dream into reality at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. And her improvement over the past year has been so dramatic Bowe, 24, is not far from being an Olympic medal contender.

"A lot of people say they want to be the best, but she means it," said Chance Dugan, her college basketball coach. "When she told me, 'I will be in the Olympics in 2014,' my reply was, 'I have no doubt.'"

In her first World Cup 1,000-meter race, 13 months ago, Bowe finished a respectable 16th but was 1.23 seconds — or a light-year — from the podium. In the most recent, in early December, she was fourth, .06 seconds from the podium.

"I'm right there, so close I want to do everything I can to make that next step," Bowe said.

While many have stepped with relative ease from wheels to blades, there is no record of anyone dribbling onto the ice.

"Basketball and speedskating are at different ends of the athletic technique spectrum," said Ryan Shimabukuro, U.S. long-track sprint team head coach. "What Brittany brought from basketball is overall athleticism and knowing how to work very well in a team environment."

The team player wasn't always there. Dugan said Bowe rarely played as a college freshman because she was "a turnover waiting to happen, wouldn't play defense and wouldn't listen." Bowe almost switched to ice skating at that point but decided to hang in with a changed attitude.

"She transformed herself from an individual to a team leader," Dugan said.

Growing up, Bowe excelled at whatever sport she tried.

At 2, according to her father, she gave dribbling exhibitions at halftime of college basketball games. Bowe made a statewide Under-13 boys travel team in soccer, which she gave up in high school because the season overlapped with basketball. From 8 until her junior season at Florida Atlantic, she also found time for in-line skating.

"The thing that has benefited me most from playing basketball is my persistence and mental toughness," she said.

A month after her June 2010 graduation with a degree in sociology and social science, Bowe picked up and moved to Salt Lake City.

At the time, U.S. Speedskating had a Wheels To Ice Program — it ended in March — to support leading in-liners who wanted to try long-track ice skating. Now she supports herself on results-based funding from the U.S. Olympic Committee and money from her parents, the split about 50-50.

Bowe put on ice skates for the first time in July 2010. It would take her a season to make the World Cup team. By the end of the 2011-12 season, she had placed fifth in a World Cup 1,000 and eighth in the event at the World Single Distance Championships.

"It was nice to know that successful in-liners had become successful ice skaters, but I never thought the transition would be easy," she said. "The technical aspect is so important in ice skating. You can muscle your way through in in-line, but muscling on the ice will limit you.

"An outsider looking would say I did catch on quickly. Being on skates my whole life definitely has helped."

Bowe's progress has mirrored that of Richardson, a North Carolinian who leads the World Cup circuit this season in the 1,000, with two victories and a second place in her three races. Richardson's first World Cup medal came three years after she began ice skating.

Shimabukuro said Bowe's presence has elevated Richardson's skating. Bowe was second to Richardson in both the 500 and 1,000 at last year's U.S. Championships, and their competition in the 1,000 should be a highlight of the national meet beginning Dec. 27 in Salt Lake City.

"To come away with one medal at a distance, you need two contenders," he said. "I guarantee you Brittany will be on the World Cup podium before this season is over."

phersh@tribune.com

Twitter @olyphil

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