American skating star Joey Mantia wins Olympic gold

Through Martin rogers
FOX Sports Columnist

In the next few weeks leading up to the Olympic Winter Games in Beijing (February 4-20), you’ll likely hear interviews from athletes where they talk about savoring the experience, honoring it all and how of which winning is the main objective. but not the only one.

This is not one of those interviews.

Joey Mantia, three-time long track speed skating world champion and leader of an American team hoping to win their best medal crop since 2006, knows what it’s like to compete in the Games and come back empty-handed . He has no interest in going through it again.

That’s why, as the final preparations accelerate, Mantia has no plans to go to China to have a good time, make new friends, swap pins and simply put in a solid performance.

“I live and die from a gold medal,” he told me on a Zoom call this week.

“I’m done giving the politically correct answer to take the pressure off myself. It’s not about saying how I want to profit from the process, and we’ll see what happens more. I’m as proud as everyone else. world to represent my country. I enjoyed walking in the Opening Ceremony and staying in the Athletes’ Village. I experienced the journey. It’s not about the journey now. It’s about the destination . “

Mantia’s journey has been a long one. Before coming to the ice, he was the inline skating prodigy, winning 28 world titles in multiple events, and he is still considered perhaps the greatest in-liner in history.

He was on the ice ten years ago, which means that Sochi in 2014 could be seen as a learning experience. But by the time PyeongChang arrived in 2018, Mantia was the reigning mass start world champion and a medal favorite.

Finally, he crossed the line in fourth position. Then he had another close shave in the 1,500 meters, again missing the podium by just one place.

This time around, he’s the leader of an American team pursuit team that recently broke the world record. He is also the leader of the 1500m World Cup series and still holds the mass start world title.

Mantia’s state of mind is different this time. The expectation, of those within the sport and of himself, is something that emboldens him rather than something that he fears. Truth be told, if there’s one thing that makes him nervous, it’s less about what he can accomplish in China than what to expect in the future.

He will be 36 years old in Beijing and knows the realities. The explosive power needed on a long track, as well as the daily grind required, eventually catches up with everyone.

“I anticipate post-career athletic depression,” Mantia added frankly. “I mean this in an almost light-hearted way. It won’t be easy to give up and feel like I have no purpose in life. I hope being aware of that means I’m ready.

“I know that whatever I do next, there will be a void in my identity for a while. I have spent 20 years being an athlete and chasing that dream. It’s a big change.”

The athletes who enter normal life most effectively are those who already have some semblance of normalcy. Mantia, from Ocala, Florida, is not a party girl but enjoys regular activities. But COVID has restricted her ability to interact socially with most of her non-skating friends, which has made it a bit more difficult.

“I miss it,” he said. “I just see people outside of skating. I don’t have a roommate. I don’t have a pet. Of course, it can get lonely.”

Speed ​​skating does not confer great wealth, as sponsorship opportunities are largely limited to the period around the Olympics. Although he was at the top of the sport for several years, Mantia had to make do with an income of $ 30,000 in 2019 and is grateful that he bought his home in suburban Salt Lake City before prices l real estate does explode. Its sponsors include Under Armor, energy drink Reign and a company that makes Japanese knives called Burrfection – and every gesture counts.

Mantia has been around for quite a while and has enough hindsight to know where winter sports sit in America’s entertainment hierarchy. The masses pay attention to it every four years, and this year the Super Bowl comes right in the middle of the Games.

“We’re not relevant the rest of the time,” Mantia said. “We’re relevant for a month or less. If you’re an athlete in a team sport that wins millions, it’s not even a decision to continue. It’s a little different for us.”

He considered quitting after 2018, but something stopped him – the idea that whatever he did next, he probably wouldn’t like it that much. In addition, he has continued to improve, having negotiated some improvements in the structure of speed skating in the United States that allowed him greater autonomy over the composition of his training programs.

His workouts are legendary in the speed skating community for their intensity and duration, and they are not for the faint of heart. But now is not the time to hold back. Mantia knows deep down that the path is coming to an end, and he is singularly focused on winning.

For the most part, that would put pressure. For Mantia, it’s about accomplishing what he’s always done. A gold medal is not an impossible dream or even, frankly, something that would change who he is.

It’s an item on the to-do list, a challenge to complete, and most importantly, something he knows he’s capable of.

That’s why he doesn’t care too much about the details of these upcoming Olympics. He may or may not attend the ceremony. He knows he will be spending a lot of time in his bedroom during these COVID-affected times; the Games, for example, will not allow any overseas spectators. He is aware that there are other athletes, all very accomplished, with the same hopes and desires as him.

But there might not be some who see it the same way – gold or nothing – and have the confidence to back it up.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.

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