KEARNS — Records were dropping like the temperature outside the Utah Olympic Oval on Friday as dozens of skaters from around the world set personal, national and even world records in the Essent World Cup.
And, if Chad Hedrick's bravado is to be believed, there will be more history-making as the event continues over the next two days. Hedrick, who last week shattered the world record in the 5,000 meters in Calgary, continued turning the sport on its head as he sliced nearly a half second off the 1,500 world record formerly held by fellow American Shani Davis. His clocking of 1 minute, 42.78 seconds marked the first time anyone has ever skated the distance in less than 1:43.
"I'm still new at this," said Hedrick, who only began speedskating three years ago. "I'm starting to become a smarter racer. I'm thinking more and today I was just using my turns to my advantage."
While already on a tremendous pace through the first two laps, Hedrick kicked things up a notch or two on his last lap and turned in the fastest split time ever recorded as he crossed the finish line. Hedrick, who shared a huge hug and shed a few tears with 2002 gold medalist Derek Parra after the race, is one of the new faces of speedskating in America. He trains with Parra during the season and has learned plenty from the former world record holder.
"I told him I'm tired of giving him my secrets," Parra joked after the race.
"He's just a natural at this. I'm a gold medalist and former world record holder and I'm still counting my steps. Chad just goes and doesn't have to think about every little thing."
As if setting one world record at this World Cup event wasn't enough, Hedrick, who was timed at 6:09.78 in the 5,000 last week, made a bold prediction for today's race.
"I'll get 6:07," he boasted. "You can quote me on that."
Team USA is gearing up for what it hopes is another successful run in the Olympics. After winning 11 medals in 2002, the Americans are hoping to eclipse that mark and Hedrick — along with Davis — is among the brightest new stars on the USA's roster.
"I'm not at my peak yet," Hedrick said. "You'll see the real Chad Hedrick in Torino."
Also turning in an impressive performance was American Jennifer Rodriguez, who broke her own national record in the first heat of the 500 race. Her time of 37.87 shaved .07 off the record she set last January. But the race belonged to the Chinese. Beixing Wang set a new Chinese record with her time of 37.52 while teammate Manli Wang was only one one-hundredth of a second behind. Beixing Wong did it again later in the first day of action as she broke the Chinese record in the 1,000. Unlike the 500, however, Rodriguez had the better podium position as her time of 1:14.24 was good enough for second.
"It was a good race," Rodriguez said. "Not perfect and there's room for improvement, but I'm happy with it."
Rodriguez was a 2002 bronze medalist in the 1,000 and 1,500 and clearly has her eye set on the prize in Torino, Italy, in a little more than two months.
Rather than race in the second heat of the 500 race Sunday afternoon, Rodriguez is skipping the race so she can get in some more competitive training in the longer sprints.
"I'll fall down in the World Cup standings but I don't really care about that," Rodriguez said. "It doesn't matter this year. All that really matters is getting ready for February."
Today's action will feature Hedrick's attempt at breaking his 5,000 world record, the final heat of the women's 1,000, and the first heats of the men's 500 and 1,000. Skating begins at noon.