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Jonathan Garcia wins, then loses his Olympic spot while eight skaters qualify for Winter Games

KEARNS — Jonathan Garcia skated fast enough to earn a spot on his first Olympic team Saturday afternoon.

But forgetting to wear a timing device on his ankle cost him that time — and his spot on the Olympic team.

“I know I was good enough to be on the team,” Garcia said after the first day of Olympic trials at the Utah Olympic Park in Kearns. “That’s something nobody can take away from me.” Garcia will keep the knowledge that he was the fourth-fastest U.S. man in the 500-meter competition. But that’s all he keeps after officials opted to disqualify him for not wearing a transponder, which is a third back-up timing method used in some races but not others.

“Today was tough, especially because I qualified that fourth spot,” said Garcia, who did re-skate a third 500 meters at the end of the day, but the time was only good enough for sixth place. “In my mind, to me, that’s really all that matters. I’m pretty happy, pretty proud. Unfortunately I made a small mistake, but that’s how life goes sometimes. Hopefully I can skate well again (Sunday).”

Garcia has a chance to earn a spot in the 1,000 meters Sunday, but he admits the competition is tougher than ever among U.S. men at that distance.

“It’s so crazy this year,” he said. “It’s by far the most competitive U.S. trials, at least for the men.”

Four-time Olympian and two-time gold medalist in the 1,000 meters, Shani Davis, was the beneficiary of Garcia’s mistake.

Mitchell Whitmore won both 500-meter races and had the top combined time of 69.120. Tucker Fredricks was second (69.440) and Brian Hansen was third (69.850). Garcia would have been fourth if he’d been allowed to keep his second 500-meter time, but instead, he had to skate a third 500 and finished with the day’s sixth-best combined time.

All of the men felt badly about what happened to Garcia, including Davis.

“It’s really unfortunate,” Davis said. “I’ve been to the Olympics four times. I remember the special feeling I had when I went the first time. I was really pulling for Garcia to pull through and make the spot, even if it knocked me off the team. ... He’s a friend of mine, and I clearly want the best skater to go.” Whitmore said if it were up to him, he’d have chosen Garcia for the team because he had the faster time originally.

“But the rules are the rules, I guess,” Whitmore said. “It’s one of those things you’ve got to remember, and it really sucks that he didn’t. … It’s awful. I think he skated an amazing race without his transponders.”

In the women’s races, Heather Richardson won both 500-meter competitions (74.190), while Brittany Bowe (75.510) finished second in both races. South Carolina native Lauren Cholewinski (76.180) was third and Milwaukee native Sugar Todd was fourth (76.420).

All of the athletes admitted to nerves because so much is on the line in these trials.

“This morning it felt like we’d never skated before,” Cholewinski said laughing. “It was pretty intense this morning.”

Todd and Bowe will be competing in their first Olympic Winter Games in February.

“I knew this was something that was possible, and I came in very confident, and just being able to accomplish it is absolutely amazing,” Todd said. “I’m so happy.”

All but Todd are former inline skaters.

“It’s really special this time because all of us inliners are here together,” said Richardson, who competed in the 2010 Olympics with Cholewinski. “I grew up skating with Brittany and Lauren, and to qualify for the Olympics together is a really special moment.”

Bowe was persuaded to make the switch from inline skating to speedskating after watching Richardson in Vancouver.

“Heather is definitely one of my inspirations to come over and try to pursue my Olympic dream,” she said. “To be standing here with her today, and Sugar and Lauren, it’s an honor and I can’t wait to get to Sochi.”

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