PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Jerica Tandiman was still grinning when she reached the basement labyrinth of media members waiting to ask her about her Olympic debut.
“It was amazing,” the Kearns native said of her 28th-place finish in Wednesday night’s 1,000-meter long track race. “Just going to the line, I had a smile on my face. I couldn’t stop smiling. I was really excited to be there, and I felt honored to be able to experience this, and to have worked hard to get to that point, to race on the biggest stage. It was awesome.”
While the 23-year-old Utahn reveled in the excitement and novelty of her first Olympic competition, her teammates left the Gangneung Oval disappointed as the U.S. medal drought in speedskating continues.
Brittany Bowe, originally from Florida but living and training in Salt Lake City, earned her best Olympic finish, but it was a bittersweet accomplishment as she was heartbreakingly close to the podium.
“I’m really proud of myself for where I’ve come from,” said Bowe after finishing in fourth place, missing a medal by .38 of a second. “I’m obviously very disappointed right in this moment, falling short of the podium. That was my best finish yet at the Olympics, but that doesn’t matter if it’s not top three.”
Bowe skated in a pair with Netherlands’ Jorien Ter Mors, who not only won gold, but who also set a new Olympic record, crossing the line in 1:13.56. Japan’s Nao Kodaira (1:13.82) and Miho Takagi (1:13.98), earned silver and bronze, respectively.
Bowe had a great start but faded at the end, and said she had hoped her time, which put her in second place after 12 pairs, would be enough for a medal.
“I was hopeful, but doubtful at the same time,” she said of her 1:14.36 time. “I thought it would probably fall short, but like I said a couple of days ago, I left it all out there on the ice, and that’s all I could do.”
U.S. team sprint coach Matt Kooreman praised Bowe’s effort.
“I’ve never been more proud of a performance,” he said. “I think it’s one of the best performances she’s ever done. She just didn’t have the legs tonight.”
Fellow U.S. skater Heather Bergsma finished eighth with a time of 1:15.15.
“My start was good,” Bergsma said. “I was happy with it. Just the last lap wasn’t there.”
This is the third Olympics for Bergsma and second for Bowe, but it was Tandiman’s first, and she was surprisingly less nervous at the start of Wednesday’s race than she was for Olympic Trials last month.
“I didn’t have as much pressure on myself,” she said. “Which is always a good thing. … So I was able to put together a decent race.”
She said her father, Edwin Tandiman, usually sends her pep talks via text, and her Olympic debut was no exception.
“My dad is really the one who gives advice,” Tandiman said. “He’ll send me novels (in) text messages. I like to read through them before I race. He keeps me levelheaded and just like go out there and have fun. So I enjoy reading his messages before I race.”
She said she texted her family, who flew in two days ago, before taking the ice so she could find them in the crowd.
“(I) asked where they were sitting so I could watch for them and wave at them,” she said. “I spotted them as soon as I got up there. That was really nice to have my parents there.”
Her parents were thrilled to be in the stands watching the culmination of their daughter’s 16 years of hard work.
“My wife and I were so proud of her,” Edwin said in a text after the race. “She did well for it being her first Olympics. We are grateful that we were able to share this great experience with her.”
Tandiman said she plans to see as many events as she can before the end of the Games now that her competition is complete.
“I want to see figure skating,” she said, her grin widening. “I want to see Nathan Chen, another Salt Lake boy. So I’d love to see that. I want to watch the short track events because we train with them, and I have friends there. I’d like to see them do well.”
As for what it’s like to live the dream she’s had since she was in elementary school, she said it exceeded her expectations.
“It’s better than I expected,” she said. “Every day is a new day and something new to experience, and it’s really awesome.”