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‘I’m ecstatic’: Joey Mantia wins first U.S. medal at ISU Single Distance Championships

Mantia’s bronze in the 1,500-meter was his first world championship medal in a single distance race. He won gold in Mass Start in 2018 and 2019.

United States’ Joey Mantia looks on after competing in the men’s 1,500 meters during the world single distances speedskating championships Sunday, Feb. 16, 2020, in Kearns, Utah.

KEARNS — Joey Mantia clutched the medal no one expected him to win with both hands as he explained the significance of the moment.

“No, it sucks,” the 34-year-old speedskater joked when asked if he was happy with a bronze medal in the 1,500-meter race on the final day of racing at the ISU Single Distance Championships Sunday. “I’m very happy with it. ... I’m ecstatic about it — a PB (personal best). I haven’t PBed in this race in four or five years now, and I’m starting to think that I’m so old, that maybe I can’t time trial anymore. And, uh, maybe there is a little bit ... left.”

Mantia’s bronze, which he earned when he skated the 1,500 in 1:42.264, was the only medal for Team USA during the four days of racing. Kjeld Nuis (Netherlands), crossed the finish line in 1:41.664 to earn the gold. His teammate, Thomas Krol, earned silver with a time of 1:41.735.

First-place finisher Netherlands’ Kjeld Nuis, center, celebrates with second-place finisher Netherlands’ Thomas Krol, left, and third-place finisher Joey Mantia after competing in the men’s 1,500 meters during the world single distances speedskating championships Sunday, Feb. 16, 2020, in Kearns, Utah.

Some were surprised that Mantia managed to earn the bronze, as he didn’t even make the podium in the Mass Start — the event he’s won at the last two world championships. Mantia said his focus on the Mass Start may have helped him, as he raced the 1,500 prior to his best event Sunday.

“I just went in today’s race with a lot of focus with the Mass Start. I’m always thinking, ‘This is my day. This is my race,’ ” he said. “And I think that helped fuel the fire for the 15, and just put me in the right place leading into it. ... It just ended up working out for me and the Mass Start being an hour (after) the 1,500 I just didn’t have the juice to chase any breakaways. ... It just didn’t pan out. You needed a little bit of luck in the Mass Start, and it just wasn’t there for me today.”

Mantia was trying not to watch the leaderboard as the final skaters took to the ice in the 1,500.

“I was trying to recover and get ready for the Mass Start — put my legs up, my heart rate was like 140, 20 minutes before my race,” he said when asked where he was as it became clear he’d won bronze, “and I didn’t want to watch, and I was waiting and waiting, but I heard everybody cheer.”

He’d love to see the world championships spread out over five or six days so athletes have more time between races to fully recover.

“The ISU is tough with the schedule,” he said. “They try to cram everything into four days, and they don’t consider, like the 1,500, in my opinion, is the hardest race in long track. And then you put the Mass Start right on top of that — 16 laps an hour later — it’s really tough.”

Mantia feels like the Mass Start plays to his strengths, as he’s a former inline champion, but he loves everything about the 1,500, including that he sees it as the sport’s toughest race.

“It’s a really weird year in the 1,500,” Mantia said. “I don’t think anybody has skated particularly great. For me, I skated great to get a PB, but I don’t think anybody else in the top five skated to their potential. But I’ll take it.”

Mantia has struggled with consistently quick starts, and that’s hurt him when competing in the single distances. Starting is much different in the Mass Start, and it is similar to what the former inline skater was accustomed to before transitioning to speedskating.

“Today I was able to keep the composure and bring the start into the race and keep my laps how I wanted them,” he said. “And it played out. If I can build on that for the next two years coming into the Games, then I’m pretty confident I can be a contender. But I definitely have to step it up a notch.”

Jorrit Bergsma won the men’s Mass Start with a time of 7:39.49. Bergsma is married to former U.S. speedskating champion Heather Richardson Bergsma. Canadians Jordan Belchos and Antoine Gelinas-Beaulieu took silver and bronze, respectively.

In the women’s races, Ivanie Blondin (Canada), won gold, while Ireen Wust (Netherlands), earned gold in the 1,500-meter race with a time of 1:50.92.