A hearing of Olympic proportions begins today in Colorado Springs. An arbitrator will hear claims of cheating during a short track speed skating trial. Athletes who participated in the race, including Broadview Heights native Ron Biondo, are expected to testify. But far away from the hearing in Colorado, Olympians prepare for the start of the Salt Lake City games, which are in just 17 days. Locally, several athletes have taken their spots on the international stage. But, the road hasn't been easy all of them. One athlete has had to deal with health obstacles while another was counted out until a surprise win at the trials. 90.3 WCPN's Tarice Sims has the story.
Tarice Sims: With only a few weeks to the Winter Games in Salt Lake City, athletes from all over the globe are making their way out west to compete on the international stage. The gifted athletes train for years for a shot at the big time. Some winners are predicted but others victories are somewhat unexpected. One such athlete is 18-year-old Mary Griglak. The Berea Native says she was a long shot. Last year she came in 14th, but this year took the 6th and final spot on the Olympic women's short track speed skating team.
Mary Griglak: Right now it's just been a rush of emotions. I've been up on cloud nine since it happened.
TS: Griglak says she started speed skating when she was in the 8th grade - she even moved away from home to focus on her training a few years ago. Even though she is the youngest member of the team she brings experience to the Olympic team. Griglak competed in the U.S. Championships at the European Cup in Italy and in the World Juniors in Korea. She says a couple of her teammates competed in Winter Games in 1998 and collectively they have a good chance to medal.
MG: This team is a little bit different than the team they expected to have. And, I actually think better than the team they expected to have. We really haven't worked together that much. But, I think everyone is skating really well right now the performances I've seen at the Olympic trials were above and beyond the way I've seen some of these girls skate in the past.
TS: Griglak says even though there is tremendous competition among women of short track speed skating it's still more popular with the men. Griglak will be joining male counterparts Ron Biondo of Broadview Heights, currently embroiled in an Olympic Trials controversy, and Adam Riedy of Lakewood. Although he was expected to be on the team and unexpected turn of events directed Riedy to a different role in these Olympic games.
Adam Riedy: Right now I am helping the rest of the team. The way it looked was I had a really high possibility of being on the team and I caught a illness at the wrong time. I wasn't able to compete in trials, which kind of bummed me out. But it's alright. So I'm out here trying to help out in whatever way I can with the team.
TS: The 20-year-old speed skater was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, which put his skating career on hold indefinitely. But he says he's glad the team made it possible to go to the games. Riedy has individual medals from the World Cup and relay medals but says he doesn't know if he will compete again. He just wants to cherish the opportunity that's before him now.
Another person who will be participating in the games as a non-athlete is Dennis Marquard. He's slated to be a timekeeper for the short track speed skating event. But Marquard might be better known in the Cleveland area as a coach. He and his wife Katie coached both Riedy and Mary Griglak for years and he's proud that they will be able to experience the Olympics.
Dennis Marquard: It's great satisfaction. I mean that's we had one skater that was in the '98 Nagano games that came through our program Scott Koons and so this is two Olympics in a row now that we've placed kids from Ohio through our program on the team so it's very rewarding.
TS: As a coach Marquard seems is just as enthusiastic about short track speed skating as the athletes he trains. He says the sport is growing here in Cleveland and there are more places than ever to learn. One place he names is Cleveland Heights new recreation center that just opened their ice skating rink. Marquard says it's family sport and hopefully more people will become participants as well as spectators.
Meantime, Adam Riedy is still focused on the international impact. He says he already sees the sport is catching on.
AR: We're expecting a HUUUGE draw this year - because it's four to six people on the track in a hockey rink going 30 miles an hour. And you're all skating against each other you're not skating for a time. And there's passion and there's bumping and there's falls. I see our sport growing by ten fold this year because of the games.
TS: Riedy says the U.S. men's team is looking to medal in the relay race. But both the men and women's teams may pull off some surprise victories. Still, all the Olympians are gearing up to put on their best performances, as the air of anticipation surrounds Salt Lake City with just 17 days left until opening ceremonies. In Cleveland, Tarice Sims, 90.3 WCPN News.