Speedskater Chad Hedrick won the first gold medal for the United States at the 2006 Winter Olympics Late Saturday, and in the crowd to witness his achievement was U.S. First Lady Laura Bush. VOA's Parke Brewer reports from Turin it was a thrill for both Texans.
It is hard to imagine a world class speedskater being from Texas, which is typically hot and humid most of the year. And it is not a sport that Chad Hedrick took up when he was young. His family owned a roller-skating rink called Champions Roller World, and Chad became an inline skater.
He was so good that at age 17 he was the youngest inline skater in history to become a world champion. He amassed 50 world titles over various distances on the track and on the road before switching to speedskating at age 24 in 2002.
Hedrick has continued his success on the ice, becoming his sports all-around world champion in 2004. With back-to-back titles in the 5,000 meters at the World Single Distance Championships, he was one of the favorites in the opening speedskating event in Turin.
Taking the ice in the third-to-last pairing, Hedrick sped to a gold medal time (6:14.68) that was only two-100ths of a second off the Olympic record.
"I am having the time of my life out here," Hedrick said. "This is my first Olympics. I win my first race. I just want to come to the rink everyday and have fun, and the more fun I have the better I am going to skate, and this was a good start, not only for myself but for the U.S. team."
In the crowd to witness Hedrick's victory here in Turin was U.S. First Lady Laura Bush. He had met her the night before the race.
"It was pretty shocking to me," he said. "She reads about me in the Houston newspaper all the time, so she already knew who I was, which was pretty cool."
And Mrs. Bush said it was great to see Hedrick's victory.
"That was just a huge thrill. We were so excited to see Chad win. He is from Houston. It was a real thrill to see him win," she said. "I did get to see Chad's parents, who were sitting right there at the finish line. I got to walk over and congratulate them, so we give him our very best congratulations, and its real thrilling to see that gold medal win."
Shortly after his race, Chad Hedrick said that he knows he will now get more recognition.
"As an inline skater I was world champion for almost 10 years, and you know I would go home to Houston and tell people what I did and nobody ever knew what I was talking about. 'You are an inline speedskater, what is that?' I am glad to say after (winning this gold medal) that people are going to understand what I do," Hedrick said. "And now when I say, 'Hey, I am an ice speed skater, everybody', whether it be my hometown of Houston [where] we have never even heard of ice speedskating until six months ago, when I introduced it to the city, but everybody is going to know what it is."
At age 28, Hedrick said he can only imagine what his career would have been like if he had been a speedskater all his life. But he knows how he got his competitive edge.
"I think the competitive side of me came from being at the top of my game in inline skating and now I cant stand to lose," he admitted. "I wish had quite a few more years to speedskate, but you know after this Olympics if I am not happy with what I am doing and I do not want to go to the rink everyday and skate, then this might be it for me. I am always one to do what makes me happy."
Chad Hedrick plans to skate in four more races in Turin - the team pursuit (on Thursday, 2/16), the 1,000 meters (2/18), the 1500 (2/21) and the 10,000 meters (2/24). But he plays down any talk of being able to equal countryman Eric Heiden's 1980 Olympic feat of winning five speedskating gold medals.