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US Short Track Speedskater Aims for Personal Best at Olympics

Perhaps one of the most exciting events on ice at the Olympics is short track speedskating. The tight oval and fast speeds can make maintaining balance a difficult task. Olympian Allison Baver, who came into the sport somewhat reluctantly.

Allison Baver always liked to skate. But she was used to inline skates with wheels on a hard, dry surface. While in high school, Baver felt she had accomplished all of her goals in the sport and was ready to try something different. Her coach and friend, Shawn Walb, felt Baver's experience would make her a good short track speedskater.

But she suffered a blade injury in an early outing and decided to stop ice skating. Walb took Baver to the 1998 Olympic trials to try to re-spark her interest. And her parents were so confident in her ability that they bought her new skates.

Allison Baver went off to college at Penn State, and began training once a week on the ice. But she realized she had to do more if she was to compete at a high level.

"Once I started skating every day, I knew I had to make a full commitment to qualifying for the Olympic team," she said. "And somebody told me, a coach a long time ago, if you want to make the Olympic team, you have to dedicate your entire life and sacrifice everything. I kind of was not ready to do that then. But I am doing it now."

Baver began skating in large competitions and set the U.S. time trail record at the 1,000-meter distance in 2001. And she earned a place on the 2002 U.S. Olympic team in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Allison Baver has had continued success, but only after learning how to overcome and compete with injuries.

"For me personally, last season went relatively well," she said. "And coming into this year, it was a bit difficult just because I was coming off a back injury this [last] summer."

But she was determined, and Baver made the short track speedskating team for the Turin Olympics, again working through injuries.

"[At] the first World Cup in China, I re-sprained my back," she said. "I was happy I performed my best. On the last day I broke my own record in the 1,000 [meter race]. And [I] finished sixth overall at the World Cup in [South] Korea."

Because skaters travel at high speed several times around a tight oval, some say a lot of luck is needed just to finish the race. But Baver says she just tries to concentrate on what she is doing during the race.

"I like to look at it instead of luck, as in just things that you can not control." she said. "It happens in every sport. And in short track [speedskating], it seems to happen more than in other sports. But we have just come to realize that you just have to skate safe, clean and make sure that you are prepared 100 percent, your blades and everything. And just go out and race your best."

Allison Baver is strongest in the 1,000-meter race, with an American record time of 1:31.134. She is hoping to improve that at the Turin Olympics, and maybe bring home a medal for her effort.