Tucker Fredricks isn't afraid to admit it.
After the worst season of his long and illustrious speedskating career, the 29-year-old two-time Olympian had started to fear that age and injury were making off with his amazing sprint speed, and for good. It's an inevitability that every athlete must confront sooner or later, and Fredricks worried that his time as an elite competitor might be just about up.
It's not, though.
Not by a long shot.
Fredricks heads into a World Cup stop at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns this weekend full of confidence after blazing to victory in a men's 500 meters at the season-opener in Calgary last weekend. It was his first international victory in nearly two years and his fastest time 34.41 seconds in nearly four.
In fact, his time was faster than every Olympic sprint race ever, and it surprised even Fredricks.
"I didn't really expect to be going that fast yet this season," he said. "I'm kind of excited about that. ... I put in a lot of good training this summer, so I think I'm just in a lot better shape than normal."
That's because with the help of a good trainer, Fredricks was able to manage well enough a longstanding back problem he has a bulging disc from all his years in the hunched over skating position that he could train as hard as he needed. The injury was so bothersome last year that he couldn't train well, and it showed in a miserable season when he reached the podium only once.
"I've actually never won on the first weekend" of the season, he said, "so this is something completely new to me. I have to take a step back and refocus and make sure I'm still doing everything right. ... I'm in new territory right now, and it just makes me want to keep winning."
All the way to Sochi, maybe?
Sure would be nice for Fredricks.
The Sochi Olympics in Russia next year probably will be his last, and the Wisconsin native would love to finally bring home a medal. Fredricks was a junior world champion and still holds the national record in the 500 (34.31), but he never has enjoyed his best race at the Olympics, finishing 25th at the 2006 Turin Games in Italy and 12th at the 2010 Vancouver Games in Canada.
"To be honest," he said, "it's early in the season, and I can't really take too much out of it except for that I still have the ability to be at the top."
So do plenty of other American skaters.
Two-time Olympic champion and world-record holder Shani Davis figures to be among the stars of the weekend, having fully recovered from a groin injury that limited him last season.
Davis won the 1,000 and took silver in the men's 1,500 last weekend in Calgary, while Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe won gold and bronze in the women's 1,000. Brian Hansen took bronze behind Davis in the 1,000 and helped men's pursuit team, which included Jonathan Kuck and Trevor Marsicano, set a national record while earning a silver medal behind the world record-setting Netherlands.
"I'm going to go into this weekend just focused on racing well," said Fredricks, who caught a bit of a cold on his way home from Calgary. "Not too concerned with the time or the placement. I'm really working on not the outcome but the process of the race. That's my main focus this season, the process."
World Cup Speedskating
O At Utah Olympic Oval (Kearns)
Women's 500 • 2 p.m.
Men's 500 • 2:30 p.m.
Women's 3,000 • 3:15 p.m.
Men's 1,500 • 4:20 p.m.
Women's 500 • 1:30 p.m.
Men's 1,000 • 2 p.m.
Women's 1,500 • 2:50 p.m.
Men's Pursuit • 3:50 p.m.
Men's 500 • 1:30 p.m.
Women's 1,000 • 2 p.m.
Men's 5,000 • 2:55 p.m.
Women's Pursuit • 4:25 p.m.