MARATHON JOURNEY TO GAMES ENDS AT STARTING LINE FOR SPEEDSKATER CASEY DAWSON
by Team USA: Todd Kortemeier
Casey Dawson’s time in the men’s 1500m wasn’t the most important thing Tuesday night. It was that he was able to be at the starting line at all.
Dawson needed to fulfill COVID protocols to be able to travel to Beijing, and had already missed the Opening Ceremony and the men’s 5,000. After taking 45 tests over the past couple weeks, he said, he finally tested negative and was on his way to Beijing on Feb. 5. After more than 20 hours of flying time, Dawson arrived in Beijing at 6:50 a.m. Tuesday morning, roughly 13 hours before the start of the 1500m at the National Speed Skating Oval.
But then another domino: Dawson’s bags, including his skate blades, were still absent.
“It's the cherry on top of this whole situation,” Dawson said, able to joke following his race despite his incredible journey. “Just being here is just amazing. If I get my luggage or not, I’m still an Olympian.”
The blades came courtesy of Latvian skater Haralds Silovs, through a connection between the two skaters’ coaches. With borrowed equipment, on very little sleep, straight from the airport and running on “pure adrenaline,” Dawson turned in a time of 1:49.45, well off his personal best but also not even the slowest time of the night. Dawson considered just taking the starting gun to be a victory in and of itself.
“Just the experience, stepping to the line was the biggest thing for me,” Dawson said. “I didn’t think I was going to get to the line in the first place. I thought my individual chances were gone with the wind. Just stepping to the line for the 1500m was amazing.”
Almost as excited for Dawson as he was for himself were his teammates, who had kept close tabs on their friend throughout his ordeal. They’ll also welcome his help in the upcoming team pursuit. The U.S. men have won two World Cup Gold Medals in that event this season.
“My team was so happy to see me, and I was so happy to see my team,” Dawson said. “Following them on Instagram and seeing all their posts and everything and to finally be here is just amazing.”
Emery Lehman didn’t even mind his earlier-than-expected wakeup call with his teammate at the door.
“Someone accidentally locked our door from the inside this morning,” said Lehman, who finished 11th in his first career 1500m at the Games. “So I was greeted by some banging on the door at like nine in the morning, and I let him in. Then I went back to bed.”
As Dawson missed the 5000m, his only race left in Beijing will be the team pursuit. Not only will Dawson’s talent increase the chances of a U.S. medal, but it gives Team USA a fourth option to rotate in for fresh legs. The other members are Lehman, Ethan Cepuran and Joey Mantia, who thinks Dawson won’t miss a beat once he gets some rest.
“We still have a few days, I don’t think (it'll affect him), I think he’ll come back around and figure it out,” said Mantia, who placed an Olympic career-best sixth in the 1500m. “He skated today on somebody else’s blades because his bags didn’t show up so he’s really struggling right now with the situation, but hopefully we get his bags here and get him on his own skates and stuff.”
Dawson isn’t sure where the bags are at the moment, maybe still in Paris where he began his final flight to Beijing, but as Mantia said there is still some time before the team pursuit. The quarterfinals begin Feb. 13 with semifinals and finals the day after. For now though, the speed skater is ready to slow down for the first time in days.
“It’s just been go the whole time,” Dawson said. “I think tomorrow I’ll finally get some time to myself and just soak it all in because today it's all been go mode, I’ve been straight from the airport, to the village, then to the ice rink to skate and then to racing.”