SOCHI, RUSSIA – Judged solely by the time, it wasn’t the race of her life. Anna Ringsred skated the women’s 3,000 meters about three seconds slower than she hoped, finishing in 4 minutes, 21.51 seconds to place 26th in her only event at the Sochi Olympics.
By any other measure, it exceeded all expectations. Ringsred, a Duluth native, was paired with one of her best friends in speedskating for the Sunday trip around the Adler Arena oval. Some of her new friends on the U.S. women’s hockey team came to cheer her on. Her family was in the stands, too, and so were two longtime pals — including Odin Biron, an actor from Duluth who now stars in the Russian version of the TV comedy “Scrubs.’’
After quitting the sport for two years, Ringsred returned when she was ready to find fulfillment in something other than her results. That attitude allowed her to come off the ice feeling good about her Olympic experience, and to contemplate continuing the second act of her career.
Irene Wust of the Netherlands won the race in 4:00.34, nearly three seconds off the Olympic record on ice that Ringsred said was surprisingly slow. Defending Olympic champion Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic took the silver medal in 4:01.95, and Russia’s Olga Graf earned bronze in 4:03.47. The Netherlands has won four of the six speedskating medals awarded thus far.
“I started out a little slower than I would have liked,’’ said Ringsred, whose time was nine seconds slower than her personal best. “I came around and saw my time, and I was kind of surprised. With the effort I was giving, I thought it would be a bit faster.
“I had to kind of change my plan in the middle of the race. I’m happy with how I finished. I really gave it everything in those last few laps. I fought the whole way, so at least I’m happy with that.’’
Ringsred had trained on the ice while the arena was empty in the days leading up to the Olympics. Sunday, it was filled with spectators, and she suspects the additional warmth caused the condition of the ice to change.
Anna Rokita of Austria, whom Ringsred has known for 15 years, was paired with her for the race. Rokita finished 22nd and pointed out to Ringsred that their times looked better when compared to other athletes who also skated slower than usual.
With her only race finished, Ringsred plans to attend Olympic events including women’s hockey, bobsled and figure skating. She also will appear on NBC’s “Today” show Monday morning and spend time with family and friends, including Biron, who has become a star since moving to Russia nine years ago. Her own profile has risen, too, with a huge increase in her Twitter followers and visits to her Facebook page.
After the Olympics, Ringsred will skate in a World Cup event in Germany and at the World Allround Championships in the Netherlands. She also is considering moving to Europe to train.
To some degree, she feels ready to move on, to resume her full-time job as an engineer. The past two years, though, have made her love her sport again. After missing the cut for the 2010 Olympic team, a disappointed Ringsred quit, then came back ready to embrace the satisfaction gained through the daily labors of an elite athlete. The Olympics only solidified her feeling that she is not finished with speedskating yet.
“Four years ago, it was all about results,’’ she said. “It was always stressful. I didn’t really have fun. This time around, when I go out there and step on the ice, I’m excited.
“It’s about going out there and giving everything you’ve got each and every day. And through that, I’ve actually really started to feel alive. I’ve never felt that before.’’