SOCHI, RUSSIA – Had she not broken her ankle while ski jumping, Anna Ringsred might still be flying off snowy hills. But that was enough for her mother, Debbie, to put an end to that daredevil pursuit and point her only daughter toward something a little more sedate.
She found it quite by accident, through a newspaper advertisement announcing a speedskating meet. “I was 13 when I started, which is kind of old,” said Ringsred, who grew up in Duluth. “I was never one of those kids who dreamed of being in the Olympics. I just fell into the sport. And here I am.”
Quite unexpectedly, too. Ringsred, 29, quit speedskating after failing to make the Olympic team in 2010, weary of the sacrifices necessary to compete at the highest level. Two years later — after finding a fulfilling life outside of sports — she was ready to return. Sunday, she will compete in the first and only Olympic race of her career, the 3,000 meters at Sochi’s Adler Arena.
After stepping away from speedskating, Ringsred backpacked around Europe, finished her college degree in chemical engineering and went to Canada to began a career in Calgary. Since resuming training last season, she has had some of the best results of her career. In December, she finished second to Jilleanne Rookard at the U.S. Olympic trials to earn a spot on the team for Sochi, clocking a time of 4 minutes, 13.80 seconds.
“I came back not just to make the Olympics but because I loved speedskating again,” said Ringsred, who graduated from Duluth Marshall High School. “Now, I see it as being about personal growth, not just medals and [making elite] teams.
“I had a better attitude going in, and that was a big part of why I was able to make the team. I didn’t put so much pressure on myself, because in my mind, I had already won.”
Ringsred always enjoyed sports, but she was never fully comfortable with setting aside the rest of her life to follow a single pursuit. She learned to skate while playing pond hockey with her three brothers, and she began speedskating at outdoor ovals in Duluth.
Despite her relatively late start in the sport, coach Andrey Zhuikov saw Ringsred’s potential. He urged her to begin training at the John Rose Oval in Roseville, which required her to get up at 3 a.m. every Saturday to drive to the Twin Cities. Though she chafed a bit at not having time to enjoy other high school activities, Zhuikov’s encouragement kept her going — and the results followed.
Ringsred moved to Calgary to train after graduating from high school. She began competing on the World Cup circuit and made it to the world championships in 2007, where she finished fifth in team pursuit. She felt her training was good enough to carry her to the Olympic team in 2010, but she was overcome by nerves before the 3,000 at the Olympic trials and did not make the team.
With her plans derailed, Ringsred took a step back. “I was disappointed,” she said. “I wanted to move on. I had been doing it for so long, 12 years at that point, and I wanted to be a young person. I wanted to have the experiences I hadn’t had.”
After starting work as an engineer at Spartan Controls in Calgary, Ringsred began to feel she had unfinished business. With the help of her employer, who allowed her a flexible work schedule and gave her sponsorship money, she plunged back into training.
Ringsred found success in her first season back in 2012-13, finishing 20th at the world allround championships and earning an 18th-place finish in the 1,500 meters at the world single-distance championships. Coming into this season, she said, she felt good about her chances of making the Olympic team, but she did not want to be overconfident.
Her parents, Eric and Debbie, came to the trials for the first time and saw her earn her way onto the Olympic team. They also have come to Sochi, along with her brothers.
“When I made the team, I started to cry,” Ringsred said. “I was so overwhelmed, I couldn’t believe it for a couple of days. I didn’t think it was ever going to happen.”