This Wisconsin Teen Made the Olympic Speedskating Team Last Night at the Pettit

The 17-year-old talks about what it was like to compete without fans and what he expects in Beijing next month.

Kewaskum teenager Jordan Stolz continued his meteoric rise by capturing a spot on the U.S. Olympic speedskating team that will compete at the Winter Games in Beijing next month.

Stolz, 17, won the men’s 1,000 meters on Thursday night in the U.S. Olympic long track trials while skating on his home ice at the Pettit National Ice Center in Milwaukee.

Stolz, who trains with his club team at the Pettit Center, beat veteran speedskater Joey Mantia for the top spot with a track-record time of 1:07.61, breaking a mark established in 2005 by two-time Olympic gold medalist Shani Davis.

“I felt like my performance was pretty good. It could have been a little bit better, I think,” said the understated Stolz, who gave a slight fist pump after seeing his record-breaking time posted. “But it was good enough, for sure. I’m pretty happy with the race.”

Stolz, who becomes the third youngest male ever to make the U.S. speedskating team, is the junior world record-holder in the 1,000. He earned his first World Cup medal, a silver, in December in Calgary. Stolz also set a new junior world record in the 500 meters in Calgary.

Stolz couldn’t immediately enjoy his victory on the Pettit Center ice due to an upset stomach, which he blamed on drinking kefir, a fermented drink, about an hour before his race.

“I drank a whole bunch. After the races I was just so nauseous,” he said. “My legs were burning so bad. All the lactic acid was just coming up. I had to go throw up.”

Stolz’s star has been rising since March when he set a national junior record and won the U.S. title with a time of 34.99 in the men’s 500 meters.

His victory at the trials has Stolz weighing his chances of winning a medal in Beijing.

“There’s a possibility for it, but I’m not expecting it or anything,” Stolz said. “I’m just going to try to do the best race I can and see where it ends up. I’d like to be in the top five, top six. I’d be happy with that.”

Breaking the track record set by Davis, a gold medalist in the 2006 and 2010 Winter Games, is significant, Stolz said.

Photo courtesy of U.S. Speedskating

“It means a lot,” he said. “I know the ice is a lot faster than when he was skating but it’s still nice to have my name on the track record board. It’s a good feeling and it gives me some confidence going into Beijing.”

Due to high COVID-19 infection rates in Milwaukee and early testing results of athletes, the trials are being held without fans or media in the building. The trials, held over five days, run through Sunday. 

Trials organizers had expected the event to draw 1,400 and 1,500 fans on each of five days.

The Pettit Center also hosted the long track Olympic trials with sold-out crowds four years ago in advance of the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, and was hoping to build on that success.

The absence of fans is disappointing, Stolz said.

“I felt kind of bad that there wasn’t a crowd there,” he said. “I was really looking forward to this all year with all the people. I guess I wouldn’t say boring, but it just kind of took away the whole meaning of Olympic trials.”

Stolz, who is expected to compete in the 500 meters on Friday, said the realization of his Olympic dreams likely won’t set in until he takes the ice in Beijing

 “It’s set in a little bit,” he said. “I guess when I go (to Beijing) I’ll get to call myself an Olympian.

Stolz, who started skating at age 5, said he’s enjoying the opportunity to skate alongside some of the world’s top speedskaters.

“I’m just happy that all the work I’ve put in over the years has paid off right now,” he said.

Stolz skated in the pair after Mantia, a resident of Ocala, Florida, who at age 35 Is set to compete in his third Olympics.

The U.S. speedskating teams, once a powerhouse, had lackluster performances in the 2014 and 2018 Olympics in terms of reaching the podium.

This year’s men’s and women’s squads are performing at a high level heading into Beijing, Mantia said.

“I’m so happy in that regard,” he said. “I think it’s really nice to have the entire team, the men’s and women’s sides, just really step up and be in contention. Across the board our team is doing so well, and Jordan is a big part of that. Stepping up and crushing through junior world records and track records. It’s definitely raising everybody’s game. I watch him during practice and think I have to step it up.”

Mantia seemed awed by Stolz’s quick rise to the top of the sport.

“I remember him being in Salt Lake City a couple years ago,” Mantia said. “He was this scrawny little kid. He wasn’t very fast. Then all of a sudden, he goes back home for a summer and gets that special time where a boy grows into a young man and comes back, and he was jacked. He had these big muscles.”

Stolz continues to show dramatic improvement, Mantia said.

“He’s been making extreme progress. He’s got a real good feel for his skates. He doesn’t think too much, which is great,” he said. “He’s just a natural.”

Mantia said the challenges tied to COVID-19 and the rising rate of infection has added stress to all athletes competing for spots in the upcoming Winter Olympics. He had pushed for a cancelation of the trials.

“I just think the overall stress of thinking about that situation and all the unknowns is pretty tiring,” he said. “You do your best to be safe and try not to focus too much on it.”

Keeping fans out of the Pettit Center was a necessary move, Mantia said.

“They ended up eliminating the spectators, which was a good call,” he said. “I was pushing for a cancellation because I don’t feel like it’s exactly a safe situation that we’re in.”

On the women’s side on Thursday night, Brittany Bowe, who also hails from Ocala, Florida, captured the 1,000-meter race in a track-record time.

Bowe, 33, finished first in 1:13.63. Kimi Goetz finished second at 1:14.89. Erin Jackson, who became the first Black woman to win a World Cup race earlier this season, crossed the finish line in third at 1:15.88.

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Rich Rovito is a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine.