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Speedskating: Campton Hills resident Kleba falls short of 2018 Olympics, on to next challenge

Photo of Austin Kleba competing in the U.S. Speed Skating Long Track Olympic Trials in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on Jan. 2-7. Photo is courtesy of Stephanie Kleba.
Photo of Austin Kleba competing in the U.S. Speed Skating Long Track Olympic Trials in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on Jan. 2-7. Photo is courtesy of Stephanie Kleba.

In the heat of the moment, the realization he was skating in the United States Long Track Olympic Trials hit Austin Kleba.

For all the months and hours of preparation, skaters try to not let the gravity of the situation get in the way of a race. Yet, the accomplishment just to reach the doorstep of an Olympic dream is one worth taking the full-picture in.

"About 50 meters down the front stretch in the beginning, I came to the realization: 'Wow, I'm racing in the Olympic Trials right now.'," Kleba said reflecting on his first attempt.

Vying for a spot on the U.S. Mens speedskating team in the Olympics has long been the goal of Kleba, but he'll have to wait to see it come to fruition.

The 18-year-old Campton Hills resident Kleba competed in the trials last week in Milwaukee. He needed to place in the top three finishers in either the 500, 1,000, or 1,500-meter events to qualify for a spot in the upcoming Winter Games in South Korea.

His likely best opportunity rested in the 500 meters; in two races, Kleba finished fourth (36.44 seconds) and fifth place (36.37), respectively. In his fourth-place finish, Kleba trailed third place winner Kimani Griffin (35.26) by 1.32 seconds.

In the 1,000-meter, Kleba took 10th (1:12.20) and 1,500 placed 16th (1:54.21).

The athlete's fastest time between either race will be taken as it relates to earning a spot.

"Being as young as I am for this, I was still really excited about getting a top-five finish," Kleba said. "I'm super excited about the postition I got in."

In Kleba's first race for the 500 he beat his pair, Jonathan Garcia, for the first 100 meters, and finished fifth. Furthermore, Kleba had the fastest 100 meters of all the skaters (9.98 seconds).

During the race, Kleba remembered trying to match Garcia's stroke patterns in the backstetch to have a smoother entry into the corner, while also trying to stay upright into the second corner.

Pairs are determined by speedtimes of the top six skaters, who are then placed into a pool for every race. Kleba had a pair for all three events he skated.

"You're not necessairly racing the person next to you. You're just racing for time," Kleba said on the role of pairs. "If you play everything right, you can get draft."

"I want to take as much away from this as I can for the next one," Kleba said.

Despite missing South Korea, Kleba is gearing up for the trials for the Junior Worlds, also in Milwaukee, within the next few weeks. Last year, Kleba was the Junior All-Around Champion, where he won the 500, 1,000 and 1,500 meters and second in the 5-K.

Kleba is slated for the above three events in mid-March at Salt Lake City, Utah – and possibly the 5-K – but it's still to be determined.

The seven-man U.S. speedskating team for South Korea:

500-meter: Jonathan Garcia, Kimani Griffin, and Mitch Whitmore.

1,000-meter: Shani Davis, Joey Mantia and Whitmore.

1,500-meter: Brian Hansen, Davis and Mantia.

Emery Lehman, an Oak Park-native and 2014 U.S. Olympian in Sochi, was added to the team as a team pursuit specialist.

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