With opening of the Sochi Winter Olympics, the stories of those who earned berths on the United States Olympic Team will be told as millions all over the world are glued to media coverage.
Other U.S. athletes who spent years training but fell short of Olympic aspirations, however, mostly will go unnoticed.
That’s the plight of Columbus speedskater Taylor Wentz, who fell one-one hundredth of a second short of qualifying for the U.S. Olympic Trials in the speedskating 1,000 meters.
In August, Wentz skated to a time of 1 minute, 38.01 seconds at the Desert Classic on the Olympic Oval in Kearns, Utah.
“It was frustrating to come so close,” said Wentz, a converted figure skater who has chased speedskating success the past two years working with Utah Olympic Legacy coach Anthony Barthell.
The 21-year-old Columbus East graduate said her goal was to qualify for the Olympic Trials this year and then concentrate on making the Olympic team four years from now in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Coming so close to her goal and failing by the blink of an eye makes her next decision even tougher.
“I’ve got to go to college,” Wentz said by telephone from Salt Lake City, the tone of her voice emphasizing the urgency.
Then again, watching the Olympics on television tends to energize the soul.
“I know all the skaters,” she said. “And I love skating. I would like to skate four more years.”
Wentz admitted she is struggling financially.
She works as a waitress to go along with daylong training activities.
Her parents, Eldon and Carol Wentz of Columbus, are using the money intended for their daughter’s college education at Indiana University to help her cover current living expenses.
“That’s the dilemma,” said Eldon Wentz. “As parents, you want to support your children’s dreams. But for a lot of kids, those dreams won’t come true.
“I am a former athlete, and I am all for her continuing on,” he said. “She has been out there two-and-a-half years now. But she is in such a hole because U.S. Speedskating is fractured. Their funding is dwindling.”
Eldon Wentz said even the top skaters are seeing their stipends cut, so his daughter has little hope of gaining much support from the U.S. team.
That means she has to find ways to secure private funding.
That has proven to be difficult.
“She has been racing in competition three times a year,” her father said. “That’s just not enough.”
While that might be the case, Taylor Wentz continues to make forward strides.
A figure skater since the age of 3 who trained at the Hamilton Center, Wentz switched to speedskating after doing her senior project in 2011 at Columbus East on speedskating. She went to coach Dennis Longdon, who heads the Elite Speed Club that holds sessions at the Hamilton Center. In just three months, she qualified for her age-group nationals.
“She improved faster than anyone I’ve ever seen,” Longdon told The Republic.
In the past year, she has dropped nine seconds on her 1,000 meters time, but realistically, she has another eight seconds to drop to be Olympic caliber. Her best time of 1:38.01 can be compared to the time of U.S. Olympian Jessica Smith, who won the 1,000 at the Trials in January in 1:30.331.
Eldon Wentz said his daughter has the talent to get it done, but he also — in tough-love fashion — said she has to increase her intensity.
“Once you get to her level, they’re all pretty good athletes,” Eldon Wentz said. “So you need to have the determination to go above and beyond. I don’t know that she has ever really bought into that athlete’s credo that you have to eat, sleep and breathe skating. Those kids she races against don’t give an inch. I don’t know that she has seen herself as an elite athlete.”
Taylor Wentz said she does see herself as capable of getting the job done, but she thinks she must show more improvement before she can seek out sponsors. Her father said the time is now.
“Her confidence level is holding her back,” he said. “She is so close.”
Some of the top U.S. speedskaters have turned to the Internet to raise money for training.
Eldon Wentz said other financial sources are available, but it’s time to get aggressive in finding them or to maybe take off a year and enter college.
With that background, the Wentz family will be watching all the speedskating events at the Olympics with great interest.
“We’ve been to enough races now that we know them all,” Eldon Wentz said. “We’re going to tape everything.”
Through the Olympics, both Eldon Wentz and his daughter said the thrill of competition will drive them to move forward with Taylor Wentz’s skating career.
Then again, once Sochi closes, it’s another long four years.
“I hope she continues,” Eldon Wentz said of his daughter. “I know she is a little down right now, and she gets pressure from home.
“But I believe in her.”