KEARNS, Utah – American Casey FitzRandolph, shaking off the disappointment of Nagano, won the 500 meters Tuesday in a stirring speedskating duel with defending Olympic gold medalist Hiroyasu Shimizu.
FitzRandolph gave the United States its first speedskating victory of the Salt Lake City Games, and it came with an unexpected bonus -- unheralded teammate Kip Carpenter took the bronze.
The Americans have three medals through the first three events at the Utah Olympic Oval, putting the home team in excellent position to reach its goal of 10 medals overall, including the short-track competition.
The U.S. speedskating squad, which has never won more than eight medals at an Olympics, leads the medal table over traditional powers such as the Netherlands and Germany, which have two apiece.
FitzRandolph edged the Japanese star by a mere 0.03 seconds -- about the length of a skate. The blonde-haired, blue-eyed Wisconsin native threw up his arms when he saw the final standings, breaking out in a smile that appeared more relief than jubilation.
"Almost confusion," FitzRandolph said, describing his emotions. "It's just hard to believe. I started speedskating in 1980 when Eric Heiden ... won his gold medals. I told a TV station, I think that year, that I wanted to do what Eric Heiden did. I wanted to win at least one gold medal."
In 1998, FitzRandolph's medal hopes were dashed by the introduction of the clapskate. He struggled to adjust to the equipment, settling for a sixth-place.
Shimizu, meanwhile, electrified his home nation by winning Japan's first speedskating gold.
"I thought it might happen in Nagano," FitzRandolph said. "Then the clapskate came out and really threw me for a loop. Now here I am, finally, 2002, I win my gold medal. It's going to take some sitting down, taking deep breaths, to really realize what happened."
The 27-year-old FitzRandolph won the first American gold in the men's 500 since Heiden captured five gold medals at Lake Placid. Heiden, who now works with the U.S. team, watched his protegee bring the title of world's fastest skater back home.
"It's almost like a reward for myself," Heiden said.
FitzRandolph had a 0.19-second advantage over Shimizu after the first round Monday. He needed the entire cushion to hold off the world-record holder, who had the second-best time of Day 2.
FitzRandolph bobbled a bit as he entered the final corner, his left hand grazing the ice. Still, he crossed the line in 34.81 for a two-day total of 1 minute, 9.23 seconds.
Shimizu skated the 1 laps in 34.65, giving him a 1:09.26 total.
"I really could have done better. I feel a bit of regret," he said. "I was not able to give it my ultimate. I didn't even come close to my own world record."
Carpenter, paired with FitzRandolph in the final group of the day, actually beat his fellow American in 34.79 but finished third overall at 1:09.47.
Carpenter edged Dutchman Gerard van Velde by 0.02 seconds for the final medal. The fourth-place skater tossed his gloves in disgust when the results were posted.
FitzRandolph was all smiles as he skated a victory lap, tugging along a flapping American flag. He was then joined by Carpenter, another Wisconsin native.
"We Are The Champions," blared over the loudspeaker while the sellout crowd of 5,200 chanted 'U-S-A! U-S-A!"
"To do it here in America before so many friends and family, and in these times, makes it perfect," FitzRandolph said.
Shimizu still holds the world record of 34.32, set last March on the same ice. This was the first time in three Olympic events that the old mark stood up, scuttling predictions that all 10 records would fall on the world's fastest oval.
The United States claimed half of the top six positions, with sixth-place Joey Cheek missing a medal by only 0.13 seconds. The other American, Marc Pelchat, wound up 28th after falling on his first run.
Canada's Jeremy Wotherspoon, expected to contend for a gold, tumbled to the ice just four strides into his first race Monday. He had the fastest time on the second day (34.63) but it didn't matter -- he still finished tied for last in the 36-man field.
Wotherspoon has another chance to medal in the 1,000, his strongest event.
At the end of his victory lap, FitzRandolph stopped to hug his parents, Jeff and Ruthie, and sister Jessi. Then he moved to the finish line, where fiancee Jennifer Bocher was waiting.
The couple is planning to get married July 20.
"He worked so hard for this," Bocher said, tears smudging the American flag that was painted on her cheek. "This was 24 years in the making. I just can't believe it happened."