MILWAUKEE (AP) — Health problems forced Brittany Bowe to step away from the speedskating oval, a decision that the former world champion described as one of the toughest that she's had to make in her life.
Concussion symptoms that started after a crash on the ice last summer are becoming less frequent. Bowe is happy and encouraged that her health is back on track.
Through the challenging times, Bowe said she has never lost focus on her ultimate goal — winning Olympic gold. Training is starting to ramp up with the Winter Games in South Korea coming up in February.
"We're definitely out for redemption," Bowe said on Friday at the Pettit National Ice Center. Some of the country's top skaters are wrapping up a two-week training camp at the site of the U.S. Olympic long track trials in January.
There is plenty of room for improvement after Team USA was shutout at the Sochi Olympics in 2014. Americans failed to finish higher than sixth in a long-track event, and Bowe was one of the top hopefuls.
The program has won more medals than any other U.S. winter sport and had not missed the podium at the Winter Games since 1984.
"I have felt that sense of pride and that sense of victory. So to be deflated and feel defeated ... it was one of the most upsetting moments, if not the most upsetting moment, of my athletic career," the 29 year-old Bowe said.
She went home to Florida for a few months and relaxed before getting back on the ice.
Bowe followed up with quite a season. She won her second consecutive overall gold in the 2015-16 World Sprint championships, taking 20 medals and 10 individual golds that season.
Then a collision with a teammate in July 2016 led to the concussions symptoms and what Bowe calls "the longest 14 months of my life." Bowe said she did not realize the severity of the injury right away, but kept experiencing dizziness along with fainting and trouble sleeping.
She did skate in one World Cup event in December, when she was encouraged by winning bronze in the 1,000 meters. Bowe thought she was over the concussion symptoms.
"Then I went back to Salt Lake (City) a few weeks after and I had another fainting episode at skate trials," Bowe said. "At that point, I decided, 'Look, I've got to get healthy before I'm a speedskater.'"
Bowe stepped away for from the season for good in February to focus on her health. "It was probably the hardest decision of my life, but definitely the smartest to do," she said.
Slowly, Bowe is getting better. She said she had been symptom-free the past few weeks, and remains under close monitoring by doctors and the coaching staff. Bowe has made some modifications in her routine, like taking a little more time between interval training to let her heart rate come down, "let the system recover before I push it again," she said.
One test comes on Saturday when the first time trial of the year wraps up the stay in Milwaukee. World Cup events begin in November, and the long track trials return to the Pettit in January.
U.S skaters know that there will be continue to be questions leading up to Korea about the United States' dismal showing in Sochi and what needs to be done to bounce back. A self-assessment by U.S. Speedskating in 2014 confirmed issues that were already suspected, including a lack of familiarity with new high-tech suits and a decision to hold a pre-Olympic camp at an outdoor rink in Italy.
This time, the plan is to train again indoors at sea level in Milwaukee before leaving for Korea.
Joey Mantia, who also competed in 2014, said the biggest lessons learned were to stay positive and to stick with routine.
"For me personally, it got me a little out of my element" Mantia said. "I think the biggest lesson learned was to go with what you know. We've all won before, we've all been on the podium and done things that we need to at the Olympics to win. We just need to repeat that."