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U.S. speed skaters Erin Porter and Amy Peterson, center and right, lead in the semifinal race at the World Cup Speed Skating Championship in Saratoga Springs in 1998. (James Goolsby/Times Union)
Short track speed skater Amy Peterson responds to questions at a news conference in Salt Lake City, Utah., Tuesday Feb. 5, 2002. Peterson, a three-time Olympic medal winner, was chosen in a secret ballot by her teammates Wednesday, Feb. 6, to carry the U.S. flag into the opening ceremony Friday night. She has succeeded as an elite athlete despite chronic fatigue syndrome.
In this Feb. 22, 1994 file photo, American short track speedskating bronze medalists Nikki Ziegelmeyer, left, Karen Cashman, second from left, Cathy Turner and Amy Peterson, right, celebrate on the podium after receiving their medals for the 3,000-meter relay in Lillehammer, Norway. (AP Photo/Doug Mills, File)
Former Gov. George Pataki, far right, talks with Olympic team members, Mark Grimmette, far left, who competed in and won a silver medal in doubles luge, Erin Porter, second from left, who competed in short track speed skating, Amy Peterson, third from left, who also competed in short track speed skating, and Adam Heidt, fourth from left, who competed in luge. The Olympians were honored at the State Capitol during a ceremony on Monday March 4, 2002 in Albany, NY. (Times Union staff photo by Paul Buckowski)
Amy Peterson, left, of the U.S., leads Joanna Williams, of Great Britain, in the first heat of the 2002 Winter Olympics women’s 1500m short track speed skating event, Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2002 at the Salt Lake Ice Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.
World Cup Short Track Speed Skating Event in Saratoga Springs pits Christine Bourdrias of Canada, left, against Amy Peterson, of the U.S. in 1998. (Paul D. Kniskern/Times Union)
American bronze medal winner Amy Peterson, left, and gold medal winner Cathy Turner, hold up flowers following the women’s Olympic 500 meter short track speed skating race in Lillehammer, Norway, on Feb. 25, 1994.
SCHUYLERVILLE — As the Beijing Winter Olympics commence, three-time speedskating medalist Amy Peterson Peck can recall many moments that stand out as an Olympic competitor.
But none compares to the pride she felt being chosen as the U.S. team’s flag-bearer at the opening ceremony of the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002.
“It was amazing,” said Peterson Peck, who now lives in Schuylerville. “This was the icing on the cake. I probably won’t win any medals here, but carrying the flag, you can’t train for that. You are chosen.”
Peterson Peck, (who was just Peterson at the time of the games), will recall the Salt Lake City ceremony at 1:30 p.m. Friday on NBC, just hours after the early morning airing of the opening ceremony of this year’s games in China.
Her selection 20 years ago, however, shouldn’t have come as a surprise to her, as the 30-year-old then was already named the speedskating athlete of the year twice. It would end up being her fifth, and final, Olympics. She says she didn’t expect it because the team captains nominate the flag-bearer. She was the captain of the speedskating team and would never consider nominating herself. Her teammates knew this and made a plan.
“What happens is everyone arrives at the Olympic Village and then each sports’ designated captain goes to a meeting to vote on who will carry the flag,” Peterson Peck said. “The day of the meeting, I was kicked off as captain. … The new captain went to the meeting and nominated me. … The teammates actually chose me.”
The whole experience was a dream come true for the skater from Maplewood, Minn.
“I remember in elementary school when you were supposed to write about what you wanted to be when you grow up,” Peterson Peck said. “At that age, young people were saying a fireman or police officer, stuff like that. I said I wanted to be in the Olympics.”
It wasn’t a wayward vision for the young girl as her family and their circle of friends were deep into skating sports. Her uncle, Gene Sandvig, competed in speedskating in the 1952 and 1956 Olympic Games. Her father’s lifelong friend, who the family enjoyed summer barbecues with, was Herb Brooks, head coach of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” gold medal U.S.A. hockey team. And one of her 13 cousins, all of whom speedskated, trained with the five-time Olympic gold medalist Eric Heiden.
“I was exposed to that,” the now 50-year-old said. “And my parents were never like ‘Oh you can’t go to the Olympics.’ It wasn’t like we talked about it at home, they made the opportunity for me and allowed me to pursue whatever I wanted to be or do.”
Peterson Peck started out figure skating at age 2 and speedskating at age 6. She admits she considered quitting both, at times, but she kept going.
“The family rule was to finish what you started,” she said. “My parents said when the season is over and you don’t want to continue next year, that’s fine. But we had to finish out the season. Fair enough. The end of the season would come and then the next season would come and I still wanted to do it.”
Then at age 15, she made the 1987 World Team. That year, the International Olympic Committee decided to allow short track speed skating in the 1988 Calgary Games. At that point, there wasn’t enough time for a trial and the World Team became the Olympic Team.
“They said, ‘We have this team, let’s just take this team,’” she said “So it was just kinda ‘Oh my gosh, we’re going to the Olympics.’”
When the games opened, she had just turned 16 and was going with lifelong friends she trained with in Minnesota.
“It was really fun,” Peterson Peck recalled. “My closest friends were going on this adventure with me. That’s what it was. There was no expectations. I was a kid. I wasn’t a contender. I didn’t have a care in the world.”
The 1992 Olympics in Albertville were different. She won the silver in the relay and then in 1994 in Lillehammer she won two bronzes, one for the 500-meter and another for the relay.
But that looked like it might be the end. After Lillehammer, she slipped into a two-year bout with chronic fatigue syndrome.
“I was ranked first in the U.S. for years and all of a sudden, I fell to sixth,” she recalled.
What helped her move out of the slump was training with Pat Maxwell, her Olympic speedskating coach, who was working out of the Saratoga Winter Club at the city ice rink. She moved to the area to work with him in 1997.
“He was really instrumental,” Peterson Peck recalled. “I was training daily with 15- and 16-year-olds. That was the intensity my body could handle. It couldn’t handle what the other people at my racing ability could do. I had to take a step back and it was focusing on what I needed to do and not worry about what other people were doing. Pat was instrumental to get me to focus on myself and crawl my way out of that.”
She had already missed the 1997 World Team. However, with Maxwell’s help, she managed to make the 1998 Nagano Games where she came in fourth place in the 1,000-meter.
“People said they were sorry I made fourth,” she said. “To me, it is my most proud race of all my Olympics.”
After Nagano, she returned home, but came back to the Capital Region for her friend and fellow speedskater Kristen Talbot’s wedding to Neil Peck in 2005. That’s when she met his brother Bill, who is Northumberland town supervisor and co-owner with Neil Peck of Welcome Stock Farm, a dairy. The two married in 2006, the same year she was named to the National Speedskating Hall of Fame. She and her husband have four boys, ages 14, 13, 11 and 8.
“All that training helps,” she said with a laugh. “There is a lot of pressure being in the Olympics. But there’s a lot of pressure being a mom.”
Peterson Peck is now a coach, with Maxwell, in Saratoga Springs. But she said her main focus is on her children, ensuring that they too can follow their dreams.
“I love it,” she said. “I love being there for them.”
As she looks back, she also realizes how much her family was there for her, driving her for hours to training and competitions to fulfill her dream.
“I didn’t do five Olympics to get the gold,” she said. “What I was chasing down was reaching my full potential. I had some pretty darn good races, but did I ever have the race I dreamt of in the Olympics, probably not. … I think now, every day I wake up, as a mom, I always have the attitude, how I can I be better today. I’m just chasing down the best.”
Wendy Liberatore covers communities in Saratoga County. Prior to joining the Times Union, she wrote features on the arts and dance for the Daily Gazette, Saratoga Living and the Saratogian. She also worked for magazines in Westchester County and was an education reporter with the Bronxville Review-Press and Reporter. She can be reached at email@example.com, or 518-491-0454 or 518-454-5445.