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Olympic Games: Speedskating winner made switch from wheels to blades Texan finds gold on ice Hedrick's triumph first U.S. 5,000 win since Heiden in '80

It didn't take long for speedskater Chad Hedrick to win the United States' first medal.

Six minutes and 14.68 seconds, to be exact.

The Texan took the gold medal in his first career Olympic race. He won the 5,000 meters by almost two seconds over world record-holder Sven Kramer of the Netherlands and was a mere .02 off the Olympic record.

"I was in complete control," Hedrick said. "I knew what I needed to do every step of the way. If I would have had a time that was a little faster to beat, I'm sure I could have boosted it up a little bit because I was going to do whatever it took because this is such a special moment for my family and friends. It's awesome."

The only time Hedrick lost it was before the race, when he broke down. His grandmother, Geraldine Hedrick, whom he called Nanny, died of brain cancer exactly 13 years ago Saturday. As the 28-year-old thought of her during warm-ups, he cried.

His unusual show of emotion worried his coach, Bart Schouten.

"I had to go up in the stands and give my family a hug to get rid of the tears because I didn't want it to have a negative impact on my race," said Hedrick, who dedicated the race to his grandmother. "The tears just meant that all the sweat and all the sacrifice that I put into my sport, this meant so much to me today to come here and do well."

Although most of the crowd at Oval Lingotto was Dutch, Hedrick had 20 of his family members and friends from Spring, Texas, as well as first lady Laura Bush, on his side Saturday. They waved Texas flags and many wore red shirts with the words "The Exception" -- Hedrick's nickname -- printed inside a map of Texas on the front and "Team Chad" on the back.

Hedrick's father, Paul, a former roller skating national champion, wore his trademark black cowboy hat.

Chad Hedrick sent his father a text message early Saturday that read: "If you need anything, call. It's showtime. I love you guys."

By the end of the day, Paul Hedrick was answering his constantly ringing cell phone with "gold medal." What else was there to say?

"Everything that he sacrificed, and all the years that we've been in some sort of speedskating, his dream came true," Paul Hedrick said. "I'm just happy I was able to be here to see it."

Kramer and his teammate Carl Verheijen skated in the group before Hedrick. Kramer's 6:16.40 had him in first place.

Hedrick, skating in the 12th of 14 groups, had the fastest split at the 1,400 mark, 0.14 faster than Kramer had skated. Before the halfway point, when Hedrick had built a 1.87 advantage, Kramer got up and left.

"You could see Sven thought Chad was going to win," Schouten said. "I wasn't as sure."

Despite the slow ice, Hedrick was on a world-record pace until the last lap. Still, his 6:14.68 over the 12 1/2 laps was more than good enough, as none of the last four skaters threatened him.

American Shani Davis, who was in the group behind Hedrick, finished seventh in 6:23.08, and Italy's Enrico Fabris, who was in the last group, won the bronze in 6:18.25 for his country's first medal.

Hedrick's triumph, which he celebrated with a victory lap, marked the first gold medal for the United States in the event since Eric Heiden's in Lake Placid 26 years ago.

It gives Hedrick a chance at Heiden's record of five gold medals at the same Olympics. Hedrick, who switched from in-line skating only three years ago, also will skate the 1,000, the 1,500, the 10,000 and the new team pursuit event.

"You're going to see a lot more of this face," Hedrick said.

The team pursuit Wednesday is his next race, but Davis hurt the United States' chances for victory when he announced last week that he had decided against participating. Davis said the team pursuit conflicts with his best event, the 1,000.

"I've been skating since I was 6 years old, and I know what's best for me," Davis said Saturday. "None of my teammates helped me get where I am right now."

Hedrick credits many for getting him to the medal stand Saturday. He won 50 world championships in in-line skating -- 35 more than anyone in history -- with a self-taught technique called the double push, or DP, which revolutionized the sport.

But when efforts to make in-line skating an Olympic sport failed, Hedrick followed good friend Derek Parra into speedskating. Now the brash Texan will return home an Olympic champion.

"As an in-line skater, I was a world champion for almost 10 years," Hedrick said. "I'd go home to Houston and tell people what I did, and nobody ever knew what I was talking about. 'You're an in-line speedskater, what's that?'

"I'm glad to say that after today, people are going to understand what I do."

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