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NEW FACES VIE FOR GOLD

Bonnie Blair and Dan Jansen are gone from the U.S. speedskating team, but there are plenty of young skaters who want to prove that the team's gold medal hopes did not leave with them.

Starting today, in the first of two weekends of Olympic qualifying for the Long Track speedskating team, they will make their case.

Chris Witty, one of the young hopefuls, talked about Blair.

"I would hope nobody would ever forget her," she said. "She was the greatest our country ever had. I don't want to replace her. I do want people to recognize me . . . to make a name for myself and be recognized for who I am and what I am trying to accomplish."

Blair or Jansen have been on every U.S. Olympic team since 1984, the last time the U.S. failed to win a medal in speedskating.

Witty won the 1996 U.S. sprint title, set a world record recently for 1,000 meters (1:15.43) and is the one of the team's top hopes for an Olympic medal. Along with KC Boutiette and Kirstin Holum, she is one of several skaters who have already qualified for the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan.

This year, for the first time, skaters had a chance to pre-qualify before the team trials, based on performance in World Cup and other competition.

But the two weekends of qualifying at the Pettit National Ice Center in West Allis will give the nation a chance to see the team's prospects for Nagano. The U.S. team is allowed 10 men and 10 women skaters and the competition will be fierce.

The qualifying races will be today through Monday and next weekend, with two races each day. The races range in length from 500 meters to 10,000 meters for men and 5,000 meters for women.

Cory Goelz of the Town of Tonawanda is also skating in the Trials in the 1,500, 3,000 and 5,000.

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