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Skating takes Olympics coach from North Carolina to Pyeongchang

William Douglas, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in Olympics

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea -- Anthony Barthell thought that the first time he wore a pair speedskates would be his last.

"I actually got my speedskates and I couldn't cross over," Barthell said Wednesday. "I remember going home to my father's house and I told him I was ready to throw my equipment away, I'm done with this."

The High Point, N.C., native, heeding his father's advice, stuck with it and has gone from a frustrated beginner to the seasoned coach of the U.S. short track speedskating team at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

"I didn't know anything about speedskating until I saw it in 1998, maybe," Barthell said. "I just remember seeing a little old lady with her arms swinging and a bucket helmet. And in 2002, I watched it again and I was, like, 'I like this.' "

Today, Barthell, 40, is one of the few African American coaches in speedskating. He leads an eight-person squad that's a mixture of Olympic veterans and rookies like 18-year-old Maame Biney, the first black female to race short track for the U.S. in the Winter Games.

He's one of three North Carolinians on the long and short track Olympic teams. Whenever he sees long track skater Heather Bergsma, 28, a fellow High Point native, he calls her "H.P." -- short for their home town.

He refers to long tracker Kimani Griffin, 27, of Winston-Salem as his little brother. They sometimes discuss their experiences in being two men of color in search of success in a predominantly white sport.

"I don't know if it was the North Carolina factor or the fact that I'm half-black, but we hit it off early," Griffin said. "I think he brings different ideas, a different feng shui and swag to the team. I always say he my uncle. He's a stand-up guy who's always been with me."

Barthell's journey from High Point to Pyeongchang is a long one that began at his home town roller rinks in 1991.

"A friend of mine said I should try roller speedskating because I like to go fast," he said.

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