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Skating takes Olympics coach from North Carolina to Pyeongchang

William Douglas, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in Olympics

He did roller speedskating, on four-wheel quad skates, for about a year. Then he decided to turn his athletic attention to his other passion, baseball.

He was set to play for Surry Community College in Dobson, N.C., but a shoulder injury scuttled his baseball career before it began.

Barthell moved to Florida in 1998, the year the Winter Games was held in Nagano, Japan. He watched the speedskating events and became intrigued with the sport.

His interest grew after he saw Joey Cheek, a former inline skater from Greensboro, N.C., win a bronze medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Cheek won gold and silver medals at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy.

Cheek, who'll be inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in May, will be Pyeongchang providing speedskating commentary for NBC.

"Joey Cheek's from Greensboro, so we got to race each other," Barthell said. "I wanted to try speedskating. I missed skating, I hadn't been on ice. I tried hockey skates first, and I was thinking 'OK, this is going to be easy.' "

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But making the transition from wheels to steel was "the hardest thing I've ever done," Barthell says now.

"It's so technical, you're on millimeter-size blades and its 17 1/2 inches (long) and you just don't know what to expect," he said. "I always tell these guys that if you're athletic it's a lot harder to come and speedskate. If you're not athletic, it's a little easier. It goes against everything you learn as an athlete."

Barthell got the hang of it and raced short track for the Sunshine State Speedskating club.

In his late 20s, Barthell moved to Salt Lake City in 2006 and joined the Facilitated Athlete Sport Training (FAST) team development program to learn as much as he could about the sport and play catch up to younger, more experienced skaters.

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