Nickel: Jordan Stolz is the diversion we need – if we can keep what he's doing in perspective

·7 min read
Jordan Stolz of Kewaskum cools down after breaking the Pettit Center's longest-standing men's speedskating record, Shani Davis' 1,000-meter mark set in November 2005, during the U.S. Olympic long-track trials Friday night.
Jordan Stolz of Kewaskum cools down after breaking the Pettit Center's longest-standing men's speedskating record, Shani Davis' 1,000-meter mark set in November 2005, during the U.S. Olympic long-track trials Friday night.

Here’s hoping we don’t “Graham Mertz” this kid.

Being excited for Jordan Stolz, and about Jordan Stolz, is good. It’s great. We could all use someone to root for, and something we can agree on, if just for a few weeks. And Stolz is this confident and polite-to-a-fault speedskater from tiny Kewaskum who is really easy to like. So let’s do that. Cheer for him. Without anointing him the savior we need to fix all that is wrong.

It gets tiring to do all the rest of the stuff we do. Heap on the expectations, dial up the comparisons, load up the demands. The sports cycle. We're almost all guilty.It ruins this moment right now, as well as the anticipation of what could happen, and somehow this 17-year old already understands that. Even with all his success during his record-setting performances in winning the 500 and 1,000 meters at U.S. Olympic long-track trials, Stolz, was trying to say as much this week from the Pettit National Ice Center.

Just keep it in perspective, please.

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Top-five in next month in Beijing is a great goal, he said.

Medals? Well. Anything could happen, he said, to anyone.

And when Jordan was asked (fairly enough): Are you comfortable with everyone talking about you? Being maybe the next star for U.S. Speedskating? Stolz’s answer was as solid as it was simple.

“Yeah, I'm pretty comfortable with it. ... As long as I don't see too much because, you know, anything can happen. So you just never know.”

While Stolz comes across as calm, and unaffected by all the new attention – as much as there is in this sport – the truth is he’s worked very hard at the mental part of his racing as much has he has on the speed and power.

He talked about that Friday after setting his second track record, noting he benefited from a relaxing atmosphere at home, after crushing the 1,000-meter race Thursday night.

Jordan Stolz is flanked by runner-up Joey Mantia, left, and third-place finisher Austin Kleba after winning the 1,000 meters in Pettit Center record time Thursday night in the U.S. Olympic long-track speedskating trials.
Jordan Stolz is flanked by runner-up Joey Mantia, left, and third-place finisher Austin Kleba after winning the 1,000 meters in Pettit Center record time Thursday night in the U.S. Olympic long-track speedskating trials.

“I race the best when I'm relaxed,” said Stolz. “There's been plenty of times where I'm really hyped up and I'm really nervous and then I just totally destroy the entire race and screw it up.

“So I just try and be as relaxed as possible. Then when I get to the line, just focus on what I have to do and just do it like how I do it in practice. And then it's a good race.”

Stolz leapt from being a junior world record holder to an Olympian during the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. And he’s not only going to his first Olympics, but he’s going in this pandemic that never seems to end, and more than that, will have to comply with the rules and conditions in China.

Have you heard much from China yet? No, no one has. A few days ago the World Health Organization emergencies director Michael Ryan said the UN health agency has worked with the International Olympic Committee on the safety of the Games.

“The Chinese authorities have very strict measures in place, and they’ve released a series of different playbooks. We continue to review those playbooks with the IOC,” he said in a news conference.

“I’m confident that given the information we have, that the measures that are in place for the Games are very strict and very strong and we don’t, at this point, see any increased risk of disease transmission in that context.”

Key words here:

Very strict. Very strong.

And:

Given the information we have.

So maybe we can pump the brakes on the comparisons of the young Stolz to Eric Heiden, Dan Jansen, household names in Wisconsin and legends in the Olympic speedskating. It’s comforting to hear those names again, and flattering to the kid, but these upcoming Games will test athletes perhaps like no other time in history, except for maybe 1936 or 1972.

Stolz has been tested in the relatively few times in his young career, but he’s handled it very well.

In early December, according to his father, Dirk Stolz, Jordan raced in the 1,000 meters in the Calgary stint of the World Cup tour, finished in third place in the B group and broke the junior world record.

But he was futzing with the zipper on his suit, while racing.

The zipper didn’t lock right away, so Jordan had to secure it while on a straightaway. And then with all the power and torque on the turn, it popped open again. And Jordan had to zip up again.

While. Racing. On. The. Ice.

It still makes his dad laugh.

“His time was 1:07.03 and he had to zipper up his suit twice,” said Dirk.

“He would have been in the 1.06 range.”

Jordan Stolz of Kewaskum skates to victory in the 500 meters Friday night during the U.S. Olympic long-track speedskating trails at the Pettit National Ice Center.
Jordan Stolz of Kewaskum skates to victory in the 500 meters Friday night during the U.S. Olympic long-track speedskating trails at the Pettit National Ice Center.

Of course, Stolz has shattered those times now anyway and will race in the Olympics.

And thankfully he has other places to turn his focus. Despite tearing up the trials in the 500 and the 1000 this week, Stolz sees an area he can work on.

"When I'm coming out of the turn, I feel like the exit is good, I'm getting good crossovers," said Stolz. "And then on the straight away count, I try and set up the two before entering the turn.

"Usually you want to be on your right, right when you hit the turn, you want to be on your right on the straightaway."

But in the 500, Stolz could see he was going to be on his left. So he had to correct, by taking two long straightaway strokes before he could enter. And he entered early anyway.

"So I kind of crossed over, not getting that as much G force from the turn," said Stolz. "I wouldn't say it messed up the entire turn, but it just caused a little uncomfortable moment at the apex."

Remember the NBA Finals last summer, when MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks talked about all the pressure? And how he wanted to live in the moment?

“I understand there's so much pressure from the whole world, from the media, from the fans,” he said after the Game 2 loss. “We should be proud of ourselves and we should just go out there and enjoy the game to the fullest.“

And then Antetokounmpo produced the quote of the decade in sports:

"When you focus on the past, that's your ego. When I focus on the future, that's my pride. I try to focus in the moment, in the present. That's humility, that's being humble."

That's kind of what this young rocket on the ice is trying to do right now. And it is, by far, the best approach to take. It's a shame because of the coronavirus surge there was no crowd to see him race. So, cheer from afar. Stolz's meteoric rise continues this week at the Trials, and we will probably see him once more at the mass start Sunday. And for now at least that is, as Stolz says, "good enough."

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Let's keep Jordan Stolz's speedskating accomplishments in perspective

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