The Pettit National Ice Center, a U.S. Olympic Training Site opened December 31, 1992. Since that time, the Center has provided a world class venue for U.S. speed skaters to prepare to compete at the highest levels internationally. Speed skating has traditionally been one of the winningest sport in U.S. Winter Olympic history, and the Pettit Center is proud to have hosted so many athletes on their path to success.
The same general location that the Pettit now occupies was the site of the outdoor Wisconsin Olympic Ice Rink. From 1967 until 1991, this outdoor spectacle was home ground for many skaters who strived for success in the world of speed skating. The 1970’s and 1980’s were highlighted by the achievements of Eric Heiden, Beth Heiden, Peter Mueller and Leah Poulos in both Olympic Games and World Championships. The most decorated was Madison’s Eric Heiden, who dominated the 1980 Winter Olympics, winning gold in all five speed skating races, 500m, 1000m, 1500m, 5000m, and 10,000m in Lake Placid.
The Pettit Center opening at the end of 1992 provided the opportunity for local favorites and the sport’s icons, Bonnie Blair Cruikshank and Dan Jansen, and their teammates to prepare for the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillihammer, Norway, indoors. The 1994 Winter Olympics proved to be most memorable for these two very special skaters.
1998 & 2002 Olympic Games
Bonnie Blair, who was making her fourth and final Olympic appearance, dominated the ice in Lillihammer. She won two gold medals, making Blair the most decorated U.S. female Winter Olympic athlete ever. Joining Blair was her close friend and Milwaukee’s own Dan Jansen. Jansen raced to a world record and an Olympic gold medal
With Bonnie Blair and Dan Jansen closing out their competitive careers, the door was open for a new crop of U.S. Speedskaters. Next in line was West Allis, Wisconsin’s Chris Witty. Witty, who skated with her brother Mike for years at the outdoor Wisconsin Olympic Ice Rink, could be seen at the Pettit training in advance of the 1998 Winter Olympics. At the 1998 Games in Nagano, Japan, Witty won a silver and a bronze medal.
The 2002 Winter Olympics were hosted in Salt Lake City, Utah. These Games proved to be monumental for U.S. Speedskating athletes, with a record medal haul. U.S. speed skaters took home 11 medals, making the sport the winningest of the 2002 Games. Chris Witty won a gold medal and was joined by Verona, Wisconsin’s Casey FitzRandolph, Derek Parra and Apolo Anton Ohno as gold medal winners. Joey Cheek; Brookfield, Wisconsin’s, Kip Carpenter; Jennifer Rodriquez and Rusty Smith also won medals for the U.S., much to the delight of the home crowd.
2006 Olympic Games
The 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy saw the state of Wisconsin well-represented once again. 2006 marked the last Olympics for Casey FitzRandolph and Chris Witty and saw return trips for Eli Ochowicz (from Waukesha, Wisconsin) and Kip Carpenter. Tucker Fredricks of Janesville, Wisconsin made his first Olympic team.
Most noteworthy was Shani Davis. Davis became the first African-American ever to win an individual Olympic medal and was Olympic champion in the 1000 meters. Davis, who also took home a silver medal in the 1500 meters, spent extensive training at the Pettit Center on both short track and long track skating.
2010 Olympic Games
The 2010 Winter Olympic Games saw a record number of overall medals won by the U.S. delegation with help from a core group of speed skaters. Hales Corners, Wisconsin native Alyson Dudek, a first-time Olympian, won a bronze medal as part of the ladies’ short track relay team. Also on the short track, J.R Celski won an individual bronze medal along with Katherine Reutter who set an Olympic record in the 1000 meters on her way to a silver medal in the 1000m. Apolo Anton became the most decorated U.S. Winter Olympian ever, earning his eighth (8) medal in his career, a bronze, in the men’s short track relay.
On the long track Oval, Chad Hedrick, Trevor Marsicano, Jonathan Kuck and Brian Hansen teamed to win a silver medal in the men’s team pursuit after upsetting the favored Netherlands in the semifinal round. Hedrick tied Eric Heiden with five (5) career Winter Olympic long track medals by earning the bronze in the 1000 meters.
Shani Davis became the 1st skater ever to win consecutive gold medals in the 1000 meters and also added a second silver medal in the 1500 meters. Of the 18 skaters on the U.S.Winter Olympic long track team, seven (7) of those skaters base their training at the Pettit Center, including Davis, Hansen, Kuck, Marsicano, Mitch Whitmore, Jilleane Rookard and Nancy Swider-Peltz, Jr.
2014 Olympic Games
The 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia were a major disappointment for the U.S. speed skaters, earning one medal in the men’s short track relay. Frustration at dashed hopes for a strong medal showing and controversy regarding preparation and apparel were impetus for a constructive evaluation, solid plan, and renewed commitment to return U.S. speed skaters to the Olympic podium in South Korea in 2018. Instrumental in that plan is the increased utilization of the Pettit Center Oval, at sea level, as a site for intense training to match competitive conditions, at sea level, at Gangneung, South Korea for the Winter Games.