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Koons Qualifies in Short Track

January 18, 1998

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. (AP) _ Scott Koons hasn’t moved to the Adirondack Mountains. It only seemed that way Sunday.

More than 30 people _ aunts, uncles, cousins and siblings from Cleveland and a few friends from Lake Placid, where Koons trains _ showed up to cheer their favorite son as he tried to make the U.S. Olympic short track speedskating team.

They had to wait until the last stride of his last race to celebrate, and it wasn’t a lot of fun.

``You have to understand that my blood pressure was sky high,″ aunt Betty Caughey said.

It was, however, worth the wait. Trailing in last place entering the final turn, Koons swept past Ian Baranski and Thomas O’Hare on the inside in the late stages of the 1,000-meter final to finish second to Andy Gabel and qualify for his first Olympic team.

``I’m on cloud nine, 15 years of waiting and dreaming,″ said Koons, 21, who gained three points for his performance in the final. ``It just all fell together. I was very nervous. I thought I was about to not make the team.″

Instead, the 18-year-old Baranski, of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., missed the chance to go to his first Olympics. Koons’ remarkable finish vaulted him into fourth place in the final point standings. The top six men and women make the U.S. team.

Gabel, 33, of Northbrook, Ill., finished where he had been since the first race of the four-day competition _ on top, with 28 of a possible 30 points. He won both time trials and three of four finals, losing only to Rusty Smith in the 1,000-meter final last Sunday.

The remainder of the men’s team that will go to Nagano, Japan, is: Smith, of Sunset Beach, Calif., runner-up with 11 points; Daniel Weinstein, 16, Brookline, Mass., six points; Koons and O’Hare, 20, of St. Louis, five points each, and Eric Flaim, 30, Pembroke, Mass., who will be skating in his fourth Olympics.

``It’s a great team. These guys are fast,″ said Gabel, who set three U.S. records during the trials. ``We’ve got a nice mix of veterans and young guys. And the young guys are hungry.″

The women’s team has the same kind of mix, with two former Olympians and four newcomers.

Amy Peterson, 26, of Maplewood, Minn., who has won three Olympic medals, continued her stirring comeback from chronic fatigue syndrome. Peterson edged her training partner, Erin Porter of Saratoga Springs in the women’s final Sunday to finish atop the standings with 26 points.

Porter, 19, was second overall with 19 points in qualifying for her first Olympic team. The other members of the women’s team are: Erin Gleason, 21, of Jackson, N.J., third in points with eight; Caroline Hallisey, 17, of Natick, Mass., who finished tied in points at four with two-time Olympic gold medalist Cathy Turner, 35, Hilton, N.Y., and Julie Goskowicz, 17, of New Berlin, Wis., who edged Sarah Lang for the final spot.

Olympic competition consists of 500-meter and 1,000-meter individual races, a 3,000-meter relay for women and a 5,000-meter relay for men. According to U.S. team rules, only the top three men _ Gabel, Smith and Weinstein _ and women _ Peterson, Porter and Gleason _ compete in the individual races.

Turner, who will be skating in her fourth Olympics, stumbled to third in Sunday’s semifinal and never got a chance to earn more points and qualify for the individual races, where she won Olympic gold medals in 1992 and 1994.

``I can’t win another gold medal in the individual, and I’m very torn,″ said Turner, who came out of retirement for the third time seven months ago to compete. ``I just felt like if I had a couple of more races in me, I would have been right back up to the top. That part is frustrating, but then when I look back at what I set out to do, I can’t complain.

``I’m looking forward to the Games. We have a great team. I’m excited.″

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