High Point’s Bergsma leads U.S. to bronze medal in Team Pursuit

The former inline skater from High Point wins her first medal in her third Olympics

High Point's Heather Bergsma (third from left), Brittany Bowe, Mia Manganello and Carlijn Schoutens of the U.S celebrate winning bronze in the Olympic Team Pursuit event Wednesday (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

After eight years and three disappointments in Pyeongchang, Heather Richardson Bergsma has finally won her Olympic medal.

The former inline skater from High Point combined with Brittany Bowe and Mia Manganello to defeat Canada early Wednesday morning to earn a bronze medal in the Team Pursuit event.

It was the first medal of any kind in long track speedskating for the U.S. after getting shut out in Sochi four years ago and the first in 16 years for American women. It also ended a personal quest for Bergsma, dating back to the Vancouver Games of 2010.

 “I could barely see straight when we crossed the line so it took a second to register,” Bergsma told TeamUSA.com “Mia was like ‘We did it!’ and all the weight lifted off my shoulders. It was Mia that screamed first and then we all started screaming after Mia screamed

“We are extremely grateful. It’s been a long time coming for US Speedskating and the ladies. We are extremely happy.”

Using a strategy that had the speedier Bergsma and Bowe out front for the first half of the race, then having distance skater Manganello take over for the second half to bring the team home, the U.S. built a big early lead in the bronze medal race. They survived slips by both Bowe and Manganello around the final turn to finish 0.45 seconds ahead of the Canadians in a time for 2:59.27.

“Obviously, with Heather and mine’s speed, our strategy was to get out there, get a jumpstart, and hang on for dear life at the end,” Bowe said. “That’s what we did. That was heart that you saw in the last turn that got us to that bronze medal.”

Japan beat the Netherlands for the gold medal. The Netherlands, which took silver, beat the U.S. in a semifinal race the Americans admittedly sacrificed in order to have a legitimate shot at winning a medal two hours later.

Carlijn Schoutens subbed for Bowe to help keep her fresh for the bronze medal duel with Canada.

“The coaching staff put together a great plan for us,” Bowe said. “We obviously thought that resting me through the semi round and really fighting for that bronze medal was the most realistic goal for us. We wanted to come away with a medal.”

Bergsma, who now lives in the Netherlands with her Dutch skating husband — gold medalist Jorrit Bergsma — is competing in her third Olympics. Her best finish before Wednesday was a sixth place in the 500 meters in Vancouver eight years ago. Her three previous races in Pyeongchang ended in eighth-place finishes in the 500 and 1,000 meters and an 11th in the 1,500.

She still has one race to go in these Olympics, the newly created mass start event on Saturday.