NC’s Olympians bring home a bronze, lifetime of memories

Heather Richardson Bergsma wins elusive medal; Randi Griffin scores historic goal for Korea

Top, North Carolina native Heather Bergsma, left, and teammates Brittany Bowe, Mia Manganello and Carlijn Schoutens of the United States celebrate their bronze medal in the Women’s Team Pursuit speedskating event on the podium last Thursday at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. (Eric Gaillard / Reuters)

There were no golden moments in Pyeongchang for the five Olympians with North Carolina ties. But plenty of memories were made, along with a little history and one bronze medal that made up for eight years of disappointment.

Korea celebrates after Apex’s Randi Griffin (37) scored its first goal of the Olympics on Feb. 14 against Japan. (Brian Snyder / Reuters)

The history came off the stick of Apex native and Duke graduate student Randi Griffin, who scored the first and only goal of the tournament for the groundbreaking unified Korean women’s hockey team. The goal came midway through the second period of a 4-1 loss to Japan, which followed a pair of 8-0 setbacks to begin the tournament.

One of several North Americans of Korean descent recruited to add talent and experience to a fledgling team making its Olympic debut, Griffin took a pass from teammate Park Yooniung, fought off a defender and slid the puck between the pads of Japanese goalie Akane Konishi.

The goal set off a joyous celebration both on the ice and in the stands, where the home fans had been waiting all week for something to cheer about. It also gained the attention of the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, which requested the historic puck so that it can be displayed alongside other important artifacts in the sport’s history.

“I knew the goal would mean a lot to Korean supporters who wanted something to cheer for since we were losing games, and it certainly meant a lot to our team,” said Griffin, who played her collegiate hockey at Harvard. “But I didn’t think anyone outside Korea would care.”

Although Heather Richardson Bergsma’s performance in the Team Pursuit speedskating event didn’t generate as much attention, it was no less important to her country’s Olympic program.

Or her own career.

Combining with U.S. teammates Brittany Bowe and Mia Manganello, the High Point native skated to victory against Canada in the bronze medal race to end a 16-year Olympic medal drought for American women speedskaters. It also ended a personal quest for Bergsma, dating back to the Vancouver Games in 2010.

The former inline skater had never finished higher than sixth in two previous Olympics. Her frustration continued in Pyeongchang with eighth-place finishes in the 1,000 and 1,500 meters, along with an 11th in the 500 before her triumphant effort in the Team Pursuit event.

Kimani Griffin competes in the men’s speedskating 500 meters during the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic Winter Games at Gangneung Ice Arena. (Jeff Swinger / USA TODAY Sports)

“I could barely see straight when we crossed the line, so it took a second to register,” Bergsma told “Mia was like, ‘We did it!’ and all the weight lifted off my shoulders. … It’s been a long time coming for U.S. Speedskating and the ladies. We are extremely happy.”

North Carolina’s other speedskater in Pyeongchang, Winston-Salem’s Kimani Griffin, finished 26th in the men’s 500 meters, his only race of the Games. A first-time Olympian, Griffin said that the experience was more important than the result as he sets his sights on returning for a run at medals in the 2020 games in Beijing.

Siler City native Lowell Bailey, center, competes in a men’s biathalon relay during the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic Winter Games at Alpensia Biathlon Centre. (Jeff Swinger / USA TODAY Sports)

These will probably be the final Olympics for the two other athletes with state ties.

Bobby Sanguinetti, a former member of the Carolina Hurricanes who now lives in Wilmington, recorded an assist in an overtime loss to Slovenia. He played an average of nearly 20 minutes per game as a defenseman for the U.S. hockey team that was eliminated in the quarterfinals.

And Lowell Bailey, a 36-year-old biathlete who was born in Siler City, placed sixth in the men’s 4×5.5 kilometer relay and 15th in the mixed relay while finishing well off the pace in all three of his individual events.