(Chicago Tribune) Lana Gehring knew immediately that her role changed when teammate Katherine Reutter decided in January to have season-ending surgery on both hips.
“I definitely felt extra pressure,” Gehring said. “One of the first thoughts I had was I didn’t want to let down the team, especially Katherine, because she has done much for us.”
Champaign’s Reutter had been the leader of the U.S. short track speedskating team the past four seasons, getting better every year.
In 2010, Reutter became the first U.S. woman to win an Olympic medal (silver) in an individual short track event since 1994 and helped the relay — including Gehring — win a bronze.
Last winter, she became the first U.S. woman to win a world title since Bonnie Blair 25 years earlier. Reutter also led the World Cup overall season standings as well as the standings in two individual events.
Now Glenview’s Gehring has the leadership role as the U.S. team prepares for the World Championships Friday through Sunday in Shanghai.
“I’m kind of excited to lead our team,” Gehring said. “I think I was ready for it, so I didn’t let the pressure be a negative thing.”
That was apparent at two February World Cup meets, when Gehring, 21, had by far the most impressive stretch of her six seasons on the circuit.
In four individual events, Gehring won two gold medals — her first since the start of last season — plus a bronze and a fourth place. At the second meet, she won all seven races, heats through finals, at 1,000 and 1,500 meters. She also helped the U.S. relay take two silver medals.
“She is actually our lifesaver,” Jae Sun Chun, the U.S. short track head coach, said of Gehring.
She credits changes in her training for being able to carry herself — and the team. It included a 30 percent increase in volume and intensity starting last summer. That helped her overcome doing well only in early rounds of a competition or only in the early part of the season.
“In the past, I would always fade,” Gehring said. “You have no idea what a surprise it was for me to do so well at this point in the season.”
But there were days when Gehring would look at Chun’s workout plan and wonder how she ever would get through it.