Who is Brittany Bowe?
A decorated inline skater, Brittany Bowe was inspired to try speed skating after watching the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. The Florida native made her Olympic dream came true when she competed in Sochi, but struggled in the competition with the rest of her teammates and didn't earn any medals. In the years since, Bowe set a world record and won six total medals at the 2015 and 2016 World Single Distance Championships.
Speed skating beginnings
Speed skating isn’t Bowe’s first sport—before she stepped onto the ice, she was a world champion inline skater and a college basketball player. Her skating career began at 8 years old, when she attended a birthday party at a local roller rink and saw an inline team practicing. By her late teens, Bowe had collected world championship golds in both road and track inline skating, but speed skating had caught her eye.
“My earliest memory of seeing my sport was in 2002 at the Salt Lake City Olympics,” Bowe said. “My inline skating coach, Renee Hildebrand, and I went to SLC to watch the Olympics together. I remember seeing Derek [Parra], Joey [Cheek], Chris [Witty], Jenn [Rodriguez], and Apolo [Ohno] win their medals.”
But she put her Olympic dream on pause to pursue another goal: playing Division 1 college basketball. Bowe, who was coached by her father growing up, played basketball for four years at Florida Atlantic University. As she neared graduation, the lure of the Olympic dream found her again.
"For as long as I can remember, my dream has always been to be an Olympian. It wasn't until watching the 2010 Winter Games that I realistically could drop everything and pursue my dream."
"It was my last semester of college," Bowe said. "I was sitting on the couch with my roommate watching some of my friends and competitors from the inline world walking in the Opening Ceremony, racing, and standing on the podium. At this time, my college basketball coach was helping me find an agent to pursue a professional basketball career. I had a meeting with my coach soon after and told her that I'd decided to set my basketball career aside and I was going to move to Salt Lake City and become an Olympian.”
She moved to Utah in July 2010 at the urging of Jessica Kooreman, a short track skater. The two are currently roommates in Salt Lake.
“My first memory on ice skates was actually in the middle of the short-track rink during the national team's practice hour. My coach at the time said, ‘Hey, just come out to the short track. They're gonna be skating some slow relays. You-- you'll do fine.’ And I didn't make it out onto the track. I can tell you that. I was stuck in the middle there, scared to death, and it was one of the most intimidating experiences of my life. But once I got out to the long track, I found my home out there. A little bit more space to open up some speed.”
Bowe started competing on the World Cup circuit in 2011, a little over a year after first stepping on the ice. She began winning World Cup medals during the next season, with her first major breakthrough coming when she won 1000m bronze at the 2013 World Championships.
After standing on her first world championships podium, Bowe said she realized that “I could compete with the best in the world and really had a shot to do something special with my career.”
Despite being relatively new to speed skating, Bowe was pegged as a medal contender entering the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. Not only did she have a world championship medal and multiple World Cup victories on her resume, Bowe had broken the 1000m world record just months before the Sochi Games.
However, Bowe and the rest of the U.S. speed skating team struggled in Sochi. Her best individual finish was eighth in the 1000m; she placed 13th in the 500m, 14th in the 1500m and sixth in the team pursuit with the U.S. women.
“Sochi 2014 is still fresh in my mind. Having that disappointment is definitely something that I reflect on during tough times, during tired moments,” she said, adding that her performance in Sochi is motivating her to find “redemption” in PyeongChang.
Bowe quickly rebounded from the 2014 Sochi Olympics with two outstanding seasons in which she claimed back-to-back titles at the World Sprint Championships and six total medals at the 2015 and 2016 World Single Distance Championships.
First, she became a two-time world champion at the 2015 Worlds in Heerenveen, the Netherlands when she finished first in the 1000m and 1500m races. She also earned a silver medal in the 500m.
In 2016, she won another 500m silver and picked up a pair of bronze medals in the 1000m and 1500m.
However, her winning streak was cut short by a concussion sustained during the summer of 2016. During a training session, she collided with a teammate and the lingering concussion symptoms forced her to sit out most of the 2016-17 season.
"What I thought would be a few weeks recovery time has turned into 8 months," she said in the spring of 2017. "I have been struggling with post-concussive syndrome for months, which has caused vast vestibular issues and autonomic dysfunction... I tried to make something of my season this year—juggling rehab and training in hopes of competing at the World Championships and defending my World Sprint title. I was able to lace my skates up for one competition this past year, where I earned a bronze medal in the 1000m—the first and only 1000m I was able to skate this past year."
She hoped that victory meant she was "over the hump" in her recovery, but the day before the 2017 U.S. National Championships she suffered a vertigo attack and fainting episode. She decided against competing and "made the tough decision to step away for the remainder of the season to focus on my health."
"This has turned into a very complex case and a constant uphill battle to recovery," Bowe said, "but I am doing everything in my power to get back to full health, back to the starting line, and back to the top of the podium.”
Bowe has rewritten the speed skating history books by breaking a world record three separate times.
Her first world record performance came in the 1000m during a 2013 World Cup race in Salt Lake City, Utah. It stood for two years until her teammate, Heather Bergsma, broke it in 2015. Bowe retook the record just eight days later, again at the Utah Olympic Oval in Salt Lake City.
Bergsma came out on top in the 1500m, however. During that same series of World Cup competitions in November 2015, Bowe broke the 1500m record on November 15th but Bergsma recorded a faster time on November 21st.
Bowe still holds the 1000m record.
As illustrated by their dueling world record performances, Bowe and Bergsma have often repeatedly faced off on the ice. But “it’s a friendly rivalry,” Bowe says.
“Heather and I have known each other since we were young, racing on inline skates. Heather has set the bar high year after year and we continue to battle one another, pushing the boundaries on speed and lowering world record times year after year. When it's time to race, we are both battling for the same prize—but what's nice about long track speed skating is, whoever is the fastest that day wins. No questions asked—it's you vs. the clock.”
"Although the Olympics is the pinnacle sporting event of the world, the training and preparation is no different than races we prepare for the other three years. Training for the Olympics requires a focused, dedicated, and passionate train of thought so you are prepared to perform when the pressure is at an all-time high." – Brittany Bowe
"Other than being just an incredible athlete, [Bowe is] mentally stronger than anyone I've ever met in my life. She's missed an entire season more or less because of a concussion she got in summer training. It has caused her to have dizzy spells and often times pass out, which is incredibly scary. They have been working on a rehab plan for her, but no one is really sure what exactly is causing all of the issues. Despite all of that, I've never once heard her be negative about the situation. It's absolutely incredible and sets a precedent I think every athlete on the planet should aspire to.” – Joey Mantia on his greatest influence in the sport
Off the ice
Bowe lives in Salt Lake City with Jessica Kooreman, a 2014 Olympic short track skater, and Kooreman's husband Mike, who works for U.S. Speedskating. She describes their living situation as “Three’s Company,” because they get along well and love watching “The Voice” and “This is Us” together.
Bowe is currently dating Dutch speeskater Manon Kamminga. She says it can be tough dating another athlete because she gets nervous watching her compete, but there are also big advantages.
“It's nice being with somebody that has the same passion, same drive, same goals," Bowe said. "It's obviously difficult living on different sides of the world. But we're both focused on our goal. She's trying to make her team. I'm trying to make my team. So it just works out.”
Bowe says that her parents instilled a deep sense of faith in her. She always brings her grandmother’s rosary to her competitions, and has a tattoo on her side of a stairway to heaven. If she weren’t an athlete, Bowe says she might try to bring her faith to different parts of the world.
"Being an athlete is in my blood. I've never been as passionate for anything else like I am with sport. Mission work is always something I have talked about doing. I hope that through athletics, I can create a platform to inspire and help others."