KEARNS, Utah (AP) -- Miami. Seattle. San Bernardino. Greensboro.
The only ice in those cities comes in the drinks, right? Certainly, not the kind of hometowns one would expect to find in the frigid sport of speedskating.
Well, they'll all be represented on the U.S. Olympic team -- part of an inline invasion by a bunch of X-Games types who have given this once-regional sport a truly national look.
"Hey, the snow and ice are better than seeing smog," quipped Derek Parra, who grew up in San Bernardino, a working-class suburb of Los Angeles.
These aren't just a bunch of joyskaters, either.
Joey Cheek, who grew up in the speedskating hotbed (just kidding) of Greensboro, N.C., was one of the biggest surprises in this week's U.S. Olympic trials.
He swept the 500, 1,000 and 1,500 meters, setting an American record in the shortest event and establishing himself as a definite medal contender at the Salt Lake Games.
Apolo Anton Ohno, a 19-year-old native of Seattle, is perhaps the world's best short-track skater. He is 7-for-7 at the trials and will be a contender for gold in each of the four Olympic events.
Jennifer Rodriguez, a Cuban-American from Miami, holds three American records and has a chance to pick up a medal or two in February
Don't forget Parra, a 30-year-old Mexican-American who could win gold in the 1,500 at Salt Lake. Suddenly, the Americans are contenders in some of the longer events, not just the sprints.
"I think it's great for the sport," Parra said. "When I came to the sport, it was so sprint-oriented. All anyone talked about was Bonnie (Blair) and Dan (Jansen). No one trained hard. When I came over, I was like, 'This is ridiculous. Are you kidding me?' I had trained much harder in inline."
So, what brought this disparate mix to a sport that used to be dominated by skaters from snowy states such as Minnesota and Wisconsin? A chance to go for the gold, of course.
"When I started inline, I kept hearing, 'It's going to be in the Olympics soon, it's going to be in the Olympics soon,"' Parra said. "But it never happened."
As an inline skater, Parra was the most decorated athlete at the 1995 Pan American Games. Rodriguez was a world champion in 1993 with wheels under her feet. Inline provided a comfortable living, but it didn't have a gold medal at the end of the rainbow.
"For an athlete growing up, that's the pinnacle," Parra said. "You want to play for your country in the Olympics."
KC Boutiette was the inline-to-speedskating pioneer, making his first Olympic team in 1994. He is still on the ice, hoping to qualify for his third Olympics this week.
"KC was the first for all of us," said Rodriguez, who was lured to the sport by Boutiette and is planning to marry him in April. "He kind of paved the way."
Rodriguez switched to the ice in 1996. Just two years later, she finished fourth in the 3,000 at Nagano.
"In the back of our minds, everyone was like, 'Oh, I'd love to make the Olympic team, but inline is not an Olympic sport.' And to start over at a late age, you can't make the transition," Rodriguez said.
"But when KC did it, it kind of woke everybody up. We all said, 'Wow, it is possible. Maybe we can do it.' After KC did it, the inliners were flocking."
Not that they were met with open arms by speedskating's old guard. Boutiette was an outcast during his first year on the ice.
"He had no friends," Parra remembered. "He called me up before the 1994 Olympics and said, 'Dude, this stinks. I'm in a room with no TV, one bed and a window to look at a mountain.' He had no one to talk to. He hated life."
When Parra came along a couple of years later, he felt comfortable around his teammates ("I wasn't a threat to them," he quipped) but a bit uneasy around icons such as Blair.
"It took a lot of time to get respect from people," Parra said. "Now, Bonnie is great to me. She came up and gave me a big hug when she heard I had my baby."
Chris Witty followed a more traditional route to speedskating, growing up just outside of Milwaukee. Even so, she welcomes the influx of inline skaters to the winter sport.
"I don't resent it at all," said Witty, who now trains with Rodriguez. "It makes the sport more interesting. They're spreading it to the whole country."
Even more important, the ex-inliners have dramatically improved the American medal hopes in Salt Lake
"I'm just another skater," said Ohno, who ditched inline skates after watching the 1994 Olympics with his father. "This brings more competitors to the sport. In the big picture, that's a good thing."
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