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Winter Olympics has Florida flavor in speed skating, hockey

Brittany Bowe competes in the women's 500 meters during the U.S. Olympic long track speedskating trials, Friday, Jan. 5, 2018, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Brittany Bowe competes in the women's 500 meters during the U.S. Olympic long track speedskating trials, Friday, Jan. 5, 2018, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Florida's ties to these Olympics go beyond the U.S. women's hockey team training at Florida Hospital Center Ice in Wesley Chapel. Some of the world's best speed skaters are natives who started as inline skaters, and the men's hockey team has tentacles that reach to both coasts and Central Florida.

Speed skating

Brittany Bowe | Ocala

Bowe, 29, is a four-time world champion with more than 40 World Cup medals (16 gold) who is on her second Olympic team. She started speed skating in 2010 because she saw friends from inline who switched to ice and were competing in the 2010 Games. She missed a majority of the 2016-17 season due to concussion symptoms. "My equilibrium was kind of off. I would have dizzy spells. I would have fainting episodes," she says. "And with those negative episodes came panic, came anxiety, things that I had never struggled with mentally. … I've learned some things about myself that I am going to take with me on the ice and in the future of my life."

Erin Jackson | Ocala

Jackson, 25, started skating on ice full time in September. She is a former University of Florida engineering student and roller derby player for the Ocala Cannibals and Jacksonville RollerGirls "I really wasn't expecting any of this," she said after qualifying in the 500 meters at the Olympic trials.

Mia Manganello | Crestview

Manganello, 28, took a break from speed skating after the 2010 Olympic trials and switched to cycling, racing professionally for five years. She returned to speed skating in 2016. Her parents, Karen and Dominic, own Dominic's Pizzeria in Valparaiso, near Crestview in the Panhandle. "There is nothing better then growing up in a kitchen," she says. "The lessons and responsibilities you learn are irreplaceable, with the greatest reward being the amount of pizza you get to eat."

Joey Mantia | Ocala

Mantia, who turns 32 on Wednesday, is on his second Olympic team. A world champion and World Cup gold medalist, he switched from inline to ice in 2010. He is the reigning world champion in the mass start, speed skating's version of a NASCAR race. Foregoing the traditional one-on-one time-trial format, all skaters are on the oval at the same time for a 16-lap, 6,400-meter free-for-all.e_SClBMen's hockey

Brandon Maxwell | Winter Park

The 26-year-old goalie was drafted by the Avalanche in the sixth round in 2009. He was never signed and has never played in the NHL. He has spent most of his career overseas, most recently with BK Mlada Boleslav in the Czech Republic. He played for the United States at November's Deutschland Cup in Germany, the Americans' lone pre-Olympic tournament (they finished fourth in the four-team event, going 0-3; Maxwell had one of the losses). Maxwell is an elite puckhandler, which was a huge factor in his selection, said Jim Johannson, the Olympic team GM, when Maxwell's selection was announced last month. (Johannson died unexpectedly Jan. 21.)

Noah Welch | former Lightning defenseman

Welch, 35, played 17 games for the Lightning in 2008-09 after coming over in a trade with the Panthers. Possibly his most notable moment with the Lightning was telling the Tampa Bay Times this story about his decision to donate his brain to medical research after his death:

A former Panthers teammate, hearing Welch's plan, said, seriously, "Wow, how long does that put you out for?" Welch said, laughing, "He thought maybe I would just give it for a couple of days and get it back. I told him I would never reveal his name, but that was a direct quote."

Welch was playing this season for Vaxjo Lakers HC in Sweden.

Matt Gilroy | former Lightning defenseman

Gilroy, 33, played 53 games for the Lightning in 2011-12 and played for the Panthers in 2013-14. He was playing this season for Jokerit in the KHL in Finland. In the KHL since 2014-15, he says his playing style turned out to be better suited for the international ice surface, which is 15 feet wider than the NHL's. "I found a niche," he told USA Today. "It's a more offensive game. It's more of a skating game. … Little more time for creativity, which helps my game."

Sharon Fink, Times staff writer; Times files; Times wires; U.S. Olympic Committee.

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