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Stolz stuns sports world with historic performances at speedskating championships

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Speedskating is a sport largely forgotten in this country when it's not an Olympic year. The next Winter Games are still three years away. But if American Jordan Stolz keeps doing what he did this past weekend, he could pull speedskating out of the shadows. The 18-year-old stunned the sports world with a historic performance at a world championship event in the Netherlands. NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Jordan Stolz hardly comes off as an impertinent teenager. He seems very calm and understated, true to his small-town Wisconsin roots. But it was incredibly brash of him to step onto the ice at Thialf Oval in the Netherlands - think the Yankee Stadium of speedskating - and dominate the way he did. It started Friday night in the men's 500 meter race at the World Single Distance Championships.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED RACE OFFICIAL: (Speaking Dutch).

(SOUNDBITE OF STARTING PISTOL FIRING)

GOLDMAN: Stolz won, the youngest-ever 500 meter champ in the event's nearly 30-year history. It also made him the first to win junior and senior world titles in the same season since the famous U.S. speedskating brother and sister Eric and Beth Heiden both did it in the late 1970s. And there was more at Thialf. Stolz won the 1,000 and 1,500 meter races, too - the first man, a very young man, to win three individual world gold medals at the single distance event. Orange-clad Dutch fans watched in amazement. One competitor called Stolz otherworldly. 2006 Olympic speedskating gold medalist Joey Cheek says three things make Stolz so good, starting with a technical proficiency Cheek calls astounding.

JOEY CHEEK: The things that he does well typically take people an entire career of microadjustments to get there.

GOLDMAN: Things such as how he pushes hard against the ice with no wasted motion, no misses on his push. Second, Cheek says Stolz has incredible top speed and finish.

CHEEK: He won the 500 at the world championships, and he had the fastest last lap in the 1,500. It's unheard of to have both of those.

GOLDMAN: Third - and Cheek says this is more observation than something measurable - Stolz seems unshaken by his sudden success. He grew up skating on frozen lakes and ponds in Wisconsin. His mom says the first time he went out, he fell over and over and complained the ice was too slippery. Now when he goes on the ice, the expectation is that Jordan Stolz will stand taller than everyone on the elevated top spot of the victory platform.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF STAN FOREBEE'S "REFLECTIONS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.