RICHMOND, B.C. - If you thought an Olympic finish without a medal is a bummer, think again.
Nancy Swider-Peltz Jr. of Wheaton, led American finishers Sunday in ladies' 3,000-meter speedskating at the Richmond Olympic Oval.
"Being in the top 10 was my ultimate goal," said Swider-Peltz, who finished ninth. "I achieved that and I'm more than happy."
Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic, skating in the 11th of 14 pairs, won the gold medal with a time of 4:02.53. She placed seventh four years ago at Turino. Silver and bronze went to the 13th pair, Germany's Stephanie Beckert (4:04.62) and Canada's Kristina Groves (4:04.84).
Swider-Peltz, in the eighth pair, was matched against two-time defending Olympic silver-medalist and 2009 World Championships gold-medalist Renate Groenewold of the skating-crazed Netherlands.
Swider-Peltz rode the wave of enthusiasm from the orange-clad Dutch fans and edged Groenewold by nine-hundredths of a second in 4:11.16.
By comparison, Swider-Peltz, who is also scheduled to race in the 1,500 and 5,000 meter races, skated 4:18.58 to place 14th at last year's Worlds.
"I had the best week of my life, honestly. It was a race I finally felt good in," she said. "I had been taking an average of 16th overall in the world this year and finally taking ninth has been a great accomplishment.
"The last two weeks have been really hard. I changed technique, boots and blades, and no one would have done that a month-and-a-half before the race. But I had to trust my mom - my coach - and David Cruikshank (a former Olympian and husband of six-time medal winner Bonnie Blair)."
Her mother, of the same name, is a four-time Olympian (1976-1988) and former world record-holder in the 3,000. So daughter listened, even through pain.
"The first three weeks after changing, it hurt. I was sore left and right," Swider-Peltz said. "All that hard work pays off, and it did today. This is the best race of my life so far and I look to keep getting better from here - including the next couple Olympics that I'll definitely shoot for."
Jilleanne Rookard was the next-best American, placing 12th (4:13.05). Catherine Raney-Norman took 17th (4:16.59).
At 23, Swider-Peltz overcame an unexpected delay Sunday.
With the ice scheduled for resurfacing after the first seven pairs, she was next to go. But one of the two Zambonis broke down and then leaked excess water. Swider-Peltz said she was "a little frustrated" but "you can't let that affect you at all."
Once underway, she started slowly, then steadily picked up. With early splits that didn't crack the top 10, she moved up to No. 3 by 1,500 meters.
When she crossed the finish line, she had knocked Diane Valkenburg of the Netherlands out of first place. Her lead held up through two more pairs, but then Sablikova put down her winning skate. Others also passed Swider-Peltz, but didn't dampen her day.
"I enjoyed every moment of it," she said. "Just being paired with the Dutch girl, you feel all that emotion, that excitement. And that last stretch, I was just a little bit ahead of her and that just keeps me going, fighting through that pain.
"There is the moment to remember, but I wish I could remember all this better because it's a blur."