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Livin' the life
Catherine Raney Norman gears up 
for her fourth Olympic experience

By CATHY BREITENBUCHER

February 23, 2010

Catherine Raney Norman doesnít do things halfway.

Where some young teenagers might stick a toe into the waters of a new sport, she embraced the challenge and became a world-class performer. Where some consider themselves outdoorsy if they hike a couple times a year, she snowmobiles to her home on top of a mountain. Where some athletes approaching 30 years of age figure they canít improve any further, she rejects negative thinking.

tís what Raney Norman likes to call "liviní the life."

Raney Norman, who grew up in Elm Grove, is poised to compete in her fourth Olympics.

"Every time I step out for practice or a race, Iím learning something new, working on something or being critiqued by my coach on how to improve," she says. "Once you start to settle, thatís what youíre doing ó youíre settling. I think you just keep pushing yourself to find perfection."

Perfection is elusive in Raney Normanís sport of speed skating. What she has found this year, however, is a passion for her sport that might keep her going another four years. "I can say that I love skating again. I love racing again. I love training," she says. "Weíll see what happens after Vancouver."

Just a year ago, Raney Norman had to be talked out of retiring. Sheíd had "some serious conflicts" with the national team coach, and was urged back onto the ice by her husband, Marc Norman, and her "best friend in speed skating," 2002 gold medalist Derek Parra.

"Weíve been friends since she was 16 years old. I know her pretty well I think, and I could tell she was struggling," says Parra. "Catherine is a grown woman who knows who she is and what she needs to thrive."

With Parra now coaching her (and the other U.S. long-distance skaters), Raney Norman is eager to experience all that makes the Olympics unique. "Iím a firm believer that there really is an Olympic spirit," she says. "Itís very hard to describe. Itís that, for those two weeks in February, everyone is cheering for their country or an athlete out there. It isnít mainstream, and itís the effort of the athlete every day leading up for four years that makes it so magnificent. Deep down, itís two weeks every four years. It isnít ĎMonday Night Football.í"

Four years ago, Raney Normanís seventh place in the 5,000 meters was the best individual speed skating performance by an American woman at those Olympics. Now 29 years old, she points to examples of female athletes in endurance sports who donít reach their peak until they are in their 30s.

"It gives me the idea that, physiologically, I have everything lining up for me," she says.

Wind the clock back to Raney Normanís middle school years and youíd find her on the figure skating rink ó not on the 400-meter speed skating oval ó at the Pettit National Ice Center. She remembers being teased by a certain Marc Norman and another speed skater named David Paul, who challenged her to a race.

"I wasnít going to let those stupid boys pick on me, so I went out and tried to race with them," she recalls. "One of them told my mom, ĎSheís actually pretty good,í so I ended up switching to speed skating."

Catherine and Marc worked out together for about a year with the West Allis Speed Skating Club. Seven years older than Catherine, he retired from skating and moved to Utah in 1997 to pursue his love of mountain biking, climbing and skiing.

Using his experience as a Zamboni driver at the Pettit Center years earlier, Marc took charge of ice-making at the Utah Olympic Oval in 2001 and helped build its reputation as the "fastest ice on earth." He now holds the title of director of oval operations.

The two stayed in contact over the years, including the seven-year stretch when Catherine lived and trained in Calgary, Canada.

"Heading into Torino, we went out for dinner when I was in Salt Lake for a training camp," she explains. "We hit it off, and now Iím married to the guy. Itís kind of ironic how we grew apart, didnít really see each other, then came back together."

The couple married in September 2008 and own a log cabin home at 7,500 feet with moose, deer, bears and cougars never far away. "Itís our little piece of heaven," says Raney Norman.

In October, Raney Norman was back racing at the Pettit Center, earning her spot on the World Cup team. She scored a B-division victory at 5,000 meters at the first World Cup in Berlin, and had solid performances in meets in The Netherlands and Norway as well.

"She is building confidence with each race," says Parra. "I look on and give her technical advice and instructions, and she becomes a machine. I love that as a coach. I canít wait to see how this turns out."

Raney Norman says her goal at age 13 was to make the Olympic team just once. So what emotions does she expect to experience at an Opening Ceremony for the fourth time?

"Marching in Vancouver, Iíll get to replay the journey I went through to get there, all the highs and lows, ups and downs, living in Wisconsin, living in Canada, living in Utah," she says. "Iíve learned to make sure I soak it in and enjoy every moment of it." 

ĽOff the ice

ē Born in Nashville, Tenn.

ē Raised in Elm Grove

ē Graduated from Brookfield Academy

ē Serves on the board of the "Girls on the Run" program in Salt Lake City

ē Will resume business studies in May at the University of Utah (sheís got about three semesters left)

ē Would like to work for the U.S. Olympic Committee

ĽOn the ice

ē Was a figure skater until age 13

ē Looked up to West Allis Speed Skating Club teammate Chris Scheels and German Olympian Gunda Niemann-Stirnemann, and calls 2002 gold medalist Chris Witty "an incredible mentor"

ē Olympian in 1998, 2002 and 2006

ē Raney Normanís 5K at the 2006 Olympics: 7:04.91 (26.32 mph).

ĽOlympicWinter Games

ē Feb. 12-28 in Vancouver, British Columbia

ē Raney Normanís events ó 3,000 meters (Feb. 14), 5,000 meters (Feb. 24), and team pursuit (Feb. 26 and 27)

 


This story ran in the February 2010 issue of: