Leila Navidi / Las Vegas Sun
Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2010 | 2:10 a.m.
It's been more than two decades since Andy Gabel won a silver medal in the winter Olympics, but the Summerlin resident still remembers the once-in-a-lifetime feeling of standing on the podium for the awards ceremony.
It's a moment that instantly brings a smile to his face.
"I don't think about the Olympics that often, but when it does pop into your head, it's an awesome feeling knowing you were one of the best in the world," Gabel said.
Gabel, 45, a speed skater who spent 19 years on the national team, reached the pinnacle of the sport at the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, when he was part of the 5,000-meter, short-track relay team that took home the silver medal.
He'll surely have flashbacks to his years in the spotlight when he returns to the Olympics at the end of the week, working as a television commentator for Universal Sports. Even though he won't be lacing up his skates or racing for his beloved red, white and blue in Vancouver, Gabel knows where his mind will be — dreaming of winning another medal.
"You get that feeling of excitement," Gabel said. "Your juices will be flowing and you will want to compete again. With the Olympics in Vancouver, it will feel a lot like it did in (2002 at Salt Lake City). The country pride will be strong."
Gabel competed in four Olympics (1988, 1992, 1994, 1998), won more than 75 international medals and was inducted into the speedskating Hall of Fame in 2003.
Dan Jansen, who won speedskating gold at the 1994 Olympics, calls Gabel one of the sport's legendary performers. The two have been close friends since joining the national team together as teenagers in the late 1970s.
"Before Apolo Ohno, Andy was the face of short track in the United States," Jansen said. "The sport didn't get the recognition back then that it obviously gets now."
Gabel's journey to the Olympics started as a 10-year-old at a Chicago-area rink. His parents took him to an open house at the facility, and he instantly took a liking to the sport.
Within months, he was winning state and regional events. And, three years later, he was off to Colorado Springs, Colo., to continue his career at the Olympic Training Center.
"I was lucky enough to have some talent," Gabel said. "I had a knack for it and loved the competition."
However, Gabel's career also had a few disappointments.
This most notable came during the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan, when Gabel was favored to win the gold medal in the 500-meter. Fresh off setting the American record at the Olympic Trials in 43.032 seconds, the then-33-year-old Gabel came up short in the semifinals when he clipped a lane marker and tumbled into the padded boards.
"My heart was literally in my throat and still is when I think about it," Jansen said. "It still hurts him and it still hurts me."
Gabel, who has lived in Summerlin the past four years, is still involved in the speedskating. In addition to his television work — this is his third Olympics in the broadcasting booth — Gabel has been an active member of the International Skating Union and serves as the chairman of the group's short-track technical committee.
He's a perfect fit to continue the legacy of the sport, Jansen said.
"It's hard for Andy to talk about himself, but he is a legend is our sport," Jansen said.