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Lamb again races in Winter Olympics

Phillip and Betty Lamb live east of River Falls and prepare to again this year, watch daughter Maria compete in the Winter Olympics. This photo from many Christmases ago shows her with all her siblings. Left to right in back: Mikey, 17; Katie, 22; and Maria, 24. In front are Angela, 20, and the family dog, Wolfgang.

With the fastest all-around time as an American in recent Olympic speed skating trials, Maria Lamb surges toward her second Winter Olympics this month.

The town of River Falls native will compete in the 5,000 meter race, the longest for women. Her mother, Betty, says Maria skates fastest the longer the distance.

Four years ago speed skater Maria had her first taste of the Winter Olympics held in Torino, Italy. Maria didn't win a metal but competed in the 1500 meter race, finishing 24th out of 35. The USA women's team finished fifth overall.

"There's more family and relatives going to see her this time, about 15 altogether, so there will be more of us to share in the electrifying atmosphere," Betty said about the Vancouver, British Columbia, winter games. "The time is getting closer, so excitement is building, but I think we'll enjoy this one just as much as the first one with Maria. It's a great honor anytime you make it to the Olympics."

Adds Maria's dad, Philip: "This one is special in that we get to see it, and it is in front of a large crowd as opposed to the usual very small one in the United States. It would be nice to go to more of them, but most of (Maria's) races are in Europe."

By chance Betty turned Maria on to speed skating at the tender age of six.

"It was winter, and I was trying to find an activity for her," said Betty, who has three younger children with her husband Philip. "We went with friends to an outside rink at a park. Maria liked skating but was clumsy like anyone else doing it for the first time.

"Later I took her for figure skating lessons at (UW-River Falls') Hunt Arena. That went all right, but Maria's favorite part was the free time when she could go as fast as she wanted.

"At some point she asked me, 'Is there such a thing as racing on skates?' I said I'd check into it. I never imagined that would eventually lead to her being in the Olympics someday.

"For (Maria), it's the competition she enjoys, and speed skating results are clear cut. You know who wins. You're competing against the clock and trying to get to the finish line."

Soon Betty was taking Maria to competitive speed skating in Roseville, Minn.

Betty, naturally, gave standard advice before Maria's first races: "I cautioned her, 'Now don't expect to beat anyone right way; just go out there and have fun.'"

Maria had fun by beating all her skating competitors.

By age 12, Betty said the speed skating grind and daily commutes got to be too much for the family.

"We had her take a year off," Betty said. "We, I, needed a break. A year later, she returned, and won nationals. So we just kept going from there and never stopped or took another break."

Even now Betty doesn't know when it'll end.

"I think I can confidently say Maria will keep on skating after the February Olympics," Betty said. "There is competition like the World Cups, the World All-Around Championships and other contests in Europe, Asia and Canada."

The 2014 Winter Olympics are in Sochi, Russia.

"There are factors, like an injury or something, but Maria has the drive and certainly at her age then (28), it's possible she would compete again for another Olympics."

Betty said Olympic athletes must be relentless.

"Most people don't realize the hard work and sacrifice involved. When the skaters aren't practicing on the ice, they do dry-land training. It's a way of life for them, like a job."

Maria lives and trains near Salt Lake City, Utah. Betty said Maria's been successful working as a sales associate for Home Depot. College will likely follow once speed skating winds down.

Betty, 57, recalls helping start a girls track team when she attended high school in Waterloo, Iowa.

"It's mind boggling to compare what I did in sports to what Maria is doing," she said. "The intensity level, the preparation and competition are in different realms."

Betty says she'll continue to trust Maria's instincts when it comes to her future.

"I've always wanted my children to just follow and use the gifts and talents that God gave them," she said. "That's how they'll decide what's best to do."