MATT LAUER, co-host:
Peterson will carry the US flag at tonight's opening ceremonies. She's also
one of the rare athletes to be competing in her fifth Olympics. Now, just
qualifying for five games is an amazing accomplishment in itself, but perhaps
even more remarkable is the challenge Peterson has had to overcome to make it
here. Our national correspondent Jamie Gangel has her story. (Clips of speed
skaters in competition)
JAMIE GANGEL reporting:
Short track speed
skating takes power, stamina and guts. The sprints are so fast, strategy and
concentration must be second nature.
Announcer: There goes Amy into the lead.
GANGEL: And at every
turn, it can be dangerous. But for US champion and now five-time Olympian Amy
Peterson, it is also an obsession. (Clips of Amy Peterson practicing)
AMY PETERSON (Speed
Skater): I love skating. I love the training. I love the racing. And there's
not a whole lot of things in life that can make you feel like that.
GANGEL: A Minnesota
native, Peterson comes from a family of skaters. Her uncle, Gene Sandvig, was
a three-time Olympian in the 50s. (Visuals of photos of Gene Sandvig) And Amy
started skating when she was just two. By the age of six, she was competing in
both speed skating and figure skating. And by 15, well, she was simply winning
all the speed races. (Visuals of photos of Amy Peterson)
PETERSON: My speed
skating just sort of took off and took over.
GANGEL: You were
PETERSON: Yeah, I was
finally beating everybody!
GANGEL: Along the way,
Amy also became the nine-time US champion, won three Olympic medals, a silver
and two bronzes, and now hopes in her fifth Olympics to win that elusive gold,
even though she is now 30 years old and competing against skaters who are 10
years younger. Is age a factor?
Ms. PETERSON: That's
definitely a huge asset of my skating right now, is I have the experience no
one that I race against in the US has, and maybe, one, two girls in the world
have. (Clips of Amy Peterson competing)
GANGEL: But when Amy
competes this year, she will also be skating with an unpredictable illness.
Five years ago, Amy started suffering from severe headaches and exhaustion.
For months, she couldn't concentrate or train. She could barely get out of
bed. Finally, a top sports doctor diagnosed her with chronic fatigue syndrome.
PETERSON: Putting a
name to it was like hallelujah, you know.
GANGEL: When they
finally diagnosed it-
PETERSON: When they
finally--finally diagnosed it, I was like `OK, now I can get better.' You
know, granted, chronic fatigue syndrome isn't something that they can give you
a pill for and you get better. But for months, doctors had me thinking that
maybe I was too old. Let's go to a psychiatrist. Maybe you're just depressed.
When they told me, `This is what you have,' I went, `OK, well, then that
doesn't mean I'm done speed skating. That just means that I have to get
through this so I can speed skate again.'
GANGEL: Doctors are
not sure what causes chronic fatigue, how to treat it, or if it is really even
a disease. And Amy knows some people are skeptical.
PETERSON: That was
hard. It still is hard because people see me skating and competing at the
level that I compete at and think, `chronic fatigue syndrome,' like, `so she
gets tired? Who doesn't? What athlete doesn't?' Well, there's definitely a
GANGEL: Using common
sense and with the help of her coach and doctors, Amy has revamped her
training and now makes sure she has plenty of downtime, sleep and lives a
Mr. PAT MAXWELL
(Coach): This chronic fatigue, it sometimes comes in like an un--uninvited
guest and it kind of disrupts things. But Amy, I think, knows, like every
other athlete, that you have your obstacles that you have to overcome and this
GANGEL: But going into
the Olympic trials in December, Amy was concerned she might not qualify. With
chronic fatigue, the symptoms come and go without warning.
PETERSON: The last couple months for me have really been a struggle. I
was tight and sore. I had a hard time getting in the skating position. A lot
of ups and downs. But I think I'm on the tail end of it and I just
have to ride it out.
Announcer: Amy Peterson, going first.
GANGEL: In fact, after
a slow start, Amy beat the competition and finished as the top American woman
skater, qualifying for three races. (Clips of Amy Peterson skating in the
qualifying rounds and on the podium)
through all that, it also taught me that speed skating is who I am, you know,
and what I do. And it was just a setback and it was just another, you know,
just another hurdle that I had to get over.
GANGEL: What's your
goal for Salt Lake City?
PETERSON: I'm not going to lie to you and say
wouldn't love to walk away from Salt Lake City with a gold medal. But
what I really want to do is close this chapter and say I was the best I could
be. If that's with a bag of medals, that would be great.
GANGEL: For TODAY, Jamie Gangel, NBC News.
LAUER: And tonight, she carries the flag.