Fairbanks speedskater 14th at national race

Liam Ortega of Fairbanks, a 28-year-old whose speedskating career was put on hold a few years ago when he suffered a brain injury during practice, placed 14th Friday at the U.S. distance championships in Salt Lake City.

Ortega was the 11th American finisher and 14th overall in the men's 5,000 meters. The race was one of several Friday in the competition, which is the first America Cup race of the season.

At stake were spots on the U.S. team for early season World Cup races -- the inside track for a spot on the Olympic team. The top four finishers grabbed spots on that team.

Ortega finished in 7 minutes, 0.43 seconds. Winner Jonathan Kuck, a silver medalist in the team pursuit at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, clocked 6:20.35.

Ortega's personal-best at 5,000 meters is 6:49.08, a time he posted in 2007 -- before the devastating on-ice accident in 2008 that left him with a traumatic brain injury and derailed his training for a couple of years.

A 2007 graduate of Marquette University, Ortega on Friday was paired with Theron Sands, who finished in 7:12.56.

"Conservative start in the 5km," Ortega tweeted after the race. "(H)ad good technical things but lacked my 'swing.' ''

Competition continues Saturday.

Anchorage Daily News