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SOCHI, Russia -- The pairings in Olympic speedskating are in many ways a seeding chart, with skaters slotted into the start list based on qualifying times; slowest first, fastest last.

Patrick Meek was in the first of 13 pairings for Saturday's men's 5,000 meters at the Sochi Winter Games. In other words, he was not considered a contender for gold.

But as Meek went through his mental preparation at breakfast Saturday, he read from a Jesse Owens book. "If you don't go for a medal," Meek said, paraphrasing Owens, "you might as well do it in your backyard."

Meek took those words to heart and attacked the tiring ice of Adler Arena right from the start. Don't just skate, skate to win.

While he finished 20th out of 26, the 28-year-old former St. Louis resident was satisfied with his performance.

He defeated "a lot of guys I usually don't beat" and left the oval with no regrets. When he stopped the timer in 6 minutes, 32.94 seconds and he immediately felt one thing: "Gratefulness.

"Gratefulness that my legs stopped hurting and gratefulness that I got to skate in an Olympic race," Meek said.

He knew he hadn't been skating alone, either. Mom and Dad were in the stands. His grandparents were back home St. Louis, watching on TV with his sisters, Kathleen and Elizabeth, who flew to Missouri from their home in Florida.

And his friends – as well as people he doesn't even know – let him know they were behind him as well.

"I was skating not only for myself but for my country, for the people who have sacrificed for me," Meek said. "You almost feel like you're skating barely for yourself and that you're skating for everyone.

"The Facebook messages I was getting this morning, the messages on Twitter, the people blowing me up," Meek said. "People might think we don't appreciate it, but it means the world to us, that we have 300 million Americans behind us."

The ice was especially tiring; that's just a fact of nature since Adler Arena is maybe a half-mile from the Black Sea. "You're just fighting geography," he said. "It doesn't glide. It feels like you take a push and you just don't go anywhere."

Which means it's very tiring; he paid the price late for his aggressive start.

"I gave myself a chance (to win a medal) in the first four or five laps and ended up paying for in the end," Meek said.

He experienced the thrill of a lifetime competing in Sochi, and planned to savor the moment – with a beer in his hand and his father, Joseph Jr., at his side. He gave up alcoholic beverages 22 months ago as part of his training.

"I am going to USA House and have an adult beverage," he said.

Oklobzija writes for the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, N.Y.

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