Who is Joey Mantia?
After becoming a world champion many times over in inline skating, Joey Mantia switched to skating on ice in hopes of adding an Olympic medal to his trophy case. Mantia competed at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and will return to the Olympic stage in PyeongChang as the man to beat in the mass start event.
Speed skating beginnings
Joey Mantia started skating on roller blades as a self-described “rink rat,” often asking his parents to bring him to the local indoor skating rink.
“When I was a kid, I really liked skating. I spent a lot of time at public skating sessions, whipping around, usually getting kicked off the floor for going too fast,” he said.
After one public session ended, Mantia’s attention was caught by an inline skating team practice.
“I was in awe,” he said. “Until that moment, I had always had a thing for going fast on skates, but I never knew it was an actual sport. Needless to say, I had to give it a try. After my first practice with the team I was hooked. Going fast on skates and leaning into a turn is a feeling that I don't think many people ever have or will experience in their life, but it's one of the coolest things I've ever felt. That coupled with the adrenaline rush from racing is what propelled me to dedicate my life to becoming the best speed skater in the world.”
Mantia, who trained along fellow 2014 Olympic speed skater Brittany Bowe in their hometown of Ocala, Florida, became a highly decorated inline skater with 28 career world titles. But after 10 years of international success at the highest level of inline skating, Mantia set his sights on a new goal.
"I got to the point in inline skating where I had accomplished everything that I set out to accomplish," Mantia said. "I was a world champion, world record holder, Pan-American gold medalist." He had a choice: "start real life" by ending his athletic career or try a different sport in order to become an Olympian.
"I decided to change sports and go with long track speed skating. Packed up my stuff, drove to Salt Lake City, Utah. And just gave it a go,” he said.
He switched from inline to speed skating in 2010, moving first to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado and then to Salt Lake City, Utah to train with the national team two years later.
Mantia learned that switching from inline to ice skating wouldn’t be as easy as he thought.
“The first few years after I made the switch to long track were a little rough going," he said. "I just couldn't seem to break all the habits I created on inline skates and retrain my body and coordination to do new movements. I would have decent practices here and there, but I could never put it into racing.”
But he steadily improved, and in early 2013 made his debut on the World Cup competition circuit. He finally found success less than a year later, at the Berlin World Cup in December 2013, when he stopped trying to win.
“My coach and I decided we would just train through the event and not really read into the results too much, as we were preparing for Olympic Trials coming up in a month. I don't know if it was the relieved stress of not caring or what, but I felt better in those races than I ever had before on the ice.”
He finished first in the 1500m, beating out his teammate Shani Davis, a two-time Olympic silver medalist in the 1500m, and Russia’s Denis Yuskov, the reigning world champion, to win gold.
Mantia said that after that victory, "I've still had ups and downs, but I always know in the back of my mind I'm capable of beating anyone I'm up against if I prepare correctly and my mind is in the right place."
But his World Cup success didn’t carry over into 2014, and like most of his U.S. speed skating teammates, Mantia struggled at the Sochi Winter Olympics. His best finish was 15th in the 1000m, and he placed 22nd in his best event, the 1500m. With the U.S. men, Mantia finished seventh in the team pursuit.
Sochi was "a complete disaster" that left him "crushed," Mantia said. From the Olympic Trials to the Opening Ceremony, which fell on Mantia’s birthday, he was on a high of excitement.
And then competition starts, and as a competitor if you don't perform to the best of your ability, it really hurts. You have the best time of your life and the worst time of your life in a week's span. And trying to juggle those two is really, really difficult.
After Sochi, Mantia found his winning stride again in a new speed skating event: the mass start, which will be contested for the first time at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. In the mass start, up to 24 speed skaters race simultaneously against each other, instead of in pairs against the clock, like in the other individual speed skating events. Used to the chaos of racing in a pack, Mantia found that his years of inline skating experience made him a top contender in the mass start.
During the 2016-17 World Cup season, Mantia won two gold medals in the mass start. He also earned a gold and a bronze in the 1500m.
His pre-Olympic season culminated at the 2017 World Single Distance Championships, where he beat a field of Olympic and world champions to win the mass start gold. It was his first ever medal at the world championships.
While he has yet to set a speed skating world record, Mantia broke many records during his inline skating career. He still holds the world record times in the 500m, 10,000m and 20,000m road races.
Mantia says that his personal motto is “Every day is leg day!” and his sizable quadriceps are proof that he more than lives up to that slogan. His leg muscles, which are impressive even for a speed skater, are partially due to another sport: cycling.
Many speed skaters incorporate cycling into their training, but Mantia’s love of bike riding is on a different level. He says his most grueling workout ever was a solo bike ride up every major canyon in Salt Lake City valley.
“It was a total of 8 hours and 53 minutes riding time, 16,060 vertical feet of climbing, and 147.3 miles,” he said. “I did it without a support vehicle, and stopped just 2 times to eat. I burned 8166 calories in a single workout.
“I guess the best way to describe it would be a little like Forrest Gump when he started running, I got to the top of the first canyon and said, ‘I think I'll keep riding’... when I got the top of the last one I said, ‘I think I'll go home now.’”
Mantia’s dedication to cycling also led to his involvement in the charity World Bicycle Relief.
“With my love of riding, I really like that they provide transportation to lesser developed villages who otherwise would have no way to reach food/water and education other than by walking,” he explained.
“I would say embrace the suck. There are going to be so many days where you want to take your skates off and throw them in the garbage can—don't. Enjoy the ride, because one day it will be over and you'll look back and whether you achieved your goals or not, you'll appreciate how strong of a person you've become on your journey.” -- Joey Mantia's advice to young speed skaters
Off the ice
Mantia is an investor and owner in Coffee Lab, a coffee shop located on the University of Utah campus. His partner, a former barista, invented a filterless brewing method that they are trying to patent.
“It's a great business fit for me because I recognize the same passion for coffee in [his business partner] that I have for skating,” Mantia said.
But he admits that he’s far from a coffee expert. “I don't know anything about coffee,” Mantia said. “I know if something tastes good to me or not. But I couldn't make any drink. I never had a coffee maker in my house. I never drank coffee growin' up. It's something I acquired because he's really good at it.”
In his free time, Mantia unwinds by playing the piano, which he taught himself to play. “Learning new stuff on the piano takes my mind off of skating and helps me relax” after competitions, he said.