American Joey Mantia stepped up onto the Olympic podium for the first time at 36 years old on Tuesday. The speed skater racing in his third Winter Olympics earned a bronze medal in the men's team pursuit competition along with his teammates Casey Dawson, Emery Lehman and Ethan Cepuran.
To finally grab hold of a medal was relief.
"I feel like now I can just breathe," Mantia told the media. "I can walk away and say, 'OK, we three are Olympic medalists'. The Olympics is such an amplifier. When you are on, it amplifies that and when you are not quite on, it amplifies that."
Mantia called the result a weight lifted after the event.
The Ocala, Florida, native switched over from inline roller skating to speed skating in 2010, and he competed in seven Olympic events across the 2014 and 2018 Games. Mantia came closest to the podium in the men's 1000m in 2018, finishing fourth -- just 0.46 seconds behind third.
He was thrilled with the result then, but his return to the Olympic starting line last week left a sour taste in his mouth. Mantia finished sixth in the men's 1500m, an event in which he had eyes on setting the world record.
"It's a fickle sport," Mantia said. "I've been pretty consistent but the time came today. It is what it is, but I'm pretty devastated."
Mantia explained that he would try to keep his chin up given he had more chances to compete for medals. The men's team pursuit was next on his slate, and it appeared to be the perfect opportunity since he led the U.S. in a world record-setting performance at a World Cup event in December.
Mantia did not skate in the semifinals, though, and he watched the younger trio take on the ROC head-to-head. The Americans bested the previous Olympic record time at 3:37.05, however, the ROC beat the U.S. by 0.43 seconds in what Mantia called the race of their lives.
"You can't really be sad about that, it's just unlucky," Mantia said.
The U.S. had to get over the loss quickly with the race for bronze still looming. Mantia led Dawson and Lehman in the Final B and defeated the Netherlands by 2.81 seconds. The Americans recorded a faster time than the ROC in their respective final races.
Mantia high-fived Dawson and looked up at the board with his hands on his knees after crossing the finish line.
"Started off fast and tried to stay composed," Mantia explained. "It feels so good to put so much into the season. In the last couple of years, we were focusing on this plan."
View social media post: https://www.instagram.com/p/CaAQPXGJQ0x/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link
Mantia has won World Cup events and world championships. And, now, he has an Olympic medal. The next step is to earn gold, and he'll get two more chances.
The men's 1000m is set for Friday while the mass start takes place Saturday.
Mantia is a three-time world champion in the mass start, which is unlike other speed skating events. Sixteen skaters will race bunched together in the final, and the gold medalist will be whoever crosses the finish line first, as opposed to the typical time trial.
"You get to live your instant gratification, and then you get to celebrate," Mantia explained before the Olympics.
The American has not said whether this is his final Olympic Games. He stated he'll keep competing for as long as he can continue winning. Mantia will be 40 during the 2026 Winter Olympics, and he's acknowledged that there is a point when one's body cannot take the punishment anymore.
He's not there yet. Mantia is in position to accomplish something he's worked at for over a decade.
Check out the full speed skating schedule here.