Winston Churchill High School senior Shaner LeBauer's main goal at this point in his short track speedskating career has been the same since he just missed a spot on the 2013 Junior World team last January: Making the 2014 team.
There was no better way to prepare for that than a stop at the U.S. Olympic Short Track Speedskating Trials held Thursday through Sunday in Salt Lake City, Utah.
LeBauer, 17, who represents the Potomac Speedskating Club based out of the Wheaton and Cabin John ice rinks, qualified for the elite competition by achieving certain designated cut times. The original field of 25 was cut to 16 athletes in timed trials on the first day. Though LeBauer missed that cut, he said he appreciated the opportunity to compete among the country's best and that the experience was a valuable one as he moves forward in his career.
This month's competition was LeBauer's first major competition since taking a little over a month off in September and early October to tend to a back injury — the core, back and legs are vital muscle groups in short track speedskating.
“This was definitely a step in the right direction for me but really my sights are set on the Junior World Championships,” LeBauer said. “My ultimate goal is to make the Junior World team, I really saw this, my time here, training for Olympic Trials as [great preparation] for that.”
LeBauer, the 2013 U.S. Men's Junior 15-16 National Champion, was one of two Montgomery County teens to compete in Salt Lake City this month. Richard Montgomery sophomore April Shin (Virginia-based Dominion Speedskating), who won the American Cup I in New York in the fall, was on pace to finish in the top five during the timed trials on the first day but was slowed by a poorly-timed bout with the flu, according to Potomac Speedskating Club's Alison Mittelstadt.
LeBauer's Potomac Speedskating teammate, 16-year-old Thomas Hong of Laurel, not only made the top 16 and the NBC Sports broadcast, but his 11th-place finish included a second-place finish in the B final (eighth overall) of the men's 500-meter event. LeBauer said training alongside his good friend keeps him motivated.
The top two finishers in each event at trials advanced to represent Team USA in Sochi and though the three Maryland teenagers aren't on this year's roster, they should be major contenders in 2018 — LeBauer and Hong agreed that short track skaters typically start peaking in their 20s or later.
Though LeBauer has grand aspirations to represent the United States at the Olympics one day, he is also academically ambitious and said he hopes to attend an Ivy League school in 2014-15. Balancing his grades and training was taxing this year but he said once his college decision has been made, he expects to be able to refocus some energy on the ice.
“It's all a work in progress right now, I'm still young, there's time,” LeBauer said. “There are some skaters approaching 30 who are still getting better. ... Right now I'm just worried about Junior Worlds and getting into college.”
The top four finishers at the Junior National championships scheduled for later this winter qualify for the World team. LeBauer finished sixth a year ago but has taken major strides this season.
“I thought [Olympic trials] was a pretty good opportunity,” LeBauer said. “I feel ready for Juniors. After this year I have one more year as a junior... My long-term goal is to try and make it to the Olympics.”