The United States Olympic Short Track Speedskating Trials seem like as good a time as any to post a personal best time. And Laurel resident Thomas Hong, 16, said he skated as fast as he ever has at last weekend’s competition held in Salt Lake City.
Skaters who met certain qualifying times competed in timed trials on the first day of the competition with only the top 16 advancing to the true Olympic Trials competition that was televised by NBC Sports over the weekend. Not only did Hong advance, but he finished the four-day championship in 11th place out of the country’s best 16 athletes. His results included a second-place finish in the 500-meter B final, good for eighth overall.
“It was a thrilling experience just to skate against [the country’s best],” Hong said. “It was exciting, it was different, I’ve never skated this fast before and I didn’t even know if I could skate this fast.”
Short track speedskating is fast-paced and unpredictable in general — there is a lot of bumping, pushing, falling and crashing into the boards. Hong, who represents the Potomac Speedskating Club based out of the Wheaton and Cabin John ice rinks, is used to competing against older athletes who are bigger and stronger than he is at this point in his career. But trials pitted him against skaters of a whole new level, he said.
“These guys were at a different level,” Hong said. “They were more aggressive, more eager to make passes when they saw solid opportunities.”
Skating and holding his own in that environment was motivating, Hong said, especially as he heads toward the U.S. Junior National Championships, which are scheduled for Feb. 2-3 in Milwaukee. The meet is a qualifier for the Junior World team of which Hong was a member in 2013. In 2012, Hong earned top 5 finishes in two events (500-meter, 1,000-meter) at the first-ever Winter Youth Olympic Games in Austria.
The top four finishers at Junior Nationals earn a spot on the Junior World team. A year ago, Hong took the discretionary relay position but said he has his sights set on an individual spot this winter. Olympic Trials and a possible trip to Junior Worlds are just the type of experiences Hong said will help him move forward in his career — he will likely be a major contender to compete at the 2018 Olympics.
He already to a huge step in the right direction with his personal best performance at Olympic trials.
“[Hong] is skating better than I’ve ever seen him skate,” said Potomac Speedskating teammate Shaner LeBauer of Potomac, who just missed the top 16 cut in Salt Lake City. “Not many people are as naturally talented as he is, his technique is out of this world. He’s going to have a great season and a great career ahead of him and I’m happy for him.”