Kearns • USA Speedskating coach Wilma Boomstra is sending lambs into the ISU Short Track World Cup event being held this weekend at the Utah Olympic Oval and hoping they come out lions.
The oldest on Boomstra’s 12 skater roster is 24 years old. The youngest is 15. Almost half of them have no World Cup racing experience to speak of.
“If you compare that to the rest of the world, we’re babies,” Boomstra said. “Obviously the rest of the world has more experience than my skaters. But I’m all about hard work and putting in hours. I tell them, 'Of course this is about experience, but we always go for the win.'”
Teams from all over the world are coming to the three-day event, including numerous medalists from last year’s Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. So, aiming to win is setting the bar high.
Still, Boomstra, has reason for optimism.
For one, she had an entire summer to take her athletes through an intense strength and endurance-building program. Last year she didn’t get to fully implement that base fitness because her hire date, in July 2018, was so close to the start of the 2018-19 World Cup season. Stronger skaters can better handle turns and create speed, she said. She's already seeing proof of that on the track.
“We did evaluations vs. last quarter,” she said. “And every single one was at the same speed they were at the end of last season or faster than in our peak performances last season.”
Secondly, she said she believes her team “is technically getting more advanced than a lot of other teams.” In particular, she sang the praises of Thomas Hong. Hong, 22, out of Laurel, Maryland, competed in Pyeonchang, placing fifth in the 5,000-meter relay and 32nd in the open 500. At last year’s World Cup event at the Utah Olympic Oval, he placed seventh in the 1,000 and 15th in the 500.
ISU SHORT TRACK WORLD CUP
When • Friday (qualifying), 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday (semifinals, finals), 2-6 p.m.
Where • Utah Olympic Oval, 5662 South Cougar Lane, Kearns
Young phenom Maame Biney, 19, of Virginia, and Aaron Tran, 23, of Washington, also competed in the most recent winter Olympics. Ryan Pvirotto of Michigan, the oldest on the team at age 24, was selected to the team but did not compete.
Three other skaters bring World Cup experience. They include Kristen Santos, who placed fifth in the 1,000 at the Utah stop last year; Andrew Heo, who placed second in the 1,000 at last year's national championships; and Corinne Stoddard.
“A year ago, I was definitely not as fast as I am right now,” Stoddard said in a press release. “It’s a lot easier for me to chill out in a race.”
The other five, including Virginia teens Hailey Choi, 15, and Jonathan So, 17, won’t get any warmup before making their senior debuts in their home country. That’s because this year Utah swapped positions with Montreal, Canada and will host the World Cup opener.
That’s OK, Boomstra said. It’s early in the Olympic cycle and she just wants to see a hint of a lion’s mane poking through the lambswool.
“What is important for me is to see that they’re always getting better and making improvements over what they did before,” she said. “Our biggest challenge right now is to close the gap with the rest of the world. And if we can show progress in the next two World Cups, I will feel comfortable with that.”