Team USA speedskaters trying to find their rhythm among world’s best at ISU Short Track World Cup

Martina Valcepina, of Italy, skates during the women's 500 meter finals at a World Cup short track speed-skating event at the Utah Olympic Oval on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Kearns • The deep bass vibrations and hypnotic rhymes of rap artist DaBaby pump through Corinne Stoddard’s headphones. That’s what the 18-year-old speedskater uses to get herself hyped for competitions. Then, when the excitement and nerves are about to bubble over, she seeks out USA coach Wilma Boomstra for a few soothing words of advice.

The pregame cocktail seems to be working for Stoddard, a high school senior from Washington. She was the only member of a young USA Speedskating team to qualify for an individual final Saturday in the first ISU Short Track World Cup event of the season, being held at the Utah Olympic Oval this weekend. She was also the only American to reach two finals on the day, also joining teammates Maame Biney, Aaron Tran and Thomas Hong in the A final of the mixed 2,000-meter relay.

In an event in which Team USA is experiencing growing pains, Stoddard has been a bright spot. Her strong move to the inside during her first round of the relay temporarily put Team USA in third. The team couldn’t hold the position, but still earned fourth, the USA’s best showing with a day left in the event. Stoddard added a fourth place in the B final — good for 11th overall — in the women’s 1,500.

"It's my first time ever making World Cup runs,” Stoddard said. “To be in a B final in my first World Cup run, that's pretty incredible.”

Stoddard was on the 2018-19 World Cup team but said she never got out of the repechage (second-chance qualifying) rounds. Still, that experience might have given her an advantage at least over her other teammates, most of whom enter with little to no senior-level international experience.

“Yesterday [was] not good,” Boomstra said of Friday’s qualifying rounds. “Yesterday, because a lot of them are new to this, they are rookies, and they were too nervous, they just mentally weren’t ready. They didn’t seem prepared enough, which I know they are ready physically. They just made a lot of mistakes — tactical mistakes, falls that are very unnecessary, things they would never do in practice.”

Case in point, Maame Biney, one of the team’s most experienced skaters, skidded into the wall on the first turn of her first lap of her 500 quarterfinal. Biney competed in the Pyeongchang Olympics and has placed as high as third on the World Cup circuit, but Boomstra pointed out she’s just 19 and not impervious to the pressure of performing in front of a home crowd.

Biney will get another chance to prove her mettle Sunday when she starts in the 500 repechage.

Canada’s Kim Boutin, who won three medals in Pyeongchang — a silver in the 1,000 and bronze in the 500 and 1,500 — could speak to the advantages of experience. On Saturday she won the women’s 1,500 final in 2 minutes, 22.061 seconds, attributing the win to her ability to react when she found herself in third place heading into the final laps.

“It’s more about the traffic and the race,” she said. “The more you race, the more you have experience and are adaptable in every situation.”

That’s why Boomstra isn’t panicking. Every additional race her skaters get to experience will serve as a teaching moment.

Hailey Choi, 15, and Julie Letai, 19, have both qualified for Sunday’s quarterfinal repechage in the women’s 1,000, as have Tran, 23, and Andrew Heo, 20, in the men’s. In addition, both the USA men’s and women’s 3,000 relay teams placed fourth in the semifinals Saturday to advance to Sunday’s semifinal repechage with a chance to reach the podium event.

“Today and tomorrow should be better, and next week should be better again,” Boomstra said, referring to the second stop on the World Cup, to be held Nov. 8-10 in Montreal. “They just need to get the rhythm back.”

Maybe Stoddard should pass around her headphones.


At Utah Olympic Oval, Kearns


Women’s 500m: 1. Martina Valcepina, ITA, 42.603; 2. Yara van Kerkhof, NED, 42.865; 3. Petra Jaszapati, HUN, 42.962

Men’s 500m: 1. Hwang Dae Heon, KOR, 39.729; 2. Victor Han, RUS, 39.961; 3. Shaoang Liu, HUN, 40.002

Women’s 1,500m: 1. Kim Boutin, CAN, 2:22.061; 2. Suzanne Schulting, NED, 2:22.211; 3. Han Yutong, CHN, 2:22.282

Men’s 1,500m: 1. Semen Elistratov, RUS, 2:16.025; 2. Kim Dong Wook, KOR, 2:16.118; 3. Alexander Shulginov, RUS, 2:16.138

Mixed 2,000m relay: 1. Russia, 2:37.585; 2. China, 2:37.730; 3. Korea, 2:37.817; 4. USA, 2:39.123; 5. Canada, 2:39.962