When the country’s best short track speedskaters raced around the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns two months ago in the World Cup season opener, they were but foals getting their wobbly legs underneath them. This weekend they return to the Oval for the United States Short Track National Championships as thoroughbreds, or at least that’s the hope.
Team USA coach Wilma Boomstra said she expected her young team — the oldest member is 24 — to have some early nerves.
“What is important for me to see is that they’re always getting better and making improvements over what they did before,” Boomstra said in October. “The biggest challenge right now is to close the gap for the rest of the world, and if we can show progress in the next two World Cups, I will feel comfortable with that.”
Kristin Santos, Maame Biney and Andrew Heo have all stepped up their performances in the most recent World Cup competitions in Japan and China.
SHORT TRACK NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS
When: Friday - Sunday, racing begins at 8:50 a.m.
Where: Utah Olympic Oval, Kearns
Cost: Free for spectators
Santos made the B final in the 1,000 meters in Kearns. In Japan, she wound up on the podium, taking bronze, and she is now ranked in the top five in the World Cup standings at that distance.
Biney crashed in the 500-meter quarterfinals at the Oval, but she has regrouped, turning in one of her best performances of the season in the most recent World Cup stop in Shanghai, China. She qualified for the B final and placed seventh overall in the first 500 of the weekend, which contributed to her moving up to No. 17 in the season standings.
Heo, meanwhile, missed the first three World Cup men’s 1,500 races. When he finally got on the ice in the second 1,500 in Japan, though, he caught fire, finishing fourth overall. He also finished fifth in the B final in China and is ranked 13th on the circuit.
Those athletes and their teammates will be vying for national titles as well as spots on the winter World Cup team and in the world championships, which will be held March 13-15 in Seoul, South Korea. Positions on the Junior World Cup team will also be up for grabs.
Competition begins at 8:50 a.m. each day and entry is free.