One moment Kristen Santos was careening headfirst at upward of 30 mph into the pads surrounding the short track at the Utah Olympic Oval on Saturday afternoon. An hour later, the aches from that crash had all but disappeared as Santos slid into a much more enviable position: 2022 Olympian.
Santos became the first Utah athlete to qualify to compete at the Winter Games in Beijing in February when she won the women’s 1,500-meter race Saturday at the United States Speedskating Olympic Trials. Earlier in the day, she crashed out in the first of two women’s 1,000-meter races of the event.
“I can’t stop crying every time I talk about it,” said the 27-year-old Connecticut native who has lived in Utah for the past several years. “But I’m so overwhelmed, so happy.”
By Sunday afternoon, she had been joined by six more short track skaters — all of whom live and train in Utah. Soon, many more will follow. A slough of them could become official as early as Wednesday, which is a key date in the skiing and snowboarding calendar.
Typically, between 60-70 athletes who live or train in Utah qualify for the Winter Olympics. Who those athletes will be for the Beijing Games, scheduled for Feb. 4 -21, will be determined within the next month. Some, like the speedskaters, will compete in a trials that, over the course of one weekend, mimics the shine-or-sink pressure of the Olympics. Others will be determined by their performances on the World Cup circuit or test events or, in the case of figure skating, by a selection committee.
Whatever the method, if they’re not on an Olympic roster by Jan. 17, they probably aren’t going.
Here’s a look at how the athletes who will go for gold are determined in various sports:
The uncertainty of the situation was clear whenever the men faced the media following their races in the U.S. short track Olympic team trials last weekend at the Oval. Even Ryan Pivirotto, who represented Team USA in Pyeongchang in 2018 and had placed no worse than second in any final in the trials, wasn’t willing to allow himself to believe he’d punched his ticket to Beijing.
“I just have to race my race,” Pivirotto said, “and not think about the future too much.”
That’s because the number of athletes US Speedskating can send to the 2022 Olympics is determined by their performance on this year’s World Cup circuit. And the Team USA men didn’t do particularly well. They qualified only two spots, which took the competition down to the very last race Sunday — after which, Pivirotto and Andrew Heo were named to the Olympic team.
The women had a much better World Cup season and qualified five spots in the Olympics. Santos will be joined by Maame Biney, Julie Latai, Corinne Stoddard and 17-year-old Eunice Lee.
The long track team will face a similar situation at those trials in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, scheduled for Jan. 5-9. How many men and women US Speedskating will get to send in that discipline has not been determined. Still, it would be hard to believe Erin Jackson, ranked No. 1 in the world in the 500 meters, and Brittany Bowe, ranked No. 2 in the 1,000, wouldn’t get a chance at Olympic gold. Same goes for Joey Mantia, who is ranked in the top 10 in mass start and also is leading the men’s team pursuit squad.
A country can send a maximum of 22 Alpine skiers, divided evenly among men and women, depending upon that nation’s performance in FIS World Cup events. Park City-based US Ski & Snowboard’s current allotment is 15 — nine women and six men — but that could change between now and Jan. 17, when the allotments are finalized.
With criteria mirrored in most of the skiing and snowboarding events, the Alpine athletes will be selected via their performances on the World Cup circuit. The most weight is given to those who place in the top three in at least one event, then the top five, then the top 10. That means Mikaela Shiffrin and Breezy Johnson, ranked No. 2 and 4, respectively, have already qualified.
If not enough athletes meet the top qualifying requirements, coaches can make discretionary picks. They are also responsible for dictating what events an athlete who makes the Olympic team can compete in while in Beijing. Alpine skiing consists of five individual events (downhill, super-G, giant slalom, slalom and Alpine combined) as well as a mixed team race.
Biathlon has already begun to name members of its team: Jake Brown and Paul Schommer got the call up Saturday, following the naming of Clare Egan and Susan Dunklee on the women’s side. However, the selection of the rest of the team will be taken down to the wire and won’t be named until Jan. 16.
Those athletes will be determined according to their performances on the 2020-21 World Cup circuit and at the 2021 World Championships, as well as in World Cup competitions this November and December and four competitions between Jan. 1-9.
Bobsleigh and skeleton
According to current quotas, 12 American bobsledders — combining to make up two four-man teams, two two-man teams, two two-woman teams and two women’s monobob entries — can wear the Stars and Stripes in Beijing. In skeleton, it is expected to be one man and two women, though final quotas won’t be announced until Jan. 16.
Making the national team puts athletes in good position to become Olympians. Still, their eligibility will be reviewed during the Christmas break to make sure the country is putting its best athletes on the track.
Cross country skiing
Again, the decision will go down to the wire.
Athletes will be chosen according to their average result of their best five events between July 1, 2019, and Jan. 16, 2022. Accordingly, no nomination will be official until midway through the new year. That said, Park City resident Rosie Brennan should probably start brushing up on her Mandarin, since she’s ranked No. 4 overall in the World Cup overall standings this year — the same position she finished 2021 in.
The USA cross country team currently has an Olympic quota of eight women and five men but is on the verge of qualifying another man. The current 13 slots ranks it among the top eight countries in terms of Olympic participation.
A team trial held in November determined the entire curling team roster, making it the first Team USA sport to have rounded out its Olympic roster.
A committee will select which figure skaters, three male and three female, will take the ice for the USA in Beijing. Athletes like Alysa Liu and Salt Lake native Nathan Chen will have one more competition to prove themselves before selections are made: at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Nashville on Jan 3-9.
Still, even if Chen slid across the ice like a polar bear, it would be pretty shocking not to see the committee select him, given he’s currently considered the best figure skater in the world and a solid gold-medal favorite.
Freestyle skiing and snowboarding
The maximum freestyle skiers a country can send to Beijing is 30, divided evenly among men and women, again depending upon that nation’s performance in FIS World Cup events. US Ski & Snowboard will have some decisions to make as it currently holds the maximum quota (8) in halfpipe and slopestyle/big air — tied for the most in both with Canada, and in moguls — tied for the most with Canada and Australia. If the Games were held today, it could send seven in aerials — tied with Russia for the most — and three in ski cross. For those who are counting, that’s 34 spots, four more than the max.
The big day here is Wednesday. That’s the day two U.S. Olympians will be selected from those ranked within the top six in the FIS standings in slopestyle/big air, moguls and aerials. The deadline for halfpipe is Jan. 6.
So, Park City resident Brita Sigourney should have extra cause to celebrate this Christmas. As of Wednesday, she was ranked No. 4 in slopestyle. The rest of the team will be determined by their performance in several test events.
Athletes who qualify in slopestyle will also compete in big air, which will be an event for the first time in Beijing. With coaches’ discretionary picks, that could help Salt Lake City’s Alex Hall. Hall is ranked No. 20 in the FIS slopestyle standings but is No. 2 in big air. Fellow Utah resident Colby Stevenson, who also excels at big a has already punched his ticket along with Mac Forehand of Connecticut.
Moguls is one of the USA’s strongest events this Olympics. Four Park City-based women ranked in the top 10 in FIS points as of Wednesday’s points cutoff. Jaelin Kauf and Hannah Soar have already been named to the team.
No. 4 Tess Johnson and No. 5 Olivia Giaccio will likely take the first two spots, while Kai Owens may snag the third thanks to two third-place finishes in World Cup events this season.
The Utah-based U.S. aerials team is having a banner year, which has resulted in Winter Vinecki and Megan Nick having punched their tickets to Beijing along with Justin Schoenfeld and Chris Lillis on the men’s side. Eric Loughran and Kaila Kuhn, who are ranked No. 11 and 9 in the men’s and women’s FIS World Cup rankings, respectively, have strong chances of joining them.
Tyler Wallasch of Mammoth Lakes, California, is ranked 20th in World Cup standings for ski cross and, if selected via coaches’ discretion, would likely be the only athlete representing Team USA in that event.
Halfpipe follows a similar protocol as the other events, but Jan. 6 is the determination date. Right now, top-ranked Alex Ferreira, a former Westminster College student, is in the sweet spot along with University of Utah student Birk Irving, who is ranked fourth.
USA Hockey general manager Bill Guerin and assistant Chris Drury will select the team. They already named forwards Patrick Kane and Auston Matthews and defenseman Seth Jones to the roster and the rest will be revealed in January. Of course, after NHL players fought to be allowed back in the Games for 2022, they may now be barred from playing as the league takes precautions against the spread of the omicron variant of COVID-19.
Chris Mazdzer of Salt Lake City and his sliding partner will have to keep moving up the ranks all the way through the final World Cup on Jan. 10 to be assured a ticket to Beijing. With five of seven qualifying events in the books, Team USA currently can send up to three men, three women and a men’s doubles team.
Mazdzer and teammate Jayson Terdiman has a strong chance to be the team, despite Mazdzer’s recent broken foot, but their performance will be under review over the next several weeks. The same goes for Park City’s Ashley Farquharson and Brittney Arndt, who are vying for to wear the Stars and Stripes in the women’s competition.
The International Luge Federation made a last-minute rule change Saturday when it announced it would consider an athlete or team’s best four finishes from the season’s seven World Cup races to allocate starting spots in Beijing.
Nordic combined/ski jumping
Only men will represent Team USA in these events in Beijing, and they will be determined later this week at an Olympic Trials being held Dec. 24-25 in Lake Placid. The athletes will be vying to fill two ski jumping and five Nordic combined positions.
Ben Loomis, who graduated from The Winter Sports School in Park City in 2016, holds the highest World Cup ranking among Americans at 29th. Following close behind is Utah resident Taylor Fletcher in 30th.
A country can send a maximum of 26 snowboarders, divided evenly among men and women in each sport and that’s how many Park City-based US Ski & Snowboard will likely send to Beijing.
Wednesday again will be the magic date, with several athletes qualifying that day, including those in halfpipe, slopestyle/big air and snowboardcross. The parallel giant slalom athletes might actually know a day earlier, since Tuesday was the determination date in that discipline.
In parallel GS, rankings will be according to FIS points. All other snowboarding selections will be based off of the World Snowboarding Points List and performance in a designated tryout event that took place in the spring.
Team USA is stacked in slopestyle, boasting four of the top six men and three in the top 11 women in the WSPL. Same goes for halfpipe, where Chloe Kim, Maddie Mastro and Arielle Gold make up three of the top eight women and Taylor Gold, Chase Josey, Shaun White and Lucas Foster are ranked within the top 15.
The USA is stronger in snowboard cross than ski cross with Salt Lake City native Faye Gulini ranked No. 6 in the World Cup standings for the women and Stacy Gaskill coming in at No. 7. NIck Baumgartner ranked No. 3 for the men, meanwhile, and University of Utah student Mick Dierdorff is coming in at 12th.