|John-Henry Krueger poses with his gold medal after the 500-meter competition at the ISU Short Track World Cup at the Utah Olympic Oval on Nov. 9, 2014 in Kearns, Utah.|
KEARNS, Utah – Short track speedskater John-Henry Krueger came into the U.S. Olympic Team Trials last January ranked ninth in the world in the 1,500-meter.
Then he got swine flu.
The Pittsburgh native fell twice in the 1,500 semifinals and had to pull out of the 500-meter final. It wasn’t just that he could barely move, but he was contagious, too. It wouldn’t be fair to his opponents if he competed.
So Krueger stepped aside and put his Olympic dreams aside for another four years.
This weekend, at the same Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns where last year’s trials were held, the 19-year-old Krueger got a fresh start.
“A gold medal,” he said, “that’s a good way to start the first world cup.”
Krueger actually won two medals at the ISU World Cup event on Sunday: a gold medal in the 500-meter and a bronze with Team USA’s 5,000-meter relay squad.
More than 150 short-track speedskaters from around the world, representing 24 countries, competed in the Salt Lake City event. The Utah stop is the first out of six this season.
“First off, we have a new, young and inexperienced team,” said Krueger, who now lives and trains in the Salt Lake City area. “We have a lot to learn. Some mistakes were made, but lots of knowledge was gained that will help in future world cups.
“For me, I was kind of redefining myself as a skater and found new strength. Over the past couple of years, I was kind of inexperienced and not as calm during races. I want to prove myself at every world cup with more consistent results.”
Krueger originally finished behind Victor An of Russia in the 500-meter A Final but was awarded first when An was assessed a penalty for causing the crash of another competitor. The lead changed hands three times in the race. Krueger’s winning time was 40.820. Sjinkie Knegt of the Netherlands was second at 40.875.
The 5,000-meter relay team, which was comprised of Krueger, his brother Cole, and Keith Carroll and Ryan Pivirotto, also took advantage of a break when a Korean skater fell near the end of the race. Russia was first and China finished second.
“It’s the sport,” John-Henry Krueger said. “It’s just something you have to adjust to. Everyone else is in the same situation, so it’s who can put together the best race at the end of the day.
“This is the first one,” Krueger added. “There’s many more to go.”
The world cup season continues right away next weekend, when the U.S. short track team heads to Montreal. One week after that, the team is back in Utah for the Apolo Ohno Invitational, a new event named for former short tracker Ohno, the most decorated winter Olympian in U.S. history. That event will be held at Energy Solutions Arena, home of the NBA’s Utah Jazz.
For Krueger, the new quad can’t start soon enough. After his disappointing experience at the Olympic trials, he has worked to get himself back in position to make a run for the next Olympic Winter Games, which will be held in 2018 in PyeongChang, South Korea.
“Every skater has ups and downs,” Krueger said. “The skater that comes out on top is one who can fight through the downs the best.”
Krueger credited his patience and determination with his support group that allows him to focus on his goals.
“I have my friends and my family, of course,” Krueger said. “I have the Salt Lake International club team I’m skating with, and my coach (Jae-Su Chun). They’ve all been tremendously helpful throughout this entire journey.”
The key for racing, Krueger said, is his total focus on winning.
“I visualize myself winning the race,” he said. “I know it’s not too good to look too far forward into the future, but I want to win. That’s all I want to do. That’s what gets me ready for the races.”