KEARNS, Utah -- U.S. speedskater Jessica Smith isn’t going to worry too much about missing out on the medals at the first short track speedskating world cup of the season this weekend at the Utah Olympic Oval.
She was still really, really fast.
“I can’t complain when I’m skating the fastest I’ve ever skated,” said Smith, one of only two Olympians on the 12-person U.S. world cup squad. “It’s early in the season to be doing that, too, so I’m kind of excited for what the end of the season holds.”
Smith skated in three events over the weekend at the site of the 2002 Olympic speedskating competition.
She actually broke the national record in her 500-meter semifinal heat with a time of 43.046, but Kexin Fan of China set the world record in the same heat by skating to a 42.504 finish. Smith ended up fourth in the 500-meter B final and fourth in the 1,000-meter event. She was part of the 3,000-meter relay team — along with Emily Smith, Katherine Ralston and Kimberly Goetz — that was fourth in their finals heat and eighth overall.
More than 150 short track speedskaters from around the world, representing 24 countries, competed in the event held just outside Salt Lake City. The Utah stop is the first out of six world cup events this season.
Smith, 31, is beginning a run at a second Olympic Winter Games. She was an alternate in 2010 and earned a fourth-place (1,000-meter) and seventh-place (1,500-meter) finish in 2014 in Sochi, Russia. Her time in the 1,000 was just three-tenths of a second behind the bronze medal.
That Olympic experience is paying off in her preparation for the next four years of events and workouts.
“I’m coming off the Olympic season and trying to get back in the swing of things,” she said. “Some people have retired. There are just a lot of younger new faces, so you don’t know what to expect with anybody. I think today and yesterday this world cup has been a real eye opener and sets me up for the next world cups to come.
“I just want to win and want to skate my best. I train every single day. You get out of bed and you show up every day to go train eight hours. It ain’t easy; eight hours isn’t fun. But I enjoy doing what I’m doing, so that helps a lot.”
Smith, who is originally from Michigan, trains in Utah at the Olympic Oval and also at the University of Utah’s Steiner Center. She credits her coaches and Dr. Amy DeLap from Heiden Davidson Orthopedics for helping her along the way. Dr. DeLap helped Smith recover from a quad muscle tear suffered prior to the 2014 Winter Games.
Smith was an eight-time inline skating world champion before switching to short track. Her strategy for short-track racing is something she says has evolved over the years.
“My strategy has come a long way,” Smith said. “We had to learn a lot of different racing styles. I didn’t skate the 1,000 meters too many times throughout the season leading up to the Olympic Games, but at the Games that was the best race I had.”
Each race, she said, has its own strategy.
“The 500, most people think it’s an all-out sprint, but there’s still some technical skill to it,” Smith said. “You have to be able to be aware and set it up. The 1,000 is a bit different. It’s a faster sprint. You have to have endurance and you have to be able to play in the field. The 1,500 is a little bit slower in the end. It allows more people to be able to move earlier and get in the mix. You have to be aware of what’s going on and who’s going to start hammering the pace earlier.”
Smith’s experience of the first two Olympic build-ups has allowed her to approach this new quadrennium in a different manner.
“I think for me, coming from inline, it was always a dream to go to the Olympics,” she said. “The very first time I had trials in 2010 I was just new to the sport. I had made every inline team, why not this one? I came up short and was an alternate. Then I really put my head down and had one goal of making that next Olympic team.
“It’s not about going to the Olympics in four years. It’s about doing what I can year to year to better myself each season. It’s about figuring out how I can get on the podium more throughout each season and being the best at each distance. So I think it’s a different philosophy now for me.”