At 17, short track speed skater April Shin is just now making the big move up from youth to elite international competition.
Already, U.S. national team coach Jonathon Cavar sees a lot to like about the high school senior from Rockville, Maryland.
Cavar cites Shin’s smooth and technical style and the way she’s made solid in-race decisions, specifically noting her victory in the 3,000-meter at the U.S. Short Track Championships in January in Utah.
“She won the 3,000 meters … in a very strong fashion,” he said. “The way she skated the race was very experienced and in some ways, she made some very smart moves.”
He says Shin still needs to gain experience at the elite level and the confidence that comes with it. Yet he says she has one thing that many skaters don’t have.
“There’s things that you can’t always teach people,” Cavar said. “They just have a good feel for the ice, and she’s one of those skaters.”
Because of that, Cavar believes Shin has a chance to be very good.
“With time, with strength, with endurance that she can build over time with more hours of training, she definitely has the skillset to take it to another level,” he said.
If Shin needs experience, she’s taking a crash course right now.
She’s in the midst of a four-plus week trip through Europe in which she’ll test herself against the world’s top youth and elite talent. Her first stop was the World Junior Short Track Speed Skating Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria, at the end of January. Beginning Friday, she’ll compete for the first time with the U.S. senior national team at a world cup in Dresden, Germany. She’ll conclude the trip with competition at the Winter Youth Olympic Games, Feb. 12-21 in Lillehammer, Norway.
For Shin, who’s been competing internationally for the U.S. in junior events for four years, this trip has been a big step. It will be about twice as long as her previous trips that have taken her to Poland, Turkey and Japan.
Along the way she’ll continue to balance travel, training and racing with keeping up with schoolwork (she attends Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville).
She had no specific expectations for this current trip, especially against new competition. She’s simply trying to build on her skillset, learn and add to a strong resume that includes being the overall junior national champion in 2014-15.
“I just want to do my best and I don’t know what my best is going to be,” Shin said. “I don’t know how fast these people are. Just do my best, do not get hurt.”
She competed in just one event in Bulgaria at the junior world championships, in the 3,000-meter relay, but fell in the quarterfinals. Shin competes in every short track distance, but prefers the long ones. The 1,500-meter is her favorite.
“I like that you have to think and you have to be smart about your passes,” she said. “In the 500, you have to just go. I kind of like the part where you have to use strategy.”
As she spoke this week from Dresden in preparation for the world cup races that begin Friday, she says she’s “half excited and half very nervous” about her debut with the senior national team.
“I don’t want to pressure myself too much,” she said.
Shin admits to sometimes psyching herself out a bit, looking at skaters from some of the best teams in the world — South Korea, in particular — and thinking she has “no chance.”
“I think I should change my mindset toward those kind of things,” she said.
Cavar agreed, and believes a trip like this — and some success — can help change that thinking.
“Hopefully she doesn’t underestimate herself, which is sometimes easy to do,” he said. “You get intimidated going up against some of the best skaters in the world, but really she needs to gain experience so she can start including herself in that list as one of the best skaters in the world and know that she can compete with them.”
The ups and downs on this trip, he says, can be enormously educational.
Says Cavar: “There’s going to be things that don’t turn out well and the more quickly she learns from things, then the faster she has an opportunity to grow.”
Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written for TeamUSA.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.