KEARNS, Utah -- There’s magic on the ice in Kearns, Utah. At least for John-Henry Krueger.
The Utah Olympic Oval is the site of Krueger’s first and only individual world cup win, which came two years ago, and now it is the site of his return to the world cup podium.
Krueger won the bronze medal in the 1,500-meter Saturday night, ending an individual medal drought for U.S. short track speedskaters that lasted nearly two years.
The 21-year-old Olympic hopeful held his own in an A Final packed with short track’s finest stars, finishing ahead of three world champions, two of whom are Olympic champions.
Krueger clocked in at 2 minutes, 11.898 seconds, just behind winner Samuel Girard of Canada (2:11.620) and Hungary’s Sandor Liu Shaolin (2:11.807). It was so close that the American had no idea he landed on the podium until the race was over.
“It was a little bit of a shock,” Krueger said. “So much is going on in that last lap; I was focusing on blocking, and I’m also focusing on trying to pass the guy at the line so it gets a little hectic at the end.”
Saturday’s 1,500-meter marked Krueger’s first A Final of the season (he made the 500-meter B Final, ultimately finishing sixth, at last week’s season opener in Calgary, Alberta) and he used the race to focus on strategy instead of his strength.
That plan paid off when Sin Da-Woon, a three-time world champion from Korea, fell in front of Krueger with less than two laps left, and Krueger knew how to adapt.
“Normally when you see a skater fall like that, you want to build up wide entering the corner so you can cut tight and avoid the collision, and I luckily timed it perfectly and I was able to avoid the crash and take third,” he said, adding that it’s easy for skaters to lose control at the Utah Olympic Oval, known for having the fastest ice in the world.
The bronze medal marks Krueger’s 14th career world cup medal and eighth in individual events; however, it was the first time he stood on the world cup podium by himself since December 2014.
He said this result gives him a confidence boost and will hopefully provide the momentum he needed.
“Last year I had a bit of a down year and I didn’t get any individual medals,” Krueger said. “This makes me feel like it’s possible again and gives me lots of confidence for the upcoming world cups.”
Krueger’s bronze is also the first individual medal by any U.S. short track skater since his last medal (a men’s relay bronze earned in February 2016 was the lone medal since then), the team’s longest drought in recent history.
The U.S. team has been in a rebuilding period the past few seasons, with three-time Olympic medalist J.R. Celski the only Olympian on the current men’s world cup squad. Krueger explained that the team’s success was not going to come overnight and hopes his performance Saturday night will start a trend.
“I do want to lead the team into the Olympics with J.R. on a positive note… and I think it starts by me setting the standard and the rest following,” he said.
Krueger’s medal wasn’t the only highlight of the night. Two of his teammates set American records as a whopping 35 national and three world records fell across all nations Saturday.
Keith Carroll, Jr. broke a four-year-old record when he skated 1:22.669 in the 1,000-meter quarterfinals. The previous record of 1:23.187 was set by 2014 Olympian Chris Creveling on Oct. 21, 2012 in Calgary.
The second American record set Saturday night came from comeback queen Katherine Reutter, who stole the record from none other than herself.
Reutter continued her comeback to the sport by breaking her own American record in the 1,000-meter quarterfinal and ultimately finishing fifth in the final. Once one of the most dominant skaters in the world, the two-time Olympic medalist and seven-time world medalist retired from the sport in early 2013 due to injuries. She returned to training six months ago and last week competed in her first world cup in five seasons.
With very little expectations for her comeback at first, the 28-year-old had her sights set on reaching the quarterfinals in the first two world cups of the season. Not only did she reach the quarterfinals at both (even breaking her own six-year-old American record Saturday evening with a time of 1:28.762), but Reutter surprised even herself and managed fifth-place finishes both in Calgary (1,500) and Salt Lake City (1,000).
“I remember when I did all this the first time around, maybe 10 years ago, for a long time I would come in fourth, fourth, fourth, fourth,” Reutter recalled. “Then one day I got a bronze, almost by accident. Then once I had validated myself that I could do it, all of a sudden it was silver, silver, gold, bronze, silver.
“I really look at it like taking my medicine and it tastes really bad but it’s going to work. If you keep taking the medicine, you’re going to get better.”