KEARNS, Utah – John-Henry Krueger had to wait four years, but at last, he was able to exact his revenge on Olympic trials.
Krueger was a major contender to make the 2014 Olympic team, but he came down with swine flu during that season’s Olympic trials, falling twice during the 1,500-meter semifinal and withdrawing from the 500-meter final.
Then 18, Krueger knew he would have to wait four more years to have another chance at an Olympic debut. Once that chance came around at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Short Track Speedskating on Friday night, Krueger took the first chance he could to secure his spot on the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team.
"Well obviously I don’t have swine flu now, so that’s the biggest difference," Krueger said, comparing the two experiences. "I feel stronger, more confident in my skating. First two rounds were a little rusty; that’s normal for me in most competitions, it takes time for me to warm up and get the feel of the competition, but all that matters is the second round at the end, when I was able to shine through and take the win."
The Pittsburgh native started day one of trials with a second-place finish in the first 1,500-meter final of the night, coming in runner-up to three-time Olympic medalist J.R. Celski. At Olympic trials, two rounds of semifinals and finals are held for each distance, with points being awarded for an athlete’s finish in each final and the overall winner automatically qualifying for the team.
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Knowing what he had to do to earn more points than Celski and guarantee his Olympic debut in his first chance this week, Krueger capitalized after Celski fell during the final two laps of the second final to secure first place and an Olympic berth.
"It’s a dream come true – the first couple of seconds I couldn’t believe it, but as soon as I was hugging my mom and saw her crying, I knew I wasn’t going to wake up and it would be a dream," Krueger said of making his first Olympic team.
Krueger jumped onto the pads lining the oval as soon as he finished and clinched his spot, rushing to hug his mom, Heidi, a figure skating coach who has long been the backbone of John-Henry's speedskating career.
"It’s been a long journey for all of us and I’ve never seen any other family, and especially mother, put in as much effort and dedication into a son’s skating career like my own," he said.
While PyeongChang will mark Krueger’s first Olympics, he is no stranger to the international stage. The 22-year-old has earned a whopping 17 medals over the past five seasons, including eight individual medals and nine in the 5,000-meter relay.
His latest individual world cup medal came last season at the site of this week’s trials, the Utah Olympic Oval, where he earned bronze in the 1,500.
Krueger’s performance at Olympic trials secures him a spot in the 1,500 in PyeongChang and likely a spot on the relay team.
Last month, Krueger, Celski, Keith Carroll Jr. and Thomas Hong set a world record at a world cup in Shanghai and then earned bronze at the next world cup stop in Seoul, South Korea.
"It’s definitely a lot of weight off my shoulders to know that I am on the team now, but there’s a lot of work to be done," Krueger said. "I still have to qualify spots in all the other individual distances, so it’s not time to party yet."
Krueger will look to qualify in the 500 on Saturday and the 1,000 Sunday. He will also find out who's joining him in South Korea, as the U.S. will send five men's short track skaters tothe Games.