KEARNS, Utah -- Jessica Kooreman ended up waiting until the last day – and her last chance left – but she put her decades of speedskating experience to good use and qualified for the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team.
Sure, she may have been competing against athletes who are literally half her age, but that didn’t faze Kooreman.
The 34-year-old showed the rest of the field age is nothing but a number, placing second overall in the 1,000-meter on Sunday.
She had come up third in Friday night’s 500 and was fired up for a better result and another chance after receiving a penalty in the second 500 final for kicking out. The first spot on the Olympic team went to 2010 Olympian Lana Gehring, who had won the first final over Kooreman and finished at virtually the same time as Kooreman in the second.
Her next chance did not go the way she had planned either, when Kooreman finished fourth in the first 500-meter final and second in the second final on Saturday. She was again third at that distance overall.
Finally, she got the job done on the final day. Kooreman was second in the day’s first 1,000-meter final behind seven-time world medalist Katherine Reutter-Adamek. Reutter-Adamek was in the same semifinal as Kooreman in the second round and missed out on the final, finishing behind Kooreman and 17-year-old Olympic team member Maame Biney. After returning to the sport last year following a three-year retirement, Reutter-Adamek’s Olympic dream would end there.
Kooreman then finished third in the second final behind Gehring and Biney, surviving a crash with Kristen Santos, and punched her ticket to the Games by virtue of finishing as the overall runner-up in the 1,000. Santos, the 1,500 runner-up, was also jockeying to qualify and would have had she won the final, but was penalized following the crash.
“This has probably been one of the most stressful competitions of my career, to say the least; nothing like leaving it till the very end, the very last race, and then falling at the end and getting taken out again,” Kooreman said of her three days at the Utah Olympic Oval.
Gehring finished first in the 1,000 overall for her second win of the week. She was second in the 500.
“Lana’s been skating out of her mind,” said Anthony Barthell, US Speedskating’s short track national team head coach. “Technically I’ve never seen her skate this well. She’s been putting in some great work.”
Despite the stress Kooreman faced this week, she was elated she was able to persevere for an Olympic berth and can now end her 33-year career on her own terms.
“I went to battle this whole entire week, and I fought through every challenge that came my way,” she said of making the team. “This definitely challenged me going into the end of my career and I wasn’t sure if it was going to be over today or if it was going to be over after Korea, and I’m just glad I fought through mentally and stayed strong. Now I get to finish my career where I wanted to.”
Kooreman will become Team USA’s oldest short track speedskater to compete at the Olympics in 20 years. Cathy Turner, a four-time Olympic medalist, was 35 when she competed at her final Games in Nagano, Japan, in 1998.
PyeongChang will mark the second Olympic appearance for Kooreman, who after just missing out on the team in 2010 made her debut at the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014.
That time, though, Kooreman was the first woman to qualify at Olympic trials.
“It was different, I will say that,” she noted, comparing her past two trials experiences. “I felt coming into this competition that I was prepared and ready, it just didn’t go my way from the start. But it’s definitely a mind check – mentally, physically, everything.
“It wasn’t happy, but at the end of the day it is what it is. There’s a lot of racing and that’s what I kept reminding myself: It’s not over till it’s over.”
Then Jessica Smith, she came tantalizingly close to the Olympic podium in 2014 when she finished fourth in the 1,000-meter. She also came in seventh in the 1,500 and 30th in the 500 at the Games.
She then finished fifth overall at the world championships that season, but has struggled to return to top form since then, only earning top-10 world cup finish since Sochi.
Kooreman (née Smith) married Mike Kooreman, a former speedskater and now program manager at the Utah Olympic Oval, in 2015.
Kooreman will join Biney and 2010 Olympian Gehring on the U.S. Olympic women’s short track speedskating team. All three Americans will compete in the 1,500, while Biney and Gehring will race the 500, and Gehring and Kooreman the 1,000.
“I think it’s an awesome combo and I’m excited to train and travel with them now,” Kooreman said of the trio.
“Lana and I have been training for a long time together. She came back (after switching to long track speedskating for a couple years) and we’ve been training together now. She and I go way back and we’ve got each other’s backs. Having Maame on the team brings new energy, which we all need.”