Aaron Tran competes at the Winter Olympic Games PyeongChang 2018 on Feb. 20, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea.
When Aaron Tran heads to short track speedskating competitions around the world, he knows he can speak a common language with his competitors: gaming.
Tran loves playing video games, and finds many of his competitors have the same love.
“If I go up to the Korean team or the Chinese team and say, ‘You guys pay ‘League (of Legends)’?’ And they say, ‘Oh yeah!’ And we start talking about it with the limited vocabulary we have,” Tran said. “I play some games with my teammates from back home. We stay connected to each other through games.”
While “League of Legends” is his favorite and the most popular game Tran plays, he also enjoys “Rainbow Six Siege,” “Dead by Daylight” and “Minecraft.”
He also dabbles in a little bit of speedskating.
Tran competed at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, qualifying individually in the men’s 500- and 1,500-meter races, while also skating with the 5,000-meter team relay. Though he was disqualified in the qualifying rounds of the 500, he finished 12th in the 1,500 and fifth in the relay.
After the Games, Tran took time off from competing, enrolled in a few college classes in his home state of Washington and then returned to the ice in September.
The break and a different training regimen made a difference, as Tran has started the ISU World Cup season with some promising results, including reaching the A final in the 1,000-meter race last month in Salt Lake City. The 22-year-old Tran ultimately finished in fifth place after making an error on a planned block late in the race, but it was the best individual finish he has had on the world cup circuit. Getting so close to the podium made him hungry.
“I want to do really well at world champs this season, so I'm training really hard for that,” said Tran, who has won world cup medals as a member of relay teams. “Other than that, I really want to get my first individual medal. I really believe I could have gotten it (in Salt Lake City).”
Tran’s time on the ice in PyeongChang was shorter than he hoped for, but he tried to soak in all he could of the Olympic experience.
“From the competition side, it's just like a regular competition, except more cameras, more media, people,” Tran said. “The whole atmosphere was really cool. Seeing other sports, and how big the event was for a whole month, and walking outside your room, seeing the team flags, and seeing all these really famous athletes.”
When Tran competes, he wears a helmet with an elaborate red, white and blue design. Tran created the design, based on what he wants to keep in mind as he trains.
“My first rough draft was while I was working part time, and I scribbled it on a sticky note. Then I expanded on it over the next four or five months and it became what it is now,” Tran said.
“There’s a yin and yang at the front, and it means balance; you want a balanced lifestyle. There are lines reaching towards the stars. It's kind of like that saying, reach for the moon, even if you miss, you'll land among the stars. Going for your goal. That's what it means. So, reaching for your goals, you should have a balance in your own life.”
As is true for so many Olympians, Tran decided to try short track when he was just 10 years old and watched the sport during the 2006 Olympics.
“I thought it was the coolest sport ever,” he said. “The speed, the timing, the strategy. It wasn't like any other sport I had seen before. I thought it was so cool to watch. I told my parents I wanted to go to the Olympics for that.”
Starting as an inline skater, Tran moved to ice at age 12 and hasn’t looked back.
Having already competed in Calgary, Alberta, and Salt Lake City in the North American leg of this year’s world cup season, Tran will next travel to Almaty, Kazakhstan; Dresden, Germany; and Torino, Italy for competition. Part of the fun of traveling for him is enjoying a sweet treat abroad after competing.
“I like cookies and crème anything. I like glazed doughnuts, too,” he said. “I might prefer glazed over chocolate! But I love cookies and crème.”
Maggie Hendricks is based in Chicago and has covered Olympic sports for more than 10 years for USA Today and Yahoo Sports. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.