KEARNS, Utah -- With three days of competition down and one to go, Kimi Goetz has the best individual finish by an American so far at the 2020 ISU World Single Distances Speed Skating Championships – and she has achieved it twice.
The former short track skater has turned out to be the surprise U.S. star this weekend at the Utah Olympic Oval, which is the first time in 13 years that single distances worlds are being held in the U.S. The competition at the 2002 Olympic venue has already seen six world records fall.
Goetz raced in the 500-meter on Friday and the 1,000-meter Saturday, finishing fifth both days and skating to personal-best times both days. The 25-year-old skated faster and placed higher than even she had dreamed.
It’s hard to believe this is her first full year as a long track speedskater.
“I was really, really surprised. I have been visualizing this race all season,” Goetz explained after Friday’s 500, which she had hoped for a top-10 entering the race. “I visualize my 500 all the time and it’s always on the line at world championships; and I did better today than I do in my visualizations, so I really can’t be upset with that.”
Goetz has been focusing on visualization, mental fortitude and self-talk, which has translated to impressive results on the ice.
Skating in the seventh of 12 pairs, Goetz’s time of 37.183 improved her own personal best by 0.417 seconds and held up for fifth place, just three tenths off the podium. She watched as four more pairs went and she remained in podium position. When the final pair of the eventual silver and bronze medalists Angelina Golikova and Olga Fatkulina of Russia skated, she ended up fifth. Japan’s Nao Kodaira won, three-hundredths off the world record.
Perhaps more impressive for Goetz was the fact she skated most of the race by herself; Canada’s Kaylin Irvine went down not long after the start.
“I just feel like it’s really good to know I had a solid race and I was by myself,” Goetz said. “If I had a pair that could have helped a little bit, to have someone to race on that final straightaway. So, to see myself get a fifth-place finish out there by myself is really promising being two years out from the Games.”
Goetz was referring to the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, where, thanks to her performance this week, she has proven she could not only make the team but star in more than one event.
“I think that I still have a lot to improve on, so it’s really exciting to see that I am right there with still leaps and bounds, in my opinion, on ways to improve. So maybe two years from now I can be a medal contender in this event. That would be a dream.”
Beijing 2022 would mark her Olympic debut. But if things had gone differently, it could have been her third Olympic appearance.
Goetz began inline skating at 9 years old. Ten years later she transitioned to the ice, as many inline skaters do, taking up short track speedskating. Her second competition in the sport was the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Short Track Speedskating, where she finished fifth.
The New Jersey native continued her rise in short track leading up to the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, competing two senior-level world championships and four seasons on the world cup circuit, highlighted by a fourth-place finish in the 1,000 at a 2016 stop in Dresden, Germany.
Her prospect for making the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team looked promising, until Goetz suffered a concussion at the Olympic trials in December 2017.
The following offseason, though she was selected to the 2018-19 short track team, Goetz decided to give long track speedskating a try in August 2018.
“Initially the change was because of injury. I had a back injury that just wasn’t getting better on short track, so I thought I would try long track,” Goetz said.
With the help of her longtime boyfriend and now coach, three-time Olympian Mitch Whitmore, Goetz learned to skate against the clock with only one other competitor on the ice in a 400-meter oval, as opposed to a 111-meter oval with up to six others on the ice.
“I think the underlying main reason is I’m not very good at racing,” she reflected. “I’m not quite aggressive enough for the passing and the bumping, and maybe I didn’t want to admit that at the time when I was skating short track. Looking back, I never would have gotten past a certain level because of my fear of that.”
Mastering straightaways proved the most difficult part of her transition, but Goetz picked up the sport faster than most, earning a national title in the 1,500-meter in December 2018 and making the 2018-19 world cup team. Her season closed with a 15th-place finish in the 1,000-meter and 18th place in the mass start at the world championships.
What a difference a year makes.
Leaping 10 spots in the 1,000, Goetz placed fifth Saturday out of the fifth of 12 pairs. She skated a time of 1:12.705, blowing her previous personal best away by 1.34 seconds, then watched as 14 more skaters raced – 11 of whom had faster personal bests than hers. One of those skaters was her teammate, 2015 and 2019 world champion Brittany Bowe, who placed eighth.
The Netherlands’ 21-year-old Jutta Leerdam won in 1:11.847, while Fatkulina took silver (1:12.331) and Japan’s Miho Takagi the bronze (1:12.344).
“I had been thinking all year, ‘1:12, 1:12, 1:12,’ so to get 1:12.7 I’m really happy,” Goetz said of her time. “The opener is not what I wanted it to be, so I kept a really good mindset of, we’re not there yet, keep building, keep building, versus, oh, the race is over. I’m proud of the mindset I kept throughout the race.”
Maintaining the right mindset could take Goetz all the way to the Olympic podium in two years – or to a world championships podium even sooner.
“For next season, I think now I can reevaluate and say maybe a podium finish is possible,” she said, candidly. “We’ll have to see, it’s still a ways away – 12 months from now – and a lot can change, but a podium finish would be amazing.”