Kristen Santos competes at the U.S. Olympic Short Track Trials on Jan. 2, 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Just as has been the case in every sporting event in the world for the last year, this year’s ISU Short Track World Championships will look quite different due to COVID-19.
Expected to be absent from worlds, held March 5-7, will be speedskating powers South Korea and China, who have opted not to travel to Dordrecht, Netherlands, because of the pandemic. While everyone in the speedskating community would prefer a full competitive field, the absences represent an opportunity for young U.S. skaters to turn around some unfortunate recent history. U.S. skaters haven’t produced a medal at short track worlds since 2014.
As of Feb. 25, 28 nations had registered teams for the world championships, where South Korea has garnered more medals than any other nation, with 254, followed by Canada (206), China (156) and the U.S. (62). Olympian J.R. Celski’s three-medal performance in Montreal in 2014 remains the most recent hardware for Team USA.
The 2020 world championships were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and no major competitions have been held since then.
“Everything is different this year because of the pandemic and preparation,” said U.S. head coach Wilma Boomstra. “We have some skaters, which is very unfortunate, that are not going to worlds because of COVID. They don’t want to travel, which I completely understand. It’s fine. It’s going to affect our results, and it’s going to affect our relay teams.”
The U.S. team will be comprised of four women and four men. The women include Julie Letai, Medfield, Massachusetts; Kamryn Lute, New York, New York; Kristen Santos, Fairfield, Connecticut; and Corinne Stoddard, Tacoma, Washington. The American men are Andrew Heo, Warrington, Pennsylvania; Ryan Pivirotto, Ann Arbor, Michigan; Caleb Park, Irvine, California; and Marcus Howard, Federal Way, Washington.
This year’s COVID-induced absences, while unfortunate, could leave openings for youthful U.S. skaters eager to earn places on podiums. Events will include the 500 meters, 1,000 meters, 1,500 meters, and 3,000 meters for each gender, and the 3,000-meter relay for women and 5,000-meter relay for men.
“For our individual skaters, I think it’s definitely going to open some doors,” Boomstra said. “I’m actually really excited about this team right now. I call them kids because they’re so young, you know, if you compare them with the rest of the world.
“The powerhouse countries like China and Korea — the Asian countries — they have so much depth in their short track culture. We just don’t have that. Our depth is very shallow.”
Boomstra pointed to Santos as a threat in the women’s individual events.
“I’m so excited to watch her skate because she has been killing it this whole season in practice,” Boomstra said. “Unofficially, she skated a couple world records. She’s just been on fire. She can compete with the guys. It is short track, and a lot of things happen in short track, but strength-wise, speed-wise, tactics-wise, she can medal.”
According to Boomstra, among the men, Pivorotto has also come on strong of late.
“The thing with Ryan is he’s pretty savvy when it comes to racing,” Boomstra said. “He has an unorthodox technique and an unorthodox track, which makes it hard for other skaters to pass. If things are aligned the way we want them, he can do well. I definitely can see him in the top eight.”
Boomstra also likes what she sees from Heo.
“What stands out about him is his incredible feel for the ice,” Boomstra said. “Technically, he is just so efficient. It’s like he’s one with the ice. He makes a lot of good moves at the right time.”
Finally, Stoddard could make her mark. She won a pair of medals at the last junior world championships.
“She is just a real racer,” Boomstra said. “She can turn it on at the right time, and she’s very strong.”
No matter the results, Boomstra knows the worlds will provide important seasoning for this inexperienced team.
“They’re young and they’re pretty inexperienced compared to the rest of the world,” Boomstra said. “I just want them to have a really good time and learn a lot.”
Fans can follow the U.S. team across social media up to and during the world championships on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @USSpeedskating.