Kristen Santos reacts after competing during the women's 1,000-meter semifinals at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on Feb. 11, 2022 in Beijing.
A near-miss at the Olympic Winter Games helps convince some athletes it’s time to move on. For others, it refuels their competitive tank.
Speedskater Kristen Santos counts herself in the second club, but membership didn’t come easy.
“Going into this season, I think I had kind of set my mind to it being my last year, and that was something that motivated and pushed me at every practice,” the 27-year-old from Fairfield, Connecticut said. “It was, like, this idea — ‘It’s one more year.’”
But in February, while racing third in the short track 1,000-meter final — her favorite event — with just two laps to go, a bump from Italy’s Arianna Fontana, later ruled a penalty, sent both skaters flying. Santos’ Olympic medal hopes faded to a fourth-place finish.
“Falling in the last race when you’re in medal position isn’t fun,” Santos said. “That was hard to deal with, and honestly, it’s still hard to deal with.”
Eventually, though, she realized her biggest Olympic takeaway wasn’t disappointment; rather, it was inspiration.
“It was something I went back-and-forth with a lot,” Santos admitted. “It’s tough. But after the season and how the Games went, I still feel like I’m improving a lot, and I realize that I have unfinished business with the sport. I’m not necessarily ready to walk away from that.”
“I think, while I could have definitely medaled in that race if that had not happened, I want to be in a position where I’m almost untouchable, in that sense,” she added. “Where I’m in front and nobody can take me out.”
It’s complicated, though; short track has to fit in with other parts of her life.
After moving to Salt Lake City to pursue her sport nearly a decade ago, Santos enrolled in the University of Utah, graduating last year with a degree in kinesiology, the study of the mechanics of body movements. She begins work toward her doctorate in physical therapy (DPT) at UoU in May.
“Obviously, I still have some logistics to figure out with that,” Santos said. “It’s something I’m currently doing with my school and my coaches. It seems like they are going to be very lenient in trying to make it work for me, so I’m really grateful for that.”
A DPT typically takes three years of full-time study to complete, with the first year often considered the most grueling. So, while Santos intends to continue training with Team USA, she may need to curtail her competitions next season.
“I don’t know that I will have the ability to leave for weeks at a time for competitions, so it might just be more of a training and building year for me,” she said. “And then, hopefully, the following years I will be able to compete and be back in it like normal.”