Ben Thornock has some unfinished speedskating business. After making the decision to stop training to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Japan, Ben is back at the Utah Olympic Oval, determined to make up for a two-year absence.
“It feels great being back with all my friends and getting back to skating,” he said. “Japan was amazing, and I learned a lot. Serving others was the main part of my mission and it was such an incredible experience.”
Living in Taylorsville, Utah, just a few minutes away from the Utah Olympic Oval, Ben started skating when he was 11 years old, quickly discovering he had a talent for short track skating. An overall athlete, Ben was also involved in basketball, soccer, karate, gymnastics and wrestling. But his lifelong dream was to play football for Brigham Young University.
As Ben got older, he realized he wasn’t going to be big enough to be a football player and his focus turned to speedskating. When he started to move up through the short track ranks, he looked to Apolo Ohno, who, like Ben, is half-Japanese.
“Apolo just makes it look so easy,” he said. “Mentally, he was one of the toughest athletes the skating world has ever seen, maybe in any sport. I was excited to have the opportunity to skate on the same ice he skated on.”
Ben skated the time trial portion of the 2014 Olympic Trials, at only 16 years old. Two years later, he skated the relay at the Short Track Junior World Championships in Bulgaria. In 2017, he earned an individual spot at the Short Track Junior World Championships in Austria where he came home with a bronze medal in the relay. His talent continued to grow as he moved toward the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.
Then the time came when he had to make a decision: continue training for a spot on the 2018 Olympic Team or serve a mission for his church.
“It was a good chance for me to compete for a spot on the team, but I knew I wasn’t there yet, and I knew growing up I wanted to serve mission, knowing the lessons I’d learn would be priceless,” he said.
From 2017-2019, Ben served his mission, then returned to the ice, where his talent and dedication earned him a spot on the 2020-21 National Short Track Team, training with National Head Coach Wilma Boomstra.
“Ben is a naturally gifted athlete who took all last year to build a strong base so he could start training as a national team member this year,” Boomstra said. “Ben has the personality that could make him a great team leader.”
Although he tried to stay in shape during his two-year mission, the first six months he was back in the U.S., Ben felt far behind the other athletes. But by the end of the year, after working with Boomstra, he felt stronger and ready to train for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing. He’s completely dedicated to the next two seasons and excited to see what he can do in the sport.
“His work ethic, realistic mindset and positive attitude will get him to the highest level possible and will encourage his teammates,” Boomstra said. “I am very excited to see what this season will bring him.”