End of a dream: Matt Plummer ends speedskating career without achieving Olympic glory

Published: Saturday, Jan. 11 2014 10:28 p.m. MST

Matt Plummer, a long-track speedskater, poses for a portrait in his room that is all packed up in West Jordan on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014. He is moving on from his Olympic dreams and heading back to St. Louis.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

WEST JORDAN — Matt Plummer’s Olympic dream was born in front of a television set in St. Louis.

It slipped through his fingers for the second and final time two weeks ago in Kearns, on the ice where he’s trained every day for 7 1/2 years.

For every athlete that fulfills their dream of competing for the United States in the Olympic Games, there are dozens of others who never realize that goal.

Plummer’s is a dream unfulfilled.

But while he never had the moment that lured him into speedskating, he leaves the sport with no regrets.

A CHILDHOOD DREAM, A LIFE PATH

At 6 years old, he was transfixed as he watched three-time Olympian Dan Jansen win his first and only Olympic gold medal in the 1,000 meters in Lillehammer, Norway.

“I thought that was the coolest stuff in the entire world,” Plummer said. “I was sitting in my living room, and I said, ‘Mom, I want to try that. That looks really cool.’”

While a lot of children are moved by Olympic moments, Plummer was changed. That moment gave his life a direction that would be difficult to maintain without deep commitment and complete confidence in his ability to reach the highest level of a sport that only offers Olympic glory as a reward. There is no NFL or NBA for winter sports athletes like Plummer. You don’t make thousands to be on a practice squad. There are no college scholarships or minor leagues. If you’re lucky, you find sponsors or have a family who can help you financially.

If you’re not, you struggle to pay the bills with part-time jobs that allow you to train six hours a day and travel six months of the year. Plummer had family support, and that led him to success.

Plummer’s mother quickly found that the family just happened to live in a hotbed for short track speedskating.

“I was taking learn to skate classes and she saw a flyer,” Plummer said. “It was very easy to get involved in St. Louis. I don’t remember all my emotions, how I felt about it, but I had to have liked it enough to stay with it. ... I ended up being pretty good at it.”

OLYMPIC DREAMS AREN’T EASILY FOLLOWED

Even before he was in fifth grade, he knew the path he’d have to take if he wanted to follow in Jansen’s footsteps.

“Even before I was 10, I knew this was an Olympic sport — and one of the best Olympic sports that there is,” the 26-year-old said. “So pretty early on the Olympics were my goal.”

For Olympic sport athletes, their chance to succeed at the highest level only comes once every four years. One of the most successful female skiers of all time, Lindsey Vonn, only has one Olympic gold medal. Injuries, illnesses, an off-day, crummy weather, bad luck — they can rob these athletes of moments so fleeting the rest of the world may not notice.

For Olympians, you deliver on those days.

In 2006, at the age of 18, Plummer moved to Utah to “give long track a try. I made the junior world team within a few months.”

He said the transition to long track was seamless.

“I think I was actually better at it,” he said. “I did enjoy it quite a bit more. It’s a whole heck of a lot faster and the best person always wins (because skaters are simply timed). In short track (where skaters race against each other), everybody struggles with the fact that falls and penalties can change an outcome.” His father required him to go to college while he pursued his speedskating dreams, something he came to see as a very wise admonishment.

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