Four years ago I was on the team where we won our first gold in a long time. It was a pretty cool experience. —John-Henry Krueger
KEARNS — The son of a professional figure skating coach, John-Henry Krueger grew up on the ice.
He didn’t, however, find either of the traditional ice rink sports alluring.
“My (older) brother (Cole) and I weren’t interested in figure skating or hockey,” said Krueger, who will compete for a spot on the 2018 short track speedskating team this weekend at the Utah Olympic Oval. “We were both pretty competitive, and we liked to race each other. We weren’t doing anything to try and get to the Olympics. We were just like normal kids.” They were skating during a public session when someone saw them and invited them to skate with a local speedskating club.
Krueger, who barely missed making the 2014 Olympic team despite having the swine flu, said he didn’t really have some long-held Olympic dream or life-changing epiphany when he saw the Olympic Games as real possibility.
“There wasn’t some defining moment where a light came down from heaven and this is the moment where I realized my Olympic potential,” he said. “When I started off, I was very young. I don’t think I even knew I was skating.”
Instead, he just enjoyed competing, especially against his older brother, Cole, who at 25 is attempting to make Hungary’s Olympic team. As he grew, his talent became more obvious.
“I think making the Junior World teams, that’s when my Olympic dream started to become more of a reality,” he said. “When I was very young, I remember watching Apolo Ohno in Torino. But I was just a normal kid, and I cared about being with my friends at school and watching my favorite shows after school. I can’t say there was any big Olympic dream.” That changed when he made his first World Cup team at age 14. Success didn’t just propel his career, it inspired him to look at speedskating as more than a hobby.
“That really motivated me to take it more seriously,” he said.
Krueger is one of about 50 athletes who will compete for the opportunity to represent the U.S. in the 2018 PyeongChang Games.
In addition to Krueger, competitors will include three-time Olympic medalist J.R. Celski, Keith Carroll Jr., Salt Lake’s Adam Callister and Korean-born Thomas Hong.
Hong, Celski, Krueger and Hong make up the men’s 5,000-meter relay team, which has won two medals this season.
On the women’s side, two-time Olympic medalist Katherine Reutter-Adamek, 2014 Olympian Jessica Kooreman, Lana Gehrig and Kimi Goetz are competing for spots on this year’s team.
Krueger said he had a slower start to the season than he hoped, but the last two World Cups he’s found more success.
“The biggest difference was just my confidence,” he said.
He said he was thrilled to win back-to-back medals with the relay team.
“Four years ago I was on the team where we won our first gold in a long time,” he said. “It was a pretty cool experience.”
He yearns to make the Olympic team, but he’s gotten some sage advice from a five-time Olympian on how to approach the weekend.
“My good friend, Shani Davis, always gives me little bits of advice,” he said. “He said to treat it like a normal race. There is no reason to race any differently. The best thing is to skate with an empty mind and make sure my passes are clean and efficient. It would be a great accomplishment. My main goal as an athlete would be to make an Olympic team. But I am not putting too much focus on that.”
The trials begin Friday with the team selections on Sunday afternoon.