Kristen Santos missed a 2018 Olympic bid by one spot at the U.S. trials.
The short-track speedskater’s arm was in a cast, a month removed from a freak accident in which an opponent’s skate sliced tendons in her hand and wrist. She was sidelined for two weeks after surgery, then had two weeks to train before the U.S. Olympic trials and still managed to finish fourth, but only the top three women got to go to Pyeongchang.
Four years later, the Fairfield, Conn. native is not only in Beijing with Team USA but has her sights set on making some noise while she’s there.
“Four years ago, just missing the team really made me change that goal and dream from being an Olympian to being an Olympic medalist, being a contender at the Olympics,” Santos said recently on NBC’s “On Her Turf” podcast. “Because right then and there, I had realized, even if I made the team, the way I was skating at that moment, I wasn’t going to make a difference at the Games. I wasn’t going to win.
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“But that pushed me so much further these past four years to know that that’s what I really want. I don’t want to just go to the Olympics to go to the Olympics. I want to go and I want to be a competitor there. I want to make a difference. I want to be in the mix of things and I want to medal.”
Santos, who has already advanced to Monday’s 500m quarterfinals (6:30 a.m. EST), will also compete in the 1,000m (her favorite race), 1,500m, and two relay events. The 27-year-old placed fourth in the 500m at the 2021 World Championships and also won her first World Cup gold medal in the 1,000m in October.
A 2012 graduate of Fairfield Warde High School, who began speedskating when she was nine years old, Santos came into Beijing hoping to capture USA’s first women’s short-track medal since 2010. To get there, she used the scary hand injury to change her mental perspective.
Late in 2017, Santos was practicing for a World Cup event in China when another skater fell and collided with her, with the skater’s blade cutting open Santos’ left hand. Santos was initially told she would not be able to skate in the U.S. Olympic trials a month later, so when she was ultimately cleared after two weeks, she entered the trials feeling like she had nothing to lose and fared better because of it.
“So that was something I’ve really carried along with me these past four years,” Santos said on the “On Her Turf” podcast. “To not put so much pressure on myself, to have fun with it, to take in the moment, take it one race at a time, give it all I’ve got and take little steps along the way.”
That mindset served Santos well during a breakout 2021 season and has her contending for a podium in Beijing.
“Kristen Santos has really risen over the past 18 months in terms of her strength mixed with her technique,” eight-time Olympic short-track medalist Apolo Ohno said on NBC. “She’s actually becoming confident in passing athletes on the outside, controlling the pack, controlling the race speed, etc. I think we’re going to expect a medal out of Kristen, at least I do. … I think she has it in her to capture a medal at these Games.”