Olympic Short-Track Star Santos-Griswold; an Ace on the Rink and in the Classroom
by Paul D. Bowker
Kristen Santos-Griswold is back on the ice this season with determination, winning every race at the US Speedskating US Championships Short Track in September, collecting National Titles at all three distances and setting a National Record in the 1500m.
Clearly, Santos-Griswold’s perfect weekend at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns, Utah put the 2022 Olympian on a path that she hopes leads to Gold medals this season on the World Cup circuit and two years from now at the Olympic Winter Games Milano Cortina 2026.
“Overall, through this whole quad, my main focus is going to the Olympics and winning them,” Santos-Griswold said. “Not only a medal, but winning Gold.”
But not everything has been pure gold for Santos-Griswold, when a crash in the Women’s 1000m at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games left her just off the podium in fourth place and considering retirement from competitive skating.
Instead, she let the crash fuel her forward momentum.
This past season, Santos-Griswold medaled at every World Cup stop, reaching the podium eight times and winning a Silver medal three times. But none were victories.
This year she is aching for Gold.
“It went well, obviously. But I think, probably as most athletes feel, you’re never fully satisfied,” Santos-Griswold said. “Even if you go out there and win everything, you want to win by a mile. For me, it was just more of a motivator. Last year I was able to medal a lot, but I think the difference is for this year is that I really want to go for Gold in each race.
“Something I really want to change this year is really sending it with every single race and not being satisfied with just medaling.”
Santos-Griswold’s chase for Gold begins with the World Cup opener set for Oct. 20-22 in Montreal, Quebec.
At that World Cup stop, and every other venue this season, it’ll be easy to spot the 28-year-old from Connecticut who now lives about a mile from the Utah Olympic Oval. She’ll be the one carrying a big stack of books.
In addition to a hectic schedule as US Speedskating’s most seasoned short-track racer, Santos-Griswold is in her second year of studies in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at the University of Utah. Most days, she is up at 6:30 in the morning to get ready for a training session that starts an hour later at the Olympic Oval. After nearly five hours at the rink, she’s off to class. Then it’s back to the rink and eventually back home for classwork assignments and more studying.
“I’m totally fine … if I have to get something done that night,” Santos-Griswold said, “but when it comes to just sitting down and studying something, trying to remember everything and really learn it, that was something in the beginning I was struggling with after a long day of training and then school and then training again.”
There are days that begin at 5 a.m.
And there are days where the tight timing means that Santos-Griswold sometimes trains alone.
“I think that’s something that mentally has been a little bit of a struggle for me just because I’m so used to doing everything that’s on the training program with the team,” she said.
The last two semesters have been primarily classwork and lectures, but in the next semester there will be part-time clinical requirements. And the next semester after that, full-time clinicals.
Are the books going on the road for the World Cup tour?
“Oh, yeah,” Santos-Griswold said with a laugh.
With no World Cup event scheduled in the United States this year, Santos-Griswold and a U.S. team that includes 2022 Olympic teammate Corinne Stoddard and Julie Letai will travel to China, and South Korea, following back-to-back stops in Montreal. The trio swept the top three places in the 500m, 1000m and 1500m at the U.S. Championships.
“They’re also two of my best friends,” Santos-Griswold said. “It’s the type of thing where you’re genuinely so excited for them. We all push each other every day at practice.”
Santos-Griswold will hear hometown family cheers in Montreal because it is just a six-hour drive from her family’s home in Fairfield, Connecticut, where she grew up. And in Europe, husband Travis will join her … when he’s not on the ski slopes.
“My husband actually has a whole big trip planned that he’s really excited about for the European World Cups,” she said. “He’ll come to the World Cups on the weekends and watch me race, then go ski, which I’m a little bit jealous about.”
The swing through Europe will finish up in March in Rotterdam, Netherlands, with the ISU World Short Track Speed Skating Championships. It is a marquee event on Santos-Griswold’s calendar leading up to Milano Cortina in 2026. Last year, her sixth-place finish in the 1500m was her career best at a World Championships. She also teamed up with Letai, Stoddard and Maame Biney for an eighth-place finish in the Women’s 3000m Relay, equaling their finish in the 2022 Olympics.
“I think, for me, the main thing I’m looking forward to is World Championships,” Santos-Griswold said. “I’m someone who can play a lot of mind games with myself going into races, especially when they have higher stakes. I really want to go into that one with a clear head and confidence.
“If I can go into that feeling confident and strong,” she added, “that’s going to be the best precursor for the Olympics.”
Paul D. Bowker has been writing about Olympic and Paralympic sports since 1996, when he was an assistant bureau chief in Atlanta. He is a freelance contributor to US Speedskating on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.