Julie Letai, Brandon Kim Land on Top at Winter World Cup Qualifier
by Paul D. Bowker
Letai, a 2022 Olympian, and Kim led the pack in the competition held Jan. 6-8 at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns. The event determines the U.S. World Cup teams for the remainder of the season, which resumes Feb. 9 in Dresden, Germany.
Letai, Eunice Lee and Grace Lee swept the first three spots in the Women’s 500m, 1000m and 1500m races at the Qualifier to finish first, second and third in the Overall points standings. Each distance had two finals.
On the men’s side, Kim’s victories included two at 1000m. He also had wins at 500m and 1500m. Marcus Howard placed second to Kim with five top three finishes, including a victory in one of the 500m finals. He placed second twice at 1000m and once at 1500m, and third in the 500m. Andrew Heo, placing third Overall, had second- and third-place finishes in the 500m, and a third-place finish in the 1000m.
Kim, Howard and Heo were all on the Fall World Cup team.
Kristen Santos-Griswold, a 2022 Olympian who medaled at every stop of the Fall World Cup and is ranked second in the overall points standings with 805 points, did not compete because she had already secured a spot on the Winter World Cup Team.
“I think going into the rest of the season I now have like a little bit of higher expectations,” said Santos-Griswold, who has won three World Cup races this season. “I guess I always wanted to go and win. But now I know I can go and win, so I’m really just focused on being as ready as possible.”
The World Cup resumes Feb. 9-11 in Dresden, Germany, beginning a two-week stretch of World Cup stops in Europe that leads up to the ISU World Short Track Speed Skating Championships in March in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
The chase for a Crystal Globe is motivation enough for Santos-Griswold. But this time around, family will follow her across the Atlantic pond, as well. Travis, her husband, is going to Europe, along with Kristen’s mom and Travis’ parents.
“I think it becomes a comfortability when you have family there because they know exactly how to and not to help me mentally,” Santos-Griswold said. “It’s a good distraction, sometimes, like when we can spend time together the night before … to calm my mind and enjoy the night and get ready for the next day.”
Also headed for the World Cup Team is Corinne Stoddard, who won her first individual World Cup Silver medal this season, as well as four more medals as part of relay teams.
Santos-Griswold’s spectacular fall season included winning eight World Cup individual medals and four relay medals. She is ranked No. 1 in the Women’s 1000m and is handling the pressure that comes with those high rankings.
“That’s something I’m definitely still working on,” Santos-Griswold said. “I think I’m just trying to push myself through every practice so that I know I have that to fall back on so that when I step on the line in a race, I know I’ve done everything possible to get myself prepared and ready.”
Eunice Lee, who finished runner-up to Letai in six A Final races at the World Cup Qualifier, won the Women’s Junior overall championship as well as titles at three distances. Grace Lee, who finished third in six A Finals, was second overall. Louisiana Stahl won a pair of B Finals, the 1500m and 500m, and was third overall.
Liu, the Men’s Junior overall champion, won B Finals at 1000m and 1500m. Sean Shuai, who finished second in a 500m A Final, was the overall runner-up. Xavier Lawrence, who won the 500m B Final, was third.
The ISU World Junior Short Track Speed Skating Championships will be held in Gdansk, Poland, Feb. 22-25.
Paul D. Bowker has been writing about Olympic sports since 1996, when he was an assistant bureau chief in Atlanta. He is a freelance contributor to USSpeedskating.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.