Meet The Long Track Skaters Who Will Represent Team USA At The Winter Youth Olympic Games
by Nicole Haase
Teenagers Liam Kitchel, Marley Soldan and Max Weber will represent Team USA in long track speed skating when the 2024 Winter Youth Olympic Games kick off later this month in Gangwon, South Korea. The three qualified thanks to their performances at the U.S. qualifying event in Milwaukee in late October.
First held in 2010, the Youth Olympic Games are an elite sporting event for young people from all over the world. This year’s edition, which runs from Jan. 19-Feb. 1, marks the fourth edition of the Winter Youth Olympic Games, and the first to be held outside of Europe.
Utilizing many of the venues that hosted events during the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in PyeongChang — including the Gangneung Oval for speed skating events — the Youth Olympic Games bring together teenage athletes from around the world for an event that is based on the Olympics but includes some different disciplines and formats.
This will be Weber’s first big international competition, and he’s excited to have it happen on such an outsized stage. The 16-year-old from Little Canada, Minnesota, has his eyes on bigger accomplishments but tries to not get too caught up in long-term thinking.
“I can have the goal to make the Olympics, I can have the goal to make the national team and I can have the goal to win the junior Olympics,” he said, “but I feel like if I let that all get in my head, I will perform worse. If I just put my head down and keep working, those achievements will just come to me.”
Weber is joined by two other long track skaters and four short track skaters to make up Team USA’s speed skating delegation to Gangwon. One unique aspect of this competition is a focus on non-competition growth and learning. There is a full Culture and Education Program that athletes take part in which focuses on five main themes: Olympism, Social Responsibility, Skills Development, Expression and Well-being and Healthy Lifestyles.
Weber is looking forward to meeting other athletes from around the world, in speed skating and other sports. They’ll have an automatic kinship, he thinks, regardless of any language barriers.
He estimates he trains upwards of nine times a week, including sometimes twice-daily practices and dryland training. Weber said it’s difficult to really convey to people how much time and hard work goes into what he does. He’s never known different, so it’s difficult to compare, but he said the commitment does make it hard to do “normal” teenage things. He often goes straight from school to the rink, and any possible free time is spent keeping up on schoolwork.
It’s not always easy to self-motivate day after day, but Weber said he rarely trains alone thanks to his teammates at the Midway Speedskating Club in the Twin Cities suburb of Roseville. They push him to get better and keep him focused, but ultimately, it’s a love of speed skating that keeps him going.
“I love going out on ice every single day,” he said. “It just kind of clears my head from everything that happened that day. There’s nothing better than to just be able to skate.”
Kitchel started as a hockey player, but the first time he tried speed skating, he found his home. It turns out he wasn’t much interested in the game itself but rather in the freedom of skating. Gangwon won’t be his first experience with an Olympic skating venue — he and his dad regularly travel to Lake Placid, New York, and skate on the outdoor oval there, which proved to be particularly crucial during the pandemic.
Rounding out Team USA is Soldan, who came to speedskating from inline skating. After playing many sports, Soldan found an affinity for skating and has been dedicated to it ever since. A Junior World Championships silver medalist in team pursuit in 2023, she’s looking to build on her success.
Get to know the teens who will represent Team USA in South Korea:
Hometown: Norwich, Vermont
Why did you choose speed skating? I started out playing hockey in a small development program when I was about 10. One day during practice, instead of playing in the scrimmage, I ended up just skating in circles. Around the same time, a former short track Olympian, Dan Weinstein, moved into town and started a small skating club. They shared the ice while I was learning hockey. When I came off the ice after that scrimmage, my mom told me that there was a sport for skating in circles and signed me up for the short track club. After I started, short track became my primary sport until this last season when I made the switch to long track to try to qualify for the Youth Olympic Games.
What is your first speed skating memory? My first speed skating memory is my first practice in Dan’s skating club. We had the outermost edge of half of a hockey rink so we would skate around to one side, turn around, and skate back again. It wasn’t enough room to truly skate, but I couldn’t really skate yet, so it was perfect to me.
What are you most looking forward to at the Youth Olympic Games? I’m most looking forward to meeting other athletes from around the world and experiencing international competition for the first time. YOG will be by far the farthest away from home I have traveled to compete, and I’m really looking forward to experiencing that for the first time.
Who inspires you and why? Dan Weinstein, my first short track coach, has been my biggest inspiration because even when he was my age, he was able to balance school with high level competition — even the Olympics — effectively. I’m trying to find that balance with myself now, albeit not quite at the Olympic level yet.
What are some of your hobbies? During the past few years, the only ice I’ve had access to was in Walpole and Wellesley, Massachusetts, which is a five-hour round-trip drive. I’ve had some very late school nights during the skating season. I also compete as a cross-country skier, track runner and mountain biker. I’m an avid coin collector, and I love photography and spend far too long looking for the best angles for shots.
Hometown: Tacoma, Washington
Why did you choose speed skating? When I was little, I played many sports — soccer, swimming, track, inline skating, you name it. In sixth grade I broke my arm, and then I immediately broke it again. I was not able to do anything for six months. I realized that what I missed most was skating. When I was able to skate again, I was frustrated by how slow I had become and decided to focus my effort on getting faster. Because I had invested so much time into speedskating, it became my world, and I would not be who I am without it.
What is your first speed skating memory? My first speedskating memory was when I did not finish last for the first time. When I was younger, my first rule of speedskating was to have fun. This is still my first rule, but one day during our regional meet, almost everyone fell and I ended up placing third. I ended up falling too, but I remember how happy I was to have a medal around my neck and the motivation I got from it.
What are you most looking forward to at the Youth Olympic Games? I am most looking forward to being able to compete on the international stage with my coach, Chang Lee. Coach Lee is a very talented coach who has helped me grow for countless years, and I am excited to continue my speedskating journey with him.
Who inspires you and why? Even though he is not a speedskater, Cristiano Ronaldo inspires me the most. I hear stories about how disciplined he is about his training, and this is something I really respect. When it comes to speedskaters, I am inspired by Kim Min-sun (of South Korea). She has beautiful technique and always has a smile on her face, which are two things I admire.
What’s something about you not many people know? I foster kittens! Over quarantine, my family decided to start fostering cats, and we fell in love. Saying goodbye to the kittens is always bittersweet, but the sadness goes away when we see a kitten falling in love with their forever family.
Hometown: Little Canada, Minnesota
Why did you choose speed skating? My brother started to speedskate at young age, so my parents put me in a learn-to-skate program and I began to love the sport and excelled in it.
What is your first speed skating memory? My first speedskating memory is when I was about 6 or 7 years old and I won my first overall novice speedskating trophy at the end of the year. My name was called, and I went up to the front at a banquet and they handed me a big trophy with my name on it and the first-place ribbons.
What are you most looking forward to at the Youth Olympic Games? Competing there is obviously the most important thing I’m looking forward to, but also being in the environment of an international event for the first time and then meeting a lot of new kids and getting to see the opening ceremony and all the other cool things that they will have there.
Who inspires you and why? My parents for sure inspire me a lot to keep pushing through everything. I really look up to Jordan Stolz and seeing how well he is doing making history for the USA makes me want to be like him one day, breaking records like that.
What are some of your hobbies? I like to play hockey with my friends on rinks around my house.
Nicole Haase is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.