Marcus Howard Hopes To Be The Next Teen Sensation At Olympic Games

by David Seigerman

There were less than 12 seconds remaining and barely 10 meters to go before anyone noticed Lydia Jacoby. To that point in the final of the 100-meter breaststroke at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, the attention of the network broadcast had been fixed on Jacoby’s U.S. teammate, Lilly King, and her quest to defend her Olympic title. Jacoby’s name wasn’t mentioned the entire first lap.

Marcus Howard, though, was watching.

“That was crazy. She came out of nowhere,” said Howard. “Everybody thought Lilly King was going to win. That was really cool to watch. Especially somebody my age.”

Somebody Howard’s age. Before the world learned any other details of Jacoby’s remarkable story – that she was the first Alaskan swimmer to compete in the Olympic Games, that she trained in a 25-meter pool because the only 50-meter pool in the entire state was impractically far from her hometown — they knew her age. As she edged into the lead, broadcaster Dan Hicks introduced the world to “Lydia Jacoby, the 17-year-old.”

By that time, she had the full attention of Howard, another 17-year-old with Olympic dreams of his own. Dreams that, in the 64.95 seconds it took an American teenager to become a Gold Medalist, started to feel more possible.

“It helps boost my confidence, seeing somebody my age who goes out and competes against people who had been in the Olympics already. And win, even,” said Howard, the youngest member of the US Speedskating Short Track National Training Program. “It brings me up — maybe I can do this. If I try hard enough, maybe this is possible.”

Oh, it’s definitely possible. If it weren’t, Howard would have been back home in Federal Way, Washington, watching the Olympic Games with his parents. Instead, while his mother, Brandi, was in the family living room, following the 100-meter breaststroke final and projecting her son’s prospects onto Jacoby’s accomplishment (“You see that, and of course, I think there’s a chance in nine months we’ll be watching him,” said Brandi), Howard was upstairs in a house in Utah. 

It’s the home of one of the National Training Program assistant coaches, along with his wife and their young son. And it’s where Howard has been living, with another skater, having relocated to Salt Lake City to train at the Utah Olympic Oval and try to earn a coveted spot on the US roster for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing. 

“I enjoy being the youngest on team, having people who have a lot more experience than me trying to help me, critique me with things that will make me faster and better,” said Howard.

Seventeen may sound a little young to be thinking seriously about qualifying for his sport’s biggest stage. In truth, though, the Olympic Games have always felt accessible to Howard. And probably to hundreds of kids just like him, bombing around Pattison’s West on inline skates (or even four-wheeling in classic roller skates). 

The legendary family fun center of Federal Way, Pattison’s has been a sort of Olympian launching pad, and the photos proudly displayed on the rink’s Wall of Fame are more like a Mount Rushmore of US Speedskating. 

Joey Mantia, who competed in the 2014 and 2018 Games, trained there. So did Aaron Tran, who skated at PyeongChang in 2018. The most-decorated winter Olympian in American history — eight-time medalist Apolo Ohno — grew up at Pattison’s. So too did J.R. Celski, a three-time Olympian and three-time Olympic Medalist.

It was Celski who made the earliest, most direct and most profound impression on Howard. Celski came home from the Vancouver Games with a pair of Bronze Medals — one for the 1500m, one for the 5000m Relay. He made the pilgrimage to Pattison’s to share his experiences with a gathering of local kids. Howard was in that awestruck group.

“I thought it was cool,” said Howard, who was 7 at the time, a student at Sherwood Forest Elementary School, where Celski had also attended. “It put everything in perspective. Everyone starts somewhere. And starting out somewhere similar to where he started made me feel a lot more confident.”

Howard doesn’t recall anything in particular that Celski said to Pattison’s next generation of Olympic hopefuls. He couldn’t have been old enough to grasp that he’d just glimpsed for the first time how far skating might be able to take him.

He did get an autograph, though. Celski signed the inline boots Howard was wearing that day. They’re still up in his childhood bedroom back in Federal Way.

Someday, maybe — perhaps even before the next spring thaw on Puget Sound — it will be Howard’s turn. Maybe he’ll be the next teenager to sprint from out of nowhere, Lydia Jacoby-style, to a spot on the Olympic podium. Maybe he’ll come home to Federal Way with medals to share and stories to tell. Maybe he’ll sign the skates of some future speed skating star.

“I’d love to do what J.R. did,” said Howard. “That’d be super cool.”
David Seigerman is a veteran sportswriter, producer, author and the producer/writer/host of the new sports podcast, Out Of Left Field. He is a freelance contributor to on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.