Marcus Howard, Eunice Lee Lead U.S. Short Track Team Into Junior Worlds
by Bob Reinert
Marcus Howard has been gaining valuable experience skating in senior-level competitions this season, including in his first World Cup.
Now the 19-year-old from Federal Way, Washington, is setting his sights back on the junior level, where he and 2022 Olympian Eunice Lee are among the leaders for the U.S. team at the ISU World Junior Short Track Championships on Jan. 27-29 in Dresden, Germany.
Howard has enjoyed a strong start to his season, including winning a Bronze medal in the Mixed 2000m Relay at November’s World Cup in Kearns, Utah, and then a Gold in the same event at the same venue the following week at the ISU Four Continents Championships. At the World Cup, Howard also broke the Men’s Junior National Record in the 1500m that had previously stood for 20 years.
“So far, I feel like it’s been a really, really good season for me,” said Howard, who reached the podium four times at the U.S. Championships earlier this month. “I feel like I’ve had a lot of improvement from last year."
“I just trained really, really hard every day trying to be better and then just working on everything that I could about my technique … and then trying to push myself every practice to be better.”
He’ll be joined in Dresden by Lee, an 18-year-old from Tacoma, Washington, who is coming off four podium finishes of her own at the U.S. Championships. She was part of the U.S. Women’s 3000m Relay team that placed seventh at last year’s Junior World Championships.
Two of her teammates in that event, Kamryn Lute and Louisiana Stahl, both 18, are also returning this year. Other members of this year’s U.S. team include Grace Lee, 16, on the women’s side and men’s skaters Seung-Min Kwon, 19, Ryan Shane, 18, and Justin Liu, 17.
Kwon finished fifth in the Men’s 1000m at last year’s Junior World Championships, marking the top individual finish by a U.S. skater. Howard also made his debut at the event last year, with his top individual finish being 10th in the 1000m. He has his sights set on multiple podium finishes in Dresden.
The challenge, said Howard, is remaining prepared for both junior- and senior-level events during the season.
“It’s really hard to time your peak … because it’s a long season,” Howard said. “I go into the junior events a little bit more confident in my skating abilities. I try and keep the same mindset about trying hard and try and do my own strategies.”
Howard will try to apply lessons learned at the World Cup level to the upcoming Junior World Championships.
“There’s a bunch of stuff I learned from racing against the top guys,” Howard said. “Skating in those World Cups will help a lot with how I’ll strategize each race for juniors.”
Howard, who set the U.S. junior record of 2 minutes, 13.168 seconds in the 1500m, is looking for more than just a medal in that event.
“I feel pretty confident,” Howard said. “I have the fastest time in the 1500 of all the junior skaters in the world right now. I feel like I really want that Junior World Record.”
Another skater looking for a breakthrough performance in Dresden is Lute, who began speed skating at age 5 and competed in her first age-group nationals two years later. She’s in her first year of training with the National Training Program Team after years of skating on the East Coast.
“I just wanted to give it my all and see how it would work for me. So far, I think it’s a really good fit,” Lute said. “I think it’s still taking some adjusting. I think the team environment is really positive, and I trust my coaches here a lot. I’m looking forward to seeing how things continue to progress.”
Lute, from New York City, pointed out that she has added weight training to her regimen this year for the first time.
“It’s just a different combination of training styles than I’m used to,” Lute said. “I think it all worked out well.”
In addition to making the U.S. team for the Junior World Championships, Lute qualified for the fall and winter World Cup squads.
“I really enjoy competing internationally,” Lute said. “It really, I think more than anything, makes me feel like I’m progressing (to) where I’d like to be in this sport. It gives me hope for the future."
“Being able to race individually at World Cups is really special to me. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”
Like Howard, Lute has worked to balance a schedule filled with junior and senior events.
“We’ve had a lot of racing this season,” Lute said. “I think I’m still sort of playing with how I personally need to recover and prepare for competitions. That’s still a bit of a process to figure out, so I can learn how to be at my peak when I need to be."
“It can be a little upsetting when I don’t feel like I can show the training I’ve put in at competitions. But I think that’s all part of the process is figuring out your own body. I’m just trying to take it one day and one race at a time, and hopefully, I’ll figure it out soon.”
Lute hopes to be at her peak at Dresden.
“I just want to feel my best going into it,” Lute said. “I think every time I go to junior worlds, my goal is just to do better than the last year that I was there."
“You are going against the best juniors in the world. Honestly, some of the juniors right now are some of the best seniors in the world, as well. It’s a high level of competition, but it’s my favorite competition every year if I make the team. It’s just a really cool environment to be in.”
Congratulations to all of the athletes who made the 2023 Short Track Junior World Championship Team: