Fairfield CT’s Kristen Santos recovers from hard fall: The World of Short Track Speed Skating.
Kristen’s best Winter Olympic events lie ahead.
Split second passes. Razor sharp edges. Finishes determined by thousandths of a second.
In short track speed skating skaters race against each other, advancing through heats by finishing first or second.
You can be eliminated in the blink of an eye.
Last Friday, Fairfield’s Kristen Santos made the 500 meter quarterfinals with a bold sprint down the final straightaway coming out of the penultimate turn. Going into that turn seconds earlier, she had been passed on the inside when she drifted too wide.
She was now in third.
Facing elimination, Kristen shifted gears. Free to extend her legs on the long part of the track, she powered herself forward. Slingshotting out of the final curve across the middle of the ice, she slipped between her unsuspecting opponents and zipped her front skate over the line.
The photo of the finish confirmed her victory.
By 0.026 seconds.
Kristen often starts slowly. Which means she has to use maneuvers like the one described above to pass opponents as she speeds counterclockwise around the 111.12-meter elliptical ice track.
In Monday’s fourth quarterfinal, she was in last from the start. Rounding the curve going into the next to final lap, she whizzed by Japan’s Sumire Kikuchi, taking the inside line. Then, the unthinkable happened. Kikuchi grazed her skate.
It was enough to affect Kristen’s balance. Three strides later, she was down. Taking Kikuchi with her. Sharp skate blades cut through the air as the two competitors slid along the ice. They crashed into the protective walls, crumpling into the cushioning like rag dolls.
Thankfully, neither was injured.
The penalty was assessed to Kristen. Milliseconds after having swooshed past Kikuchi, she had again slipped out wide. Kristen’s crossing into the Japanese skater’s path, made it impossible for Kikuchi to avoid her.
Kristen would not advance.
The 27 year old likes to be called “Puff”, an apt name for a speed skater. She is making her Olympic debut at the 2022 Winter Games, winning a berth on her third attempt.
In 2018, Kristen finished fourth at the trials, missing Pyeongchang by a whisker. An injury she suffered during World Cup training had derailed her preparation. Her left hand and wrist had been sliced open by an opponent’s skate two weeks before.
Kristen competed at those trials wearing a cast on her lower arm. She had been told she wouldn’t be able to skate. Relying on her then boyfriend/now fiancé, Travis Griswold, to lace up her skates, she finished just one place from an Olympic berth.
The experience strengthened her already steely resolve.
“I know that even when I’m very tired and I want to give up, even it’s that one extra lap that I can get in, that’s going to give me the confidence I need and the extra boost that I need to be able to do this. That one lap every single day — that’s 365 extra laps a year. That little extra bit every day makes such a big difference when it’s all put together and I think that’s really made me get this big jump forward.”
Ever optimistic, she says…
“Four years ago, I had this goal of being an Olympian and going to the Olympics. But having just missed out on the team made me realize how much I didn’t want to just be an Olympian, I wanted to go to the Olympics, and I wanted to be a medal contender.
I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to be like really up in the mix of things.
I don’t know if that hadn’t happened if I would have had that same motivation that I’ve had the past four years to be able to make these improvements and move forward. Because I think at that moment, I realized like if I had gone to the Games, I wasn’t going to do that much there.
So while I was, like, sad I didn’t make it, I think I really, really realized I want to medal at the Games. I want to be [t]here. I want to make a difference.”
Kristen’s story continues.
Including relays, she will have five more chances to medal. Her specialty is the 1000 meters. She owns a victory over reigning 1000 meter gold medalist, the Netherlands’ Suzanne Schulte.
Wednesday morning, Kristen helped the US team advance in their 300 meter heat. And, she won her individual 1000 meter opening heat, as well.
The 1000m finals are Friday.
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