SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — For many Olympic hopefuls, the thought of making the trek to PyeongChang South Korea is daunting for the distance alone–almost 6,000 miles. But for one young speed skater, the chance to travel such a great distance to compete for Team USA means making a trip home.
Thomas Hong is a 20-year-old speed skater originally from South Korea, who moved to the United States with his family as a 5 year old.
Hong recognizes that he’s younger than some Olympic hopefuls, especially in the realm of speed skating, but Hong maintains that his age may help him in more ways than one.
“For me being young, not everyone knows exactly my capabilities and stuff like that. So there’s definitely some underestimating there,” Hong said. “I can sneak up on people.”
And sneak up he has.
Hong, at 17 years old, was the youngest speed skater at the 2014 Olympic Trials, where he placed 11th overall.
Since then, Hong has won silver at the World Junior Speed Skating Championships. He’s also a six-time national champion in his age group.
Hong said he began skating at 5 years old, when his education in the sport began. He said he has been learning ever since.
“Everyone’s doing the same thing. What can you do better than your competitors?” Hong asked. “Learning who you are in the sport.”
Hong began learning who he was in the sport upon his arrival to America, when he began skating not necessarily to become an Olympian, but just to make new friends.
“And for some reason we knew somebody in the area and they happened to be doing short track speed skating. And it was just another way for us to get to know the community,” Hong said.
Hong has hopes to make it to South Korea not only to prove to himself that he can do it, but to show others who still live there.
Hong’s dad still lives in South Korea, and the skater says having his family there to watch could make the moment even sweeter.
“Just having familiar eyes watch me, I think that’ll definitely give me a spark,” Hong said.
Before this dream can become reality for Thomas Hong, he has to actually qualify for the Olympics. The Olmypic Trials for short track speed skating are in Salt Lake City in December, where Hong plans to sneak up and steal a spot on Team USA.