Speed skater Kristen Santos accomplishes what no U.S. woman had in a decade

2021/2022 ISU World Cup Short Track - Day 2
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Kristen Santos entered this short track speed skating season focused on making smart moves, as she told TeamUSA.org.

The 26-year-old was off to a fast start with accomplishing that goal as she earned two bronze medals at this weekend’s season-opening World Cup in Beijing.

The last time an American woman won two medals at a single World Cup – or even across a World Cup season – was in February 2012 when Lana Gehring won both the 1000 and 1500m races in the Dutch city of Dordrecht.

Held in the Capital Indoor Stadium, this season’s first World Cup competition also served as the Olympic test event for the upcoming Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. The results bode well for what Santos hopes will be her first Olympic appearance.

Santos has already been the top American this Olympic quadrennial – winning her first individual World Cup medal in November 2019, finishing fourth in the 500m at the 2021 World Championships and setting both the 1000m and 1500m American records – and further cemented herself in that position.

On Saturday, the first day of finals, Santos was second in both her 1500m quarterfinal and semifinal. Then she was third in the final, thousandths of a second from gold and silver.

Yubin Lee of Korea won in 2:21.833, with reigning overall world silver medalist Courtney Sarault of Canada crossing in 2:22.167 and Santos at 2:22.176.

Santos received a penalty in her 500m heat that day.

On Sunday, she won her 1000m quarterfinal, was second in the semifinal to reigning Olympic and two-time world champion Suzanne Schulting of the Netherlands, then took bronze in the final behind Schulting and Korea’s Jiyoo Kim. Less than a second separated those three and Italy’s Arianna Fontana, an eight-time Olympic medalist.

Also Sunday, Santos was part of the women’s 3000m relay team that finished fifth with a B final win and set a new American record.

2018 Olympian Maame BineyJulie Letai, Santos and Corinne Stoddard lowered the record from 4:08.408, which had stood since 2016, to 4:08.014 in Saturday’s semifinals. In the B final, they broke that one by nearly three seconds, going 4:05.302.

That team is trying to qualify the U.S. for the Olympic women’s relay for the first time since 2010.

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Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

Kendall Gretsch

Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

Kyle Smaine

Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”