Kristen Santos-Griswold resets short track priorities, aims to handle ‘unfinished business’

Kristen Santos-Griswold (USA) during the 1500m Final A race at ISU World Cup Short Track 1 on October 29.
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SALT LAKE CITY — Kristen Santos-Griswold has unfinished business.

With the 2022-23 ISU World Cup short track speed skating season underway, the 28-year-old Santos-Griswold has a renewed competitive spirit and a new perspective, thanks in part to a very public disappointment at the Beijing Olympics in February.

In third place with just two laps remaining in the women’s 1000m final, Santos-Griswold crashed while trying to move inside on short track legend Arianna Fontana of Italy. Fontana was penalized for a lane change causing contact, and Santos-Griswold finished fourth – just off the podium.

“Ultimately, I felt like a lot of unfinished business in the sport,” Santos told On Her Turf ahead of this weekend’s World Cup stop in Salt Lake City. “I just felt like I’m still improving, and to step away from it (after Beijing) would have just been too hard. I don’t know — I feel like I would have just kind of wasted everything I’ve worked for.”

Santos-Griswold is the most decorated American female short track speed skater in recent years. She has eight World Cup medals to-date, including 1500m bronze from last week’s World Cup stop in Montreal. She had an especially successful 2021-22 season, during which she became became the first U.S. woman to record two podium finishes in a single World Cup event in nearly a decade.

It was that success that had Santos thinking the 2021-22 season might be her last, but the Winter Olympics proved to be a turning point. While the Connecticut native was mentally prepared for the intangible forces beyond her control — the things that make short track, well, short track — Santos-Griswold admits she was unprepared for how the outcome at the Olympics would shake the very foundation of her thinking.

“An aspect of it that can be really hard to handle is this feeling of like, no matter what you do to prepare, you’re never fully prepared, you know?” she says. “Last year especially and in the years leading up to it, I trained so hard. I was like, ‘I ate right… I went to bed at the right time, I didn’t go out every night’… I felt like I sacrificed so much and I did everything right and it still didn’t happen for me.

“That was something that was a little bit hard to come to terms with – and that’s part of the sport – but I think at the same time, that circumstance was something that also motivated me to want to keep skating.”

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An extended break didn’t hurt either. She took some extra time away during the offseason, getting married to longtime partner Travis Griswold, and made the decision to defer graduate school at the University of Utah, where she plans to study physical therapy.

“While I was still training going [into the wedding], I had something else going on outside of the sport,” she shared. “And I feel like that’s a really good thing — to kind of find that balance beyond just training every single day. You go home and you’re thinking about training, and then you go to bed dreaming about training, and then you wake up and go to training, and then you eat a meal based off of how it’s gonna fuel you for training. So, I think it was just so important for me to have another thing to be so passionate about — and to know that beyond skating, there are other things that are important to me.”

Among those things are her two huskies, Koda and Bear, and her teammates, several of whom served as bridesmaids at her wedding.

“It’s definitely a weird atmosphere at short track because it’s mostly an individual sport, but then we have team events, like the relay,” explains Santos-Griswold. “Then also you need each other to train, and you need to your teammates to get better so that you get better. But at the same time, your teammates are also some of your main competitors. …

“But it’s not even that we’re just friends. I really consider them my family. It’s totally a different type of relationship — especially teammates you become close with — because it really is unconditional. No matter what happens, they’re the only people who understand what I’ve gone through, and I’m the only person who can understand what they go through.”

“Kristen is definitely a role model to everyone on the team,” says teammate Julie Letai. “She’s such a leader in every capacity. She’s obviously really fast, and we want to be as good as her, but also her character is really inspiring. She makes sure everyone is included in everything, like there’s no hierarchy or anything… I think I’ve learned a lot from her about how to be confident, but also still be really humble and be there for anyone who needs it.”

As for specific goals as she embarks on this next Olympic cycle, Santos-Griswold aims to keep that new-found balance in check and approach each season as a stepping stone en route to her goal of winning more World Cup medals and perhaps capturing Olympic hardware or even the ISU World Cup short track Crystal Globe, new for the 2022-23 season.

“I think a big thing for this year — and just the next four years in general — is having a different perspective going into racing, finding that right balance between working hard, training hard, but also just enjoying it and enjoying life,” says Santos-Griswold, who already collected her first World Cup medal of the season with a bronze in the 1500m last week in Montreal.

“I think I maybe started to lose sight of that (in the past). I still had fun, but I was so focused on this one goal and that was kind of like the end-all, be-all. It’s a little bit less about that for me now and more about doing it because I want to do it — because I want to be here.”

How to watch the ISU Short Track World Cup in Salt Lake City

Competition in Salt Lake City will stream on Peacock from 4-8:15 p.m. ET on Saturday and from 4-8 p.m. ET on Sunday.

Correction: A previous version of this story used the incorrect name for Kristen’s husband; his name is Travis.

Kaillie Humphries elevates another fresh U.S. face to podium status in two-woman bobsled World Cup

Kaillie Humphries of USA, Kaysha Love of USA in action at the 2 women's bobsleigh during Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games.
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PARK CITY, UTAH – Kaillie Humphries extended her podium streak on Saturday at the IBSF World Cup, where she and U.S. push athlete Jasmine Jones finished third in the two-woman bobsled.

The third-place finish in Park City marked the sixth podium for Humphries at the Park City track, which hosted the 2002 Olympics, and was Jones’ career-first World Cup podium in just her second World Cup start.

“This is our first race together, so really excited about that,” said the 37-year-old Humphries, considered the greatest female driver in history with three Olympic gold medals (2010, 2014 and 2022) and five world championships titles. She earned her 29th career World Cup win on Friday in Park City in the women’s monobob.

“Definitely a work in progress. … The runs weren’t perfect, but I’m really happy with our starts, happy with our drives minus a few little mistakes. It’s a good starting point, and we’ll look to grow from here.”

Humphries and Jones finished with a combined, two-run time of 1:37.69, 0.32 behind winners Kim Kalicki and brakewoman Leonie Fiebig of Germany at 1:37.37. Fellow Germans Laura Nolte and Lena Neunecker were second at 0.23 back.

Kalicki and Fiebig broke a 16-year-old track record with their first run, laying down a time of 48.60 seconds and besting the time set by Americans Shauna Rohbock and Valerie Fleming – the 2006 Olympic silver medalists – in December 2006 (48.73). It also marked the second straight victory for Kalicki, who’s won five career World Cup titles including last week’s two-woman bobsled race in Whistler, Canada.

“I was hoping Kaillie would get [the record],” said Rohbock, who is now a U.S. team coach and was on hand to see her record fall. “That first run there, she had that little skid in the bottom, so that didn’t help, but Kailee’s always putting up a great performance. And Jasmine, another great brakewoman, so we’re really lucky that we have that depth.”

For Team USA, it marked the second straight week that a fresh face earned her first podium finish while competing with Humphries. Last week in Whistler, push athlete Emily Renna and Humphries placed third in Renna’s first-ever World Cup appearance.

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“Being able to race with her was really special,” said the 29-year-old Renna, who was a college track athlete at University of Rhode Island. “It’s really nice to be around seasoned veterans. It definitely makes you feel better in the back sled with you when you’ve got a good pilot who knows the track.”

Renna finished in eighth place in Park City with 12-year U.S. team veteran and pilot Nicole Vogt (1:39.04). Vogt partnered with Jones in her first World Cup last week where they finished seventh in Whistler, 1.33 seconds behind winners Kalicki and German teammate Anabel Galander.

“To have an opportunity to be with Kaillie in my World Cup debut – it’s exciting,” said the 26-year-old Jones, who was a collegiate track and field athlete at Eastern Michigan. “I just feel like I have so much more in the tank to give, and I’m just hungry for it.”

Jones is particularly gratified with her performance after returning full-time to bobsled less than 18 months ago following the birth of her daughter, Jade Quinn Jones, in February 2021. The Greensburg, Pa., native returned to training just five months postpartum, having sat out the 2020-21 season. She competed on the North American Cup last year, finishing the season with a win (the third NA Cup title of her career) and a third place in Lake Placid.

“I’m thankful,” said Jones. “Opportunity is the main thing, and I just feel blessed to have my first World Cup podium. I’m screaming on the inside. I may not show it, but I am jumping for joy because I’m just that excited and happy to have this accomplishment.”

She admits, however, it’s not always easy to compete balance a full-time competitive career with being a mom.

“Sometimes it’s a struggle being away from my daughter,” said Jones, whose mom takes care of Jade while she travels. “I try to get my facetimes in every night and just know that when I’m pushing, I’m doing it for her. Hopefully sometime in the future I’ll have her around on the sidelines cheering me on, and that’s my main motivation – that this is for her.”

The BMW IBSF World Cup continues its North American swing Dec. 16-18 in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Kaillie Humphries faces IVF journey head on — and collects monobob World Cup win along the way

Gold medallist Kaillie Humphries of Team United States celebrates during the Women's Monobob.
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PARK CITY, UTAH — Kaillie Humphries knew the quest to start a family would impact her 2022-23 season, but it’s certainly not slowing down Team USA’s reigning monobob Olympic gold medalist, who captured her first World Cup title in the discipline on Friday.

The 37-year-old Humphries, considered the greatest female driver in history with three Olympic golds (2010, 2014 and 2022) and five world championships, earned her 29th career World Cup win and her third victory on the Park City track, where she won the two-woman bobsled competitions in 2012 and 2016. Competing in Utah – as well as North American World Cup stops in Whistler last week and in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Dec. 17-18 – is one of the reasons that Humphries pushed pause on her journey to motherhood.

“I’m excited,” Humphries said following the win, marking her second straight podium in monobob following a third-place finish last week in Whistler. “I was excited for this year before it started. It’s part and parcel of why my husband and I delayed the IVF process and starting a family this season. To be able to be back in North America and have the first half of the season here – it’s been a long time since we’ve had that, so I wanted to be able to compete and it feels awesome.”

That’s not to say the leadup to this season has been without its share of hiccups. In fact, Humphries admits that following the Beijing Olympics, she had hoped to get pregnant immediately, but she and husband Travis Armbruster had to pivot when a diagnosis of stage 4 endometriosis made it clear that in vitro fertilization would be the best path for pregnancy.

“Right after the Olympics, I was like, ‘We’re going to get pregnant; it’s gonna be all good,’” she said. “I thought, my body has always performed, and it wasn’t going to be an issue. Fast forward to I find out we have to do IVF. We do the first egg retrieval, and it doesn’t go as well as I had hoped — which anybody that’s done this process knows, you can’t control any aspect of it. And so having to do a second round of egg retrieval, …it pushed everything back.”

What’s more, it brought Humphries’ training to a standstill at times, when she would have to limit all physical activity during the three-week period surrounding the egg-retrieval process.

“It impacted my training coming into this year a lot,” she says, “but I also think it definitely reset my hormones, which turns out I needed. I don’t think was a bad thing. I knew coming into this year, I wasn’t going to be in the same shape as I have been in the past, and I had to make peace with that. I know that each and every race I’m racing myself into shape, and each race is a preparation for January’s World Championships.”

Humphries also chose to share her IVF journey publicly, and she’s documented every step of the way, believing that her story makes it less scary not just for her but also for other women and female athletes who might be facing the same thing.

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“My husband and I weren’t sure that we wanted to share it at first,” she admits. “But I felt it was important just to showcase this. I have nothing to hide. And as much as there are parts of me certain days when I think, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ At the end of the day, I know I’m not alone in this.

“It’s important, I do have a voice, and I want other people to know, as an Olympic gold medalist, if it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody. Infertility exists in the female body, and it’s important that I talk about it in my journey and hopefully that’s inspired other people.”

She says she’s received an outpouring of support, which has been particularly gratifying as she continues to put a painful breakup with Team Canada in the rearview mirror. Humphries, who was born in Calgary, competed for Canada for 16 years, winning three Olympic medals including a bronze in Pyeongchang in 2018. But the relationship came to an abrupt end later just five months after the 2018 Games, after Humphries alleged emotional and mental harassment by a former coach.

Winning a gold medal in Beijing just two months after her U.S. citizenship was finalized proved to be turning point for Humphries, who commemorated the milestone with two new tattoos. She first added the date of her win – Feb. 14, 2022 – to the back of her left hand and a larger rose and skull illustration to the back of her right knee and calf, all of which commemorate her triumph over that darker period.

“The skull represents a rebirth and a growth, overcoming challenges and/or obstacles and turning something negative into something positive,” explains Humphries, who says she chose the rose because it’s the national flower of the U.S. as well as a symbol of love won or lost. She notes that she has “an actual Olympic one” planned for August 2024, which is when her favorite tattoo artist is next available.

Humphries has also found the silver lining in her IVF journey, as the competition season has been a welcome break from some of the self-imposed pressure.

“By pushing pause for four or five months and competing, it allowed me mentally to know that we can go into all of next summer and all winter focusing on just doing the actual embryo transfers and having a good pregnancy,” she says. “I don’t feel stressed to try and get pregnant right away. I felt like I was becoming competitive with myself, wondering why isn’t this working? Why can’t I do this? I tried to control too many things, and I started to get really frustrated. Mentally, it was hard. So, by pushing pause, going back to what I know — which is the sport, which is what I love – it’s allowed me to control a little bit of my future.”

Humphries’ season continues Saturday as the IBSF World Cup from Park City concludes with the two-woman bobsleigh.