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.