Kristen Santos (USA) broke through in Nagoya for her first individual ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating medal, claiming bronze in the Ladies’ 1000m.
Suzanne Schulting (NED), Noh Ah Rum (KOR) and Kristen Santos (USA) at the ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating (JPN) 2020©International Skating Union (ISU)
Santos is hoping it will be the boost she needs to keep mixing it with some of her idols in the sport.
“They’re all really, really talented and they’re people that I’ve looked up to for years now, so just to be able to compete with them is an honor,” she said of her peers.
“That’s definitely something that I need to work on – not being intimated by the names of the people on the start list with me. Just having that confidence and boost will definitely help.”
Santos finished fifth in the Ladies’ 1000m twice in the 2018/19 ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating season, in Salt Lake City and Dresden, and pushed herself so hard ahead of the 2019/20 campaign she suffered a herniated disc in her back.
“I trained really hard last summer and then ended up injured. So I just took a month off right before World Cup (Salt Lake City) and (Montreal),” she said.
Kristen Santos (USA) at the ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating (GER) 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
“So I didn’t exactly know where I would be at, going into the last World Cup season after that, but I was really excited to know that I was even better than I was before, even considering the injury.”
It’s that work ethic and attitude towards her sport, as well as her demeanor and personality, that make her a USA team favorite, and coach Wilma Boomstra’s eyes lit up when praising Santos last season in Nagoya.
Kristen Santos (USA) at the ISU Four Continents Short Track Speed Skating Championships 2020©International Skating Union (ISU)
“She made a big jump and she was starting to make A finals and she had never even got out of a semi (-final) before,” Boomstra said.
“So the improvement was there the previous season, but it was good enough for B final, A final, but it wasn’t good enough to medal yet.
“Then last summer she just killed it in training – it was unbelievable. We had some international skaters who are at the top of the world rankings, and they were training with us, and Kristen, we call her ‘Puff’, she was killing it in training.
“And then she got injured. It was really bad, so she missed a lot of training. And then she came back and was just getting back into it again, and within the last week-and-a-half of training, right after Montreal, she was getting a lot of strength and I knew she was going to do well, but I didn’t think she was going to do that well.”
Boomstra is somewhat of an idol for Santos too, being the reason she discovered the sport.
Wilma Boomstra at the ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating (CAN) 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
“I started Figure Skating when I was three and I actually saw a Disney Channel commercial for Speed Skating, and it’s kind of funny because Wilma, our coach, was in it,” Santos said.
“It was her when she was coaching the California team and I was in Connecticut and it was just one of those commercials that were like, ‘This is my sport, what’s yours?’ type of thing.
“So then I begged my mom to go and then (after) a year of begging her I finally started it up.”
And the nickname ‘Puff’?
“It’s really not a cool story,” Santos said with a wry smile.
“It was just my first year in Utah (training with the USA team), the first spring I had there, I started breaking out in hives every day and so we assumed that I was allergic to something in Utah.
“And I went to practice one day and my face was all swollen, so I started getting called ‘Puff Daddy’, and it just stuck and everyone calls me Puff now. There are literally people who don’t know what my real name is, they just know me as ‘Puff’.”
With more performances like in Nagoya, that’s something that is surely about to change.