Figure skating’s loss was very much Short Track Speed Skating’s gain as far as John-Henry Krueger goes. The PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games 1000m silver medal winner was first introduced to the ice at three years old, but it wasn’t about skintight suits and racing skates at that stage…
John-Henry Krueger 2017 ©International Skating Union (ISU)
“My mum was a figure skating coach,” Krueger laughs. “So we always spent lots of time in the ice rink but my brother and I were not particularly interested in figure skating – we enjoyed watching the hockey.”
Cole Krueger, John-Henry’s elder by almost four years and an international speed skater himself, played a crucial role, from the beginning, in his younger sibling’s elevation to Olympic status.
“We were very competitive as brothers, we liked racing each other in everything we did, whether it was first to the dinner table or first back to the car from grocery shopping,” John-Henry says. “My family got a call from Pittsburgh Speed Skating Club saying they had seen my brother racing other kids on the public session. Then he started racing on the team – he loved it – and then a couple of years after, as I got to the ripe old age of five, I followed him.”
John-Henry Krueger (USA) 2016 © International Skating Union (ISU)
Intriguingly, once the Krueger pair had found their place on the ice, that was it. Even at such tender ages, there was no room for anything else.
“My mum encouraged us at first to try a lot of different sports but she didn’t want us to do a lot of different sports and do them horribly, she wanted us to choose one and be excellent at that,” Krueger explains.
“I have devoted my life to skating so far. You hear people talking about balancing skating with normal, everyday life and I kind of disagree with that. I have put everything into skating.
“I hold myself to a certain standard when it comes to training and performance. And if you truly love something I think there is nothing wrong with putting everything into one basket.”
Such clear-sighted determination has been a hallmark of Krueger’s career and indeed life so far. He may be just 23 years old but the man born in Pittsburgh, USA has already spent large tracts of his time living in places as relatively far-flung as the Republic of Korea, the Netherlands and Hungary.
Sebastien Lepape (FRA) and John-Henry Krueger USA 2017 © International Skating Union (ISU)
And this relentless pursuit of perfection has recently culminated in a decision to switch from racing under USA colours to representing Hungary.
“I want people to remember me for being true to myself. I know that is a little bit clichéd but it speaks true,” he says. “I am always looking for excellence, not caving in to the easy decision.”
So far this approach has paid off, and not just on the ice. Articulate and forthright, Krueger has revelled in the all-round development his travels have provided.
“It gave me huge experience, great life experience, learning people’s different cultures, how they adapt to everyday situations in life,” he explains. “I lived in Seoul for two years. It is my home away from home and I definitely feel homesick.
“I love Korean food. Although, the strangest food I have had is in Korea. This fish stew which has the egg sack of a pregnant fish, fish intestines and stuff. It looks horrifying but it tastes pretty good.”
John-Henry Krueger (USA) 2017©International Skating Union (ISU)
Such intake has certainly not done his skating career any harm. On top of the Olympic silver, Krueger has four World Cup gold, four silver and nine bronze medals to his name so far. Not bad for someone who feels like he is just getting going. At the centre of this skater’s love affair with Short Track lies a belief that the best is yet to come, and not just for him.
“The greatest thing about our sport right now is that it is still in its infancy. It is still changing and evolving,” he says. “As more skaters get faster and more experienced, the racing style changes. It is not static, it is never the same thing over and over again. Every race is different.
“In Short Track one of the number one things that can hamper success is complacency. You have to be willing to improve and adjust your skating style, whether it is defence or going on offence. Obviously I love the sport and when you love something you want to do well at it. When you love what you are doing, work is not work.”
Turning PyeongChang 2018 silver into Tokyo 2020 gold is the ultimate goal for this Short Track obsessive and it would take a brave person to bet against him pulling it off.
Watch Men's 1000m, Medal Round - Short Track Speed Skating | PyeongChang 2018 Replay: