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Speedskater Kristen Santos Has “Unfinished Business” In Short Track

by Lynn Rutherford

Kristen Santos reacts after competing during the women's 1,000-meter semifinals at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on Feb. 11, 2022 in Beijing.

 

A near-miss at the Olympic Winter Games helps convince some athletes it’s time to move on. For others, it refuels their competitive tank.
Speedskater Kristen Santos counts herself in the second club, but membership didn’t come easy.
“Going into this season, I think I had kind of set my mind to it being my last year, and that was something that motivated and pushed me at every practice,” the 27-year-old from Fairfield, Connecticut said. “It was, like, this idea — ‘It’s one more year.’”
But in February, while racing third in the short track 1,000-meter final — her favorite event — with just two laps to go, a bump from Italy’s Arianna Fontana, later ruled a penalty, sent both skaters flying. Santos’ Olympic medal hopes faded to a fourth-place finish.
“Falling in the last race when you’re in medal position isn’t fun,” Santos said. “That was hard to deal with, and honestly, it’s still hard to deal with.”
Eventually, though, she realized her biggest Olympic takeaway wasn’t disappointment; rather, it was inspiration.
“It was something I went back-and-forth with a lot,” Santos admitted. “It’s tough. But after the season and how the Games went, I still feel like I’m improving a lot, and I realize that I have unfinished business with the sport. I’m not necessarily ready to walk away from that.”
“I think, while I could have definitely medaled in that race if that had not happened, I want to be in a position where I’m almost untouchable, in that sense,” she added. “Where I’m in front and nobody can take me out.”
It’s complicated, though; short track has to fit in with other parts of her life. 
After moving to Salt Lake City to pursue her sport nearly a decade ago, Santos enrolled in the University of Utah, graduating last year with a degree in kinesiology, the study of the mechanics of body movements. She begins work toward her doctorate in physical therapy (DPT) at UoU in May.
“Obviously, I still have some logistics to figure out with that,” Santos said. “It’s something I’m currently doing with my school and my coaches. It seems like they are going to be very lenient in trying to make it work for me, so I’m really grateful for that.”
A DPT typically takes three years of full-time study to complete, with the first year often considered the most grueling. So, while Santos intends to continue training with Team USA, she may need to curtail her competitions next season.
“I don’t know that I will have the ability to leave for weeks at a time for competitions, so it might just be more of a training and building year for me,” she said. “And then, hopefully, the following years I will be able to compete and be back in it like normal.”

(L-R) Julie Letai hugs Kristen Santos after Santos wins the women's 1,500-meter final at the U.S. Short Track Speed Skating Olympic Trials on Dec. 18, 2021 in Kearns, Utah.

 

Note the plural: yes, Santos is shooting for Milano Cortina 2026.
“I think I am in it for another cycle,” she said. “And I’m not giving up on competing (during the 2022-23 season). I’m hoping I can make it work at least for part of the world cup, but we will have to see.”
Santos is also immersed in planning her August marriage to longtime boyfriend Travis Griswold, a fellow UoU graduate. The relationship blossomed in 2018, when Santos competed at the U.S. trials just a month after an opponent’s blades sliced tendons in her hand and wrist during a race. Griswold stepped in to keep her Olympic dream alive.
“I wasn’t sure I would be able to skate at the (2018) trials,” Santos said. “I ended up being able to skate, but with a cast and fresh out of surgery. He had to tie my skates for me and, honestly, help me tie my hair up and put my helmet on, help me dress into my suit.”
In the end, Santos missed out on the 2018 Games by one spot, placing fourth overall at the trials. Only the top three U.S. women went to PyeongChang. But she counts herself lucky in other ways.
“I was so fortunate to have him come to practice with me for the two weeks from leading up to our trials,” she said. “I couldn’t have done it without him … He is just the most supportive person in the world. He will do whatever makes me happy. I’m so lucky to have him.”
An outdoor wedding is in the works, with friends and family — Griswold hails from Wisconsin — gathering in Utah to enjoy a mountain setting. 
Between preparations for the big day, plus her return to school, Santos regretfully bowed out of the short track world championships held early this month.
“(Worlds) were supposed to be held in the beginning of March, and was moved three weeks later,” she said. “With school starting in May, I had a lot of logistics to figure out. I decided to sit this one out … It was a very long season in general and I put all of my energy into the Olympics.” 
Among other details, Santos has just selected the colors of her bridesmaids’ dresses. Three of those attendants will be teammates Corinne Stoddard, Maame Biney and Julie Letai; together, they placed seventh in the 3000-meter relay at the 2022 Games.
“Everyone on the team becomes like family,” Santos said. “We fight all the time, we get along all of the time, it’s all over the place but at the same time, it’s unconditional love and support.
“I think that we’re all the only people that fully understand what we all go through every day, and that creates this unbreakable bond between us all.”


Lynn Rutherford is a sportswriter based out of New York. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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