For short-track speedskater Thomas Hong, the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea in February 2018 will double as a homecoming.
Hong, 20, was born in South Korea but moved to Howard County when he was 4. Part of a speedskating family, Hong picked up the sport when he moved to the U.S. and eventually became an Olympic-level performer. He graduated from Atholton High in Columbia, Md., and now attends the University of Maryland in College Park.
Hong will represent the United States at the Olympics. He is looking into friends and family joining him. Among the family members who reside in South Korea is his father, whom Hong visits during the summer months.
"It just means a whole lot," Hong said on
Glenn Clark Radio
Dec. 27. "There is no other place I would rather compete in for something like the Olympic Games."
Hong is one of eight skaters on the U.S. short-track team. The others are J.R. Celski, Aaron Tran, Ryan Pivirotto, John-Henry Krueger, Lana Gehring, Maame Biney and Jessica Kooreman.
Hong will compete in the 500 meter, an individual event, and the 5,000 meter men's relay at the Olympics. He's had success in those types of events in the past; he won a silver medal in the 500 meter at the 2016-17 World Junior Championships and a bronze medal in the 3,000 meter relay during the same event, according to his
Team USA profile
Especially helpful in Hong's preparation for the Games was his experience with the 2017-18 Short Track World Cup team.
"While the individual distance in the 500 will be a little bit more difficult for me, just getting as ready as possible for that," Hong said. "Fortunately, our team in the 5,000 meters this season, we were able to win one gold medal and one bronze medal in the World Cup, and also set a world record in that process. So as a team, we're feeling really confident about our chances in the relay, and going forward I'm going to do my best to make sure that I'm individually ready for my 500 meters."
Hong has a bevy of international experience under his belt, starting with the 2012 Winter Youth Olympics, during which he won the gold medal in the 300 meter. He competed in the World Junior Championships the past four years, as well. Hong finished 11th at the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, falling short of making the Olympic squad. But he qualified for the 2018 Games by finishing fourth at the trials.
"I guess the first time that I started to believe in myself that I could qualify was actually four years ago at the Olympic Trials for Sochi," Hong said. "I was just 16 years old then and I was the youngest competitor on the men's side. While I didn't have a good overall showing, I was able to fight it out, especially in the 500 meters, and surprised myself and surprised other people. That's when I thought, 'Wow, I was close enough, I think I can really do this the next time around.'"
Hong was essentially born into speedskating. He said his mother was at his sister's speedskating practice when she rushed to the hospital to give birth to him. Hong said he began skating at 4 or 5 and "just wanted to go fast." He honed his trade at the Potomac Speed Skating Club.
Hong is now enrolled at the Robert H. Smith School of Business in College Park. His plan is to continue matriculating at Maryland after he competes in the Olympics.
"Education is very big in our family," Hong said. "I think I can speak to a lot of Howard County residents when I say education's a big part of all of our futures, so I definitely do plan on going back to Maryland as a regular student."
To hear about Hong's scariest injury while speed skating and his favorite food in Korea, listen here:
Photo Credit: U.S. Speedskating/Melissa Majchrzak