Speed skating has not always been Clare Jeong’s love. In fact, the 16-year-old Annie Wright junior grew up in Tacoma as a swimmer, and began skating at age 9 after some encouragement from her father.
“Initially, I didn’t actually like it,” Jeong said.
It’s a good thing she kept at it. After being named the overall junior national champion at the U.S. Junior Long Track Speedskating Championships on Feb. 1-3 in Minnesota, Jeong recently returned from the World Junior Speed Skating Championships on Feb. 22-24 in Collabo, Italy, where she placed 18th out of 61 female skaters from around the world.
“It was really cool because everybody had worked so hard to get there,” said Jeong, noting she was one of four female participants from the United States. “I knew they were the best…it made me kind of nervous, but at the same time it made me kind of proud.”
Jeong took part in the 500-, 1,000-, 1,500- and 3,000-meter races, placing 16th in the latter with a time of four minutes and 41.67 seconds. That performance came on the heels of her win in the 1,500-meter race at the U.S. Championships in Minnesota, where she also placed second in the 1,000- and 3,000-meter races.
“I felt really lucky and really blessed,” said Jeong of becoming the junior national champion earlier in February. “I wanted to do really well, but I had no true expectation of winning.”
The feats are even more impressive considering that Jeong has had to juggle rigorous training and out-of-state competitions along with a full school schedule.
“It’s been really, really tough, especially this year,” said Jeong, noting that the current skating season has been her longest, having started on Nov. 1. “(My teachers have) made my life so much easier. They work with me really well. If I ever get to the point where I can’t handle it they really help me.”
Adding to the challenge is the fact that while competitions are held on 400-meter tracks, it is difficult to find an equivalent place to train.
“The only tracks that are offered here are 110 meters,” said Jeong, who has been training at the Puget Sound Hockey Center in the Tideflats since she took up the sport. “There are only a few rinks inside the U.S. that are the real size. The nearest one is either Salt Lake City or Canada.”
But through it all Jeong has found a way to excel on the ice and the classroom, sporting a GPA that places her near the top of her class at Annie Wright. Her hope is to continue to skate in college, and she noted that her “dream school” is Princeton, where her sister currently studies.
Jeong wrapped up her current season by competing at the last leg of the American Cup on March 1-3 in Salt Lake City, Utah. With two more years to compete at the junior level, Jeong hopes to continue to make noise on not only the national, but international stage. And what will she do with her free time now that the current season is over?
“I guess I’ll just start training for next season,” she said. “I don’t mind, I enjoy it.”
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