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Fairfield native Kristen Santos makes her first Olympic team—by choosing the harder way

Kristen Santos wipes away tears after winning the Women's 1500 meter final on Day 2 of the US Short Track Speed Skating Olympic Trials at Utah Olympic Oval on December 18, 2021 in Kearns, Utah.
Alex Goodlett/Getty Images
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Kristen Santos wipes away tears after winning the women's 1,500-meter final on Day 2 of the U.S. short track speedskating Olympic trials in Utah on Dec. 18, 2021.

Fairfield native Kristen Santos is going to her first Olympics: the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.

Santos won the 1,500-meter event at the U.S. short track speedskating Olympic trials on Dec. 18, which allows her to represent Team USA in multiple speedskating events at the Beijing Games.

“I wanted to feel like I earned my spot through Olympic trials,” Santos said.

Santos had “medal contender status” and a doctor’s note for an injured ankle, which meant she didn’t have to compete to make the team. Still, she gave up an automatic bid to get to the Olympics a harder way.

“I wanted to go through the experience, I had family coming in and all of that,” Santos said. “So I decided to race, and obviously it worked out pretty well.”

She won the race.

Kristen Santos leads the Women's 1500 A final during day 1 of the US Short Track Speed Skating Olympic Trials at the Utah Olympic Oval on December 17, 2021 in Kearns, Utah.
Alex Goodlett / Getty Images
Getty Images North America
Kristen Santos leads the women's 1,500 A final during Day 1 of the U.S. short track speedskating Olympic trials in Utah on Dec. 17, 2021.

2022 will be quite the year for Santos. She’s getting married, and she’ll become an aunt to her sister’s newborn baby in addition to competing in her first Olympic Games.

Her recent performance at a World Cup event has boosted her confidence ahead of the Games.

“Something that I’ve been focusing a lot on is how I can prepare myself for the situations I was in,” Santos said of her learning experience competing in the trials.

“When I’m at the Olympics and something similar happens, I know how to handle that,” Santos said.

The mental health aspect

The Summer and Winter Olympics are typically separated by two years, but because of the pandemic, they will happen just months apart. Mental health dominated the Olympics last summer, when American gymnast Simone Biles brought the topic to the forefront of coverage after she withdrew from the team gymnastics finals at the Summer Games in Tokyo.

Santos said the withdrawal showed just how strong Biles actually is. “I saw Simone Biles as this untouchable human being,” Santos said. “In my mind, nothing could bring her down. Nothing can get to her. What Simone Biles did was amazing.”

Santos said Biles inspired her to focus on her own mental health ahead of her speedskating races.

“I get really nervous. I tend to doubt myself,” Santos said. “I tend to put other people on this high pedestal that I’m against and put myself on a low one. It can be really draining.”

Santos said a previous Olympic trials experience, where she had nothing to lose, gave her a mental edge. She’d been cut from the team after suffering an injury and didn’t believe she’d be able to compete in those trials. But she did despite needing a hand cast.

This time around, she won at trials and earned her spot on the U.S. Olympic team. In Beijing, Santos will compete in several short track speedskating events: the 500-, 1,000- and 1,500-meter races and two relay events.

Frankie Graziano is the host of The Wheelhouse, focusing on how local and national politics impact the people of Connecticut.

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