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Peters Township Native Wins Silver Medal in Speed Skating

After swine flu kept him from competing in Sochi in 2014, short track speed skater John-Henry Krueger finally won a spot on the podium at the Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang.

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When John-Henry Krueger arrived in Pyeongchang, some 7,000 miles from Peters Township, he felt right at home. The short track speed skater recently spent two years training — and developing a taste for the cuisine — in South Korea. It paid off Saturday when he won a silver medal in the 1,000-meter short-track speed skating. He is the first American man to win an individual short-track medal since the winter games in Vancouver.

Though he is rarely recognized in the United States, the 22-year-old Peters native is the equivalent of an NFL pro in South Korea, with fans stopping him in the streets.

“He gets letters on stationery from little girls. They draw a picture of him skating and write, ‘I just want you to know you are my favorite player,’’’ says his mother, Heidi, a competitive skating coach who works at the Mt. Lebanon Ice Center.

Coming to the Olympics was a long time coming for the short track star, who missed out on the Sochi games in 2014 because he contracted swine flu during the trials. He excelled at this year’s team trials, winning the men’s 500-meter, 1000-meter, 1500-meter and overall.

Of course, there are no guarantees in the unpredictable sport, where skaters zoom around tight curves at speeds of more than 30 mph and collisions are common. His first event, the 1,500-meter semifinals, ended in disappointment when Krueger was eliminated; officials ruled he impeded another skater.

But Krueger was philosophical. “Good call, bad call whatever it may be. I will not let last night’s disappointment define the rest of my Olympic experience. Last night only reconfirmed that I can compete with the best in the world,” he tweeted. 

Krueger went onto win his heat in the 1,000-meter Tuesday morning, squeak by a tough quarterfinal before pulling off a great race in the final.  “The most important thing in short track is just keeping our composure and calm," he said. “The quarterfinal definitely wasn’t my best race. After the quarterfinal, I decided with my coach and with myself mentally that I needed to stay up front and be confident in what I’ve been training for and it ended up paying off.

“All the skaters in that race deserve to be there. They’re the best of the best. It’s definitely harder physically to be up front, but it’s what needed to be done.”

Krueger, who trained most recently in the Netherlands, lives a spartan life to pay for his training, which has cost his parents thousands of dollars and prompted him to start a GoFundMe campaign.

“He sleeps with a mattress on the floor with two towels, two plates, no Internet,” his mother says.

He grew up traveling to train with elite coaches. Beginning when he and his older brother, Cole, were in elementary school, his parents would drive the 8-hour round trip to Washington, D.C., so that both boys could train, the boys sleeping in the car on the way home. (Cole competes for the Hungarian team but is not at the Olympics.)

But all the travel and sacrifices  paid off. “Besides getting the Olympic medal, I think the second-greatest thing is knowing that all the decisions I made leading up to these Games were right. There was a lot of moving, lots of hard decisions to make. But I’m on the podium.”

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