Besides all the members of team USA, we will have someone extra special to root for in the Winter Olympics this year. The games, which kick off on February 9 in PyeongChang, South Korea, will include University of Maryland student and speedskater Thomas Hong of Laurel.
Hong, who was born in Seoul, South Korea, will be traveling back to his home country as the youngest male short-track speedskater on team USA. The 20-year-old finance student is no stranger to competitive speedskating. He’s competed in four World Championships, as well as the 2012 winter youth Olympic games, where he won a gold medal as part of the 3,000-meter-relay team.
As sports fans gear up for the opening ceremonies this week, here are a few things to know about Hong, the Olympiad.
His love for skating began really early.
Hong was a natural on ice skates by the time he was 4. Although, if we want to get technical, his mother went into labor at an ice rink during his sister’s speedskating practice in South Korea. It’s safe to say he couldn’t wait to hit the ice.
Now, after an unsuccessful try at the 2014 Sochi winter games, he is geared up to compete in his first Olympics. After putting his studies on hold after his freshman year to focus on his sport full-time, he moved to Utah to train with the U.S. national team.
“This is something he has been working towards his whole life,” said his girlfriend, Jenna Hong. “He has so much passion for the sport. Just knowing how far he’s come is unbelievable.”
He’s a perfectionist.
Short-track speedskaters can reach speeds topping 30 mph, but Hong is always trying to find ways to shave time and go faster.
"I use video as a tool to not only engage how I'm doing, but also how my teammates and my competitors are doing to understand their tendencies," Hong said to UMD’s The Diamondback. "In a sense, by watching a lot of film, I study the sport and try to apply it to myself."
Even his coaches can speak to his dedication. When he’s not on the ice practicing, he’s studying. After each practice, the coaches upload the film for the athletes to go over.
“Thomas studies video more than probably anyone I can think of,” said Anthony Barthell, the U.S. short-track coach, to The Washington Post. “If he can sit down and look at videos 24-7, he would be in front of a TV or laptop just watching videos.”
He has other talents besides skating really fast.
Hong loves to cook and actually took culinary courses while attending Atholton High School in Columbia.
“He looks forward to cooking for me every time I come to visit him in Utah,” Jenna said. “He makes a really good chicken Parmesan, but he loves breakfast food. He eats it all the time.”
He also played the French horn, piano, and drums as a kid—and is fluent in Korean (naturally). He’s also an avid reader, according to his girlfriend, who said he reads every night before bed.
He binge-watches TV just like us.
Between classes, practice, and studying film, he likes to binge on Parks and Recreation and The Office.
He also happens to really like hip-hop, specifically Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar—maybe the latter is where he gets his motivation to stay humble.
“He would never bring up skating in conversation,” Jenna said. “He never makes anyone feel like what they have going on isn’t important. He’s really humble—it’s my favorite thing about him.”