Atholton grad Thomas Hong to return home to South Korea for first trip to Olympics

Thomas Insuk Hong (104) competes in the men's 1000-meter during the U.S.Olympic short track speedskating trials Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017, in Kearns, Utah.
Thomas Insuk Hong (104) competes in the men's 1000-meter during the U.S.Olympic short track speedskating trials Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017, in Kearns, Utah. (Rick Bowmer / AP)

When short-track speedskater Thomas Hong earned his spot at the Olympics on Sunday afternoon, he also received a trip home.

Competing in Pyeongchang will be a homecoming for Hong, an Atholton graduate and University of Maryland student. The 20-year-old was born in Seoul, and was nearly born in an ice rink. Hong's mother, Hang Jung Hong, went into labor while watching her then-6-year-old daughter, Stephanie, learn to skate in Seoul.


Thomas Hong and his family moved to the United States when he was 5, but he secured his return to South Korea this weekend with strong performances at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials.

"I'm tremendously excited [to be competing in Korea]," Hong said. "I'm extremely familiar with Korean culture. I've lived there for parts of my life and I'm excited to go back."


Thomas Hong, a University of Maryland freshman who lives in Laurel and graduated from Atholton High School, has turned a boyhood interest into a calling. Hong was picked to represent the United States at the International Skating Union Short Track World Cups in Montreal from Oct. 30 to Nov. 1 and in Toronto from Nov. 6-8.

Hong started Olympic trials with seventh- and third-place finishes in the two 1,500-meter finals Friday night, followed by fourth- and third-place finishes in Saturday's 500-meter finals.

On the final day, he finished seventh in the first 1,000 final, missing an A final for the first time at the trials. Then he finished fourth in the second final, clinching his Olympic berth because of his overall classification.

Hong finished fourth in the overall classification when the skaters' points from all six rounds of racing were added together, clinching his spot on the five-member men's Olympic team. Ryan Pivirotto claimed the other open spot, joining John-Henry Kruger, two-time Olympian J.R. Celski and Aaron Tran on the team.

Kruger capped off a dominant weekend with victories in both men's 1,000 races. He held off Pivirotto to win the first race and edged Celski in the second.

"I kind of have a reputation for racing down and a little bit poorly at trials," Kruger said. "I normally race better at the international stage, but I was able to transfer my international racing to home ice. I'm very happy about that."

Kruger scored 5,440 points over three days and won at least one of two finals in all three distances. Celski followed with 3,472 points and Tran took third with 3,438 points.

Celski did not finish the first men's 1,000 final after a crash late in the race. He also endured crashes Friday and Saturday.

"I've been dealing with some equipment issues over the past little while," Celski said. "It just kind of came out this weekend and, unfortunately, I took a couple of spills. I had to switch blades. I'm happy I got my spots for the Olympics."

Jessica Kooreman clinched one of the final three Olympic team spots. It's her second straight Olympics after competing in the 2014 Sochi Games.

Kooreman joins Lana Gehring, who competed in the 2010 Vancouver Games, and Olympic rookie Maame Biney on the three-member women's team.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun