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U.S. speedskater Thomas Hong (Atholton) ends 'bittersweet' first Olympics with win

Thomas Hong of the United States skates during a men's 5,000 meters short-track speedskating relay heat in the Gangneung Ice Arena at the Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 13.
Thomas Hong of the United States skates during a men's 5,000 meters short-track speedskating relay heat in the Gangneung Ice Arena at the Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 13.(Bernat Armangue / AP)

Short-track speedskater Thomas Hong’s first Olympics didn’t go exactly as planned, but it did end with a victory in his native land.

An Atholton graduate and University of Maryland student, Hong and the U.S. men’s 5,000-meter relay team won the B final Thursday to finish fifth overall at the Pyeongchang Games.

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Hong, JR Celski, John-Henry Krueger and Aaron Tran won the three-team race with a time of 6 minutes, 52.708 seconds, beating Japan and Kazakhstan. With Kazakhstan leading with three laps to go, the United States made its move on an exchange to get back in front and hold on. The Americans, who skated their fastest lap in 8.3 seconds, edged Kazakhstan by 0.083 of a second.

“It might have been a B final, but we still won that race, so we’re incredibly happy and proud,” Hong said.

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

It was the final event of the games for the 20-year-old Hong, who was born in Seoul. Hong, whose family immigrated from South Korea to Howard County in 2001 and settled in Laurel, failed to qualify for the 500 with a third-place finish in qualifying Feb. 20.

The United States finished last week’s 5,000 relay semifinal in third place — behind Hungary, which won gold, and South Korea — to advance to the B final. Kruger's silver in the 1,500 was the only American short-track medal, equaling the showing from four years ago in Sochi.

“We came in here with some high expectations for the relay. Unfortunately, we’re not leaving with a medal,” Hong said. “That bit is a little bittersweet, but at the same time the whole experience of it all has been really great to me.”

Hong also ran into some bad luck. In his 500 qualifying heat, North Korea’s Kwang Bom Jong went down in front of Hong early on, giving the top two skaters a sizable advantage for most of the race.

"It’s really difficult to come back from a situation like that,” said Hong, whose best lap was 8.510 seconds.

“Competing here in Korea has been very special to me,” Hong said. “I just really enjoy the environment. It’s an environment that I’m very familiar with given that my family is Korean. I think that helped me stay in a good mindset throughout the Games, and it’s been a good experience.”

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