For most Olympics fans, the Feb. 25 PyeongChang closing ceremonies meant the start of a long, four-year countdown before the next Winter games.
But for Corinne Stoddard, the end-of-show fireworks was more like a starting gun to start training — and train hard — so she makes Team USA for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
The former Bonney Lake High School student started inline skating more than a decade ago when she was six years old, “just for fun,” Stoddard said.
At that age, she never saw herself trying to be the best of the best.
“It’s really funny. If you talk to J.R. Celski and Apolo Ohno and Aaron Tran, they’re all from this area, from the time they were six, they knew they wanted to be an Olympian,” said her mother, Vicki Stoddard, mentioning three previous and current Federal Way members of Team USA that have competed in speed skating. “She didn’t. She never said that, she didn’t talk about going that far with it. She just wanted to go fast and win.”
Even after 10 years of training, she only just realized she might have the chops to compete at the Olympic level.
“In the 2016 Outdoor Nationals, I lapped everyone. I lapped the pack, and I was like, this is kind of crazy. Maybe this might happen,” Stoddard said, referring to her first place wins at the July 2016 USA Roller Sports Nationals competition in the sophomore ladies 1,500 meter, 1,000 meter and 500 meter races.
Stoddard decided to try out for Team USA in long track speed skating, which was held in January in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She didn’t make the team, but that wasn’t too much of a surprise.
“I was the youngest person there. I was 16. And everyone that made it — except for Maame Biney, she was 18 — was over 30. More experience, a lot more ice time and training,” Stoddard said. “Here, I only get three days a week, one-and-a-half hours on the ice. But they get it every day for two hours, three hours.”
But even though she didn’t compete in the 2018 Winter Games, she took the opportunity to learn all she could by watching who she hopes to be her peers compete on the ice.
“I bet on who is going to win, by knowing who they are and I watch how they race — where they started off at and the passes they did, what way they were able to win,” Stoddard said. “It’s a learning experience.”
SKATING TWO WORLDS
Inline skating and speed skating might seem similar, but there are subtle differences that will eventually force Stoddard to focus on one or the other. Brittany Bowe, an Olympic medalist and world-record setter — as well as Stoddard’s idol — was faced with the same choice.
But for right now, she’s enjoying being able to continue her inline speed skating training while she works toward her Olympian dreams for several reasons.
First, inline speed skating is a much more popular sport internationally than in the U.S.
“In Columbia, inline speed skating is like football here,” she said. “It’s crazy.”
Second, the International Federation of Roller Sports (FIRS) holds the World Competition every year, giving Stoddard the opportunity to travel and compete on an international scale annually. She’s made the US team for the last two years, and will be competing again in May to make the team again for the summer competition in the Netherlands.
Third — and maybe most importantly — Stoddard’s hard training in speed skating is expected to pay off in a big way.
She competed last year at the 2017 Nanjing World games. She didn’t place in any of the events she was in, but came close in the 20,000 meter junior ladies elimination with a time of 31:55.887, about 1.3 seconds behind third place.
But the three girls who beat her last year have now aged out of the junior competition, “so I have a good chance of at least getting a medal, if not getting first this year,” Stoddard said.
A championship prize would fit right in with her collection of medals, trophies and plaques Stoddard has accumulated over the last 10 years in national and international races.
And while she’s come far in the world of speed skating, she’s never forgotten her beginnings, and how nerve-wracking her first race was.
“I was seven, and I got third in the first two races, and in the last race, I got fourth,” she said. “I was really upset, because I didn’t think I got third overall. I didn’t know how the points worked. But I got third overall, and I was super excited to get this really tiny plaque — it’s a really tiny little plaque, it’s nothing to me now, but back then, it was the biggest thing in the world.”
A LONG LINE OF CHAMPIONS
Stoddard is no longer a Bonney Lake resident, having recently moved to Tacoma, partly to be closer to where she trains for both ice and inline skating.
You may recognize the name of the inline skating rink where she trains, or even have gone a time or two — Pattison’s West in Federal Way.
The Pattisons, including her coach Darin, have been training world-class skaters at his arena for decades, including Ohno, Celski, and Joey Mantia, who just won three gold medals in PyeongChang.
“I never thought I’d get this far. They were always my role models. I always thought, ‘They’re so cool, I wish I could be like them,’ but I’m starting to turn into them, slowly,” Stoddard said.
Stoddard is currently a member of Pattison’s Team Xtreme, a national inline skating team that Ohno, Celski and Mantia were members of.
“She’s different from other people, other athletes and kids at that age. She’s very determined… dedicated,” said Darin Pattison, her coach of five years. “At such a young age, it’s crazy to see that already going down inside of a girl’s head.”
Pattison added that where Stoddard is now win-wise, she is more dominant in the rink than many of her Team Xtreme predecessors were at her age.
And as for the FIRS World Championship, “If there’s one girl that can bring [the American speedskating team] back to the top, it’s Corinne Stoddard,” Pattison said.