Three local kids preparing for the start of the first Winter Youth Olympic Games on Friday in Innsbruck, Austria, realize their participation in the worldwide festival involving more than 1,000 athletes from 60 nations represents a huge honor — and that it will cause each of them to miss a host of mid-term exams. But they know little else for certain about the 10-day event.
Laurel’s Thomas Hong, a short track speed skater, and Rockville’s Rachel and Michael Parsons, an ice dance team, aspire to performances as great as they are accustomed to against youth their age in the United States. They simply have no idea whether that’s a realistic aim.
“Getting a medal is definitely my goal,” said Hong, 14. “Who doesn’t want to win? But I have no clue who I’m up against. . . . It will be a way to gauge my abilities against other people my age.”
The Winter Youth Olympic Games, the partner to the inaugural Summer Youth Olympic Games that took place in Singapore in 2010, will bring kids ages 15-18 to Innsbruck for competition in 63 medal events. Because of the international field, the newness of the competition and the age cap, competitors have little idea of how they will fare.
Hong, a four-time U.S. national champion and reigning U.S. juvenile champion, has earned considerable attention in his age group in the United States, but never competed internationally. The Parsons brother-sister team, the reigning U.S. novice ice dance champs, received their first international assignment from U.S. Figure Skating last fall. At an International Skating Union junior grand prix event in Gdansk, Poland, they finished ninth out of 21 teams.
“It’s definitely a huge step forward,” Rachel, 14, said. “Our ultimate goal is the Olympics. It’s going to be an amazing experience.”
The timing, however, is a bit awkward. Hong, who skates with the Potomac Speedskating Club, is a freshman at Atholton High in Columbia. Rachel is in the eighth grade; Michael, 16, a sophomore at Magruder High in Rockville.
All will be missing a slew of midterm exams while overseas. And the Parsons, who represent the Washington Figure Skating Club and train at Wheaton Ice Skating Academy, will be heading to the U.S. national figure skating championships in San Jose a day after they return home. This will be their second U.S. championships as a skating team after becoming partners early in 2010.
None of the trio is too worried, however. They will make up the missed classwork when they return. Clothed in brand-new Team USA clothes and gear, the three traveled to Innsbruck this week with other U.S. athletes who, like they, qualified with strong performances at designated events..
“I’m a little nervous but mostly excited,” Hong said. “I’ve won national championships before, but this blows everything out of the water.”