Who is John-Henry Krueger?
Speed skating beginnings
Krueger grew up at the ice skating rink thanks to his mother, Heidi, a figure skating coach. But Krueger and his older brother, Cole, “weren't really the figure skating type and we weren't a huge hockey family either,” Krueger said
But their speed on the ice was impressive even to bystanders.
“The president of the Pittsburgh speed skating club saw my brother racing other little kids on a public session,” Krueger said, “and he somehow, we still don't know how to this day, got our phone number and invited my brother to skate with the team and he loved it. And then two or three years later when I got a little bit older, I followed in my brother's footsteps.”
As the Krueger brothers became more serious about skating, their parents decided they needed to look outside of Pittsburgh for stronger coaching. So they started driving to and from suburban Washington, D.C. twice a week to train with a team there. The drive took roughly eight hours round trip.
At 16 years old, Krueger made the U.S. national short track team and moved to Salt Lake City. His brother Cole made the team soon after, so the two brothers could share an apartment in Utah.
A few weeks before his 17th birthday, Krueger turned in a breakthrough performance at the 2012 World Junior Short Track Speed Skating Championships. He won three medals—silver in the 1500m super final, bronze in the 1500m and bronze with the U.S. men in the 3000m relay—and was the only U.S. skater to win an individual medal at that competition.
Krueger was considered a strong contender to make the U.S. Olympic team for the 2014 Sochi Games. However, he came down with swine flu at the Olympic Trials and skated poorly for the first two days before being diagnosed and withdrawing from the competition.
He said that overcoming the disappointment of missing out on Sochi was one of the biggest obstacles of his career.
“I had to recover in two ways,” he explained. “Physically from swine flu and then emotionally and mentally-- knowing that was I wasn't going to participate in the Games when… I don't want to say I was automatically in, but I had a very good chance of making the team. So recovery from that was emotionally harder than the physical recovery. I think the way I coped with that was just focusing on my legacy in the sport for the next four years and maybe even on after this [2018 PyeongChang] Games, and how I wanted to represent myself and represent the country.”
Krueger earned five World Cup medals during the 2014-15 post-Olympic season, including gold in the 500m at the Salt Lake City World Cup. Then both Krueger and the U.S. team endured a nearly two-year wait for another individual World Cup medal. Krueger broke the drought in late 2016, when he won a bronze in the 1500m, again at the Salt Lake City World Cup stop.
Krueger was named to the U.S. team for the 2015, 2016 and 2017 World Championships, with a best individual finish of seventh in the 1000m in 2016.
At the Shanghai World Cup competition in Nov. 2017, Krueger and his teammates on the U.S. men's relay team set a new world record in the 5000m relay event. With a time of 6:29.052, they broke Canada's record from 2012 by over a second.
The Krueger brothers have become known in the short track world for their willingness to travel abroad in search of top coaches and training programs. John-Henry moved to Seoul, South Korea to train with the Korean National Sport University short track team when he was 20 years old, then moved again in early 2017 to Heerenveen, the Netherlands to train with a Dutch squad.
He said that his travels are “about finding what training regimen I'm more comfortable with and what I think I can thrive in.” He left South Korea, he said, because, “I was looking for a little more individuality in my training and a little bit of a new training philosophy. And the Dutch were very welcoming and very accommodating.”
Cole, four years older than John-Henry, also decided to train abroad and moved to Hungary. But Cole decided to also seek dual citizenship so he could compete for Hungary, the country of his ancestry. John-Henry still competes for Team USA.
“Two years ago, I thought the five [500m event] is my distance. And then, the next year, it'll be the 1000m and then the 1500m. But primarily, my claim to fame has been the 1500m. But that's something I want to change this year. I am an all-around skater... When you're a specialist, that means you're an amateur in some other distance. So I'd like to be a specialist in every distance.” –John-Henry Krueger
Off the ice
Krueger is a devoted fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“It's almost like a requirement to be a Steelers fan if you live in Pittsburgh,” Krueger said of his favorite football team. “I mean, you don't have a choice. You're born and raised.”
Krueger shows his hometown pride by wearing Steelers colors on his uniform.
"With the custom boots and for the gloves, I've been going all black, yellow, black, gold, Pittsburgh Steeler colors... I just want to bring more attention to people living in Pittsburgh that it's possible to be a good skater and come from Pittsburgh."
In his free time, Krueger often listens to podcasts and has a few favorites.
“I listen to lots of podcasts before racing and when I'm in the hotel, in between training sessions, or at the competition," he said. "The three main ones are, StarTalk with Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bill Burr's podcast [Monday Morning], and then there's the Joe Rogan podcast. That's, my main man podcast, the one I listen to the minute a new episode comes up.”