It should not be a surprise that local short-track speedskaters are vying to win medals at the Winter Olympics that begin Feb. 4 in Beijing.
There has been a local short-track speedskater in every Winter Games since 2002 — all with ties to Pattison’s West roller skating center in Federal Way. It began with Apolo Ohno (2002, ’04 and ’10), who won a U.S. record eight Winter Olympics medals, and continued with J.R. Celski (2010, ’14 and ’18) and Aaron Tran (2018).
But unlike past years, this year’s local hopefuls are women.
Corinne (Corie) Stoddard, who was born in Seattle and honed her competitive skills at Pattison’s West, is a contender in several events.
Eunice Lee, 17, from Bellevue, was eyeing the 2026 Olympics but beat all expectations by becoming the youngest member of the U.S. team since 1998 and could compete in a relay.
Both skaters’ ice-skating roots can be traced to Puget Sound Speedskating.
Stoddard, unlike Lee, spent years competing in inline skating at roller rinks — just as Ohno, Celski and Tran had — before starting on the ice because it provided an avenue for reaching the Olympics.
Stoddard, 20, grew up looking up to Ohno and Celski and competed for a bit with Tran at Pattison’s West before he moved on to the national team. She takes pride in being the first woman with Pattison’s West ties to make the Olympics.
“It does feel really good because growing up, I was always the girl who was skating with the boys at Pattison’s,” she said. “I would be the only girl in the group racing with the boys. And all my friends were the boys on the team, so it’s a good feeling to be, ‘I am female, and I am just as strong as the male skaters.’ “
But unlike the male stars before her who switched to speedskating on ice, Stoddard decided to do both and also became a world-class inline skater — indoors and outdoors. In 2019, she won the 10K at the World Junior Inline Championships in Barcelona, Spain.
At that time, she was spending six months of the year in Europe competing in inline skating, and the other six months living in Utah and competing with the U.S. short-track speedskating team.
“It goes to show you the talent level she has and the work she has put in that she could go back and forth,” said Darin Pattison, Stoddard’s coach at Pattison’s West.
But with COVID-19 hitting, Stoddard has focused all her attention on the ice the past couple of years, and it obviously paid off. She finished second overall at the U.S. Trials in the 1,500 and third in the 500 and the 1,000.
Stoddard will compete in all three of those events in Beijing, beginning with the women’s 500 meter heats Saturday, Feb. 5. The events will be carried on NBC’s networks and its streaming platform, Peacock.
It was what she dreamed of when in 2018 she left Washington to join the national team in Utah, finishing her high school education online after attending Bonney Lake and Decatur (Federal Way) high schools.
“It was relief,” Stoddard said of her emotions upon making the Olympic team. “Just knowing I had accomplished my biggest goal and knowing all the sacrifices I had made paid off — and finally getting to represent my country in the Olympic Games.”
It’s pretty heady stuff for someone who said she wasn’t very good when she started inline skating in Puyallup at age 6.
“But I really liked to skate,” she said. “I just really enjoyed it and stuck with it and eventually started getting good at it.”
At age 11, she joined Pattison’s West Team Xtream. Pattison saw right away that Stoddard was special.
“You could see it in her eyes,” Pattison said. “She hated to lose and loved to work hard and took it very seriously at a young age. She was just different than the average kid. Very determined, focused and motivated.
“When she was younger, she was a little small for her age. So there was always a girl that was faster than her that she could aim for and target to go after. Once she became the fastest girl, she set her sights on the boys, so she always had someone to compete with and that definitely helped her get where she is.”
Said Stoddard: “Just genetics, the male skaters are stronger than the female skaters. And pushing myself to skate with them, keep up with them and race with them is what really got me stronger.”
Chang Lee, the coach of Puget Sound Speedskating, saw the competitive attributes that Pattison saw when Stoddard joined his ice skating team at age 11.
“Corinne has tremendous mental strength and a desire to win, so she does not give up in any competitive situation,” Lee said in an email.
Eunice Lee took notice of her older Puget Sound Speedskating teammate, saying Stoddard was someone she “looked up to and wanted to be like.”
Lee had a much different route getting to the ice, but like Stoddard, she was not a natural star.
“I only started a sport when I was younger because I had such terrible coordination and my legs were so weak that I would fall down just walking,” she said. “My parents said they needed to put me in a sport so I would be able to run around normally like the other kids.”
Lee, who was born in San Diego, moved to South Korea when she was 4 and began doing rhythmic gymnastics and figure skating. When her family moved to Bellevue when she was 6, her father signed her up with Puget Sound Speedskating because her older brother had joined the team.
“I was doing figure skating and gymnastics and speedskating all at once for a few years before I switched completely to speedskating,” Lee said. “I was just a pretty average skater for quite a while. I wouldn’t say I was way beyond everyone else.”
That eventually changed. In April, she was named U.S. Speedskating short-track development athlete of the year. At that time, she said her goal for 2021 was to make the U.S. junior world team. The Olympics were not even on her radar.
Things began to change in May when she moved to Utah with her mom to join the Short Track junior national program (also called the FAST team). She saw immediate improvement training with other top skaters and working with coach Li Geng.
“She really helped me analyze the parts of my technique that hadn’t gotten a lot of attention before so I was able to fix the way I skated and adjust my technique and form,” said Lee, who is a junior at Newport High School in Bellevue and is attending remotely. “Her programs are really well suited for me. She really matches what each skater needs, and that has really helped me continue to improve and not just plateau.
“Over this past summer and these past couple of months of the fall, I saw so much more progress than I have ever had before in my skating so that’s when (the Olympics) really started to become a possibility for me — a realistic possibility and not just a dream.” Lee said.
By finishing fifth overall at the Olympic Trials, Lee claimed the last spot on the team. The youngest skater at the trials was Eunice’s sister Grace, who is 15 and skates with Puget Sound Speedskating.
Chang Lee was happy to see Eunice earn a trip to Beijing after seeing her excel for years in his program.
“Eunice Lee always had the advantage of being flexible, which made imitating any technique I teach much easier,” he said. “With the hard training in preparation for this competition, she was capable of keeping up with the older skaters and with her technical skating, she was able to maintain her speed while other skaters slowed down at the end.”
Eunice Lee said one of the benefits of making the Olympic team was beginning training with the national team. She would love to compete in the relay at Beijing, but she knows the experience will be very beneficial regardless.
“I just see this as a huge opportunity,” she said. “It will be my first international competition. I know the (other U.S. skaters) are all at such a high level that the experience of training with them will help me become a better skater, so hopefully in four years I can be much better and compete in the Olympics (in individual events).”
For Stoddard, that time is now.
“I feel like it’s not going to actually feel real until we actually go there,” she said. “I know I made the Olympic team and I know I am going to Beijing, but it doesn’t feel real yet. I don’t feel it will really set in until we leave for the Games.”
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