Tran was penalized after judges ruled he interfered with another skater during the qualifying round in the 500 meters. He said he gave it his all, enjoyed the Pyeongchang games — and has his eye on 2022.
GANGNEUNG, South Korea — An encouraging Olympic debut came to an unexpected end for Aaron Tran on Tuesday after the Federal Way native was penalized in the qualifying round of the men’s 500-meter short-track speed-skating competition.
In third place during the second of 4½ laps, Tran, 21, lost speed while trying to cut inside on then-leader Dajing Wu of China. As Wu also moved inside, Tran was forced to slow down, causing what judges ruled an interference with Australia’s Andy Jung behind him.
“It was bad luck to get caught there,” Tran said after Tuesday’s race. “I’m disappointed, but that’s just the nature of short track, especially in the 500. Anything can happen.”
Wu finished first in Tran’s preliminary heat — the first of eight such qualifying runs on Tuesday — and Poland’s Bartosz Konopko finished second to qualify for Thursday’s quarterfinal round. Like Tran, U.S. skaters John-Henry Krueger and Thomas Hong also failed to qualify in Tuesday’s 500-meter preliminary heats, leaving the Americans without a participant in Thursday’s quarterfinals. The U.S. men’s 5000-meter relay team — which included Tran and fellow Federal Way native J.R. Celski — last week fell short of qualifying for Thursday’s A-final.
Tran completes his first Olympics with a 12th-place finish in the men’s 1,500-meter race, his best-ever international finish in that event. But in addition to Tuesday’s shortcoming in the 500-meter event, Tran also failed to help the four-man U.S. relay team, which set a world record just three months ago, qualify for Thursday’s medal round.
Despite that, Tran said he’ll walk away from this month’s Olympics having left as much as he could on the ice.
“No regrets. I went out there and competed,” he said. “I did the best I could and unfortunately it wasn’t enough this time.”
Krueger, 22, was the only U.S. men’s short-track speed skater to advance to an A-final. He won silver in the 1,000-meter event on Feb. 18. But Tuesday’s unexpected finish — last place in his four-man preliminary heat — left a bitter taste.
“Not how I think any of us wanted to end the individual events,” Krueger said.
For Celski, a three-time Olympic medalist who made his third appearance in the Winter Games this month, the Pyeongchang results were disappointing, he said last week. A silver medalist in the relay event at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi and bronze medalist in both the relay and 1,500-meter event at Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Games, Celski, 27, did not advance past qualifying rounds in either of his two individual events this month. After skating for the world-record relay squad at a World Cup event in Shanghai last November, Celski will skate for fifth place with the U.S. team in Thursday’s B-final.
While Celski’s Olympic future remains uncertain, Tran said he’s aiming to again represent the United States in Beijing’s 2022 Winter Olympics.
“This was a great experience and I’ve really enjoyed it,” he said. “But I’m young and I know I can keep getting better.”