Jonathan Kuck, an Urbana Uni High grad, is going to the Winter Olympics for the second time. A silver medalist at Vancouver in 2010, the speedskater will compete in three events in Sochi, Russia. Staff writer Bob Asmussen caught up with Kuck, who is training in Milwaukee:
When do you leave for the Olympics?
On Jan. 20 or so, I’m going to the training camp in Europe to get used to the time zone. Then, we’ll go all the way to Sochi on Jan. 28 or 29.
What do you have to do between now and then?
Most of the training has been done at this point because I’ve been skating for 13 or 14 years. It’s all about making it as good as it can be. I’m taking a little bit of time off the ice to do some dry-land training to get a little bit fresher for skating on the ice. It will be all about fine-tuning my skating and making it as good as it can be.
How much fun will it be to have your family in Sochi?
It will be great. I always appreciate their support and having them at the competitions.
Who all is going?
My parents, my sister and her husband, her husband’s brother and his wife.
Are they excited about the trip?
I think so. It’s been a lot of planning. Finding a place to live in Sochi has been pretty tricky for them.
What part of the Olympic experience would surprise people?
The things that athletes do are a lot more normal than what people think, it’s just that they spend a lot of time focusing on skating fast or whatever we happen to do as opposed to what other people would focus on.
How is the food?
Last time, it was pretty good. It was basically a cafeteria that was a lot better than a college dorm.
Can you get what you want to eat and when you want it?
It was open all of the time and the meal hours were pretty open. You can at least get snacks whenever you want to.
Do speedskaters eat more like football players or gymnasts?
I guess more like football players. You want to eat a lot of carbs.
What have you heard about where you are staying in Sochi? Five-star digs?
The Olympic Village in Sochi is going to be very compact this year. The dorms are going to be very close to the venues. Roughly a 10-minute walk. In Vancouver, the venues were spread around. It was a 30-minute ride from the Village to the long-track oval. They actually built luxury apartments and turned them into dorms. The kitchens were covered in plywood so we wouldn’t mess them up.
Is it difficult to get enough rest?
I’m skating the 5k, the 1,500 and the team pursuit. Fortunately, those races are spread out very nicely across the Olympics. The 5k is at the very beginning and the team pursuit is at the very end. The 1,500 is somewhere in the middle. There should be plenty of time between races.
What can you say in Russian?
Not very much. I should remember how to say please and thank you, but I’m not 100 percent sure on them. I know “No” is “Nyet.” I think please or thank you is like “Placebo.”
What are your goals?
I want to skate as fast as I can and have fun with it. Hopefully, it will be the best skating I’ve ever done.
You don’t go in thinking gold medal?
I don’t think it’s really beneficial to think, “I want to get a certain placement” because that’s thinking about what other people are going to do. I don’t have any control over how fast they are going to skate. I hope they skate as fast as they can skate and I hope I skate as fast as I can. If I skate as fast as I can, I’ll be happy with it. If it compares well with them, it’s great.
What event outside your sport do you hope to see?
Last time, we were able to get tickets to two events and I went to short-track both times. That’s a lot of fun to watch. Chances are good I’ll do the same thing this time.
Who is your speedskating idol?
Over the years since I started skating, there have been a lot of great skaters from the U.S. I’ve looked up to a lot of them.
There has been controversy at these Games because of Russian policies. What is your take on it?
I try not to get too involved. I’m going there. If you want to speedskate, they are in Russia. It’s not something I’m thinking about.
Do you have concerns about safety at the Games?
Not something I’m thinking about either.
What about the 2018 Olympics?
I think this is probably going to be my last season of speedskating. I’m going to try to do my very best at these Games and then I’ll get to have fun moving on with the next thing in my life. There’s always a chance I’ll skate. But right now I’ve got another two months left to skate and then that’s it. I am 23. A lot of people skate longer.
What is in your future?
I’m not completely sure. I haven’t gone to school very much the last four years. I should be able to finish my undergrad at UI next year and I want to go to grad school after that. I’m majoring in physics, but I think I want to go to grad school in computer science and see where that takes me.