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Olympian credits St. Louis speedskating scene for his start

 Ian Quinn competing in Milwaukee at the Four Continents Championships in 2019.
Thunder Bunny Studios
Used with permission from Ian Quinn
Ian Quinn competing in Milwaukee at the Four Continents Championships in 2019.

After three attempts at qualifying for the Winter Games, Affton native Ian Quinn can finally call himself an Olympian. The 28-year-old heads to Beijing on Thursday to compete in long track speedskating.

Quinn will be racing the Olympics’ newest speedskating event, the “mass start” event. Twenty-four athletes line up at the same start and whoever finishes 16 laps first wins gold. Skaters race against each other, not the clock.

A former short-track skater, Quinn said he much prefers the new mass start events to the timed heats usually used in long-track skating.

“It's just more about whoever's the first person across the line,” Quinn said on Monday’s St. Louis on the Air. “And to me, that's a really clear way of racing. My mind for some reason really latches on to that.”

Quinn switched to mass start after failing to qualify in short track in 2014. He said the longer race better fit his endurance and strength. But in 2018, he finished third and again failed to qualify.

So what changed? Quinn credited his new coach, Gabriel Girard, who adjusted his training regime in Salt Lake City, Utah.

“With my ability to race and then him getting me the ability to finally have that world-class engine, it really took off for me,” Quinn said.

A graduate of Lutheran High School South in Affton, Quinn started speedskating when he was just 8 years old.

 A young Ian Quinn strikes his best speedskating pose for a Gateway Speedskating Club portrait.
Ian Quinn
A young Ian Quinn strikes his best speedskating pose for a Gateway Speedskating Club portrait.

“Like most young skaters at that age, his ankles were bent and his arms were flailing and he'd fall but get right back up. At that time, I wasn't sure we had much hope for him,” Quinn’s childhood coach Russell Owens joked.

Even so, early on, Quinn found he liked the adrenaline rush that comes with racing on ice. During his years in the Gateway Speedskating Club, Quinn’s work ethic and focus made him stand out — and, in sixth grade, set a national record for his age group.

“A lot of kids come out there and want to play, but Ian was focused on learning to race and race fast,” Owens recalled.

The payoff came 20 years later when Owens witnessed Quinn win his Olympic qualifying race in Milwaukee earlier this month.

“To be perfectly honest, I had tears in my eyes when he crossed that finish line,” Owens said.

Quinn isn’t the first speedskating Olympian from St. Louis; he’s the 14th. The region has a long history of speedskaters. Beginning in 1968, at least one St. Louis speedskater has qualified for every Winter Olympics, with 2018 as the only exception.

Quinn is pleased to pick up that mantle. He said he’s focused on staying healthy, living in a bubble with teammates and taking a daily COVID-19 test. If he were to test positive too close to his Olympic debut, he would have to withdraw from the race.

“It's been a long road to get to this point and a lot of stress with the current COVID situation,” Quinn said. “But it seems like everything's going according to plan.”

You can watch Ian Quinn compete at speedskating semifinals — and potentially finals — Feb. 19 on NBC. 

St. Louis Olympian hopes to take home speedskating medal

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Kayla Drake. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Kayla is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.