Jessica Kooreman, who competed at the 2014 Sochi Olympics under her maiden name, Smith, dominated the world of inline skating before switching to short track in her early 20’s. Now 33 years old and a two-time world championship medalist, Kooreman will likely be the veteran member of a young team of the U.S. women’s short track squad competing in PyeongChang.
Speed skating beginnings
Kooreman started skating early thanks to her parents.
“My father Rick grew up racing on roller skates and enjoyed the sport,” Kooreman said. “My mom also skated in her early teens. She wishes she had started earlier, and so by the age of one she put me on skates and I haven’t looked back since.”
By two years old, Kooreman was already competing in roller skating races under her father’s coaching. Her mother encouraged her to pursue other activities, so Kooreman also participated in ballet classes, modeling and children’s beauty pageants. But after a few years, Kooreman’s mother told the six-year-old that she had to make a choice.
“I started getting floor burns on my knees,” Kooreman said. “And my mom was like, ‘You need to keep wearing your knee pads,’ and I was not wanting to wear knee pads. And she’s like, ‘Well, it’s knee pads or modeling. You have to choose.’ And I’m like, ‘I’m not wearing knee pads, so I guess I’m done modeling.’”
Kooreman earned sixteen inline skating world titles, and hoped that if she waited long enough the sport would be added to the Olympic program. But by 24 years old, she realized that switching sports might be her only path to the Olympics.
She tried long track skating first, but decided short track speed skating was more her style because she disliked long track skating’s time trials. She switched full-time from inline to ice skating in 2008, made her first national team in 2009 and was chosen as an alternate for the U.S. Olympic short track team at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games.
“Getting to the point of making this transition and realizing that I’m starting completely over at 24 years old… you know, that’s even harder to give everything up and to say, you know what, I’m gonna have to re-climb this ladder, and I’m older now, and is that possible?”
After getting a late start in the sport of short track, Kooreman didn’t make her first world championships podium until she was 28 years old. She helped the U.S. women win a silver medal in the 3000m relay at the 2012 World Short Track Speed Skating Championships.
Two years later, Kooreman proved she was the U.S.’ top female short track skater when she won all three individual events at the 2014 U.S. Olympic Trials.
At the Sochi Winter Olympics, her best finish was fourth in the 1000m.
“Being fourth at the Olympics is interesting,” she said. “You know, it’s kinda sweet. I joke about it because on one hand, I’m very proud to be fourth at the Olympics. That’s something that I take to heart… And I have no regrets with how I raced. But then on the other hand, I joke about how I got copper, and they don’t give a medal for copper. Nobody gets a medal for fourth, and everyone remembers one through three. So it’s definitely something that’s motivated me to keep going, mainly because I felt like I accomplished fourth at the Olympics after not really being on short track as long as a lot of the others have.”
Kooreman won her second world championship medal a few months after the Sochi Games when she finished second in the 3000m (a distance which is raced at the Olympics) at the 2014 World Championships. She also competed at the 2015, 2016 and 2017 Worlds, but didn’t pick up any additional medals.
Kooreman can often be distinguished from the short track pack by her helmet, which features the head of a bald eagle over an American flag background.
“I actually tried long track [speed skating] for a little bit to give that a chance, and I just did not have fun doing it. I don’t like time trialing, and in my sport of short track, we compete, we race, we’re jostling for position. And I just enjoy being out there and competing against people and having the best strategy, and seeing how it might not be the fastest, but the smartest that wins. Or it might be the fastest that wins that day. You just never know.” –Jessica Kooreman
Off the ice
Kooreman has been married to Mike Kooreman, a retired short track skater, since 2015. They met at a World Cup competition in Russia, and had their first date in Germany on Valentine’s Day. Mike currently works as the program manager for the U.S. long track speed skating team, and will be their team leader at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.
The Kooremans live in Salt Lake City, Utah with their Jack Russell terrier, Hurley Bean, and their roommate, Olympic speed skater Brittany Bowe. Kooreman and Bowe were roommates before Kooreman and Mike married, and say that their house is like “Three’s Company.”
Kooreman found time amidst her training to earn her real estate license in Utah.
“I use my occupation to fund my athletic career and will continue with it after I have retired from speed skating,” she said. “Having a balanced work and athletic career is almost impossible at times due to the training that is required in my sport. We spend 6-8 hours per day training, which leaves very little time for my occupation. I have to push myself in my work with the same enthusiasm and drive that I put towards speed skating. It takes a lot of self-discipline to manage both.”