NJ speedskater Kimi Goetz on her journey from the Frenchtown Roller Rink to the Beijing Olympics

The Flemington native’s success is part of a grassroots movement to grow the sport in New Jersey

Kimi Goetz had a fairly typical Hunterdon County upbringing—attending Hunterdon Central, working at the Perkins on Route 202, tubing down the Delaware in the summer and devouring dogs from the late great Hot Dog Man. And, of course, birthday parties at the Frenchtown Roller Rink. 

“They have all different options, and you could rent the rink out for two hours and your friends would pick out the music,” says Goetz on the phone from Utah. “I feel like all of my friends had our birthdays there.”

But while skating for the thousands upon thousands of people who grew up playing the corner game in that rink ended when the party did, Goetz kept on gliding—all the way to the Olympics, competing as a speedskater in the 2022 Beijing games.   

“My sister Sam, who is two years older than me, went to a party at the roller rink,” says Goetz. “She made a friend that was on the skate team and she decided to join the team. I decided to join a few years later because my older sister was doing it, and I copied everything that she did, but also because it was easier for my parents to take us to the same place for sports.”

As a teenager, Goetz trained at the roller rink three days a week, with the practices including mock races. Goetz was perfectly happy with inline skating until she took a trip to Utah to visit her sister, who had recently moved there.

“I thought ice was a more intense version of what I was already doing,” says Goetz. “There’s a little bit more excitement added to it compared to inline skating. At the time, many of my friends made the switch to ice skating, and for a while I didn’t have a desire to do ice skating, but then I visited my sister in Utah, and then I realized I wanted to do ice.”

Credit: US Speedskating

After graduating from Hunterdon Central in 2012, Goetz moved to Utah to be closer to her sister, and also to pursue skating more intensely. The experience of leaving Central Jersey was bittersweet, and no matter how hard her parents tried, Goetz couldn’t be talked out of making the move.

After arriving in Utah, Goetz went full speed ahead on her speedskating goals, and the intensity of her training amped up, training for speedskating twice a day, six times a week.

“Every decision you make is whether it’ll help or hinder your performance,” says Goetz.

If you’re a fan of leg day at the gym, you will like speedskating training. Training for speedskating, according to Goetz, consists of 95% legs and 5% core. 

“That’s about it,” says Goetz. “We don’t do any upper body because that’s just extra weight to move around.”

All that training, and the big decision to move out to Utah, led to an opportunity to compete in trials for the 2018 Olympic Games. However, Goetz suffered a concussion during the short track trials that ultimately ruined her chances of competing in South Korea.

Goetz said the experience of getting the concussion was “scary” and “disappointing,” but she was thankful for her medical staff, family and friends for helping her overcome it. After the concussion, Goetz made the transition to long track from short track. 

“Short track you are racing to cross the line first, and the time doesn’t necessarily matter,” says Goetz. “With long track, you are racing the clock and the fastest person wins. You have one other person on the track with you at one time; you aren’t necessarily racing that person, you’re racing every single person. … With short track, I feel like it’s so unpredictable. A lot of times the fastest person will win, but also someone who might not have won wins because the whole field falls. There’s a lot of unpredictability.”

In her new event, Goetz qualified for the 2022 Beijing Olympics, where she competed in the 500- and 1000-meter long track races. Competing in the Olympics was the culmination of years  of hard work, a reward in itself even if the limited crowds due to COVID made the Olympics feel different than usual.

“It was exciting that it finally happened,” says Goetz. “I wish we could have had spectators because my family would have been there. From talking to my teammates who have been to multiple Olympics, they were saying how it didn’t feel like a normal Olympics because a lot of things were missing with COVID. To be honest when I was there, it felt like a regular World Cup.”

Goetz plans on competing for a spot in the 2026 Games, where (hopefully) there will no longer be COVID restrictions, but there are plenty of other competitions for which to train in the meantime—contrary to popular belief, speedskating is a year-round sport.

“It’s more than just the Olympics,” says Goetz. “I’ve had people ask me before, ‘Oh, so you only race once every four years; what do you do in between that?’ They don’t see or understand that we have World Championships every year, and World Cups.”

For speedskaters like Goetz, the training for the season starts in May and lasts until early fall.  October marks the start of World Cup trials, and the selection process for the United States World Cup team. November is the start of the World Cup season, which consists of five different World Cups. The final World Cup, and the World Championships, conclude in mid-March, leaving speedskaters with only a two-month offseason.

Throughout the journey, though, Goetz is grateful for the support she’s received from her family, friends and community. During the Olympic trials, Goetz’s boyfriend and her sister, who are both involved with US Speedskating, were able to watch her clinch an Olympic spot in Salt Lake City, and during the Olympics, her hometown of Flemington held watch parties for her and put up Team Kimi signs around town. The support wasn’t lost on Goetz.

“It was really nice,” says Goetz. “It was really humbling because I finished my 500-meter race and I was pretty disappointed with my performance. Then I had so many nice messages from people that were like, ‘We’re so proud of you,’ and, ‘You did great.’ If these people are proud of my results then I should be too. “

Goetz’s rooting section wasn’t limited to Hunterdon County, extending to all reaches of the state. One of those people rooting Goetz on was Tony Liu and his family full of speedskaters. Liu, a Somerset County resident, is the president of Garden State Speedskating, one of the oldest speedskating clubs in the Northeast, and which won US Speedskating Large Club of the Year in 2019 and 2020.

People interested in speedskating can join, and all walks of life are welcome. The ages of participants in Garden State Speedskating ranges from 5 to to 84 years old. Garden State Speedskating practices a couple times a week at Bridgewater Skating Rink in Bridgewater, Mennen Sports Arena in Morristown, and Richard Codey Arena in West Orange.

Liu got into speedskating as a kid growing up in Northeastern China, where speedskating is viewed with the same passion and love as the NFL in the U.S. His children, Justin and Katherine, both made it to the Olympic trials for short track speedskating in 2021.

The impact of Goetz’s success isn’t lost on Garden State Speedskating and Liu.

“It’s a great example here for the children of Garden State Speedskating,” says Liu. “They can see themselves in the path that Kimi took, and that’s something that is very positive.”

Credit: Garden State Speedskating

But given that the path Goetz took involved her leaving Central Jersey to move to Utah to train, Liu hopes that there will be more opportunities for professional speedskaters to train closer to home in the future.

Both Goetz and Liu hope that the sport of speedskating will grow in America, but there are challenges that remain, like finding coaches, accessing proper facilities and getting adequate ice time.

“We have so many ice rinks in New Jersey, but few Olympic size rinks,” says Liu. “Short track speedskating at the national level requires an Olympic size rink. Everything here is NHL size. I would try to get international teams to train with us at Garden State Speedskating, but we don’t have wide enough rinks and that has prohibited those types of things.”

Liu plans to grow the sport at the grassroots level, and hopes that speedskating will garner more media attention. Goetz says that the addition of speedskating events to the streaming app Peacock has been a huge help in giving the sport attention. Liu wants families and children to know that when the time comes to sign up for sports that speedskating is an option for them.

“When kids are 4 or 5 years old and they start to choose to play sports like ice hockey or football, they need to know there’s another sport available, which is speedskating,” Liu says.