Conor McDermott-Mostowy ʼ24. Photo: Noel Stave Photography

In 2021, Conor McDermott-Mostowy ʼ24 (Washington, DC) was gearing up for the ISU Speed Skating World Championships in the Netherlands, positioning himself for his ultimate goal of competing in the 2022 Olympics. And he was almost there—until norovirus abruptly snatched his chance away. 

This year, the twenty-five-year-old is again preparing for this weekend’s World Championships in Calgary, Canada—with a shift in perspective. 

He’s had a year of what he calls “unexpectedly good skating,” a modest description of his record-breaking 1000-meter race on January 28 at World Cup #5 in Salt Lake City. Having previously finished in the top twenty, he climbed to the top five, his personal best by a wide margin. His final time? Just under one minute and seven seconds—something only three other people in US history have ever skated. 

“It was a career goal that I did not expect to happen that weekend,” he says. 

Though he’s unsure of what exactly led to the breakthrough race, he has a hunch. “I used to feel like everything was dependent upon my  skating results, like being content with my career,” he says. “But seeing the prospect of the Olympics disappear in 2022 made me reframe what’s important—working on doing things for myself, having fun outside of skating, and remembering that skating is not everything in my life.” 

The shift has helped him relax before competitions, something he thinks contributed to his remarkable World Cup time. “I used to be extremely anxious as an athlete,” he says. “But over the last couple years, as I’ve gotten more successful in skating and more confident in myself, I enter competitions with a lot less anxiety.” 

It’s a more-than-useful trait for the upcoming championships. The World Cups are qualifiers for the World Championships, which Conor likens to “the Olympics in non-Olympic years.” The Championships do not determine eligibility for the Olympics, but they’re a sort of stepping stone on the path there. 

With back-to-back traveling around North America for the past couple of weeks to skate, it’s been a busy start to his final semester at Macalester, but he admits that he’s never really had a traditional schooling experience to begin with. There were gap years and rearranged semesters for skating engagements (and not to mention the pandemic) to work around, so Conor has spent most of his time at Mac away from St. Paul, taking equivalency courses at the University of Utah for the past two years. 

Splitting his time and efforts between skating and schoolwork has been a constant challenge, and while he’s looking forward to graduation to focus on Olympic training, he says it’s all been worth it.

“I’ve been skating five days a week since high school,” he says. “There’s been a lot of sacrifices I’ve made to get here. But the opportunity to compete like this is something that can usually only occur within a very small window of your life. I would do it again.”

From a nontraditional education, Conor might also move into a nontraditional athletic career: if he makes the Olympics in 2026, the tentative plan is to retire afterward. For athletes in his field, it would be retiring right at the peak of his career—but the neuroscience major is aiming to attend medical school, something he feels would be incompatible with skating on this level. 

But Conor also acknowledges that his plans have always been “in flux,” so a standout performance at the Olympics could alter his future yet again. However the timeline shakes out, he says he feels prepared for whatever new challenges lie ahead with the lessons that skating has taught him over the last fifteen years. 

“One of the most important factors in my skating success has been a sense of work ethic and the idea that results don’t come overnight,” he says. “Of all my years skating, only four of those have been as an international World Cup competitor, so I am fully aware of the work, commitment, and time it will take to achieve my goals. Anything really good you have to work for.”

Conor will compete in the 1000-meter, 1500-meter, and mass start races at the International Skating Union World Speed Skating Single Distances Championships in Calgary, Canada from February 15–18. 

February 14 2024

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