Griffin, W-S native, preparing for Olympic Games

Kimani Griffin

Griffin, W-S native, preparing for Olympic Games
June 30
13:00 2021

U.S. speedskater and Winston-Salem native Kimani Griffin is gearing up for a run at his second Olympic Games. With the Olympic trials just over six months away, Griffin and his coach Derrick Speas are heading to Utah to fine-tune his final months of training.

Griffin, a R.J. Reynolds’ graduate, competed in the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, as a member of the 7-man Winter Olympic roster. Griffin finished 26th overall in 2018 in the 500m race.  

Skating became a part of Griffin’s life after attending a school party at Skate Haven. He observed a local speed team practicing and told his mother that was something he wanted to try.

“I told my mom that it looked pretty cool and I wanted to go fast too, so I got me a pair of skates and it kind of snowballed after that,” said Griffin. “I started doing practices full time and ended up going to High Point and that led to junior world championships and competing around the country, and in 2010 I moved to Salt Lake full time to do long track.”

Speedskating is not the only thing that Griffin excels in. He is also an award-winning classical guitarist. At the age of 17, Griffin played a solo concert at Carnegie Hall and soon afterward accepted a full scholarship to Columbus State University for classical guitar.

Griffin was at the top of his game in guitar and skating at the time. In 2010, as he was watching the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games, Griffin saw many of his contemporaries competing at the games and his competitive spirit began to rise. He hung up the guitar and concentrated solely on speedskating.

“I saw a lot of kids that I grew up practicing with and competing against at the games and I missed the world of sports,” he said. “I missed the grind and that dog mentality.”

Making it to the Olympics is no easy task in any discipline. It involves years of dedication and training that many individuals are not built for.

“The actual work being put in is six days a week with two a day from May 1 until the middle of March, so it’s really like 10 months out of the year,” Griffin said about his training schedule. “Our competitive season is from October through March and on top of that, it’s eat, sleep, breathe your craft.”

Griffin fondly remembers his first Olympic experience back in 2018. All of the training and working his way up the international ranks had paid off for him. Griffin says he did feel nervous, but instead was ready to capitalize on the moment because he knew he had done everything he could to prepare for this chance.

“Between guitar and skating and performing, I’ve never really been the nervous type, I kind of like always soaked in that moment and kind of thrived off that energy,” he said. “But honestly, making the team was the first time I felt that what I have been doing my whole life wasn’t necessarily in vain and the world recognized me as being a top tier athlete.

“The most exciting thing was team processing and getting all your gear and fitted for your Olympic ring. And walking out for opening ceremonies was pretty dope.”

While he was on the starting line for his first Olympic race, Griffin says he had the thought that it didn’t feel like the Olympics for him.  

“I was just telling someone recently that whenever I perform guitar, no matter how big the show was, I always felt like I was in my living room practicing,” he continued. “I just felt like I had that tunnel vision and was honed in on what I was doing, and it was the same thing when I was warming up; I wasn’t thinking I am at the Olympics.  It was kind of second nature.”

The next Winter Olympics will take place in February 2022 in Beijing, China. Griffin had been with the U.S. National Speedskating team for the last six years, but chose to work with Speas full time in preparation for Beijing. Speas and Griffin have had an unbreakable bond for nearly 20 years and Griffin looks to Speas as a father figure.

Griffin still feels he has a lot to accomplish in and out of the rink. His approach to taking it one day at a time keeps things in perspective for him.

“I am definitely humbled and grateful for the things that I have done in and out of the sport,” Griffin said about his career. “Honestly, I just take life day by day and try to be better than I was yesterday. And if I can achieve and accomplish more, not only just with the accolades or teams, but as a human, that to me is success.”

In the next Olympic Games, Griffin has hopes of performing better than he did in 2018. His personal goal for the Olympic trials is to become the national champion in the 500- and 1000-meter races.

“Obviously, a medal is something that I am striving for, but honestly, I’d be stoked if I finished top 5,” he said jokingly.

Griffin has had to endure some turbulence in his personal life and he is proud of himself for making it through that journey. He feels the things he learned during his journey will last him well beyond his career.

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Timothy Ramsey

Timothy Ramsey

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