Winston-Salem’s Kimani Griffin ‘blessed’ with Olympic experience

Another North Carolinian, High Point's Heather Bergsma, helped the U.S. advance to the semifinals of the women's Team Pursuit event

Winston-Salem native Kimani Griffin of the U.S leads Artyom Krikunov of Kazakhstan around a turn during the men's 500 meter speedskating event at the Pyeongchang Olympics on Monday (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

Kimani Griffin’s Olympic debut Monday resulted in a 26th-place finish in the men’s 500-meter speedskating event in Pyeongchang.

While the result wasn’t as good as he would have liked, the experience of performing on his sport’s biggest stage was everything the Winston-Salem native hoped it would be.

“I’m blessed to be here,” Griffin told after his only competition of the Games. “I felt like it was a decent race. I’m not super pumped on a couple things but I’m not walking away from the race too sad.”

Skating in the second of 18 pairings, alongside Artyom Krikunov of Kazakhstan, Griffin recorded a time of 35.39 seconds — only slightly slower than the 35.26 he posted at the Olympic Trials in Milwaukee in December to qualify for the U.S. team.

He was the third-fastest American in Monday’s race. Mitchell Whitmore finished 15th with a time of 35.13. Jonathan Garcia was 23rd in 35.31.

Despite being 27, Griffin is a relative newcomer to long track speedskating. A former inline skater who transitioned to ice after moving to Salt Lake City, he didn’t become a member of the U.S. World Cup team until 2014.

He is also an accomplished classical guitarist who played at Carnegie Hall in New York as a teenager before accepting the prestigious Woodruff Scholarship to the Schwob School of Music at Columbus State University.

While Griffin came to Pyeongchang with low expectations, fellow North Carolinian Heather Richardson Bergsma arrived with high hopes for a medal.

Although her individual results have been a disappointment thus far — with eighth-place finishes in the 1,000 and 1,500 meters, in addition to an 11th in the 500 — she finally enjoyed some success in the women’s Team Pursuit event Monday.

Skating with teammates Brittany Bowe and Mia Manganello, Bergsma helped her team advance into the semifinals with season-best time of 2:59.75 to edge China by 0.26 seconds for the final advancement spot. One of only four teams still in contention for medals, the fourth-seeded U.S. will face top-seeded Netherlands in the semifinals on Wednesday.

Bergsma also has one individual race remaining, the newly created mass start event on Saturday.