GANGNEUNG, South Korea — If smiles could win gold medals, Jerica Tandiman wouldn't have any competition.
"I can't believe I'm here. It's so surreal," said the U.S. speedskater.
In the Gangneung Oval, Tandiman will be making her Olympic debut as a speedskater for Team USA.
"Every time I walk into the rink and every time I walk into the village … ‘Jerica, you're really here,’" she said.
The Olympic experience has been something the Kearns native has been dreaming of, from practice to team press conferences to getting her nails done.
"Yeah, they pamper us here,” she said.
She remembers her parents taking her to see speedskating events at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. She was 7 years old at the time, but that's when she started dreaming. Sixteen years later, she's an Olympian.
Tandiman has come a long way since she first saw speedskaters in her hometown. She started skating, training at the Utah Olympic Oval in the morning, crossing the street after practice to attend Kearns High School, then heading back to the ice for afternoon training.
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"All the sacrifice has been worth it,” Tandiman said. “I wouldn't change it for the world. I wouldn't change any of my experiences. I wouldn't change any of it."
Now she's on the ice with teammates like Brittany Bowe and Mia Manganello, veteran skaters she watched growing up.
"It's so exciting to share this experience with them and to have them kind of guide me through the experience," Tandiman said.
But as much as she may still be in awe of her teammates, Tandiman also realizes she's now an Olympian herself — and she can hear a little voice reminding her that she belongs.
"Eight-year-old Jerica would probably tell me to go out there and be the competitor I know I am. Race as fast as I can. Get in that competitor mindset, but also enjoy the experience. And always have a smile on my face no matter what," she said.
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