J.R. Celski puts aside thoughts of 4 years ago

January 6, 2014 - 5:04 AM
US Short Track Trials Speedskating

From left to right, the U.S. Olympic short track speedskating team J. R. Celski, Chris Creveling, Eduardo Alvarez, Jessica Smith, Alyson Dudek, Emily Scott, Jordan Malone and Kyle Carr celebrate on the podium following U.S. Olympic short track speedskating trials Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014, in Kearns, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

KEARNS, Utah (AP) — For a brief moment, J.R. Celski thought about what happened before the last Olympics.

When he sliced open his leg and wondered if he'd make it to the Winter Games.

He quickly put those worries aside. Now, he's heading to Sochi — this time as America's best hope at the short track.

"It's hard not to think about it," he conceded. "I had a moment."

Celski won the 1,000 meters at the U.S. Olympic trials Sunday, assuring he'll compete in all three individual events in Russia.

He'll compete at his second Olympics looking to add to the pair of bronze medals he won at the 2010 Vancouver Games, when Apolo Anton Ohno was ending his career as America's most decorated Winter Olympian.

"I've gotten the experience, but this time is completely different for me," Celski said. "Mentally, physically, I'm healthy. I'm going to ride that momentum. I look forward to doing some damage over there."

Celski lost just one race during the four-day trials at the Utah Olympic Oval, finishing second by half a blade length to Chris Creveling in the first 1,000 final on Sunday. Celski came back to easily win the second 1,000 final of the day.

During the trials before the last Winter Games, Celski's right skate sliced his left leg in a crash, spewing blood on the ice. He bruised his femoral artery and came within inches of severing it, which could have been fatal.

He bounced back five months later to make the podium in Vancouver.

But memories of the crash still pop up from time to time.

"Everybody gets those kind of thoughts in their heads," he said. "You've just got to push past them."

Celski will be joined on the men's team by Eddy Alvarez, Creveling, 2010 Olympian Jordan Malone and Kyle Carr. Alvarez became the first Cuban-American man to make a U.S. Olympic speedskating team.

"It's an incredible feeling," said Alvarez, one of seven former inline skaters to make the short track team. "Hopefully we bring back some gold."

Celski and Alvarez qualified for three events — 500, 1,000 and 1,500.

"I couldn't have asked for a better team than this," Celski said. "I'm so happy to bring these guys and go to Sochi and represent."

Malone fell in the quarterfinals of the second 1,000 and withdrew from the ensuing rounds knowing that he had accumulated enough points to secure an Olympic berth. He strained a hip tendon and bruised ribs in the fall.

Jessica Smith won both of the women's 1,000 finals, and she'll skate in three individual events in Sochi. She competed with a small tear in her left hip that she has deferred surgery on until after the Olympics.

Joining her on the women's team are 2010 Olympian Alyson Dudek and Emily Scott. The U.S. didn't qualify a relay for the games, leaving the American women with their smallest squad since the sport was introduced to the Olympics in 1992.

Smith and Scott each will compete in the 500, 1,000 and 1,500. Dudek will skate the 500 and 1,500.

Smith is the only Olympian to be coached by Jae Su Chun, who was accused by a dozen national team members of physical, emotional and verbal abuse in fall 2012. He also was alleged to have ordered speedskater Simon Cho to sabotage the skates of a Canadian rival.

Chun denied all allegations, and other members of the team came to his defense. Chun is serving a two-year suspension through October, but he was allowed to be in the stands during the trials as long as he didn't get inside the racing area. Smith relied on another coach when she was on the ice.

"He's helped my dreams come true," Smith said. "He's stuck by me this whole time, just like I've stuck by him this entire time. It's obviously paid off. I won every distance with his help and I wouldn't be skating at the level I'm skating without his help."

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