TEAM USA ON THE PODIUM
Over the years, speedskating has been the biggest contributor to the United States’ medal count at the Olympic Winter Games. Entering the Sochi 2014 Games, U.S. speedskaters have won 85 medals, a number equaled by no other winter sport for the United States. Since 1992, when short track made its official debut in the Olympic program, the United States has won 18 short track medals. The best year came at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, when Team USA won six short track medals.
THE OHNO FACTOR
|Apolo Anton Ohno holds up eight fingers to signify his tally of Olympic
medals after the men's 5,000m relay final at the Vancouver 2010
Olympic Winter Games on Feb. 16, 2010 in Vancouver, Canada.
For the first time since 1998, the U.S. Speedskating Team will arrive at an Olympic Winter Games without Apolo Anton Ohno. An eight-time Olympic medalist, making him the most medaled U.S. athlete at the Winter Games, Ohno plans to work for NBC at the Sochi Games. Ohno won two gold, two silver and four bronze medals in three Winter Games, including one silver and two bronze in Vancouver. His post-Olympic career has included “Dancing with the Stars.” Beginning June 25, he will host the TV show “Minute to Win It” on the GSN.
J.R. Celski’s Olympic journey toward Sochi began in 1994, at age 4, when he began roller skating with his father and older brothers at Pattisons West Roller Rink in Federal Way, Wash. He would eventually transition from inline skating to ice speedskating. He counts walking into the Opening Ceremony at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, not far from his hometown, among his career highlights. When Celski hits the ice in Sochi, it’ll be 20 years to the time he first laced up roller skates as a kid. And he is among the brightest U.S. hopes now that Ohno is retired from Olympic competition. Celski won two bronze medals in Vancouver and is a five-time World Cup medalist at 1,500 and also at 1,000 meters. In 2012 he broke a world record at 500 meters in World Cup competition. Celski, fully recovered from a broken ankle in 2011, was the overall men’s champion at the 2012 U.S. Short Track Championships.
THE MEDAL CONTENDERS
|U.S. Olympic speedskating hopeful Chris Creveling poses during
the NBC/U.S. Olympic Committee photo shoot in West Hollywood,
Calif., in April 2013.
In addition to Celski, U.S. men’s medal contenders include Chris Creveling and Eddy Alvarez. Creveling has won a world championship in inline skating. Alvarez made it to the U.S. World Cup team in 2013 and won gold in 2009 with the U.S. Junior World Team. Lana Gehring, a bronze medalist in the women’s relay at the Vancouver Games, will likely be among the contenders for the U.S. women. She was the overall women’s champion at the 2012 national championships. Joining her on the list of hopefuls will be Emily Scott, who won silver in the team relay at the 2012 world championships; Jessica Smith, a three-time member of the U.S. world team and an alternate in Vancouver; and Alyson Dudek, a 2010 Olympic bronze medalist who has competed in both long track and short track.
Short track speedskaters for Sochi will be determined based on results in the U.S. Olympic Trials for Short Track Speedskating in January 2014 in Kearns, Utah. The competition will be held at the Utah Olympic Oval from Jan. 2-5. The Trials will determine up to 12 roster spots: six men and six women competing at 500-, 1,000- and 1,500-meter distances individually and also on the U.S. relay teams in Sochi.
The short track speedskating competition will be held at the Iceberg Skating Palace, which is located within the coastal cluster of facilities and arenas at Olympic Park. The arena has a seating capacity of 12,000 and will also be host to the Olympic figure skating competition. Competition dates for figure skating and short track are interspersed with each other throughout the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Long track speedskating will be held at the Adler Arena, which is located adjacent to the Iceberg. Following the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Iceberg Skating Palace will be used as a multipurpose sports arena and cultural facility. It was host to an ISU World Cup Short Track tournament in February 2013.
DATES TO REMEMBER
|(L-R) J.R. Celski, Simon Cho, Travis Jayner, Jordan Malone stand
on the podium after earning bronze in the men's 5,000m relay at the
Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games on Feb. 26, 2010.
Short track competition will be held on five dates, beginning Feb. 10 with the women’s individual 500 meters, men’s individual 1,500 meters, and women’s 3,000-meter relay. Short track competition will also be held Feb. 13, 15, 18 and 21.
Eighteen individual medals, plus six team medals, will be handed out in short track at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Individual events are women’s and men’s distances of 500, 1,000 and 1,500 meters. There will also be team relay events in women’s 3,000 meters and men’s 5,000 meters.
In each of the individual events, the competition begins with 32 skaters in heat races of four skaters at a time. The first two finishers in each heat advance to the next round. The competition continues until just four skaters are left for the medal round. The United States will have up to three skaters in an event. In the women’s 3,000-meter and men’s 5,000-meter team relays, eight teams of four skaters participate in two semifinals of four teams. The top two finishing teams in each semifinal race advance to the finals. Both relay events are split into two days of competition in Sochi.
NASCAR ON ICE
Short track speedskating is often referred to as NASCAR on ice because of the mass starts, or pack starts, that the sport has. It is unlike long track in which the races are held in pairs of skaters. In short track, crashes are common as skaters become aggressive. In fact, it is that potential for crashes that has made short track so popular with spectators. J.R. Celski, a two-time Olympic medalist, suffered a bloody crash in the U.S. Olympic Trials leading up to the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games. “In the 1,000-meter and 5,000-meter races it’s just like NASCAR, where drivers draft off each other and try to pick the right moment to take the lead,” Celski told ESPN.com. “My strategy differs from race to race. I don’t want to give away my plans. It’s about being unpredictable.”
The skates are everything in speedskating, especially when it comes to those sharp turns around the track. The blades are kept extremely sharp and are bent at an arc to mirror the direction of the turn (races go in a counterclockwise direction). Blades are also situated more to the left under the boot so that the boot does not touch the ice when a skater leans into those turns. The blades are often rounded by athletes because having a flat surface would make the turns more difficult. And if you’re thinking about purchasing a pair of short track skates, plan on spending between $900 and $1,000.
US Speedskating enters the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games with new leadership and a renewed focus. Mike Plant, an Olympic (long track) speedskater at the Lake Placid 1980 Olympic Winter Games, was appointed interim president in March by the US Speedskating Board of Directors. He was chef de mission of the U.S. delegation at the Vancouver Games. The short track team’s new head coach is Guy Thibault, a native of Canada and two-time Olympian. Thibault was head coach of the U.S. National Long Track Team from 1985 to 1988, and was US Speedskating High Performance Director for both long track and short track from 2006 to 2010.
THE SHORT, OR LONG, OF IT
Allison Baver, a three-time Olympian, won her first Olympic medal at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games as a member of the bronze medal-winning women’s 3,000-meter relay team. Her goal is to reach a fourth Olympic Games in Sochi, but in which discipline? She has skated in both short track and long track, and is qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials in both disciplines. She had American Cup victories in both long and short track. Baver holds the American short track record for 1,500 meters (2:17.244). Thinking you might have seen Baver recently? Maybe so, because she was a contestant this spring on Bravo’s “Millionaire Matchmaker.”
While long track speedskating made its Olympic debut in 1924, short track is a relative newcomer. Short track made its debut at the Albertville 1992 Olympic Winter Games after being a demonstration sport at the Calgary 1988 Winter Games. Only four short track events were on the program in 1992 (women’s 500 meters, men’s 1,000, women’s 3,000 relay, men’s 5,000 relay), and the United States won medals in two of the events. Cathy Turner was the first U.S. short track gold medalist, winning the women’s 500 in Albertville. She repeated her 500 gold at the Lillehammer 1994 Winter Games.