Short track speedskater Jessica Smith has waited four years for her dreamy Olympic moment.
She missed making the 2010 U.S. Olympic Team by one spot. So when she clinched a spot on the 2014 Olympic Team with a second-place finish in a women’s 1,500-meter qualifying race in the U.S. Olympic Trials at the Utah Olympic Oval, she jumped over a barrier and exchanged a high-five slap with personal coach Jae Su Chun.
Imagine what Smith’s reaction will be if she medals at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
“Making the Sochi 2014 Olympic Team is a dream come true,” she told TeamUSA.org. “I have been working really hard to be where I am today. To know that I am representing the United States of America is an honor.”
Smith’s Olympic journey begins Feb. 10, when the qualification heats in the women’s 500 meters are held at the Iceberg Skating Palace. The 500 is one of three distances that Smith qualified for in Sochi, and it is one that might be her best chance for a medal. Smith has earned bronze medals in the 500 at two world cup events and is the national record holder at the distance.
“I think the 500-meter race is a great distance and I am looking forward to competing in this distance,” said Smith, a native of Melvindale, Mich. “I am feeling comfortable at high speed and feeling ready to skate fast. In order to medal in this distance it’s going to come down to speed, agility and smarts. Staying focused on the race and not getting ahead of the game will make a difference in medaling.”
The 500 will be held over two days in Sochi. After the heat races are held Monday, the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals all will be held Feb. 13. In the races leading up to the finals, the top two skaters in each four-skater race move on to the next round.
Smith is also scheduled to compete in the women’s 1,500-meter races Feb. 15, followed by the women’s 1,000 Feb. 18 and Feb. 21.
What makes Smith’s journey to Sochi all the more impressive is that she suffered a quad injury during the world cup season. Six weeks before the U.S. Olympic Trials, she underwent an MRI which revealed a large tear in her quad muscle. She opted to wait until after Sochi to undergo surgery but the in the interim, she received some much-needed help with her quad from none other than Olympic great Eric Heiden, who transitioned from being a gold-medal long track speedskater to becoming an orthopedic surgeon and a team physician for US Speedskating.
With Heiden’s help, Smith is in Sochi and is now attempting to become the first U.S. female short track speedskater to win an Olympic gold medal in 20 years. Cathy Turner won the 500-meter race at the Lillehammer 1994 Olympic Winter Games.
A three-time world medalist, Smith credits Chun with helping her transition from inline skating, where she was a world champion at age 12, to speedskating.
Now 30, Smith is the veteran of the women’s team that also includes Emily Scott and Alyson Dudek, a bronze medalist in the 5,000-meter relay at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games.
The thing Smith is looking forward to the most: “Representing my country every time I step to the line knowing there is a huge backing at home,” she said.