Less than three tenths of a second.
That is how close U.S. short track speedskater Jessica Smith came to winning a medal at her first Olympic Winter Games this past February in Sochi, Russia. She finished fourth in the women’s 1,000-meter race.
No other U.S. women’s speedskater — long or short track — came that close to winning a medal.
When the 2014-15 ISU World Cup short track season begins Friday at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns, Utah, it’s no surprise that the 1,000-meter race is something Smith is looking forward to.
“In the 1,000 at the Olympics, I skated the best that I’ve skated in that distance individually,” Smith said, “so I’m kind of excited to start racing the 1,000 a little bit more this season.”
Smith, a previous world cup bronze medalist at the Utah Olympic Oval in the 500, will compete at all three distances this season: 500, 1,000 and 1,500. She finished seventh in the 1,500 at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games and 30th in the 500.
“I’m looking forward to just skating well this season,” Smith said. “I want to be on the podium a bit more, see what I can do in each distance. I’m not exactly sure what my main focus for the distance is going to be, but I enjoy all three distances.”
Joining her in the race for the podium in Utah is Olympic teammate Emily Scott, who finished fifth in the 1,500 and 11th in the 1,000 in Sochi. Scott had a strong start to the season in the selection races in October in Milwaukee.
“She had one of those standout performances,” said U.S. short track coach Jonathon Cavar. “She skated with confidence, using her strength and experience to establish herself as one of the best in the U.S.”
|John-Henry Krueger competes in the men's 1,000-meter time trial during the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Short Track Speedskating at the Utah Olympic Oval on Jan. 2, 2014 in Salt Lake City.
Smith and Scott are the only two Olympians on the 12-member fall world cup team that was determined by selection races at Milwaukee’s Pettit National Ice Center. Among the men’s skaters are Cole and John-Henry Krueger, brothers who fell short at the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team Trials. John-Henry, who was ranked No. 9 in the world last season, missed the Winter Games when he came down with a case of swine flu during the trials.
Notably missing from the men’s lineup is three-time Olympic medalist J.R. Celski, who announced last spring that he was taking a break from the sport. Celski is ranked No. 6 in the world in the 1,500-meter and No. 7 in 1,000-meter.
Like Scott, John-Henry Krueger had a strong performance in Milwaukee, leading a men’s team that also includes newcomers Ryan Pivirotto, Keith Carroll Jr., Soo An Yoo and Jake Powers.
The United States won just one medal in all of the speedskating competition in Sochi, that coming in the men’s 5,000-meter short track relay. That is exactly what might draw this team closer as it begins a new world cup season.
“I think everybody is ready to band together and try to get back on the road to winning,” Smith said. “I think everybody’s excited. It’s a four-year cycle again (to the next Olympic Games). It all starts over. Opportunity to see where we can get back together.”
Despite finishing fourth at the Sochi Winter Games, Smith is ranked just 24th in the world in the 1,000 entering this season. She is No. 13 in 1,500-meter and No. 21 at 500. Scott is ranked No. 15 in the 1,000 and No. 16 in the 1,500.
In addition to Smith and Scott, the women’s team includes world cup rookies Kimberly Goetz, Katherine Ralston and Jacqueline Chen. The only other experienced member of the squad is Tamara Frederick, a three-time world cup medalist.
Men Athletes To Watch: After coming so close to making the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team, keep an eye on John-Henry Krueger, especially in the 1,500-meter. He is ranked No. 8 in the world at 1,500. Older brother Cole Krueger also narrowly missed making the 2014 Olympic Team. Ryan Pivirotto is a former national age-group champion.
Women Athletes To Watch: Scott and Smith are among the top-ranked women in the world, so it’ll be interesting to see what they do in the world cup season following top-10 Olympic performances. Tamara Frederick is another world cup veteran.
New Coach: Jonathon Cavar is the new short-track speedskating coach after coaching Speed Skating Canada at the last two Olympic Games and three world championships. Canada won two Olympic relay medals while he was coach.
After Utah: Following the start of the season this weekend in Utah, the world cup series heads to Montreal next week. Stops will also be made in Shanghai; Seoul; Dresden, Germany; and Izmir, Turkey.
Paul D. Bowker has been writing about Olympic sports since 1990 and was Olympic assistant bureau chief for Morris Communications at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games. He also writes about Olympic sports for the Springfield (Mass.) Republican. Bowker has written for TeamUSA.org since 2010 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.