By Stuart Lieberman | March 08, 2017, 1:32 p.m. (ET)
J.R. Celski (L) leads Victor An of Russia in the men's short track 5,000-meter relay at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Iceberg Skating Palace on Feb. 21, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.

 

Team USA will send seven skaters to Rotterdam, Netherlands, this weekend for the 2017 ISU World Short Track Speed Skating Championships, the final short track event of the season with less than one year to go until the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games.

The American skaters will attempt to increase their speed at the world championships to keep up with the Koreans, Chinese and Canadians — the three nations who rank above them on the event’s all-time medal count — with skaters competing in four individual distances — 500, 1,000, 1,500 and the super final over 3,000 meters — in addition to the team relay.

NBC Sports Network will broadcast hour-long highlights shows from the event on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET and Sunday at 4:30 p.m. ET.

Here’s a look at the top U.S. storylines to follow at this year’s world championships.

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Best chance for a U.S. medal lies with J.R. Celski

A two-time Olympian, Celski will be the most recognizable American face with the largest set of expectations in Rotterdam, as he already has three Olympic medals and eight world championship medals to his name.

After failing to win an individual medal in Sochi, followed by two frustrating injury-prone years, the relentless 26-year-old Washington native came back strong this season to win his first individual world cup medal since 2013, taking bronze over 1,000 meters last month in Dresden, Germany. He also helped the United States to the 5,000-meter relay bronze at December’s Olympic test event in South Korea.

 

From swine flu to podium for John-Henry Krueger

Fifteen-time world cup medalist John-Henry Krueger will be making his third world championship appearance and is still in search of his first podium finish at the event after two seventh-place finishes last year. Krueger, who trains in South Korea, contracted swine flu in 2014, ruling him out of Olympic contention for Sochi, but he’s expected to contend for a medal in PyeongChang.

This season has treated him well so far; he already won the first individual U.S. world cup medal in nearly two years, skating to 1,500-meter bronze in Salt Lake City in November to break the longest American medal drought in the history of the world cup. He was fourth overall in the men’s 1,500-meter rankings this season — the highest ranking by an American in any distance.

 

It’s world championship skate No. 8 for Jessica Kooreman

Kooreman, a 2014 Olympian, makes her eighth appearance in the event. Kooreman was part of the 2012 women’s 3,000-meter relay silver-medal-winning team and won individual 3,000-meter silver at the 2014 worlds. At her Olympic debut, she missed the 1,000-meter podium by just one spot at the Sochi Games. Previously an eight-time inline skating world champion, Kooreman has finished as high as 11th in world cup races this season and will be looking to better those performances in Rotterdam.

 

How will Gabriella Hachem fare in Katherine Reutter’s place?

Two-time Olympic and seven-time world medalist Katherine Reutter qualified for her fourth world championships — and first since 2011 — but was forced to withdraw due to a training injury. Gabriella Hachem was elevated to the team from reserve status for her first world championships after winning the U.S. Short Track Junior Championships overall women’s title this season.

 

World junior medalist Thomas Hong to inject new life into men’s relay team

Celski, Krueger and U.S. national team members Keith Carroll Jr. and Aaron Tran will be part of the U.S. men’s relay team, but perhaps four-time World Junior Championships team member Hong will be the X-factor on the squad. The 19-year-old rookie, who was born in Seoul, is coming off a two-medal performance at the 2016-17 World Junior Championships, where he claimed silver over 500 meters and bronze in the men’s 3,000-meter relay. Hong, along with Celski, Krueger and Caroll Jr., was part of the U.S. relay team that won bronze at December’s Olympic test event in Korea.

Stuart Lieberman covered Paralympic sports for three years at the International Paralympic Committee, including at the London 2012 and Sochi 2014 Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

In The Hunt

Athlete Spotlight: J.R. Celski
 
  02/04/2014