Short track skater Jordan Malone (L) and Kyle Carr practice ahead of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Iceberg Skating Palace on February 3, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.
A familiar face continues to inspire new ones as the U.S. short track speedskating team takes to the ice inside the Iceberg Skating Palace Monday at the Sochi Games. The U.S. enters its first Olympic Winter Games in the post-Apolo Anton Ohno era.
“Apolo Ohno is the reason I started in 2002,” said two-time Olympian Jordan Malone. “Every time we step onto the ice, he will be here with us."
Replacing the most decorated U.S. Olympic winter athlete of all time is no easy feat, but the eight-member roster is full of young talent experienced well beyond their years. Among them is two-time Olympian and two-time Olympic medalist J.R. Celski, who will lead the U.S. in Sochi.
"I think in any sport, once somebody of that stature and greatness leaves, it's time for somebody else to step up,” said Celski. “So it's not really been talked about much, but it's kind of like a natural progression."
The U.S. men are dominating the individual distance events in the new era. In 2012, Celski became the first man to break the 40-second barrier in the 500-meter, and finished the season with seven world cup medals. The following season, he helped Team USA win its first world cup overall title in the 5,000-meter relay.
"We put a lot of time and effort in training, and four years in between each Games is a long time to think about it,” said Celski. “Now that it's finally here we can enjoy it and hopefully the performances will be there as well."
Joining Celski is fellow 2010 Olympic bronze medalist, Malone, and Olympic newcomers Eddy Alvarez, Kyle Carr and Chris Creveling. All five competed in inline skating before making the transition to ice.
“We planned to be here together and are just glad it worked out this past season,” said Creveling. “Being here is surreal in itself, but I feel more in the moment now than ever. It’s all built up to this point. I’m just very happy to be here and to be a part of Team USA."
The U.S. women’s contingent will rely on 12-time world cup medalist Jessica Smith to lead a talented group of women in Sochi. Smith swept all three individual events at the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team Trials and will look to continue her winning ways during her Olympic debut. Joining Smith on the team are 2010 Olympic bronze medalist Alyson Dudek and 2012 World Championships silver medalist Emily Scott.
At the nucleus of the young team is new head coach Guy Thibault. The French-Canadian and two-time Olympian took over in 2012. With 38 years of experience at the national level in both long and short track speedskating, the Sochi Games mark his seventh Games as either an athlete or coach, and his first at the helm of the U.S. short track program.
The Olympic short track speedskating competition will be contested at the Iceberg Skating Palace, which is situated at the heart of the coastal cluster within the Olympic Park. The venue seats up to 12,000 spectators and also hosts the Olympic figure skating competitions.
The eight-member U.S. roster is comprised of three women and five men, and features three returning Olympians from the Vancouver Games. Heading into these Games, the U.S. has won 18 Olympic medals in short track speedskating, ranking fourth among all nations.