Thursday, January 2, 2014
Celski and Smith lead US short track trials
KEARNS, Utah -- Favorites J.R. Celski and Jessica Smith swept both of the men's and women's time trials at the U.S. Olympic short track trials.
Of course, it is short track and anything goes in the wild and wooly sport known as roller derby on ice.
Celski won the opening nine-lap time trial in 1 minute, 21.667 seconds Thursday at the Utah Olympic Oval. He came back later to claim the four-lap trial in 36.269 seconds.
"Very happy with the times," he said. "It will be fun to get back in there and race with these guys."
With short track star Apolo Anton Ohno retired and doing TV commentary, the spotlight is focused squarely on Celski, who won a pair of bronze medals at the 2010 Vancouver Games.
"It's a little different for sure," Celski said about Ohno's absence from the ice. "The level has raised over the past four years."
Seeking her first Olympic berth after missing out four years ago, Smith won the women's nine-lapper in 1:28.117 and followed up with a win in the four-lapper with a time of 39.317. The former inline skater from Melvindale, Mich., finished one spot out of an Olympic position in 2010.
Katherine Reutter, who won a silver and a bronze in Vancouver, was forced to retire last year because of injuries at 24, leaving a major void on the women's side.
Smith liked her results, especially in the nine-lapper where she recorded a personal best by nearly 2 seconds.
"I'm just looking forward to the rest of the weekend, try to keep it together and focused," she said. "Win one or win three, it doesn't matter."
A skater who wins any of the three individual events is guaranteed an Olympic berth.
Both Celski of Federal Way, Wash., and Smith earned a total of 1,000 points for their two victories, putting them atop their respective overall classification standings after the first of four days of competition.
Smith is coached by Jae Su Chun, who was accused by a dozen national team members of physical, emotional and verbal abuse in fall 2012. He also was alleged to have ordered speedskater Simon Cho to sabotage the skates of a Canadian rival.
Chun denied all allegations, and other members of the team came to his defense. Chun is serving a two-year suspension through October. He's allowed to be in the stands during the trials, but not inside the racing area. Smith relies on another coach when she's on the ice.
"Everybody saw it took a toll on the team as a whole," Smith said of the turmoil. "Finally, people are realizing we're a team, we're USA. People have finally come together. Everybody is allowing each coach to have a say."
The same five men finished in the same order in each of the time trials.
Chris Creveling of Kintersville, Pa., was second in both races. He finished in 1:22.242 in the nine-lapper and 36.410 in the four-lapper.
Eddy Alvarez, a former inline skater from Miami, was third in both. John-Henry Krueger of Pittsburgh was fourth in both. Jordan Malone of Denton, Texas, finished fifth in both.
The four-day trials will determine the U.S. team for next month's Sochi Games. The men's team will have five members; the women's team will have three because the U.S. failed to qualify in the relay.
On the women's side, Emily Scott of Springfield, Mo., was second in both time trials. She was timed in 1:29.365 in the nine-lapper and 39.698 in the four-lapper.
"The first day is always a little bit rough, but I came out feeling pretty good," Scott said. "
Alyson Dudek of Hales Corners, Wis., was third in both trials. Sarah Chen of San Marino, Calif., finished fourth in the nine-lapper and fifth in the four-lapper. Kimberly Goetz of Flemington, N.J., was fifth in the longer trial and eighth in the four-lapper.
The top 16 men and 16 women advanced to three days of racing that begin Friday with the 1,500 meters.
The only surprise came on the men's side, where 2010 Olympian Travis Jayner was the lone skater to fall. He crashed on the straightaway in the nine-lap trial and was given a re-skate. He finished 16th, grabbing the last available spot.
"It's not the nicest way to start a competition," he said. "To have to re-do it is always tough."
Jayner was seventh in the four-lapper, putting him eighth in the overall classification.
"That was a good challenge," he said. "I was put to the test today. I'm glad I didn't back down or get scared."