JR Celski earns World Cup spot
KEARNS, Utah -- JR Celski made an inside move with half a lap remaining to win the 1,000 meters and skated to an easy victory in the 1,500 for a sweep of the men's races Saturday at the U.S. Single Distance Short Track Speedskating Championships.
Skating for the splinter FAST team, Celski clinched a spot on the fall World Cup team. Jessica Smith, who remains part of the U.S. National Racing Program, also clinched a spot on the World Cup team. Smith was second to Lana Gehring in the 1500 on both Friday and Saturday but won Saturday's 1000, as well as the 500 on Friday and both time trials Thursday.
Ten skaters will have automatically qualified when racing concludes Sunday. The athletes have until Oct. 7 to accept. Two discretionary picks won't be named until after an arbitration hearing regarding a coaching abuse scandal concludes in early October.
The skaters have been competing on divided teams because of charges against Jae Su Chun, who has been placed on administrative leave by U.S. Speedskating after allegations of verbal, physical and psychological abuse by at least a dozen national team members. An arbitration hearing scheduled to start Oct. 8 seeks his permanent removal. Documents filed as part of the arbitration allege he directed skater Simon Cho to tamper with a Canadian rival's skates during last year's world championship.
The competition has gone on despite fractured sides. Athletes on both sides have done well at the four-day competition to determine the 12-member fall World Cup team.
Celski led a FAST team sweep in Saturday's 1,000, finishing in 1 minute, 26.576 seconds, ahead of Kyle Carr (1:26.632) and Jeff Simon (1:26.787). The points Celski earned Saturday coupled with his third-place finish in Friday's 500 locked up the spot.
"I am excited," Celski said. "I know that this year is going to be a good year. We have a lot of good, healthy and talented guys coming up and I think we are going to be a force to reckon with around the world."
Celski is coming back from a broken ankle suffered last year, and said his summer training paid off.
"I put in a lot of hard work in day in and day out," he said. "You never know what the results are going to be until your race and it feels good to see that I am doing OK."
Smith was one of two national program members to issue a statement in support of Chun, joining Gehring in backing the embattled coach. Both women have been impressive this week. Gehring can wrap up a spot Sunday when racing concludes with a second 500 and second 1,000.
"It is really exciting to know that I have a secured spot on the World Cup team," Smith said.
Smith won Saturday's 1,000 in 1:32.325, edging Emily Scott (1:32.410) and Alyson Dudek (1:32.791) Gehring, a bronze medalist at the 2010 Vancouver Games, skated almost an identical time in winning her second 1,500 of the competition. She clocked 2:26.763 Saturday, after winning in 2:26.688 on Friday.
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press