- Short Track
Celski: 'It feels good to leave with a medal'
SOCHI, Russia – The disaster that was United States speed skating at the Sochi Winter Olympics was spared total embarrassment on Friday night – and the four short-track racers who saved face for the program were ecstatic and relieved.
The 5,000-meter relay team of J.R. Celski, Jordan Malone, Eduardo Alvarez and Chris Creveling blazed to a silver medal, beating the Olympic record time but still finishing second behind an even faster team from Russia.
Silver was just fine, though. Especially since the weight of the skating world was lifted off them.
“It’s a huge weight off our backs,” said Malone, the Denton, Texas, native. “Our coaches told us before the race that he’s tired of seeing everyone else celebrate.”
Of the previous 17 events in long track and short track, Team USA had not found the medals podium even once. That’s a lot sweat and energy and devotion to sport with nothing to show for it.
So Malone gave a pep talk before they took to the track at Iceberg Skating Palace. Or was it lecture.
“I told the guys, ‘We’re not going to let U.S. speed skating go away without a medal,’ ” Malone said.
Their job became a whole lot easier mere seconds into the race. The team from Kazakhstan wiped out on the first turn, taking the Netherlands along for the bumpy ride to the wall.
Talk about living right. Two teams down, one badly impeded (China) and just two still skating.
“We didn’t really plan for everyone to fall in the first corner,” coach Steve Gough said.
He believes the starter actually made a major mistake by letting the race continue.
“He should have restarted the race,” Gough said. “If there’s a crash before the fourth block, they’re supposed to restart it.”
With 44 9/10ths laps of the 45-lap race still go, it was a two-team race. The U.S. and Russia, with superstar Victor An, simply had to stay upright.
The Americans were content to “sit chill,” Alvarez said, for most of the race, tracking the Russians throughout.
Then on lap 31, Creveling was able to overtake Vladimir Grigorev. But eight laps later, Grigorev regained the lead and the Russian team held on, with Celski unable to catch An in the final sprint.
The Russian team finished in 6 minutes, 42.1 seconds. Celski stopped the timer at 6:42.371.
The U.S. quartet was still all smiles afterward, gliding a victory lap or two in a four-wide embrace.
“It feels good to leave with a medal,” Celski, from Federal Way, Wash., said. “It’s tough. You get an opportunity for gold but it just wasn’t there today.
“I’m really proud of my team … all the hard work they put in the past four years. It all came together today and we skated our (butts) off.”
The silver medal wiped away disappointment for Celski from the 500 meter men’s race. He fell in the quarterfinal but was given advancement into the semifinals. He lost his semifinal heat and ended up sixth.
On the podium for the relay ceremony, the Americans couldn’t stop smiling, elated to have gained Olympic hardware.
“The fact I’m able to be here for my country, my family, my team, I’m so proud,” Malone said, fighting back tears of joy. “If you watch the replay, for a good three minutes I couldn’t celebrate because I was exhausted.”
They all felt redemption, too.
“It’s so relieving, so relieving,” Alvarez said. “It literally feels like I just came out of a spa.”
Kevin Oklobzija writes for the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, N.Y.
Women's 30km Free Mass Start
Men's 5000m Relay Finals
Men's 5000m Relay Finals
Men's 500m Short
Men's 1000m Short