KEARNS — When Lana Gehring skated across the icy finish line, she felt a lot of pride, and maybe a little vindication, for the man who helped her find confidence and focus after a season of frustration.
"Every time I go across the finish line it's like he's winning," said Gehring, of former U.S. short track speedskating head coach Jae Su Chun, who resigned and was banned from coaching (at official events) this fall, following allegations of abuse by several of Gehring's U.S. teammates. An investigation into the allegations couldn't corroborate the allegations, but Chun and his assistant, Jun Hyung Yeo, resigned and were banned after admitting that they failed to report an incident of cheating.
The controversy splintered the team into three groups, and now all sides are struggling to try and heal the wounds left by the ordeal as the athletes head into the critical second half of the World Cup season and World Championships.
Gehring, who backed Chun and Yeo, struggled mightily after the men resigned, and she reunited with the pair just a few weeks ago in Washington, D.C. She and five other U.S. athletes train with Chun at Steiner Ice Center in Salt Lake City, and she said she's slowly regaining her confidence.
"It's very emotional. I'm not just winning for me. I'm winning for Salt Lake International; I'm winning for Jae Su and Jun and everyone who helped us out. It's really great to win and just show other people that I have improved."
Gehring scored more total points than any other skater, man or woman, as she won every race Friday and Saturday to earn the women's U.S. championship with 5,050 points. J.R. Celski won the men's title with 4,650 points, and he won three of four races this weekend despite struggling with post-concussion symptoms.
He had a vicious fall in the World Cup in Japan two weeks ago in which his knee smacked him in the forehead and left him with a concussion. He said he didn't consider not competing as he's "dealt with worse before." Deciding how much to train and how much to rest was a far more difficult task.
His strategy seemed to pay off as he earned his first World Championship team spot since 2010.
Celski said he felt good, although he developed a headache.
"Be smart and be safe," he said, admitting he developed a small headache near the end of the 3,000-meter race. "I'm happy it's over. It was a long weekend."
He will take a week off and then return to training and the most important part of his schedule.
"I really am looking forward to skating the World Cups again, gaining more experience," he said. "I'm really focused on Worlds this year. It's been a couple of years since I raced at Worlds, and I just want to get a good feel and prepare going into that competition."
This is Celski's first U.S. championship, but it is Gehring's second.
"It was great crossing that finish line today," she said grinning. "I had a lot of pride in every race I did today. Coming across that line in first position was a thrill; I loved it."
Gehring's title performance was something that even she didn't expect.
"I wanted to win the overall, but I didn’t know if I was actually going to be able to win every race," she said of a feat she accomplished last year in this event. "So that was a huge accomplishment for myself, because I didn't think I could."
But after winning both races Friday, she began to believe repeating as U.S. speedskating overall champion was a real possibility.
"I started to think more confidently," she said. I was really focused today and wanted to sweep the competition the rest of the weekend. I was able to succeed in that, and this is very exciting."
Gehring won the 3,000-meter race with a time of 5:31.131, edging Emily Scott, who finished in 5:31.285. Alyson Dudek was third with a time of 5:31.563.
In the men's 3,000 meters, Celski won with a time of 4:48.231, while Chris Creveling was second with a time of 4:48.985. Eduardo Alvarez was third with a time of 4.54.947.Comment on this story
The men's World Cup and World Championship team is comprised of Celski, Creveling, Jeff Simon, Alvarez, Kyle Carr and Travis Jayner. The women's team is Gehring, Jessica Smith, Dudek, Emily Scott, Sarah Chen and Kimberly Derrick.
The U.S. long-track speedskating team will compete in the U.S. Championships at the Utah Olympic Oval starting Dec. 27.