J.R. Celski, Jessica Smith earn overall championships at U.S. short-track championships
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
KEARNS — Emily Scott had never won a race at a U.S. championship event
But in just three days, she won two.
Her victory in the first race and second-place finish in the second race at the U.S. short-track championships also made her the 1,000-meter champion and ensured her a spot on the World Cup team in that distance.
“The start of the day I was really excited to get another win,” Scott said. “I was a little bit tired this morning, just from three days of racing. This is the first time we’ve done it this way, and it’s pretty exhausting.”
Normally athletes have two races each day, but they’re different distances. Speedskating officials decided to change the format of how the teams are picked to make the event more fan-friendly.
“It’s different,” said U.S. short-track team head coach Stephen Gough with a little bit of a laugh. “It was kind of our idea. We thought it would make for better TV basically — back in January. (This format allows) at the end of every night, NBC could announce who qualified for the Olympic teams. So it’s going to make for some excitement.”
Most of the skaters enjoyed the new format, although they said it was grueling to skate six races per day Saturday and Sunday.
“It was different. Two distances, the same distances, every day, it was a lot of mental energy that went into it,” said J.R. Celski, who won the 500 and 1,500-meter championships and earned silver in the 1,000, securing his World Cup spot in all three races. “I was happy with it.”
Celski said he played in safe in the second 1,000-meter semifinal, as he failed to qualify for the A final, finishing fourth in his heat.
“I had earned my spot,” he said after winning the B Final. “I didn’t want to risk too much. Now is not the goal. So I want to stay safe through trials, through all of the World Cups and through the next trials (for the Olympic team).”
The U.S. 1,000-meter champion was Jordan Malone, who was competing in his first big race after missing all of last year with injury and illness.
“Jordan needed a big day today,” said Celski. “He’s been skating for a long time, and we call him a clutch skater. He came back and performed when he needed to.” Jordan said he felt great about earning a spot on the World Cup team and winning the 1,000-meter championship after more than a year away from the ice.
“My goal coming in was just to be in the mix,” he said. “It’s an important competition, but at the same time, it means nothing in the grand scheme of things.”
His success validated his decision to come back to a sport that he’s participated in for 25 of his 29 years.
“I almost quit,” he said. “I was on the verge of quitting. Being the age I am, I’m not exactly up and coming. In my sport, being 29, you’re a grandpa. But I’m on my way back. I wouldn’t say I’m back yet, but I’m doing much better.”
The top female skater was Jessica Smith, who like Celski won the 1,500- and 500-meter championships in the first two days of competition. She finished second to Emily Scott in the first 1,000 final, but said she made a mistake that cost her a chance at the A final in her semifinal heat.
“I just made an error,” she said, after claiming a bronze medal in the 1,000 meters. “It happens, I guess, and you learn from it and move on. I know what I did, and it’s an easy mistake. At a World Cup, it’s not the brightest mistake to make, so I’m glad it happened here and not there.”
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