Eddy Alvarez, Emily Scott join J.R. Celski, Jessica Smith on U.S. short track Olympic team
Rick Bowmer, AP
KEARNS — Some might find having an entire section of the bleachers full of supporters would add a little pressure to the already heavy load of trying to qualify for an Olympic team.
But for U.S. short track speedskater Eddy Alvarez, it was simply a very loud reminder that he’s loved — whether he crosses the line first or last.
“This is the first time they’ve all come to my competition,” said Alvarez, who became the second man to secure a spot on the 2014 U.S. Olympic short track team with two second-place finishes in Saturday’s 500-meter races. “To have them here, and to hear ‘Eddy!’ every lap, honestly it actually gives me strength just to know I have that support, even if I didn’t make the team whatsoever. I know that they’re in my corner, and I know that they’re going to have my back no matter what.”
After Saturday’s second 500-meter race, Alvarez joked with longtime friend J.R. Celski, who won both 500-meter races Saturday and both 1,500-meter races Friday, and accepted hugs and high-fives from his family. It wasn’t until he entered the locker room alone that he let the tears flow.
It was in the quiet of the room where the athletes store their equipment that Alvarez let the magnitude of what he’d accomplished Saturday really take hold of his heart.
“I had a moment in the locker room,” he said, wiping remnants of tears from his eyes as someone asked him how it felt to be called an Olympian. “That sounds amazing.”
Alvarez almost gave up on hearing that description next to his name when he decided to have knee surgery three years ago this March.
The hardest part of his journey hasn’t been the long hours, the sacrifices, the doubts — it was those nights immediately after the surgery when he was sure his dream of skating for his country was dead.
“Those nights where I couldn’t sleep,” he said, “I basically hated life. I was in a hole. I just had no hope whatsoever. It was a long road, but well worth it.”
While he credited his father with keeping his Olympic dream life, he said watching his buddy Celski recover from a horrific accident in the 2010 Olympic trials motivated him as well.
“That’s my brother, and I knew if he could do it, I could do it,” said Alvarez.
The pair showed off their secret handshake after Saturday’s races, and they were complimentary of each other off the ice. The two met when they were 6-year-old inline skaters and have been best friends ever since.
Alvarez surprised Celski in the finals of the second 500-meter race when he passed him on the inside with three laps to go.
“I’ve been racing Eddy since I was 6, and we always put the moves on each other,” Celski said, smiling. “It’s fun when we’re racing.”
He described how different it is to race from behind, and what he had to do to regain the lead (which he did very quickly).
“I’m proud of that kid for stepping up like he did,” Celski said.
Alvarez grinned and shook his head when asked about Celski’s skating.
“He’s on his A game right now,” Alvarez said. “I don’t think there would be a race he would lose at the games right now.”
When asked about the move he put on Celski, he laughed.
“That was the childhood in us,” he said. “That’s how it always used to be between us. Just the amount of talent that kid has, I was looking left and right, and he just got me so quick.”
Jessica Smith won both 500-meter races in the women’s competition, but Emily Scott, who finished second in both finals, locked up her spot on the Olympic team with Smith. There is only one more spot for a woman on the squad, but there are three more spots for the men’s team.
Smith said she’s using these races to prepare herself for Sochi.
“I’m just skating my races, and doing what I need to do,” she said. “It panned out with two victories. I’m excited with where my racing is going. I think we’re going in a good direction.”
Scott said she wasn’t aware her second-place finishes secured her a spot on the team until after the second final Saturday.
“I had no idea,” she said. “My coach brought me over. I thought I was in trouble for not winning the race, and he congratulated me. I’m speechless. I worked hard for it. So it’s crazy that it’s actually happening.”
Sunday is the final day of selection races with two 1,000-meter races. The team nominations will be announced after the races finish Sunday night.
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