KEARNS — Simon Cho was 70 points ahead going into the final race of the U.S. Championships Sunday afternoon.
And then, as it often does in short track speed skating, a mistake by one athlete cost him the race. Ryan Bedford, who was disqualified after the race, caused a collision between himself and two other competitors. Jeff Simon narrowly avoided the crash that sent two skaters into the pads, but Cho fell because of it.
"It happens in short track," Cho said with a shrug. "The real battle was between me and Jeff."
So Cho's plan was to watch Simon and plan his strategy around Simon's moves. And then the collision happened right in front of him, causing him to wreck as well.
"There was a split second where I thought I had cleared it," said Cho, who made the World Cup team and finished second behind Simon in the standings. "But unfortunately, three guys fall in front of you, there is not much room to maneuver."
For Simon his first National Championship was sweeter after a disappointing — and painful — year. He narrowly missed making the 2010 Olympic Team and then he broke his back when another skater pushed him and he crashed into the wall surrounding the ice.
"I honestly just wanted to get those points," he said of the final race in which Cho crashed, the 3,000-meter race. Simon finished fourth, while Cho was seventh. He felt for Cho getting tangled in the crash, but knew all he had to do was stay on his feet to earn the U.S. title.
"I just had to finish," he said. "Now I just want to continue this momentum. I'm very pleased, very happy."
To be the national champion after 11 weeks in a back brace and missing out on three months of training is just the kind of vindication Simon was hoping for this weekend.
"I'm exhausted from racing," he said, "from pushing my body to its limit. I had to dig pretty deep."
Simon and Cho are friends off the ice and said they enjoyed battling it out physically and intellectually.
"You only get smart by playing smarter," said Simon. Cho was happy to see Simon win the title after a tough year, and took the fall in stride.
"I felt like I was at the top of my game," he said. "It all came down to that last race. Falls like that happen all the time in short track. Every athlete just has to take it in stride."
On the women's side, Katherine Reutter continued her dominance with a win in both the 1,000-meter race and 3,000-meter contest. She put on a show in the 3,000-meter race when she took off nine laps into the race and eventually lapped the pack. She hung near the back of the group for the remainder of the race, finishing a full lap ahead of second place.
She thought about the fact that someone in front of her could crash and cause her to fall, but she needed help from the pack.
"I needed the draft," said Reutter, who won her fifth consecutive U.S. Championship, including the 2007 Junior National Title. "I knew the points were really close and I didn't want to be in the pack, and I didn't really want to get in anyone's way."
She also hoped to put on a show for the large contingent wearing "Rooting for Reutter" shirts, which are incidentally available at www.katherinereutter.info.
"I thought I could sit back, wait, let everybody race it out," she said. "But a 3K is kind of boring if you do that, so I just ... I've never done it before. I think it's a strategy you should probably try once ... I had a lot of family here, and they came to watch me skate. I wanted to give them something exciting."
She also wanted to avoid what happened in the men's race.
"The worst thing is, like in the men's 3K, where one person's mistake costs literally everyone something," she said.
The World Championship teams have yet to be named, but the U.S. World Cup team is:
Men — 1. Jeff Simon; 2. Simon Cho; 3. Travis Jayner; 4. Anthony Lobello; 5. Jonathan Garcia; 6. Kyle Uyehara.
Ladies — 1. Katherine Reutter; 2. Lana Gehring; 3. Jessica Smith; 4. Emily Scott; 5. Sarah Chen; 6. Morgan Izykowski.
In the women's 1,000-meter final: 1. Katherine Reutter; 2. Lana Gehring; 3. Jessica Smith; 4. Emily Scott; 5. Morgan Izykowski; 6. Sarah Chen; 7. Allison Baver; 8. Cherise Wilkins; 9. Kimberly Derrick; 10. Katherine Ralston.
In the men's 1,000-meter final: 1. Jeff Simon; 2. Simon Cho; 3. Jonathan Garcia; 4. Travis Jayner (penalty); 5. Anthony Lobello; 6. Ryan Bedford; 7. Kyle Uyehara; 8. Levi Kirkpatrick; 9. Kyle Carr; 10. Robert Lawrence.
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