J.R. Celski, Jessica Smith make team
KEARNS, Utah -- J.R. Celski is picking up right where Apolo Anton Ohno left off four years ago.
Celski qualified for his second Olympic team with a victory in the 1,500 meters, and Jessica Smith made her first despite finishing second in the women's final at the U.S. short track trials Friday night.
"To cross the line and realize I got a spot for Sochi was amazing," Celski said. "There was definitely a little bit more pressure than last time. But I'm taking it more serious than last time, as well."
Celski cruised to an easy win in the second of two 1,500 finals. With seven laps to go, Celski zipped from fourth to first. Eddy Alvarez took the lead back before Celski regained it with four laps left. He built a big lead the rest of the way and threw both arms in the air as he crossed the finish line first.
"I kind of looked back and was like, 'What happened?'" he said. "It was cool. I went out there and raced my race."
Celski won a pair of bronze medals at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. He made that team after a serious injury sustained in a crash five months before the Games. Celski's right skate sliced open his left leg in September 2009, bruising his femoral artery and coming inches from severing it, which could have been fatal.
Ohno concluded his spectacular career in Vancouver, ending as the most decorated U.S. Winter Olympian. Celski, whose hometown of Federal Way, Wash., is a suburb of Seattle, where Ohno is from, has positioned himself as a successor to the retired star.
"After Vancouver, I kind of had a feeling he wasn't going to skate anymore. I tried to assume his role, tried to take it over as best as I could," Celski said. "I really wanted to step up and lead this team, because I knew I could."
Celski also won the first 1,500 final of the night. He came back to beat the same five rivals in the second final with Ohno looking on as a TV commentator.
Smith finished behind winner Emily Scott of Springfield, Mo., in the second women's 1,500 but earned her Olympic berth by virtue of her lead in the overall point standings at the Utah Olympic Oval. Smith clapped her hands and smiled broadly as she crossed the line.
"I skated too conservative in the second 1,500 just to be safe and make sure I was where I needed to be," Smith said. "I just wanted to be on the team."
Five men and three women will make the U.S. team for the Sochi Games.
Smith jumped up on the rink padding to high-five her coach, Jae Su Chun. He is serving a two-year suspension by the International Skating Union through October. Chun was accused by a dozen national team members of physical, emotional and verbal abuse in fall 2012. He also was alleged to have ordered speedskater Simon Cho to sabotage the skates of a Canadian rival.
Chun denied all allegations, and other members of the team came to his defense. Chun isn't allowed inside the racing area at the trials, but he can have contact with Smith.
"It's been a long, long journey," said Smith, who narrowly missed making the Olympic team four years ago. "It's a proud moment for me and coach Jae Su Chun and all the coaches that came before."
Smith, a former inline skater from Melvindale, Mich., credited Chun with helping her transition to the ice.
"I'm going to Sochi," she said. "It's just been a long process, and he's been with me every step of the way, pushing me every step of the way. It's just been a dream come true finally."
Celski leads the 1,500 standings with 2,500 points. Alvarez, a former inline skater from Miami, was second with 1,632. Chris Creveling was third with 1,528.
Celski shook up a bottle of champagne on the awards podium and clearly delighted in spraying Alvarez and Creveling, who is from Kintersville, Pa.
Creveling was disqualified in the second final for bumping Alvarez midway through the race when the skaters began jostling for position. That dropped Creveling to third in the standings, and Alvarez moved up to second.
On the women's side, Smith leads the 1,500 distance standings with 2,300 points. Scott was second at 2,200, and Alyson Dudek of Hales Corners, Wis., third with 1,600.