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U.S. short track skaters see Sochi as a new chance

By OSKAR GARCIA

Associated Press

SOCHI, Russia -- American short track speedskaters say they've shaken off the negativity of organizational and financial woes and are ready for a fresh start at the Sochi Games.

But one thing they're not trying to escape: the shadow of Apolo Anton Ohno, the sport's biggest star in the U.S. and the reason several on the 2014 teams are on the ice.

"I grew up idolizing this guy," said J.R. Celski, 23, of Federal Way, Wash., who will race at three distances and on the 5,000-meter relay team, hoping to add to the two bronze medals he won at the Vancouver Olympics.

Watching from the broadcast booth Monday at Adler Arena will be Ohno, the most decorated Winter Olympian with eight medals. He is an analyst for NBC Sports.

"There's not a lot of pressure for me personally," Celski said. "I've looked up to him my whole life and I got a chance to be on a team with him in Vancouver and kind of see how to handle all of this."

This time around, Celski said he can focus on the details he needs to win -- things like his skating technique and preparing for varied ice conditions.

"I really believe that results speak for themselves, so I'm going to go out there and try to do the best I can," he said.

The U.S. short track program has had several challenges since the start of 2012, including bad results, organizational infighting and the departure of Ohno and Katherine Reutter, who was forced to retire because of injury after winning two medals in Vancouver.

Former coach Jae Su Chun was suspended for two years in 2012 -- a term that lasts beyond the Sochi Games -- after several team members accused him of verbal, physical and emotional abuse. He denied the allegations.

Jordan Malone, a 29-year-old relay team member from Denton, Texas, said many of the program's problems had little to do with the athletes themselves.

"A lot of that negative influence is gone now and we're starting anew and we have a lot to prove," he said. "We've got a really positive team going into these games."

Emily Scott said Tuesday the team has nowhere to go but up after funding cuts and competitive struggles, although the fans are still supportive.

The women's team didn't qualify a relay team for the Sochi Games, leading to cuts for the program with funds tied to performance.

"I would say the expectations are the same," Scott said. "No, we don't have Apolo or Katherine anymore, but they still paved the way for us."

The program won six medals in Vancouver -- two silvers and four bronzes.