SOCHI, Russia — J.R. Celski has skated short track long enough to know that the unfortunate and frustrating bumps, mishaps and falls can punish you one race and make you the victor another.
So while he was disappointed to finish fourth in Monday’s 1,500-meter final, he wasn’t bemoaning the fact that a bump from a competitor midway through the race caused him to lose critical speed that he just couldn’t recover.
“Of course I want to be on the podium again,” he said after finishing fourth at Iceberg Skating Palace. “But this is short track, and it’s a tough sport.”
Charles Hamelin of Canada won gold, while Tianyu Han of China earned silver. The bronze went to Victor An of Russia, which thrilled the crowd.
“Last time I came out the benefactor and won a bronze due to some faults,” he said. “It happens to everyone, and sometimes you’re on the good side of it, and sometimes you’re on the bad side.”
Celski seemed in a perfect position to medal when he was bumped, and both skaters fell behind the lead group. He said that the 1,500 is so grueling (especially as it was the third round of races that afternoon), that strategy is important so one doesn’t go too fast too soon.
“I made the moves I wanted to make,” he said. “I just didn’t protect my track well enough. There were probably some strategies that didn’t play out in my mind right.” He said it’s difficult to stick to a plan when the race is so fluid.
“The 1,500 is really unpredictable,” he said. “It’s very strategic and if the race is slow enough for people to make moves like that, well, I got unlucky in that one.” He wasn’t the only U.S. short track skater dealing with some bad luck. A particularly physical race saw his best friend Eddy Alvarez disqualified in the semifinals and Chris Creveling finished fourth in the quarterfinals, failing to advance.
On the women’s side, the 500 quarterfinals were equally unkind to the U.S. as Aly Dudek was penalized and didn’t advance and Jessica Smith’s skate was bumped by another skater and she fell on her back.
Only Emily Scott advanced to the semifinals, which will be skated on Tuesday afternoon.
Celski tempered his disappointment with the knowledge that he has three more races ahead of him — and a lifetime of understanding the sport he loves.