Team Celski Blog: J.R. qualifies for finals in 1,000 and 5,000-meter relay

By Bob Celski

This blog is written to keep the proud people of Federal Way informed about one of the city’s sons, short track speedskater J.R. Celski and the experience of his parents, Bob and Sue, during the Olympics.

2/14/14 Happy Valentine’s Day
It is 3 a.m. (3 p.m. in FW) as I write this here in Sochi. I’m getting about three to four hours of sleep a night, still ravaged by jet lag. It’s so bad that I’ll be watching a competition around 6:30 p.m. here (6:30 a.m. in Federal Way) and suddenly doze off struggling to stay awake. Hoping to get into the time zone soon … sleep desperately needed.

The title of the last blog printed by the Mirror was “Is this Las Vegas or Sochi.” That was in reference to the glamour and glitter of the venues and other buildings on the grounds. But that comment could have just as well applied to the weather. It hit 63 here yesterday in a cloudless sky and has been beautiful all but one day here so far. I’m having to apply sun screen to not burn.

A bit more about security. The front gate of the entrance into Olympic Park not only has walking guards present, there are about 60 check-through doors. To enter the Olympic Park, we have to scan our Spectator Passes in a reader, and then scan our event ticket.

This gets us through the gate and into the security zone. For days we don’t have event tickets (J.R competes in five of the 14 days we are here), we had to buy “Park Passes.”

Once in the security zone, it’s similar to screening at the airport a few years ago. Our bags, coats, and metal items on the body go through the scanner. Once on the other side, the agents pat you down on most clothed areas. Then I have to open up all backpack pouches for a visual inspection.

I don’t feel violated because in my mind, if they catch one person with destructive contraband it will be worth it. It is very quick and efficient. With 60 stations, we get through rather quickly. Leaving the security zone doors opens you up to the wonders of this Olympic Park.

You may have read about stray dogs. We see them at nearly every bus stop, just kind of lounging around. They seem friendly, just seeking a handout. Some look healthy, others not so. But none look starving though as the transit riders probably give them scraps to live off of.

Yesterday (Thursday) we toured around the amazing Olympic Park more. The more we walk around, the more amazing it becomes. The beauty from every angle is impressive, especially around the Olympic torch plaza. It is massive. From the plaza, you can see five venues which surround it, each the size of a full-scale, 20,000 seat arena – or bigger. This is where all ice events are held.

On Thursday afternoon, the men had qualifications in the 1000m (individual) and the 5000m relay. J.R. easily qualified in the 1000m. The 5000m relay is known to be chaos. There are 20 skaters from four teams on the ice. Exchanges are done not with a baton like in track, but by a push of the next skater.

It is one of the most exciting events of the Olympics because it’s so fast, chaotic, with only centimeters between the skate blades going full-speed. The top-two teams qualify to go on to the medal round. J.R. is the team anchor in this 45-lap race. Team USA skated against Korea, Netherlands and Kazakhstan.

Things were going fine with about nine laps to go. Then, J.R.’s teammate Eddy Alvarez, while passing to first place was “impeded” by the Korean skater who pulled his skate from underneath him.

But things occur so fast, we couldn’t see this important detail when it happened. Both skaters went crashing into the pads while the Netherlands and Kazakhstan teams passed by. Our hearts sank.

Our team would not go to the medal round. When incidents like this occur, there is an official review where the judges have instant replay similar to the NFL. The close-up video also shows on the large venue screens. When that incident was played (over-and-over), immediately I felt relief because I knew there would be a call made which would advance Team USA to the medal round.

Whenever someone, or a team in a qualifying position is interfered with and doesn’t qualify, they are advanced to the next round. In the end, it appeared the Korean skater was slipping out and in desperation was trying to touch the ice to gain stability. While doing that, Eddy’s skate just happened to be where he reached so the Korean team wasn’t penalized. Rather, they will skate in the “B Final” which is a type of consolation round. So, Team USA will skate in the medal round in the last event of the short track competition next Friday night.


For an interesting story on J.R and Eddy, go to this clip broadcast by KNBC in Southern California. It is a truly great story of two of the five teammates on Team USA short track and one of the big stories emerging from these Olympics.


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