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

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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.

Whew!!!

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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Team Celski Blog: Is this Las Vegas or Sochi?

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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.

Thursday 2/13/14
Sue, Chris, Andrea and I went to the figure skating event on Tuesday and had close-up seats. I have never seen live figure skating before. What a place to see it first-time.
The Russian team that was in first place after the night was flawless — they were in harmony and near perfect. Clearly ahead of second place. The place was packed and as in every event, the Russian-dominated crowd was loud and proud.
This was a fun night.
We left the arena around 10:30 p.m. and then walked the park for the first time at night. This place really comes alive after dark. I would compare it to the lights and glitter of Las Vegas. Every building is lit up.
But what stands out are the four main venues — short-track and figure skating, long track, and the two hockey venues all are covered in a massive, live video display. Words can’t describe how amazing this sight is, with the venues surrounding the enormous Olympic Torch plaza.
We could spend a full night at each building just watching the beautiful display. Speaking of Olympic Park – it is vast. It’s about a 15-minute brisk walk from the park entrance – where there about 50 secured entry stalls side-by-side – to the Opening Ceremonies venue. And three of the competition venues are on the far side of it.
The park is so big that J.R. bought a bike to get to the venues from the Athletes Village, or to meet with us at the P&G Home etc. – all in an effort to save his legs for competition. J.R. is donating the bike to a local Russian charity after Olympics are done.
An important aspect for the families and athletes is to have a place to meet and congregate. Luckily, we have such a place. Procter & Gamble, one of J.R.’s sponsors (you may have seen the commercial with J.R. and Sue) spends a fortune to support the USOC, and the athletes and parents through what’s called the P&G Family Home.
It is a large building with big meeting rooms where families can just hang out, eat lunch or dinner, meet with the athletes, and meet new friends. It’s where Sue and I met yesterday (Wednesday) with Chris Daniels of King 5 NBC to do an interview for the Olympic Zone coverage.
Meals, snacks and drinks are provided by P&G to help the families out. It is expensive enough to travel to and stay at an Olympic site, so the P&G Family Home is a very welcome gesture to the families. They did this same thing in Vancouver at the 2010 Olympics. Lucky for us because we had over 50 family members and friends spend time with us in the P&G Family Home there.
We went to the long track competition Wednesday night. Similar to all ice arena events, this is very popular. It is a 400-meter track surrounded by a massive building. I heard yesterday that there are only about 30 indoor long tracks in the world, and 14 of them are in the Netherlands (it is their national sport).
Anyway, this is known to be a fun event, filled with rowdy, but fun-loving fans, particularly the Dutch. The reputation lived up to its expectation. It was indeed fun and exciting.
During the ice cleaning halfway through the event, there was a marching band entertaining everyone, similar to a half-time show at a football game. What fun. Luckily J.R. was able to break away and be with us for this because the event ended early enough for him to get back to his room and rest up for his short track event later on today.

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Team Celski Blog: Black Sea accommodations are very nice

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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.

Tuesday 2/11/14
To get our accommodations, we went through the International Olympic Committee’s ticketing and accommodations contractor. We are staying in a resort on the Black Sea, a very nice place. We went through them to guarantee a place to stay with a reputable provider.
After a morning workout in the resort fitness center, Sue and I took a bus to the Olympic Park to meet one of the US Speedskating staff. Our purpose was to deliver to him some special breakfast cereal, juice and supplements that J.R. asked us to bring from the states. Because he is staff, he can get through the gauntlet of security with such items much easier than us. As spectators, these items would be confiscated from us.
We are spending the afternoon in the P&G Family Home, together again with J.R. to after a light ice practice. As luck may have it, we were given four tickets to the Figure Skating Pairs Short Program tonight and are definitely going.

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Team Celski Blog: J.R. finishes fourth in the 1,500 meters, looking forward to next event

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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.

Monday 2/10/14
After an early breakfast, we caught a bus 20 minutes to the Olympic Park to pick up all the tickets we bought, and get our park passes. Getting into the Olympic Park was not much different than going through security at the airport, except that rather than English speaking TSA agents, we were dealing with Russian speaking volunteers. As expected, most of the communication was done with motions and gestures, but we muddled through.
Once in the park, we toured various sites and then queued up in the line for the Sochi Olympic store.
We waited for about an hour before entering but found some interesting souvenirs to bring home. It is a very photogenic place, and we took a lot of pictures.
Monday was J.R.’s first race – the 1,500 starting at 1:45 p.m.. Just before entering the venue – called the Iceberg Palace — we took pictures in front of the Olympic Torch. What a grand site that was. It is a huge torch.
The Iceberg Palace is one of several Olympic venues in the park. It is a beautiful, state-of-the-art facility.
By the time events started, the place was filled to about 90 to 95 percent. It is no secret now how things finished in the races that day. J.R. breezed relatively easy through the quarterfinals and the semifinals to get into the medal round. He looked good through those races. J.R. finished fourth, just missing getting on the podium. While disappointed in his performance, great athletes have amnesia because they can’t harbor on past successes or failures, but rather, concentrate on the next event.
After the event, our family party of five (Sue, Chris, Andrea – J.R.’s girlfriend, J.R. and I) spent the evening with J.R. at the Procter & Gamble Family Home. This is P&G’s sponsored hospitality house where athletes and families can get away from the busyness of the games to rest, eat and just hang out.
I was able to spend some time with J.R. and he feels confident in his upcoming races.

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Team Celski Blog: Flying from New York to Sochi was a whirlwind

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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.

Sunday 2/9/14
As I write this we are in flight from Moscow to Sochi, the third and last leg in a trip halfway around the world.
Our flight from New York to Moscow departed about an hour late. We don’t know why, there was never an explanation. It was a very smooth flight for nine hours. When we landed in Moscow, clapping broke out all over the plane. I’ve never seen that happen before, it was quite interesting.
Right as we touched down in Moscow, our flight to Sochi began boarding. We were nervous about missing the connection to Sochi because if we missed that, there was a possibility that we would miss being at his 1,500-meter races on Monday afternoon.
As we were taxiing, one of the flight attendants told us to get up, grab our stuff and move to the front of the plane. While we were taxiing. So we complied, knowing we were in jeopardy of missing that flight. She did this to get us quickly off the packed plane.
The airline and on-the-ground staff were kind and most helpful. No less than eight representatives “ran” 11 of us from our arrival gate to our departure gate through the crowd. At least one-quarter of a mile. We were whisked on the plane and the doors closed as the last of us boarded and we were off. We were amazed at the coordination and timing of this transfer.
The last leg of the trip was about 2 ½ hours. On the final approach to Sochi, we saw the Olympic Park, the Olympic Torch and the athletes village. It was an awesome sight with the North Caucuses mountains in the background. As we touched down, all the Russian passengers began clapping again.
Surprisingly enough, our bags made the flight to Sochi on our plane. This was amazing as we were only on the ground in Moscow for what seemed to be about 20 minutes.
We spent Sunday evening securing our luggage, exchanging currency, traveling to the Adler train station to get our Spectator Passes, and taking a bus to the hotel – with a ton of luggage. It took several hours to do this and we finally arrived at the hotel about 10:30 p.m. Sunday night. So we made it – despite all the uncertainty of travel, storms, missed flights, baggage transfer, finding our way via bus to the hotel on Sunday night in Sochi, etc. It was a huge relief when we entered our room.

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Team Celski: Thank you, Federal Way

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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.

Saturday 2/8/14
Sue and I feel indebted to Mayor Jim Ferrell and the City Council for recognizing J.R. as an Olympian at the city council meeting on Tuesday. Feb. 4. He feels the support from Federal Way all the way over in Sochi.
Today is the day we have waited for since our last Olympic experience in 2010. Sue, our son Chris and I flew out of SeaTac Airport at 7:30 a.m. on time, narrowly avoiding a snowstorm that pummeled the Portland area. We were nervous all week that this storm would hit our area and interrupt the start of our adventure.
We were also concerned about another major snowstorm that was to hit the Northeast, but apparently we arrived and depart from New York ahead of this storm. Travel in the winter is so unpredictable. One delay on multi-leg flights cascades into an extended trip. So far, luck is on our side. As I write this we are soon to leave New York for Moscow.
The coverage last night (Friday) on the King 5 Olympic Zone just prior to the Opening Ceremonies had a nice feature on J.R. Aside from showing his story, we are amazed at how much the media is tying him to Macklemore, the Grammy winning artist from Seattle. It makes sense though, as both have recovery stories and through this common theme have formed a friendship.
Prior to the U.S. Olympic Team walking out for the Opening Ceremonies, we were astonished that NBC chose J.R. as one of two athletes to be interviewed. Cris Collinsworth, announcer for NBC Sunday Night Football asked J.R. several questions, ending with J.R. doing a shout out for the Seahawks. J.R. is a very proud member of the 12th Man who got up at 3 a.m. in Sochi last Sunday to watch the Super Bowl. He was very sleepy yet made it through the game but took a short nap during halftime!
Some may be surprised that we wouldn’t know about something like J.R. being selected for such an interview beforehand. As parents, we learned from our Vancouver experience to be “hands-off” of J.R.
During world-level events like this, he is constantly under the gun by the media, fans and sponsors, all while training and maintaining equipment, resting, etc. With such pressure, we don’t want to add to his burden and contribute to him losing focus. So we keep silent, and wait for him to reach out to us even when we are present at the event. As parents, this is a tough pill to swallow but critical to his success. We learned this first-hand during the Olympic Trials back in 2009.

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Team Celski: From Marquette to Sochi

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Speedskating Olympian J.R. Celski’s family members pose for a photo with Celski’s picture on the side of a vehicle.

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.
When Sue and I were driving on Interstate 5 somewhere north of Seattle on our way to the Vancouver Olympics on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2010, we were really only concerned about two things. First, was J.R. going to be allowed to walk in the Opening Ceremonies, and second, how would he perform against the best in the world after recovering from one of the most serious injuries his sport has ever seen. He hadn’t competed in more than five months since the Olympic Trials in mid-September 2009, and only started training back on the ice after Thanksgiving 2009, just more than two months before the opening ceremonies.
With the Opening Ceremonies scheduled for the next night (Friday, Feb. 12, 2010), and his first event, the 1,500 meter scheduled for the following Saturday evening, the coaches were pressing the skaters hard to remain in their rooms to rest instead of participating.
Well, J.R. would have none of that, and eventually after several negotiations (and calling dad for advice on how to deal with the coaches), reason prevailed. The athletes were allowed to walk and then would leave early. We found out the night before the Opening Ceremonies that he would participate, answering our concern about whether he would be allowed to walk in the Opening Ceremonies. There was no way he would come this far and miss a lifetime milestone like this. First concern taken care of – check.
J.R. went on to win the bronze medal in the 1,500-meter race and was the first medalist in the Olympics for the U.S. team, along with teammate Apolo Ohno. Two weeks later, the men’s short track team would earn a medal in the 5,000-meter relay – J.R.’s second medal. J.R. was a proud member of the record-breaking 2010 U.S. Winter Olympic team that earned 37 total medals, breaking the previous record of 36. He was personally part of two of those 37 total medals. His amazing performance in the Olympics answered our second concern.
We called our 17-day trip to Vancouver “our experience of a lifetime.” The city, its people, the hospitality, were all amazing. If it were up to us, Vancouver would host every Winter Olympics!
Moving on to Sochi, a huge contrast between Vancouver and Sochi starts with the Olympic Trials. In the September 2009 Olympic short track trials for Vancouver, we had about 20 or so of J.R.’s supporters present in Marquette, Mich. In the January 2014 trials in Salt Lake City, there were at least 60 family members and close friends present. However, the tides turn in the Olympics. While about 50 family members and friends showed up in Vancouver to watch J.R. compete or to be with us, there will be only seven in Sochi.
J.R.’s experience going to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia is different. J.R. is healthy, he is ready. He has competed against the best in the world several times in the past six months. Unlike in Vancouver, he is more hardened, more experienced, more focused. He’s now a 23-year-old team leader; in Vancouver he was a 19-year-old Olympic rookie.
Our experience in Sochi will be much different than Vancouver. First, location. In 2010, we drove to Vancouver about three hours up I-5 in the same time zone. For Sochi, we will fly about 24 hours to a place that is 12 time zones away – exactly half way around the world. Vancouver: English. Sochi: Russian. Vancouver – a single ticket to get into an event. Sochi – three layers of security to get through the security labyrinth and into an event: a park pass, a spectator pass and a ticket. Oh yes, a Russian visa in addition to the passport just to enter the country.
It goes further. In Vancouver, we stayed with friends. In Sochi, we paid for a hotel long ago that we didn’t even know would be built!
Vancouver: a friendly, large, world-class city that was open and largely free of security concerns or serious threats. Sochi: a small unknown town in a very unstable region of the world with tension, controversy, serious security threats, computer hacking fears and far less infrastructure.
So, while going into Vancouver we were only concerned about those two things discussed above, Sochi is filled with uncertainty. Despite this, our mantra throughout this whole process so far is this: We believe! We believe that everything will normalize and that it will be a great trip, well worth taking to the other side of the world so we can watch our son do what he’s done since he just turned 3 years old! And we can’t wait to get started on this journey Saturday morning. We have already labeled this trip “our adventure of a lifetime.”
Some side notes and fun fact contrasts to finish this first week’s edition. J.R. has always been a huge Seahawks fan. The season leading up to the 2010 Olympics, the Seahawks record was 5–11 and no playoffs. This season, leading up to the 2014 Olympics, the Seahawks record was 13–3 and they won the Super Bowl. Leading up to the 2010 Olympics, J.R. was a follower of an unknown Seattle hip-hop band called Macklemore. Leading up to the 2014 Olympics, J.R. and his production team produced a successful documentary on Seattle hip-hop featuring a world-renowned hip-hop band called Macklemore, who went on to win four Grammys in January 2014.
More to come next week …

Bob Celski is the father of speedskating Olympian J.R. Celski and a Federal Way City Council member.

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