TEAM CELSKI BLOG: J.R. doing fine after hitting block in 1,000 meters

unnamed-21By 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.


It’s been a busy few days with a lot of activity.

Many are wondering how J.R. is after the fall he took on Saturday in the quarterfinals of the 1000m race. He hit a block that was out of position when he was cranking up to pass back into first place and race to the finish line. When unexpectedly hitting the block, he fell to his knees on the ice and both of them. We were heartbroken that this happened – he was a favorite for a medal and was looking so good. Our biggest concern was whether or not he was OK. Short track is unforgiving with regard to injury to the athletes, and J.R. has had more than his share of them. Luckily, he is fine and didn’t hurt them enough to hinder him in the competition.

On Sunday, we had a family day, all day long. J.R. didn’t practice to rest his sore knees. This was the day that we visited J.R. in the Athlete Village

Like much of the process in making your way to various attractions in the Olympics, coordination to get the passes for the village was done by Sue via email way back in December. She did this coordination as directed, but as part of the process, she never received any kind of written confirmation.

So, with uncertainty, we went to the village having faith that the process worked and we would get in. We went to the processing desk at the entrance of the village, gave them our names, and presto – a pass for each of us was produced. It worked. Once again, success thanks to all of Sue’s hard work long before the start of the Olympics.

We took the train from Adler to the Olympic Park, then boarded another train to the Athletes Village. It was another long walk. The day was cooler and cloudy with periodic drizzle, much like the weather in Federal Way all day long. Quite a change from all the other days

Andrea called J.R. once we were done processing, so J.R. rode his bike to meet us. The athletes village is just an area of many apartment buildings – one for each country participating in the Olympics. Many were decked out with national flags and banners, but not the USA. In my mind this is not due to a lack of pride in the US, but of good operational security so as to not give a target to those who would do harm.

The room was huge, and very Spartan. There was nothing on the walls except for an Olympic flag that J.R. put up. J.R. acquired the autographs of several Olympians on the flag and is quite proud of it. We took some pictures in there, and mainly hung out for a few hours. While there, J.R. did laundry. Sue, who takes charge of laundry for her boys, was told no, that he would do the laundry together with Andrea. Never saw this happen before. Anyway, J.R. had to get treated by the physical therapist for his knees so while he went to do that, we made our way back to the Olympic Park and on to the USA Hospitality House.

On the way there, we visited the Olympic rings at the Athlete’s Village, and also the rings between the Olympic Park Train Station and the park. Both are huge and impressive. The rings located around the entire region are placed in very scenic and impressive settings.

We finally arrived at the USA Hospitality House in the middle of Olympic Park. Not long after we arrived, J.R. showed up. He has a huge advantage of biking on a straight path from his apartment through an athlete-only access point, and directly through the park on his bike. It took us about 90 minutes, him about 10.

The USA Hospitality House is where the USOC hosts athletes, and large donors and sponsors. Athletes who medal are honored there the night of their victories. It isn’t much unlike the P&G House for families, but much more exclusive. Many former Olympians show up to meet with the donors and sponsors.

Great food, plenty of refreshments. So far we have met up with Bonnie Blair there (we have become friends with Bonnie over the years), Kristi Yamaguchi (who sought J.R. out to take a picture with him), Dan Jansen (who is a huge fan of J.R. – never did we think a speedskating legend would be a fan of our son), Scott Hamilton, Bode Miller, and so on. They all make their way into the USA House. There are huge big-screen TV’s there to watch US athletes compete. The TV’s are 15’ x 10’ or bigger, and there are four of them side-by-side. A great place to watch Olympic sports.

Today (Monday) I went with Andrea to J.R.’s practice. He looked good, fast, ready. He is feeling good. He has put the 1000m behind him. The practice was for 50 minutes, together with the team from The Netherlands. When it ended, we returned to the USA House to eat and hang out. It is Andrea’s birthday today so we celebrated it there. With J.R. competing tomorrow (Tuesday), he left early at about 4:30 or so. No celebrating for him tonight with his girlfriend on her birthday, duty calls.

But Andrea understands completely, she retired from the Canadian short track team last year and would have it no other way this evening.


TEAM CELSKI BLOG: Olympic break means a tour of Sochi

unnamed-22By 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.


We took a break from the Olympic Park action yesterday since J.R. had no short track events. Rather, Sue, Chris and I caught a train from Adler up the coast to Sochi, the namesake city of these Winter Olympic Games.

I have always been curious about the Black Sea, a huge body of water on which Sochi, Adler and the Olympic Park lie. Based on the Black Sea’s distance from the U.S., and the countries that border it, I never thought I’d see it. But here we are, able to set our eyes on it because of the 2014 Olympics.

We arrived in Sochi on the train and walked from the station to the river, and then upstream to a huge mall which was much bigger even than Southcenter Mall. We stopped and sat down at a pastry shop and had pastry and coffee / tea. The pastry was as good as we’ve ever had and the green tea was by far the best I have ever tasted. Among other souvenir shops etc., we found a huge grocery store in the mall which would make a Super Walmart jealous. There were many, many brands recognizable in the US in the well-stocked shelves such as Tide, Safeguard soap, Oral B, Crest, American brand beers, candy bars, etc.

Browsing by the candy shelves, we noticed the variety of chocolate bars at very good prices. Some had quite interesting  packaging. We couldn’t resist and bought about $30 worth of chocolate to bring back home.

The infrastructure of the city reminded me of cities in the US from back in the 60’s or 70’s. From the broken down, man-made riverbed to the huge metal power poles to the old style heavy truss bridges, it was definitely old style. But there are modern aspects to the city with a very efficient rail and bus system and nice, modern looking high rises.

This was also a day to rest and recharge our batteries after several long, intense days. 


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.


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


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.


Team Celski: Thank you, Federal Way


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.


Team Celski: From Marquette to Sochi

Team Celski

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.