Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Road to Sochi - U.S. Speedskating Olympic Trials 2014

Track records on the fastest ice on earth - Utah Olympic Oval

I love living in an Olympic city. Salt Lake City is the only Olympic host city still using all of its venues more than ten years after the 2002 Olympic Games. I was looking for something fun to do over Christmas break with the family, and was thrilled to find out several sports were having their U.S. Olympic trials in Utah venues.  We chose to spend an evening at the short-track speedskating competition.

Torchbearer at the Kearns Olympic Oval

I discovered that I could get two for one tickets to this competition if we wore either 2002 Winter Olympic gear, or Utah sports logo wear. Time to haul out the torchbearer jacket! We got the whole family in to the Olympic trials for $4 a person. Bargain entertainment, if you ask me!  Before we went into the Olympic Oval, we walked around the "Road to Sochi" booths and tried our hand at sliding on a sheet designed to mimic speed skating. Other booths included curling, and a photo opportunity in a bobsled.  We also picked up trading cards.

Probably the closest I will come to bobsledding!

We headed inside and chose general admission seats on the curve. Speedskating athletes zoom by very quickly (in short-track, a lap takes only 8 seconds) and I wanted to take photos. The curve is a natural place for shooting pictures.  I loved seeing all the flags hanging from the rafters. We also saw team members from Kazakhstan. I am assuming they are spending some pre-Olympic time training in Salt Lake City.

Athletes warming up before the competition - Utah Olympic Oval

I saw the 1500 meter competition the night I went to the ice sheet.  The skaters competed in semi-final rounds, and then there were 3 finals (C, B and A). After a break, the whole process repeated, so these athletes raced a 1500 four times during the time we were there.  Short-track speedskating is appealing because it is visually stunning as the athletes round the curve. There is an artistry to the way they line up, and the angles at which they skate are incredible. It also has all the intensity of high speed and potential chaos. Since J.R. Celski was injured four years ago (his leg was sliced by a skate blade), short track competition suits have added a layer of  Kevlar to protect these athletes from the razor sharp skate blades if they fall. Crashes are a part of the competition. If your skate blade crosses the finish line first, you win, even if you are no longer standing when you cross the line.

Beauty of short track

We found seats by "Team Celski" who were out in force cheering for J.R.   Eddy Alvarez, who trains in Salt Lake City also, was another crowd favorite. I sat in front of a lady planning to spend 3 weeks in Russia at the 2014 Olympic Games. She had attended Winter Olympics in Salt Lake, Vancouver, and Torino. We were also near Jessica Smith's mom. After Jessica won the first A final of the 1500, we congratulated her mother, who informed us she had to do it all again in the second session. But no stress for the mom! It was great to watch her face as she watched her daughter compete.

Short-track is exciting, and I was torn between taking photos (which I love to do), and watching the race for the quick passes an athlete makes to go from the middle of the pack to the front.

Jessica Smith (red helmet) getting ready to make a move.

Jessica Smith takes the lead.

Between sessions we wandered the Oval, got snacks, and met long-track speedskating Olympic team members who had competed earlier in the week.  We got autographed photos and wished them well in Sochi.

Part of Team USA:  Heather Richardson, Sugar Todd, Joey Mantia, and Brian Hansen
Long-track Speedskating

We found ourselves rooting for Eddy Alvarez, who had also overcome injuries to compete in this Olympic trials. And of course, it was easy to join with Team Celski cheering for J.R.

Eddy Alvarez prepares for his final.

The men's 1500 heats up.

J.R. Celski gives love to his fans after his race.

When the Olympic trials were over, the US had 3 women and 5 men named to the short-track team.  The women won't have a relay this year, but we will still be cheering for all our U.S. athletes as they compete in Sochi. We were fortunate to see short-track speedskating at the 2002 Winter Olympics, and I loved watching this sport in person again.

The following athletes will represent Team USA for short-track speedskating:  (Women) Alyson Dudek, Jessica Smith, and Emily Scott.  (Men) J.R. Celski, Eddy Alvarez, Chris Creveling, Jordan Malone and Kyle Carr.

Short-track Speedskating U.S. Olympic Trials 2014


  1. That was such a fun way to spend my birthday! I loved feeling the Olympic spirit once again.

    1. It was fun, wasn't it? It really did bring out the Olympic spirit. Now I am excited for the games to begin next month!