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Local Olympic hopeful to shadow Federal Way's Celski at Winter Olympics
Like any other short track speedskater from the United States, Aaron Tran's goal is to wear the red, white and blue and compete at the Winter Olympic Games.
The Todd Beamer High School student will get the chance to experience what it's like to attend the Olympics next week.
But Tran's journey to Russia won't culminate with an actual appearance skating against the best in the world on the ice. Tran will be at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, with an eye to the future. He will get the full experience about what it's like to be an Olympic athlete by shadowing fellow Federal Way resident, J.R. Celski, during the Games.
Tran was selected by TD Ameritrade to represent the company's core values at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, with the hopes that he will represent the United States at the next Winter Olympics in 2018.
"I'm not really sure how they chose me," Tran said with a laugh. "But I'm glad they did."
Ameritrade interviewed many former Olympians, who said that their first trips to the Games were very stressful. The investment company wanted to invest in Olympic hopefuls, so when they go to future Games, they are more comfortable and could perform at their best.
Tran will be joined in Sochi by six other Winter Olympic hopefuls, including snowboarder Gabe Ferguson (14), skeleton rider Gracie Clapp-Taylor (21), biathlete Jakob Ellingson (19), paralympic alpine skier Katrina Schaber (16), paralympic sled hockey player Chris Douglas (23) and freestyle skier Nik Seemann (16).
Tran is slated to leave for Russia on Wednesday and will not only attend short track speed skating, but will also take in a hockey game and skiing events.
"They have a bunch of things set up for us," Tran said. "It's going to be pretty cool."
But, even before making the long flight to Sochi, Tran is set to compete at the United States Junior National Short Track Speedskating Championships in Milwaukee this weekend. The event for skaters 18 and under will be held Saturday and Sunday. Tran hopes to do well in the event and qualify for the Junior World Championships, which will be held in Erzurum, Turkey March 7-9.
The Junior Nationals will be Tran's second huge speed skating meet in the last month. Like Celski, Tran competed at the U.S. Olympic Trials last month. As a 17-year-old, Tran ended up 12th in the overall standings and competing in every event distance in Utah.
"It was really awesome," Tran said. "I wasn't really sure if I was going to make it to the Olympic Trials. All of those other skaters focus just on skating and I was at home just finishing up school. I was really happy when I was able to qualify to race in the competition."
But, since the Trials, Tran has dedicated himself full-time to becoming a better short-track speed skater. He is taking some time off from his senior year at Todd Beamer and living and training at the U.S. Olympic Oval in Utah.
"I will head back to school after Sochi and catch up," Tran said. "It was really hard to get all of my schooling done while training. So I'm just focusing on training and will just have to catch up."
Tran will be in Sochi studying under the tutelage of Celski, who is a favorite to win multiple medals on the track. The two both started inline skating at Pattison's West as boys before switching over the ice.
Last month, Celski dominated the competition at the U.S. Olympic Short Track Speedskating Trials, winning the overall title and qualifying for his second Olympics. Celski, who will skate in four events in Sochi, also attended Beamer before transferring out to become a full-time skater.
"I’m pumped that Aaron is part of the TD Ameritrade program," Celski said. "He represents the future generation of short track and I am happy that he will get a chance to see, in person, the pinnacle of our sport at the Olympics in Sochi. It’s important that kids like him get a glimpse of competition like the Olympics, so they can be motivated for their future and see the action and excitement first hand. Aaron is very talented at what he does and I’m glad to play a role in helping him along his journey."
Celski is the current world record holder in the 500 meters. He is the first person to skate a sub-40 in the distance, setting the world record with a time of 39.937 in the first World Cup of last season on Oct. 21, 2012.
"I honestly had no idea that he went to Beamer like me," Tran said. "But after I got to the school, people told me that J.R. Celski also went to Beamer. I was like, 'Wow, he is a really outstanding skater.' Now I can look up to him for technical and racing advice."
Tran started inline skating at Pattison's West after watching the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Torino, Italy, as a 10-year-old.
"Out of all the winter sports, speed skating was so much fun to watch," he said. "I knew that there was a speed skating team at Pattison's West and I decided to do it."
But, much like Celski and another Pattison's West competitor, Apolo Ohno, Tran made the switch to the ice.
"I knew there was no Olympics for inline, so I switched a little quicker than I expected," Tran said.
Tran started training at the Puget Sound Hockey Center in Tacoma and the rest is history.
"They are actually pretty different sports," Tran said. "In inline, you kind of push back to go forward. On the ice, you go faster by pushing forward. There are a whole bunch of technical things that make you go faster, but it all comes down to 10ths of a second on the ice."