Celski’s Olympic dream within grasp

Federal Way native J.R. Celski leads a pack of skaters, which includes Apolo Ohno (right), during last month’s World Short Track Speedskating Championships in Vienna. Celski won gold in the 3,000 meters and was on the first-place 5,000-meter U.S. relay team.  - Photo courtesy of Jerry Search
Federal Way native J.R. Celski leads a pack of skaters, which includes Apolo Ohno (right), during last month’s World Short Track Speedskating Championships in Vienna. Celski won gold in the 3,000 meters and was on the first-place 5,000-meter U.S. relay team.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Jerry Search

Ever since J.R. Celski can remember, he’s dreamed of donning the red, white and blue uniform of the United States of America in the Olympic Games.

“I think about that everyday in my life,” Celski said. “Just the thought of being there at the biggest sporting event in the history of the world is pretty exciting.”

Celski’s Olympic dream is about to become reality. The 18-year-old Federal Way native is on the cusp of fulfilling his lifelong quest of qualifying for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in neighboring Vancouver, B.C. after developing into one of the best short track speed skaters in the world.

Just the idea of walking into BC Place Stadium for the opening ceremonies just a year from now, sends shivers up and down Celski’s spine.

“It’s a big goal to be a part of that,” Celski said. “I know I can compete with those guys. But I’m just happy to be a part of this whole skating deal. I’m just going to train hard and hope that God takes me to the Olympics.”

Celski is well on his way. All you have to do is look at Celski’s performance at last month’s Short Track Speedskating World Championships in Vienna, Austria.

Celski skated to a gold medal in the 3,000-meter final and helped the U.S. team, which included Apolo Ohno, to a win in the 5,000-meter relay. He finished second in the overall classification behind South Korea’s Lee Ho-suk. Ohno finished fifth.

His performance at the world championships ended a very strong season around the world for Celski. It was his first year on the United States’ short track World Cup team. Celski won a gold medal in the 1,500 meters Feb. 15 in Dresden, Germany at the World Cup VI event and also competed in World Cup events in Bulgaria, Canada, Japan and China, among others.

“I have been able to gain a lot of experience and improve my technique,” Celski said. “The meet atmosphere is pretty crazy. There are a lot of big short track fans (in Europe). People come up and ask for autographs and stuff. A lot of people are really into that. Every meet I skate, I’m going against the best in the world.”

But all the work is pointing toward the goal of skating at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver.

“It has been a long year,” Celski said. “It’s been a big learning experience for me. I didn’t have many expectations at the beginning of the year and a lot of them seemed out of reach. But when I started seeing my competition from the different countries, those goals were not that far out of reach.”

Celski started the 2008-09 season with the goal of being in the top-three in the world at the end of the year and ended up in second overall at the World Championships.

“I just wanted to get as much knowledge as I could,” Celski said. “So the season was a success.”

To qualify for the Olympic short track speedskating team, Celski will have to finish in the top-two during any of the three individual races or in the top-four to qualify for the U.S. relay team. The 2010 US Olympic Short Track Team Trials will be held Dec. 8-12 at the Berry Events Center at Northern Michigan University.

Celski will spend the spring and summer training with the US team in Colorado Springs at the Olympic Training Center.

“The summer training is pretty intense,” Celski said. “They are just gearing us up for the Olympics, so hopefully we can peak. That’s a big part of it, being able to peak for the Olympics. That’s when you want to be in top shape.”

Celski’s skating career started as a 4-year-old inline skater at Federal Way’s Pattison’s West with his father, Bob, and two brothers, Chris and David. After numerous inline national championships, Celski switched over to the ice as a 12-year-old to follow in the skates of his idol, Ohno, who was also a former Pattison’s skater and Olympic gold medalist.

Short track speedskating has become one of the most popular spectator events at the Winter Olympics and that won’t change in Vancouver. To say the event has been a hot ticket would be an understatment. Just ask Celski’s parents, Bob and Sue Celski.

“My parents didn’t even get tickets,” Celski said. “It’s going to be very hard to get into the event. I will be able to get my parents tickets, but my friends and family are going to have to buy scalped tickets, I guess.”

According to Olympic organizers, 120 of the 170 events in Vancouver required a lottery to distribute tickets, including short track speedskating.

When 1.6 million tickets were put on sale by the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC), Canadians submitted requests for more than $345 million worth. By comparison, U.S. fans requested $75 million worth of tickets before the 2002 Salt Lake Games.

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