Celski skates way to bronze medal at Olympics; Ohno takes silver

Federal Way native J.R. Celski won his first Olympic medal Saturday when he skated to third place in the 1,500 meters in Vancouver, B.C. Celski got his start at Pattison
Federal Way native J.R. Celski won his first Olympic medal Saturday when he skated to third place in the 1,500 meters in Vancouver, B.C. Celski got his start at Pattison's West skate center in Federal Way.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

J.R. Celski has something that can never be taken away from him - an Olympic medal.

The 19-year-old Federal Way resident skated his way to a bronze medal Saturday night in the 1,500-meter race at Vancouver's Pacific Coliseum. It was the first of three events for the short-track speedskater at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

"Words can't describe it," Celski said after the race. "I'm so happy to be here."

Celski finished right behind fellow American Apolo Ohno, who snared the silver medal. Ohno's second-place finish gave the former Federal Way resident six total medals during his three Olympic Games, tying him with Bonnie Blair for the most medals by an American at the Winter Olympics. Ohno, like Celski, began inline skating at Federal Way's Pattison's West skating center.

Things didn't look too good for Ohno and Celski during Saturday's 1,500-meter final. The pair were skating in fourth and fifth place entering the final turn. But that's when Ohno and Celski took advantage of a crash in front of them to skate into medal contention.

South Korea's Ho-Suk Lee attempted to take an inside path to the gold, he clipped skates with countryman Si-Bak Sung. Both went rolling into the side boards, opening a path for Ohno and Celski.

"It was amazing," Celski said. "I had no idea what happened. I just tried to stay on my feet. It was such a blur. I cannot even think back to it."

South Korea still got the gold. Lee Jung-su finished out front of Ohno and Celski and out of the trouble that tripped up his teammates.

Celski's Olympics will continue Wednesday with qualifying races in the 1,000 meters and the 5,000-meter relay.

The gold medal final in the 1,000 will be held Saturday in prime time and the relay final will be contested on Friday, Feb. 26. Ohno will also be skating in both events.

"I built confidence in the [1,500 final] race, which I will take with me into my next races," Celski said. "I got the jitters out. The first (qualifying) race I got the jitters. The second race was better."

It’s actually kind of shocking that Celski was even be skating in Vancouver. In September at the U.S. Olympic Trials, Celski fell and hit the boards coming out of a turn during a semifinal heat of the 500 meters. That’s when Celski’s right skate blade sliced into his left leg, above his knee, spilling blood on the ice. The cut missed his femoral artery by just an inch. Celski had emergency surgery and has endured five months of extensive rehabilitation on the leg in preparation for the Olympic Games. The 1,500 was Celski’s first competition since the accident, which caused him to miss all four World Cup events during the fall.

Before the injury, Celski was in the midst of a breakthrough season.

He won world championships last spring in the 3,000 meters and relay, and bronze in the 1,500 and 1,000.

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