Celski, Smith clinch 2nd Olympic short track spots

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 4, 2014 at 5:53 pm •  Published: January 4, 2014
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KEARNS, Utah (AP) — J.R. Celski clinched a second short track speedskating event for the Sochi Olympics. He was almost happier to have childhood rival and friend Eddy Alvarez make the team.

Celski dominated the 500 meters at the U.S. trials on Saturday, winning both of the finals. Jessica Smith led all the way in winning the women's sprint, ensuring she'll skate at least two events in Russia.

Alvarez, a former inline skater from Miami, became the first Cuban-American man to make an Olympic speedskating team after finishing second to Celski in both 500 'A' finals.

"I had a moment in the locker room," Alvarez said, his eyes still red. "I just kind of looked back at what I went through to get here."

The 24-year-old skater failed to make the 2010 Vancouver Games and quit the sport to play shortstop on a junior college team in Salt Lake City. All the while, though, Alvarez's knees were killing him. He found out he had 12 tears between both knees, and decided to have them repaired at the same time.

He was bedridden for a month, and couldn't walk by himself for two months.

"All I can think about is those nights where I couldn't sleep," he said. "I basically hated life. I was in a hole. I just had no hope whatsoever."

By July 2012, Alvarez was back skating again. He eventually started training with Celski, whom he refers to as a brother.

"I'm proud of that kid for stepping up like he did," Celski said.

Alvarez clapped as he crossed the line behind Celski in the second men's final. Alvarez caught up with Celski and grabbed him for a hug.

Celski took the early lead before Alvarez passed him. Celski grabbed the lead right back with a pass down low in the four-man final. Celski won in 41.000 seconds.

"I was pretty shocked," Celski said about temporarily losing the lead. "We're always kind of pulling moves on each other. It's fun when we're out there racing each other."

Celski, from Federal Way, Wash., and Alvarez have competed against each other since they were 6.

"It sounds pretty awesome, don't you think?" Alvarez said about making the team with Celski. "It's everything we always talked about."

On the awards podium, Celski passed the winner's bottle of champagne to Alvarez. He shook it up while Jordan Malone grabbed Celski, who couldn't escape as Alvarez soaked his face and short, dark hair with bubbly.