KEARNS, Utah — 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.
Celski won the first 'A' final in 40.994 seconds, pulling away from Alvarez on the last lap and cruising across the line. Alvarez finished second and Kyle Carr took third. Malone fell during the race.
Emily Scott of Springfield, Mo., was third in the first women's 500 'A' final and came back to finish second in the day's other final, ensuring her one of three available spots on the U.S. women's team.
She didn't celebrate crossing the line, unaware that her finish meant she'd made her first Olympic team.
“I'm speechless,” she said. “I didn't even know until my coach brought me over and congratulated me. I was just going out there to race.”
Smith won both 500 finals after going through quarterfinal and semifinal rounds at the Utah Olympic Oval. She, Scott and Alyson Dudek kept the top three spots throughout the second final. Smith won the first final in 44.374, and was timed in 44.420 in the second.
Smith led from start to finish in the first women's 'A' final, winning in 44.374 with Dudek close behind. Scott was third and Sarah Chen fourth.
“I've been racing this weekend to help me for Sochi,” Smith said. “Just skating my races and worrying about what I needed to do each time. It panned out each time with two victories. I'm excited where my racing is going. It's headed in the right direction.”
Celski and Smith also will skate in the 1,500 in Sochi after each of them won their respective races Friday.
Five men will make the U.S. team, while just three women will after they failed to qualify a relay for Sochi. It will be the smallest U.S. women's short track team since the sport joined the Olympics in 1996.
Celski leads the 500 standings with 2,500 points. Alvarez was second at 1,920. Malone of Denton, Texas, was third with 1,357. Carr of Peachtree City, Ga., was fourth at 1,257. Kyle Uyehara of Whittier, Calif., stood fifth at 904.
Smith of Melvindale, Mich., topped the women's 500 standings with 2,500 points. Scott was second at 1,840. Dudek of Hales Corners, Wis., was third at 1,760. Sarah Chen of San Marino, Calif., was fourth at 1,280, well ahead of her sister Jacqueline, who was fifth with 836.
The four-day trials end Sunday with the 1,000.