Going for the Gold: J.R. Celski

Christie Succop September 04, 2009


Photo: Harry How/Getty Images

For the past four years, J.R. Celski has been called the next Apolo Anton Ohno of short track speed skating. Celski always has admired Ohno, and it was Ohno's victories at the 2002 Games that convinced Celski he could accomplish the same. Aside from their skating triumphs on the ice, Celski and Ohno share ironically similar backgrounds.

Both skaters grew up in Federal Way, Wash., and began inline skating at Pattison's West Roller Rink. Both athletes switched from inline to ice and became big sensations. Both Celski and Ohno moved away from home to train seriously. And to the average fan, they could even be mistaken for each other.

And now Celski might even be able to rival his idol on the ice as well.

He scored a major breakthrough in the sport at his first World Championships in Vienna, Austria, earlier this year. There, Celski earned five medals, including two gold medals and the overall silver medal. He also earned the bronze medal in the 1,500-meter and 1,000-meter events.

Celski, who turned 19 in July, is now preparing for his next event, the 2010 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for short track speedskating, scheduled for Sept. 8-12 in Marquette, Mich. The top five men and top five women short track speedskaters in the United States will be determined in Marquette during the event, and the skaters will then earn Olympic berths during World Cup 3 in Montreal and World Cup 4 back in Marquette.

Celski, who missed the age-eligibility cutoff date to compete in the Torino 2006 Olympic Winter Games by 17 days (he turned 16 on July 17, 1990), has been especially motivated to make the U.S. Olympic Team in Vancouver.

When Celski made the decision to train at an elite level, he had to leave his life behind in Federal Way. But at 14, he was a little too young to be living on his own. His oldest brother offered to move south to Long Beach, Calif., with him. J.R.'s career always has been a Celski family affair, and his parents and two older brothers have made sacrifices in exchange for his success.

The skater admits he was exceedingly homesick after making the big move, but he eventually focused his efforts on practice and school. Celski took classes through the Merit Scholars program at Lakewood High School and graduated last year with a 3.71 GPA. He scored an 1810 on the SATs. After the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games, he intends to start his first year of college at the University of California at Berkeley.

If Celski hadn't decided to move to California to pursue speed skating, he thinks he'd probably be a in a band at school. He loves to play guitar. He also spends quite a bit of time on Facebook.

Next week, however, he'll be focused on getting one step closer to achieving a lifelong goal -- representing the United States at the Olympic Winter Games.

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