Canada's Charle's Hamelin (far left) is a threat in the 1,000 and 1,500 meters at the Sochi games.
The best weapon in your arsenal for watching short-track speedskating for this year's Olympic Games may be your DVR. The men and women competing in the 500 meters, 1,000 meters, 1,500 meters and the relays blade around the tight, oil-slick rink with such speed, skill and balance, you might miss something special—or catch something worth repeating.
There's speed, quickness, violence, jockeying, strategy, aggression, danger, crashes—all of this on two blades 46 centimeters long and 1.2 millimeters thin that can cut a two-inch thick porterhouse with barely an ounce of pressure.
Read on to get your fix of all the major players in all the major events across the entire discipline of speedskating on the short track.
J.R. Celeski leads the United States men's team heading into the Sochi Games.
What makes short-track speedskating a compelling watch is, to put it simply, the shortness of the track. Athletes start from a static position and sprint to the first turn, before they glide into rhythm. They take the turns leaning at a 45-degree angle while using rubber-tipped gloves they skim along the ice for balance.
The track is 60 meters long from the top of each turn, 30 meters wide and 111.12 meters in circumference.
Athletes compete in some or all of the three of distances: 500, 1,000 and 1,500 meters. The men's relay is 5,000 meters and the women relay is 3,000 meters.
J.R. Celski, the top skater for the United States, has a personal best in the 500 meters of 39.937 seconds.
Short-track speedskating is a relatively new sport in the Winter Olympics.
Short-track speedskating wasn't added to the catalog of events until the 1992 games in Albertville with only one individual event and one relay for the men and women. By 2002, two more distances were added to give us the program we see today.
It needed 10 years to gain traction in the United States—the 2002 games in Salt Lake City—when Apolo Anton Ohno—purveyor of the five-dollar footlong—and his soul patch whipped around the oval to the tune of three medals, one of them gold in the 1,500.
During the 1,000-meter final in the 2002 games, four of the finalists—including Ohno—crashed on the final turn allowing Aussie Steven Bradbury, who was trailing the field far out of contention, to sweep past and win the gold medal.
That race illustrated how reckless and unpredictable short-track speedskating can be. Unlike the long, fluid, oscillating groove speedskaters on the long track perform, the short-track skaters teeter on the edge of something much more harrowing.
Shim Suk-Hee will be a major player on the medal stand in Sochi.
4:45 AM, Men's 1500-meter heats
5:30 AM, Women's 500 meter
6:10 AM, Men's 1500-meter semifinals
6:39 AM, Women's 3000-meter relay semifinals
7:15 AM, Men's 1500-meter finals
8:00 PM, Women's 500-meter quarterfinals
8:30 PM, Men's 1000-meter heats
9:15 PM, Women's 500-meter semifinals
9:30 PM, Men's 5000-meter relay semifinals
10:00 PM, Women's 500-meter finals
12:00 AM, Women's 1000 meter
5:00 AM, Women's 500 quarterfinals
5:27 AM, Men's 1000-meter heats
6:14 AM, Women's 500-meter semifinals
6:35 AM, Men's 5000-meter relay semifinals
7:08 AM, Women's 500-meter finals
5:44 AM, Men's 1000-meter quarterfinals
6:15 AM, Women's 1500-meter semifinals
6:45 AM, Men's 1000-meter semifinals
7:10 AM, Women's 1500-meter finals
7:40 AM, Men's 1000-meter finals
4:30 AM, Women's 1000-meter heats
5:17 AM, Men's 500-meter heats
6:01 AM, Women's 3000-meter relay finals
11:30 AM, Men's 500-meter quarterfinals
11:44 AM, Women's 1000-meter quarterfinals
12:15 PM, Men's 500-meter semifinals
12:23 PM, Women's 1000-meter semifinals
12:46 PM, Men's 500 finals
12:56 PM, Women's 1000-meter finals
1:22 PM, Men's 5000-meter relay finals
Charles Hamelin of Canada feels he's at his peak.
Men's 500 Meters
Charles Hamelin, hailing from the Great White North in Canada, feels he's at his peak. Hamelin earned gold medals in the 500 in the Shanghai and Torino World Cups in September and November 2013.
Hamelin won gold in the 2010 Vancouver games in the 500, and should he win gold again, he'll be the first ever to win in back-to-back Olympics. At age 29, he has experience on his side, this being his third Olympics. Hamelin told the Canadian Press:
Four years have gone by since the Vancouver Games. There have been world championships and World Cups since then. Obviously I’m going to be known as the defending champion in the 500 and the relay, but it doesn’t change my approach to these Games.
Which makes it all the more challenging for competitors like Russia's Viktor Ahn. Ahn won a World Cup gold in the 500 in his native Seoul in October. (He's Korean-born and even changed his name from Hyun-Soo to Viktor when he moved to Russia.)
Fellow Russian Vladimir Grigorev and China's Wu Dajing should also factor highly in the 500.
Women's 500 Meters
The diagnosis is in for the world's most famous ankle. Wang Meng, easily the favorite to win gold in the women's 500 meters, will miss the 2014 Olympics. She broke her ankle back in January, colliding with a teammate during training. She won the gold medal in the 500 in the 2006 Turin Games and the 2010 Games in Vancouver.
Meng's teammate, Fan Kexin, who won the 500 in the Shanghai World Cup in 2013, will be China's best shot at filling Meng's enormous skates. Kexin earned two silvers and a bronze behind Meng in the World Cup in 2013.
Arianna Fontana grabbed a silver medal in her home country (behind Meng, of course) in the Turin World Cup, so she too promises to be a medal contender in Sochi.
Korea's Shim Suk-Hee is a powerhouse in the women's 1,000 meters.
Men's 1,000 Meters
Canada's Charles Hamelin is about as ready for Sochi as any skater in the world. Hamelin won gold in the World Cup in Sochi, in 2013—two actually. He won gold in the 500 meters and 1,000 meters a year ago to get a sense of how Sochi's ice will play.
His main rival could be Russia's Viktor Ahn, but also J.R. Celski of the United States. With the retirement of Apolo Anton Ohno, Celski is the best American skater and the best shot at a medal on the short track.
Celski told the Associated Press, "I've gotten the experience, but this time is completely different for me. Mentally, physically I'm healthy. I'm going to ride that momentum. I look forward to doing some damage over there."
France's Thibaut Fauconnet and Russia's Vladimir Grigorev are contenders for medals as well.
Women's 1,000 Meters
Shim Suk-Hee has bowled over all her competitors leading up to Sochi. She is 17 and poised to do great things as her nickname, "Next Generation Skating Queen," suggests.
She has been dominant in the run-up to Sochi with golds in the 1,000 in Shanghai, Seoul and Torino. In the World Cup standings, she has a commanding lead in points with 30,000, a full 6,000 ahead of her teammate Alang Kim. Nothing short of a crash will keep her from winning.
Kim and Italy's Arianna Fontana are No. 2 and 3 in the World Cup standings, but they will have to hope for some misfortune to strike Suk-Hee to win gold.
Charles Hamelin is, once again, a favorite in the 1,500.
Men's 1,500 meters
The men's 1,500 meters is a tightly contested group. With 13.5 laps to go around the track, it's anybody's guess who will win gold in this event.
The top three in World Cup standings through 2013's last preps are Charles Hamelin (Canada) with 22,096 points, Han-Bin Lee (Korea) with 21,277 points and Viktor Ahn with 20,800 points. It's anyone's event.
J.R. Celski, of the United States, won a bronze medal at the Vancouver Games in 2010 and is seventh in the World Cup standings.
Women's 1,500 meters
Suk-Hee Shim is about as sure a thing as there is in short track in the 1,500 meters. She has 30,000 points in the World Cup, while her closest competitor has just 19,342 (that would be her teammate Alang Kim.) It truly is a two-horse race in the 1,500.
China's Yang Zhou and Canada's Valerie Maltais are the only two skaters within striking distance of the two Koreans.
The 5,000-meter relay, 45 laps around the track, should be electric.
Men's 5,000-meter relay
While countries like Canada, China and Korea tend to dominate short track, the United States may actually be favored in the 5,000-meter relay. With 20,000 points, the U.S. is tied with Canada for the top spot in the World Cup standings.
The United States took gold in two events leading into Sochi, as did the Canadians.
Women's 3,000-meter relay
It comes as no surprise that the Koreans, led by Suk-Hee Shim, are the favorite heading into the 3,000-meter relay. Still, they aren't the runaway favorite, as China is right behind them in the World Cup rankings.
Italy and Canada rank competitively, but it will largely come down to Korea and China as they travel around the ice 27 times.
J.R. Celski represents America's best shot at a podium in Sochi.
J.R Celski may be the best—if not the only—shot at a podium for the red, white and blue at the Olympics. At No. 11 in the World Cup rankings, he leads an American contingent that has a total of three in the top 15. Eduardo Alvarez ranks 14th and John-Henry Krueger ranks 15th.
With the retirement of Apolo Anton Ohno, Celski is, without question, the best the U.S. has in its arsenal. Celski won the bronze medal behind Ohno's silver in the 1,500 meters in Vancouver in 2010 and looks to improve on that in 2014, challenging as that may be.
As a team, the men's 5,000-meter relay team is the favorite to win gold with Celski, Alvarez, Kyle Carr, Chris Creveling and Jordan Malone sharing the 45 laps.
The U.S. Women
For the U.S. women, chances for a medal look bleak. Jessica Smith is the top-ranked skater, and she sits at 21st in the World Cup standings. She's 12th in the rankings for the 1,500. Her teammate, Emily Scott, ranks 15th in the 1,000.
Tricky as short track is to predict, here are the medal predictions for the 2014 Sochi Games.
Throughout the World Cup season, form has held pretty well. Most of the heavy hitters have won their respective events multiple times, and there's no reason to think they won't duplicate those efforts in Sochi.
We'll start from the 500 and work our way up to the relays, starting with the men.
Gold: Viktor Ahn (RUS)
Silver: Charles Hamelin (CAN)
Bronze: Wu Dajing (CHN)
Gold: Fan Kexin (CHN)
Silver: Arianna Fontana (ITA)
Bronze: Shim Suk-Hee (KOR)
Gold: Charles Hamelin (CAN)
Silver: Viktor Ahn (RUS)
Bronze: Niels Kerstholt (NED)
Gold: Shim Suk-Hee (KOR)
Silver: Alang Kim (KOR)
Bronze: Arianna Fontana (ITA)
Gold: Charles Hamelin (CAN)
Silver: J.R. Celski (USA)
Bronze: Lee Han-Bin (KOR)
Gold: Suk-Hee Shim (KOR)
Silver: Alang Kim (KOR)
Bronze: Zhou Yang (CHN)
Men's 5,000 Relay
Gold: United States
Bronze: South Korea
Women's 3,000 Relay
Gold: South Korea