J.R. Celski is the present and future of American short-track speedskating, but his medal drought in Sochi continued on Saturday as he failed to reach the podium in the 1,000-meter race at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
He failed to even advance out of the quarterfinal round after tripping over his own skate.
Celski wasn't on the radar in 2010, but he won a pair of bronze medals in Vancouver at the age of 19. That caused expectations to rise significantly heading into Sochi, but he has struggled to live up to them thus far.
Celski has yet to medal in the 1,000 on the Olympic stage, although he did take bronze in the 1,500-meter race as well as the 5,000-meter relay in Vancouver. The hope is for Celski to be the next great American short-track speedskater following Apolo Anton Ohno's retirement, but he doesn't appear ready to fill those shoes at 23 years of age.
Celski was essentially the only American hope on the men's side heading into Sochi, and his first race didn't go according to plan. He made the final of the 1,500-meter event, but he fell just short in his bid for a medal by finishing in fourth.
Per Philip Hersh of the Chicago Tribune, Celski chalked his fourth-place outing up to a failure to position himself properly as well as a stroke of bad luck.
It was hard to recover the speed I lost. It's about timing in short track. If I was in front, that probably wouldn't have happened. I got a little unlucky. But last time I benefited and won the bronze because of some falls. Sometimes you're on the good side of it, sometimes the bad.
That once again appeared to be an issue for Celski in the 1,000, as he struggled to get to the front and maintain positioning.
Although things haven't started particularly well, Celski still has a chance to make some noise at the 2014 Winter Games. He is expected to compete in the 500-meter race on Feb. 21 as well as the 5,000-meter relay on the same day, so two medals are within reach.
The 1,500 is Celski's best event, but he has had success in other races, plus the unpredictability of short track means anything can happen. His best finish in the 500 was fifth at the 2013 World Championships, and he has finished in the top three in the team competition on multiple occasions; however, Ohno's absence will hinder Team USA's chances.
If Celski is going to carry the torch for American short-track speedskating and pick up where Ohno left off, then he must become Team USA's leader moving forward. Based on his comments to the U.S. Olympic team, he doesn't take that responsibility lightly:
Celski certainly finds himself in a difficult position in his final two races. He isn't favored or even expected on a worldwide scale to medal in either event. Still, Americans view him as someone who should medal, so there seems to be a disconnect.
The fact that Celski was unable to deliver in his two better events means there is a great deal of pressure heading into the 500 as well as the team event. The truly great skaters use their failures as motivation, though, so it wouldn't be wise to count Celski out of medal contention quite yet.
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