Speedskating has been a rather one-sided sport at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. In the first two men's events, the Netherlands occupied all three spots on the podium, while Irene Wust took home her third career Olympic gold medal with a win in the women's 3,000 meters.
The Dutch have had at least one medalist in every speedskating event so far—with the exception of the two short-track races—while Team USA hasn't managed a medal in any of the competitions.
Thankfully for the American faithful, that's going to change when speedster J.R. Celski hits the ice on Saturday for the men's 1,000-meter short-track final.
Celski is considered a favorite to contend for the top prize, and his efforts in Sochi suggest that he's capable of grabbing the gold at Iceberg Skating Palace. He won his heat on Thursday to advance to the quarterfinals (h/t Sochi2014.com) and is essentially a lock to reach Saturday's final.
The 23-year-old Celski hasn't shied away from lofty expectations, and he said before the Winter Games that a "dream scenario" would be winning four gold medals. That may be ambitious to a fault, but it's encouraging that Celski is shooting high in the hopes of securing at least one superior finish.
In short, Celski didn't quite live up to the hype in the 1,500-meter short track.
After capturing the bronze in the 2010 Vancouver Games for that event, a collision with Jack Whelbourne caused Celski to fall out of the lead in Sochi with three laps to go. He never recovered, and it cost him a shot at the podium.
That disappointment stung Celski, but he at least had some perspective on it after the intense sprint, per the Chicago Tribune's Philip Hersh:
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 benefitted and won the bronze because of some falls. Sometimes you’re on the good side of it, sometimes the bad.
Between that and the letdowns U.S. men's speedskater Shani Davis and women's favorites Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe have suffered thus far, these Olympics leave much to be desired.
But that's where Celski will redeem the previous shortcomings in avenging the slight collision with Whelbourne and winning the gold medal. He has the makeup and previous handling of adversity to get the job done, and this shorter distance will allow him to.
It was a minor miracle that he won bronze in Vancouver, considering the gruesome injury he suffered when he sliced open his left leg with his own skate in a fall just five months before 2010's opening ceremonies.
If Celski can overcome something that could have ended his life, he can certainly rise above a lackluster finish in his maiden competition at these Olympics—especially since it wasn't his fault, for the most part.
Traffic issues shouldn't deny Celski with this event's shorter distance, and he won't have to worry as much about feeling out the pace of the race as he had to do in the 1,500 meters, since the push to the finish will happen quicker.
The top contenders for medals in this race should be Canada's Charles Hamelin—who capitalized on Celski's inadvertent miscue and won the 1,500 meters in the short track—and Russian favorite Victor An, the prior competition's bronze medalist. Both men won their heats on Thursday, while the 1,500-meter silver medalist in China's Tianyu Han finished second in his.
It's bold to say that Celski will win the gold against such a formidable field of elite speedskaters and big names, especially with how he stumbled in the short track and with the disappointment Team USA has suffered so far in these Olympics. However, he has the right attack-oriented mindset and aggression to push for the gold after coming up just shy of the podium in his last event.
The victory may not alleviate all the trials and tribulations the American speedskaters have endured, but Celski's forthcoming medal will add to the USA's growing collection as one of the most successful countries in these Winter Games.