Breaking Down the US Winter Olympic Speed Skating Team

James McMahonContributor IJanuary 6, 2014

Breaking Down the US Winter Olympic Speed Skating Team

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    With 25 talented and determined skaters now on the team, U.S. Speedskating prepares to bring a deep and formidable squad to the 2014 Winter Olympics, with an eye toward making the Sochi Games one of its best ever.

    Albeit in a state of transition, both the short-track and long-oval teams are led by veteran medal winners, rising stars and possible breakthrough performers who will look to continue a long legacy of success for the U.S. that has delivered 85 medals throughout its proud Olympic history.

    Much is expected of several skaters who lead the U.S. delegation to Russia, and there is great potential for a handful of others to make a name for themselves during next month’s international competition. There are also some questions begging answers that won’t come until the skating starts in Sochi.

    With that backdrop, here’s a look at the U.S. speedskating team that will once again challenge the world’s best under the bright spotlight of the Winter Olympics.

US Short-Track Speed Skating Roster

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    Men’s Team

    J.R. Celski: The new face of short-track speedskating, Celski will compete in the 500-, 1,000- and 1,500-meter events and likely the 5,000-meter relay.

    Eduardo Alvarez: Known for his speed, the former inline skater will also compete in all three individual events.

    Chris Creveling: Captured one of the 1,000-meter races during the trials. Creveling will likely compete in both the 1,000- and 1,500-meter events at Sochi.

    Kyle Carr: Did not place among the top three in any individual trial event, but will likely race in the 5,000-meter relay.

    Jordan Malone: Expected to race in the 500-meter event in Sochi.

    Women’s Team

    Jessica Smith: Captured two of the three Olympic trail events and will compete in all three events at the Sochi Games.

    Emily Scott: Won the 1,500-meter final at the trials and qualified to compete in all three competitions in Russia.

    Alyson Dudek: The final skater to make the three-woman team, Dudek will race in both the 500- and 1,500-meter events in the Olympics.

US Long-Track Speed Skating Roster

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    Men’s Team

    Shani Davis: The two-time Olympic gold medalist won the 1,000- and 1,500-meter events at the trials and will compete in all three individual events at Sochi.

    Patrick Meek: The long-distance specialist will compete in the 5,000-meter Olympic event.

    Jonathan Garcia: Despite being disqualified in the 500 meters at the trials, Garcia made the team in the 1,000-meter competition.

    Emery Lehman: The 17-year-old captured the 10,000-meter event at the trials. He will compete in that event and the 5,000-meter competition in Sochi.

    Tucker Fredricks: The sprinter qualified for his third Olympics with a second-place showing in the trials.

    Mitchell Whitmore: The skater claimed the 500-meter event at the trials and will make his second appearance in the Olympics.

    Brian Hansen: The American will challenge in three competitions at the Olympics after finishing second in the 1,000- and 1,500-meter trials events and third in the 500 meters.

    Jonathan Kuck: The long-distance specialist won the 5,000-meter event at the trials, and finished just 0.07 behind Lehman in the 10,000 meters. He will compete in both next month in Russia.

    Joey Mantia: The Florida native finished third at both the 1,000- and 1,500-meter trial races and will represent the United States in both competitions at Sochi.

    Women’s Team

    Heather Richardson: The top women’s skater won the 500-, 1,000- and 1,500-meter events in the trials and will challenge for multiple medals in the Winter Games.

    Brittany Bowe: Bowe finished second to Richardson in those same races and will face off with her friend in all three competitions at Sochi.

    Kelly Gunther: The skater finished fourth in the 1,000-meter trials race, earning the final spot on the team in that event at Sochi.

    Anna Ringsred: After a brief retirement, Ringsred returned to earn the right to compete in the 3,000-meter competition at the Olympics. She finished second in the event at the trials.

    Jilleanne Rookard: The talented skater will represent the United States in two events at Sochi after winning the 3,000 meters and finishing third in the 1,000-meter race.

    Sugar Todd: Todd finished fourth in the 500 meters and third in the 1,000-meter race to qualify for those two events in Sochi.

    Lauren Cholewinski: The skater will compete in the 500-meter Olympic event after finishing third in that distance at the trials.

    Maria Lamb: The two-time Olympian will compete in the 5,000 meters in Sochi after claiming that event in the trials.

Biggest Question Marks

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    Jessica Smith: The short-track standout made her first Olympic team with a career performance at this past weekend’s trials, but at 30 years of age, she will be competing against much-younger talent in many cases at the Sochi Olympics.

    The American has worked hard to fulfill her Olympic dreams, and given her strong relationship with her coach, Jae Su Chun, Smith will not lack confidence in any of the three events she will compete in.

    Given that the U.S. squad is bringing only three women to Sochi, it absolutely needs Smith to compete as strongly as she did in the trials, where she captured the 500- and 1,000-meter events and placed second in the 500 meters.

    J.R. Celski: The 23-year-old claimed two bronze medals at the Vancouver Games and was dominant in the short-track trials this past weekend. That said, with the retirement of Apolo Anton Ohno, Celski will be called upon to lead the five-man U.S. team, but that’s a significant burden for such a young athlete, even such a talented one as Celski.

    In winning both the 500- and 1,500-meter events and one of the two 1,000-meter races at the trials, Celski showed he has the chops to compete at the highest level. Given that success, he will be among the most-watched American athletes at these Games.

    If he can handle that pressure, great things could come for Celski. If it’s too much for him, however, he could struggle. One then has to wonder who could possibly pick up the U.S. hopes on the small oval.

    Heather Richardson: The U.S. long-track team knows what to expect from Davis, the longtime steward of its men’s team. What it will get from the leader of its women’s squad is far less of a given, however.

    While Richardson was absolutely dominant in winning three events in the long-track trials, she has only competed in one previous Olympics, and the results weren't exactly great. The North Carolina native failed to post a single top-five finish among the 500-, 1,000- and 1,500-meter races that she competed in at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

    Four years can make a big difference in speed skating, and if her performance last week in Utah is any indication, Richardson is poised to have her time in the spotlight. Yet if her confidence gets at all shaken at Sochi, things could get tough for the talented skater.

Potential Breakout Stars

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    Emery Lehman: America loves its teen phenoms in the Olympic Games and there’s no denying the potential for this 17-year-old to fit that bill quite nicely.

    Lehman had a breakout long-track trials performance, capturing the 10,000 meters in thrilling fashion by .07 seconds over Olympic veteran Kuck. The Illinois native also finished second in the 5,000-meters event and will compete in both of those races at the Sochi Games.

    Should he challenge for gold in either of the grueling long-distance races, Lehman will not only become a rising star in the long-track sport, but will also be one of those athletes who can transcend the Games in very short order.

    Eduardo Alvarez: While Celski has all the pressure of replacing the legendary Ohno as the new face of short-track speedskating, Alvarez could easily have the type of Games that makes him a household name during the month of February and beyond.

    Like Celski, Alvarez enjoyed a strong showing in the short-track trials, and will compete in all three individual events in Russia next month. The former inline skater from South Beach is known for his breakout speed, which gives him a strong chance to break through with a medal performance or two in his first Olympics.

    Such a showing would certainly come out of nowhere considering that Alvarez has only managed a single bronze medal in the World Championships. That said, if his strong form in the trials—where he pushed Celski in the 500-meter competition—is any indication, a big surprise or two could certainly be within reason.

    Emily Scott: There’s little doubt that the story of Scott’s difficult road to the Sochi Olympics will be told a few times before she actually gets to competing in the Games. Given just how rough it has been for the skater, that’s entirely appropriate.

    Scott, who qualified for the 2014 Games with a strong performance at the short-track trials, was living on food stamps as recently as last summer after her U.S. Speedskating stipend was reduced from just under $2,000 a month to $600.

    Last July, USA Today told her story, and soon thereafter, 689 individuals stepped up to donate more than $48,000 to keep her dream of making her first Olympics alive. If Scott can capitalize on that opportunity with a medal in any of the three events she will compete in, stardom will come fast and furious for the Missouri native.

Dark Horses to Medal: Long Track

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    Brian Hansen: The 23-year-old certainly benefited from watching Davis at the 2010 Vancouver Games, and with four more years of experience under his belt, he might just be ready to give his talented teammate a run for his money in Sochi.

    The Illinois native captured a silver medal in the team pursuit competition four years ago, and even though he struggled in the 1,500 meters, his improvement was on display at the long-track trials. Hansen finished second to Davis in that same event and qualified to compete in the 500 meters and 1,500-meter race as well.

    Tucker Fredricks: A sprint specialist on the long oval, Fredricks is always a threat on the ice. Skating in his third Olympics, the Wisconsin native has shown significant improvement with each Games he’s attended.

    Fredricks finished 24th in the 500 meters at the 2006 Turin Olympics, but rebounded to place 12th in the Vancouver Games. If that upward trend continues, he could make the third time the charm at Sochi next month after finishing second in the 500-meter event at last week's trials.

    Jilleanne Rookard: A long-distance specialist, Rookard claimed the 3,000-meter event at the long-track trials and finished a solid third to qualify for the 1,000 meters in Sochi as well.

    She competed in both the 3,000- and 1,500-meter events at the Vancouver Games, and while she didn't post a top-10 finish in either, the experience should serve her well in Sochi. Her best bet to breakthrough next month will likely come in the longer of the two competitions.

Dark Horses to Medal: Short Track

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    Chris Creveling: The Pennsylvania native is making his first Olympic appearance, but at the age of 27, he has more than enough experience to handle the big stage of the Sochi Games.

    Creveling was the only skater to beat Celski at the short-track trials, claiming the first of two 1,000-meter finals on Sunday. That performance is likely to give him significant confidence when he skates in that event, along with the 1,500-meter race, in next month’s Games.

    Celski and Alvarez will certainly be favored over Creveling, but if he has the chops to get the better of those two in the trials, he can do it again in Sochi.

    Alyson Dudek: The last skater to qualify for the three-person women’s short-track team, Dudek will undoubtedly live in the shadow of Smith and Scott leading up to the Sochi Games, which might not necessarily be a bad thing.

    By no means a surprise addition to the U.S. squad, the 23-year-old was a member of the bronze medal-winning 3,000-meter relay team at the Vancouver Games and he will compete in both the 500 meters and 1,500-meter event in Russia.

    The Wisconsin native also owns three bronze medals in her World Championships career.

    Jordan Malone: Despite fighting bad ribs during the short-track trials, Malone managed to make the team and will race in the 500 meters at Sochi.

    He’ll likely need help in the form of some early upsets to work his way through to the medal podium, but the Texas native has Olympic experience, having won the bronze medal as part of the U.S. 5,000-meter relay team at the Vancouver Games.

    Malone should also be a key member of this year’s U.S. relay team, which has a strong opportunity to claim another medal in Russia.

Long-Track Medal Favorites

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    Shani Davis: The veteran long-track star already owns a pair of gold medals in the 1,000 meters and is the favorite to add a third at the Sochi Games.

    That task, however, runs parallel to Davis’ desire to finally break through with a gold-medal triumph in the 1,500-meter event in Russia after claiming silvers at both the Turin and Vancouver Games. Based on his victory in that distance during the Olympic trials, the skater is a reasonable threat to claim the gold double-dip next month.

    Davis will also compete in the 500-meter race and is among a short list of skaters who can claim that event as well. In won’t be easy, but seeing Davis walk away from the 2014 Games with three medals isn't out of the question.

    Heather Richardson: Her less-than-stellar performance in the Vancouver Games notwithstanding, there’s no denying Richardson is in top form heading to Sochi and is a favorite to win multiple medals.

    The skater's best bets to win gold or silver are in the 500- and 1,000-meter events, but her victory in the 1,500-meter competition at the trials showed that she’s a growing threat in that distance as well.

    If Richardson can turn her Vancouver disappointment into a learning experience, she will step onto a medal podium or two in Sochi to be sure.

    Brittany Bowe: The talented long-track skater was bested three times by her rival and friend, Richardson, at the trials, yet she remains a legitimate threat to win a medal or two at the Sochi Games.

    The Florida native pushed Richardson in the 500-, 1,000- and 1,500-meter events, and is every bit an equal favorite to reach the podium in Sochi a time or two. The skater is a 10-time World Cup medalist, and even though it’s her first Olympic appearance, she has shown the ability to compete with, and beat, the best.

    If Bowe can just slightly reverse the outcomes of those three events from the trials, it will be her star that rises in Sochi instead of that of her good friend and competitor.

Short-Track Medal Favorites

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    J.R. Celski: Following his strong performance at the trials this past weekend, Celski has assumed the mantle as the leader of short-track racing, with great things are expected of him at the Sochi Games.

    Yes, the pressure of replacing Ohno as the face of small-oval racing is significant, but the American has the experience of having won two bronze medals in Vancouver to rely on when things get difficult next month.  Celski has improved his tactical racing skills and has the burst needed to compete in all three individual short-track events. Both of those traits were on full display in Utah.

    He will be difficult to beat in the 1,000- and 1,500-meter events, and certainly has the speed needed to get the job done in the shorter 500-meter competition. Three medals might be a lot to ask, but it’s certainly no stretch to predict two for Celski, one of which could easily be gold.

    Jessica Smith: Her lack of Olympic experience is certainly noted, but one has to think that Smith has worked too hard and waited long enough to let a medal, or multiple ones, slip through her hands at Sochi.

    There’s no question the 30-year-old has a significant comfort level working with Chun, and will be coming off the best performance of her skating life at the short-track trials.

    Smith won’t dominant her competition, but if she skates patiently and smartly, just as she did in Utah this past weekend, she can carry the women’s team to a respectable Sochi showing despite the lack of a short-track relay team entry that has limited the squad to just three skaters.

    The Men’s 5,000-meter Relay Team: All five of the members who make up the men’s short-track team are working with the U.S. National team coaches, meaning no matter who ultimately skates in the 5,000-meter relay, they should all be on the same page.

    Celski and Malone were both members of the 2010 U.S. relay team that won a bronze medal in Vancouver, and the speed of Alvarez should be a strong addition if he is part of the four-man relay.

    Given the unrest and outright turmoil that has enveloped the short-track team in the months leading up to the Olympic trials, a medal—especially a gold—would go a long way toward healing the squad and ushering in a better future for the important U.S. Speedskating team.