Fil-Am speed skater J.R. Celski ready to shine in Winter Olympics | Inquirer Sports
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Fil-Am speed skater J.R. Celski ready to shine in Winter Olympics

/ 11:20 AM January 22, 2014

From left, members of the US Short Track team Chris Creveling, J.R. Celski, Jordan Malone, Alyson Dudek, Jessica Smith, Emily Scott, Eduardo Alvarez and Kyle Carr celebrate on the medals podium after the US Olympic short track speedskating trials on January 5, in Kearns, Utah. AP

NEW YORK—Filipino-American J.R. Celski is back in the spotlight. As the leader of the US short-track speedskating team, Celski, 23, is a favorite to stand atop the podium at his second Olympics next month.

And with Apolo Anton Ohno, the most decorated Winter Olympian in U.S. history retired and doing TV commentary these days, the focus is now on Celski in the short-track speed skating at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

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Described by sports analysts as “America’s best hope” at the short track, Celski knows that he is under a lot of pressure to bring home the gold and step into Ohno’s massive void in the U.S. team. Ohno is an eight-time Olympic medalist.

“With less than a month to go, my journey to the Olympics is getting more exciting by the minute,” Celski tweeted earlier this month. “The ups and downs have made it challenging.”

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Slashed in accident

“People know me as a kid who got cut,” Celski said in a video that pays tribute to U.S. Olympians, alluding to his near-fatal accident on the ice five years ago. “This time it’s different. I don’t know what motivates you, but I do this to win.”

In September 2009, while competing for a spot at the Olympic Trials, Celski’s right skate sliced a six-inch deep cut on his left leg, severing the muscle and leaving a lot of blood on the ice.

He spent almost three months of rehabilitation at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado. Then, five months later, Celski won two bronze medals at the 2010 Winter Olympics, in Vancouver, Canada.

“I have been skating for 20 something years now, but I haven’t had a perfect lap,” Celski humbly admitted.

He is the current 500-meter world-record holder and ranked 11th in the world. In Russia, Celski will compete in the 500, 1,000 and 1,500-meter events. He will be joined on the U.S. men’s team by Chris Creveling, Kyle Carr, 2010 Olympian Jordan Malone, and Eddy Alvarez, the first Cuban-American man to make a US Olympic speed skating team.

Filipinos on the map, in a way

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J. R. (stands for John Robert) Celski—whose mother, Sue Sabado, is a Filipina and father, Robert Celski, a Polish American—somehow puts Filipinos on the map, though indirectly, as the speed skater has been proud of his Filipino background.

In many instances, while training or after competing on the ice, Celski has been photographed shirtless, showing a large tattoo on his chest of three stars and a sun, with a coat of arms in the middle, referencing an artwork that combines the Philippine and Polish flags.

Celski, along with fellow American speed skating team mates, was also featured on a television commercial for 24 Hour Fitness. And, while working out, he was seen wearing a black shirt with a Philippine flag on it.

“Call me an ‘inclusionist,’ but it makes me happy each time I see J.R. being very proud of his Filipino roots,” Jun Ramirez, a Filipino sports enthusiast in Queens, NY, who has followed Celski’s career. “He must have gotten his pride in being a Filipino-American from his mom.”

A native of Monterey, California, and was raised in Federal Way, Washington—the same area where Ohno grew up and got trained to be a world-class speed skater —Celski is the youngest of three boys.

His older brother, Chris, now works in the fashion industry, while David is currently serving in the military.

Inspired by Ohno

Celski started as an inline skater when he was three, at Pattison’s West Roller Rink in Federal Way. After seeing Ohno on television, competing at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, Celski was motivated to switch from inline to speed skating.

When he began competing professionally, Celski moved back to California, joining his brother Chris. Their father also moved back to California later on, while their mom remained in Washington, working as a manager at Safeway.

In several reports, Celski was vocal about how grateful he is for the sacrifices that his family has made for him and his career.

Celski says that, in the coming Winter Games, he’s proud “to lead his U.S. teammates at the short track”—and is now “prepared to represent U.S.A.”

“I’ve gotten the experience, but this time is completely different for me. Mentally, physically, I’m healthy,” Celski said in news conference. “I’m going to ride that momentum. I look forward to doing some damage over there.”

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