The World Cup short track speedskating season kicks off in Shanghai on Thursday, beginning a stretch that will determine the makeup of Olympic short track teams.
A nation earns Olympic berths via results at the third and fourth World Cup stops (Nov. 7-10 in Turin, Italy, and Nov. 14-17 in Kolomna, Russia).
So, the first two World Cup stops — Thursday through Sunday in Shanghai and Oct. 3-6 in Seoul — will provide a good prediction of what to expect but have no impact on Olympic quotas.
The U.S. men and women should have no problem qualifying a full Olympic team of five men and five women. All the U.S. must do is have top-eight ranked relay teams (top seven if Russia is outside the top eight) from the November World Cup stops. The U.S. entered men’s and women’s relays into each of the last five Olympics, winning bronze medals in each in 2010.
The skaters who will comprise the U.S. Olympic Team will be determined at Jan. 2-5 trials in Kearns, Utah.
For Shanghai, the entire U.S. teams that qualified from the National Championships are on the entry list: J.R. Celski, Chris Creveling, Jordan Malone, John-Henry Krueger, Eddy Alvarez and Jeff Simon for the men; Jessica Smith, Alyson Dudek, Emily Scott, Sarah Chen, Lana Gehring and You Young “Sally” Chea for the women.
The biggest U.S. stars from the 2010 Olympics, Apolo Ohno and Katherine Reutter, are retired. Celski, who broke the world record in the 500 meters last season, is considered the top U.S. medal threat for Sochi.
Canada, a traditional power in short track, already named its Olympic team. Every member of its expected men’s team for Sochi is on the entry list for Shanghai, including its star, Charles Hamelin. One member of its women’s Olympic team is not on the entry list, Marie-Eve Drolet, but its top medal threats are (Marianne St-Gelais, Valerie Maltais, Jessica Gregg).
South Korea and China remain the most dominant men’s and women’s nations.
South Korea is particularly stacked on the men’s side, but the 2012 overall world champion, Kwak Yoon-Gy, is not on the Shanghai entry list. (UPDATE: Kwak did not make the Olympic team for South Korea, which had its trials in April).
Russia’s best hope is Viktor Ahn, who won triple gold as Ahn Hyun-Soo for South Korea at the 2006 Olympics before switching countries. He is entered in Shanghai.
The most decorated women’s Olympic short track speedskater of all time, China’s Wang Meng, is on the Shanghai entry list as she bids for her third Games. Wang, who won the 500, 1,000 and 3,000 relay at the most recent Olympics and World Championships and was suspended after fighting a coach in between, can make history in Sochi.
With one gold, she will break the tie for most Olympic golds won by a short track speedskater. With two medals of any color, she will tie Ohno for most Olympic medals won by a short track speedskater.
The biggest threats to Wang, 28, are South Koreans Park Seung-Hi, 21, and Shim Suk-Hee, 16. They are both entered in Shanghai.