J.R. Celski

U.S. Olympic Short Track Speed Skating Trials preview

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The atmosphere will be unfamiliar at the U.S. Olympic Short Track Speed Skating Trials beginning Thursday in Kearns, Utah.

The retirements last year of Apolo Ohno and Katherine Reutter, the most decorated U.S. skaters this century, left a void for not only new Olympians but also new stars.

Here’s the Olympic Trials schedule (all times Eastern):

Thursday — Men’s and women’s four- and nine-lap time trials, 3:30 p.m.
Friday — Men’s/Women’s 1500m, 5:30 p.m. (NBCSN,  8-10 p.m.)
Saturday — Men’s/Women’s 500m, 12 p.m. (NBCSN, 4-5:30 p.m.)
Sunday — Men’s/Women’s 1000m, 12 p.m. (NBC, 4-6 p.m.)

The U.S. men and women earned Olympic quota spots via World Cup results this season. The men earned the maximum allotment of five total skaters with three entries in each distance.

The women did not qualify the maximum allotment — failing to qualify an Olympic relay team for the first time — and will send its smallest team, three, since the sport was added to the Olympic program in 1992. The U.S. can enter three women in the Olympic 500m and 1500m and two in the 1000m.

The Olympic team selection process is not as simple as taking the top finishers from every distance. Skaters will be ranked by distance and in an overall standing via the following points system:

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Skaters’ four-lap time trial points are added to their points from two 500m races. Skaters’ nine-lap time trial points are added to their points from the 1000m and 1500m races for standings in those separate events. A time trial is worth 20 percent of a skater’s ranking per distance. Each result in a race is worth 40 percent.

The top-ranked skater in every distance will make the Olympic team. That could be one skater per gender (if he or she sweeps every distance), two skaters or three skaters (if a different skater wins each distance).

After that, if there are Olympic roster spots still available (there definitely will be for men), the second-ranked skater in every distance will make the Olympic team. If adding all of the second-ranked skaters exceeds the maximum Olympic roster size, priority would go to a skater who finished second in two of the three distances.

If that didn’t happen, the tiebreaker is a skater’s overall distance ranking, adding up points from both time trials and all three distances.

If there are Olympic roster spots still available after taking the top two skaters from every distance, the Olympic team will be filled by the top skaters remaining in the overall distance ranking.

Men’s Outlook

In the absence of Ohno and Reutter, one skater comes into trials already owning an individual Olympic medal. That would be J.R. Celski, who came back from a crash at the 2010 Olympic Trials to win two bronze medals in Vancouver.

On the last day of those trials (September 2009), Celski’s right skate drove into his left thigh, slicing it to the point he could see his femur and one inch from his femoral artery. Celski needed 60 stitches but said he was pain free six weeks later.

Celski took a full season off after Vancouver, collaborating with Macklemore and others for a film project, and came back faster than ever. In October 2012, he became the first man to break the 40-second barrier in the 500m.

He is clearly the best hope for a medal in Sochi, having made the podium in two of three races at the most recent World Cup event in Kolomna, Russia, in November.

Two other 2010 Olympians join Celski at trials — Travis Jayner and Jordan Malone. Ohno will be there, too, as an analyst for NBC and NBCSN.

The fifth member of the Vancouver team, Simon Cho, will not be competing. Cho was suspended through the Sochi Olympics for tampering with a Canadian’s skate blade in 2011. Cho’s admission came in 2012 and also involved US Speedskating coaches since let go. It created a schism among skaters, an issue still making headlines.

Back on the ice, Celski’s greatest competition will likely come from potential Olympic rookies. John-Henry Krueger, 18, and Eddy Alvarez, 23, also won World Cup medals this season.

Krueger, the son of a figure skating coach, was a three-time medalist at the 2012 World Junior Championships. Alvarez, of Miami, is the Spanish-speaking son of Cuban immigrants.

Women’s Outlook

Not qualifying a relay team cut the Olympic women’s roster from five to three, putting more pressure on a group that hasn’t won a World Cup medal since February 2012.

Jessica Smith, an alternate for the 2010 Olympic team, is now the leader. She’s the top U.S. skater in World Cup rankings for the 500m (21st overall) and 1500m (13th) and second in the 1000m (24th).

Emily Scott is ranked 15th in the 1000m and also a contender to make her first Olympic team.

Of the 2010 Olympians, Alyson Dudek and Lana Gehring were in the best form at the U.S. Championships in August.

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Ashley Wagner, Nathan Chen make for contrasting favorites at U.S. Championships

Ashley Wagner, Nathan Chen
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Ashley Wagner and Nathan Chen trained on the same ice for the last three years. They enter this week’s U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Kansas City as favorites, but took different routes to arrive there.

Wagner, 25, seeks her fourth national title, following the worst Grand Prix result of her 10-year career.

Still, Wagner is the 2016 World Championships silver medalist, which carries the most weight of all with the PyeongChang Olympics coming in 13 months.

Wagner, the most accomplished U.S. women’s singles skater in a decade, can become the oldest U.S. women’s singles champion in 90 years.

“Mentally, I’m feeling very confident,” Wagner said last week. “At this point in my career it is very easy for me to get mentally worn out and worn down, but I usually feel strongest when my training is backing me up and when I know that I am physically fit.”

Chen, 17, is an even bigger favorite in the men’s field. The Salt Lake City native is already one of the most accomplished young skaters in U.S. history, taking two novice and two junior national titles.

In this his first senior international season, Chen had the best fall series of a U.S. man since Evan Lysacek won gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Chen’s autumn culminated with a silver medal at December’s Grand Prix Final, beating the reigning Olympic and world champions in the free skate.

This week, Chen can become the youngest U.S. men’s singles champion in 51 years. He would do it one year after taking bronze and suffering a hip injury later that day that required season-ending surgery.

“I never thought that I would get there that fast,” Chen said.

MORE: U.S. Figure Skating Championships broadcast schedule

Chen was already working with Armenian coach Rafael Arutyunyan in Los Angeles when Wagner joined the training group in the middle of 2013.

Chen was barely 14 years old at the time, but Wagner, by then already a two-time U.S. champion, had learned about him back in 2010.

Wagner saw Chen win the U.S. Championships novice division at age 10, beating skaters six and seven years older than him, including her younger brother, Austin.

“And my brother retired after that year because of Nathan Chen,” Wagner said with a hint of humor.

Under Arutyunyan, a noted jumping technician, Wagner developed into the top consistent challenger to the dominant Russians.

She endured failure — finishing fourth at the 2014 U.S. Championships and last-place programs at the Grand Prix Final. She experienced success — national and international feats not done by an American since Michelle Kwan.

Most of the U.S. skaters whom Wagner came up with have retired. Her closest recent domestic rivals — Olympic teammates Gracie Gold and Polina Edmunds — struggled with poor performances and injury, respectively, in the last year.

If Wagner prevails as she should in Kansas City, the next step is returning to the podium at the world championships in two months in Helsinki, where three Russians, three Japanese and a Canadian will try to keep her off of it. A second straight world medal would make Wagner the best U.S. hope for an Olympic women’s singles medal since 2006.

“The biggest thing about her is her mental toughness,” Chen said of Wagner, “especially when she goes to competitions and zones in on what she wants to do and comes out with the result she wants.”

MORE: Gracie Gold makes desperate move after rock bottom

Mental toughness is something Chen hopes to develop with experience. He already owns the physical tools, most notably an arsenal of quadruple jumps.

Chen, whose adorable 2010 U.S. Championships exhibition at age 10 aired on NBC, is now electrifying. He attempts six quads combined in two programs.

At his last event, the Grand Prix Final in December, Chen recorded the highest free skate score, bettering Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan and world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain, who both were off their game. He finished second overall behind Hanyu, becoming the second-youngest men’s medalist in the event’s 22-year history.

NBC Olympics analyst Tara Lipinski, who took 1998 Olympic gold at age 15, has, like Wagner, known about Chen since 2010. Lipinski was in Spokane, Wash., for those U.S. Championships seven years ago.

“I remember thinking, oh boy, this kid is so talented, but not really thinking much of it because he was itty-bitty,” Lipinski said of Chen, who has grown a foot since 2010, to 5 feet, 5 inches. “Over time and with growth spurts, everything can change. But that’s why he’s so special. Every year, he improves. You talk about this quad revolution. He’s leading it.”

Chen responded to critics of his artistic skills this season by spending weeks away from Arutyunyan, which the coach supported.

“There is a brain of an adult in this kid’s head,” Arutyunyan said.

Chen went from Los Angeles to work in Michigan under Marina Zoueva, a Russian known for coaching the last two Olympic champion ice dance teams.

NBC Olympic analysts Johnny Weir and Lipinski saw an upgrade in Chen’s artistic components in his fall competitions. If he can challenge the top international skaters artistically, he can beat them with his jumping strength.

“The way that men’s figure skating is progressing, it’s about the quad game and how many you can do,” Wagner said. “It’s starting to look a little bit like ping-pong on the ice. … Going into the next couple of years, the ones that are going to stand out are the ones that do quads and are able to have a full, well-rounded program.”

In Sochi, the U.S. earned no singles figure skating medals for the first time since 1936.

The U.S. hasn’t earned men’s and women’s figure skating medals in the same Olympics since 2002, but it’s certainly looking possible with 13 months until PyeongChang.

“Of course, my goal would be to win the Olympics,” Chen said. “I feel like that’s everyone goal. It’s still a goal for me, but we’ll see how realistic it becomes over the next season.”

MORE: Jason Brown again slowed by injury going into U.S. Championships

Los Angeles 2024 Opening Ceremony plan includes multiple venues

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The Los Angeles 2024 Olympic bid plans to use both the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and a to-be-built NFL stadium for its Opening Ceremony.

The ceremony would start with a portion of the torch relay at the Coliseum, with the flame making its way to the NFL stadium for the rest of the Opening Ceremony, including the cauldron lighting.

The Coliseum “will be filled with 70,000 spectators for a Hollywood-produced program of live entertainment, top musical performances and a live viewing and virtual-reality experience of all ceremony events at the L.A. [NFL] stadium at Hollywood Park,” according to an LA 2024 press release.

The Closing Ceremony will be similar, but in reverse, with the Coliseum hosting the formal portion and the NFL stadium opening for a live viewing experience.

The Coliseum hosted the ceremonies in 1932 and 1984, the previous two times Los Angeles hosted the Olympics.

Opening Ceremonies generally have one venue, though a cauldron has been lit outside the venue, such as at Vancouver 2010 and Rio 2016.

Los Angeles is bidding against Budapest and Paris for the 2024 Olympics.

International Olympic Committee members will vote to choose the 2024 host city on Sept. 13.

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