J.R. Celski

J.R. Celski, Jessica Smith make U.S. Olympic Team at short track trials

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J.R. Celski cruised to victory. Jessica Smith crossed the finish line in second. But both raised their arms at the end of the second day of the U.S. Olympic Short Track Speed Skating Trials on Friday night.

Celski qualified for his second Olympic team and Smith made her first by winning the men’s and women’s 1500m standings at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns, Utah. Celski swept both races. Smith won her first and finished runner-up in the second.

The U.S. Olympic Short Track Speed Skating Trials continue with two men’s and women’s 500m races each Saturday (12 p.m. ET, 4-5:30 p.m. NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra).

Short track trials preview, schedule

“It’s an honor to be representing the United States again,” Celski said on NBCSN. “I’ve been waiting four years for this.”

Celski, 23, won both 1500m races after sweeping four- and nine-lap time trials Thursday. He’s going to his second Olympics after winning two bronze medals in 2010, five months after slicing his left thigh open in a crash at the last Olympic trials.

“It’s definitely, naturally, a little bit more pressure than last time,” Celski said. “I take it more serious than I did last time as well. If I’m properly prepared, then I think my results are going to show that I’m ready. Take those nerves off.”

Celski beat Chris Creveling in the first 1500m race and Eddy Alvarez in the second. Creveling was penalized in the second, allowing Alvarez to move into second place overall in the distance and all but secure his first Olympic berth.

Celski won’t let up the next two days.

“There’s two more distances left, and I want to qualify my spots in all of them,” he said. “The pressure’s off a little bit, but definitely a lot to prove, still.”

Smith only needed to finish second in the second of two 1500m A finals to clinch her first Olympic berth. Emily Scott won that second race, but Smith was right behind, knowing she had done enough to qualify for Sochi.

She then jumped over barrier padding to high-five her coach, Jae Su Chun, who was suspended and then resigned as the US Speedskating National Team coach in October 2012 after being accused by some skaters of physical and emotional abuse and being wrapped up in the Simon Cho skate-tampering scandal.

“It’s been a long road, a long journey,” Smith said on NBCSN. “A proud moment for me and my coach, Jae Su Chun, and all the other coaches before.”

Smith, 30, just missed making the 2010 Olympic Team and was named an alternate for Vancouver.

“It definitely gave me motivation, but I don’t think I needed the motivation to want to make the Olympic team and represent my country and wear the stars and stripes,” Smith said. “That’s enough motivation in itself.”

Five men and three women will make the Olympics by the time races conclude Sunday. Other Olympic team contenders ran into trouble Friday.

World Cup medalist John-Henry Krueger crashed in both 1500m semifinals. Kyle Carr and 2010 Olympian Travis Jayner crashed in the first 1500m final.

Skaters’ time trial results from Thursday are added to their results from races Friday, Saturday and Sunday in points standings for all three distances (500m, 1000m, 1500m) and in one overall standing. A time trial is worth 20 percent of a skater’s standing 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 standing, 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 standings.

Here are the individual distance standings:

Men’s 500m
1. J.R. Celski — 500
2. Chris Creveling — 400
3. Eddy Alvarez — 320
4. John-Henry Krueger — 256
5. Jordan Malone — 205

Men’s 1000m
1. J.R. Celski — 500
2. Chris Creveling — 400
3. Eddy Alvarez — 320
4. John-Henry Krueger — 256
5. Jordan Malone — 205

Men’s 1500m — FINAL
1. J.R. Celski — 2,500 (clinched Olympic berth)
2. Eddy Alvarez — 1,632

Women’s 500m
1. Jessica Smith — 500
2. Emily Scott — 400
3. Alyson Dudek — 320
4. Sarah Chen — 256
5. Katherine Ralston — 205

Women’s 1000m
1. Jessica Smith — 500
2. Emily Scott — 400
3. Alyson Dudek — 320
4. Kimberly Goetz — 256
5. Sarah Chen — 205

Women’s 1500m — FINAL
1. Jessica Smith — 2,300 (clinched Olympic berth)
2. Emily Scott — 2,200

Here are the overall distance standings:

1. J.R. Celski — 3,000
2. Eddy Alvarez — 1,952
3. Chris Creveling — 1,928
4. Jordan Malone — 1,562
5. Kyle Carr — 1,237
6. Travis Jayner — 968.5

1. Jessica Smith — 2,800
2. Emily Scott — 2,600
3. Alyson Dudek — 1,920
4. Sarah Chen — 1,485
5. Lana Gehring — 969

Apolo Ohno adjusts to TV analyst role

Olympic skater Nancy Kerrigan remembers slain Colorado officer, a childhood friend

Nancy Kerrigan
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Former figure skating champion Nancy Kerrigan remembers the Colorado police officer who was killed in a shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic as loyal, caring and a true friend.

She told media outlets that Garrett Swasey was “one of my best friends” as they grew up together practicing figure skating in Melrose, Massachusetts. Before he became a police officer, Swasey was a junior national couples ice dancing champion.

An emotional Kerrigan says she wasn’t surprised he took a career path where he helped others first. She says he always had fun and did everything with a smile.

Swasey’s father has told the Boston Globe that his son moved to Colorado in the 1980s to pursue competitive figure skating and became an officer six years ago.

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Kobe Bryant announces retirement but remains in contention for Rio team

Kobe Bryant
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Veteran basketball player and 2008 and 2012 Olympic gold medalist Kobe Bryant has announced he will retire from professional basketball after the end of this season. However, ESPN reported that the chairman of USA Basketball, Jerry Colangelo, said that Bryant “remains in contention for Team USA spot for Rio 2016.”

In the form of a poem titled “Dear Basketball” on the Player’s Tribune, Bryant wrote:

This season is all I have left to give.
My heart can take the pounding
My mind can handle the grind
But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.

Bryant played on the U.S. national team from 2007 to 2012. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics he scored 20 points in the gold medal game to win gold over Spain. He helped the U.S. men to gold again in 2012, then said that it would be his last Olympics.

But he’s changed his tune in recent months. Bryant told the Associated Press in November that he’d like a shot at another Olympics.

“I would like to play,” Bryant said. “I think it’d be awesome. A beautiful experience.”

If he were selected and won again, Bryant, LeBron James, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony would become the first U.S. male basketball players to win three gold Olympic medals.

In the AP interview Bryant spoke glowingly of his Olympic teammates. “It would mean the world to me to be around those guys,” he said. “I think to be able to have a chance to continue the relationship that I already have with most of those guys, talking and just kind of being around each other and understanding that this is it, it’s just us being together, that would be fun.”

He also said he believes he’d be an asset to the team, stating, “I feel like I can add value from a leadership perspective and a defensive perspective. I can still move extremely well defensively.”

Bryant’s age will likely be a concern, as his 38th birthday is just two days after the gold-medal game on August 21st, 2016.

Colangelo said that they will be looking at “all of our players” this season, and Bryant’s retirement announcement “doesn’t have any bearing” on whether he’d be selected for the 2016 Olympic team.

The 12 player team will be selected in June 2016.

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