Solid start to short track season for U.S. men

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The United States won three medals, including gold in the men’s 5000m relay, at the season-opening short track World Cup event in Shanghai this weekend.

It represents a promising start to the Olympic season following a year marked by a coaching scandal, poor results and the retirements of the top American man and woman from the Vancouver Olympics, Apolo Ohno and Katherine Reutter.

Although the relay gold was the weekend’s biggest highlight, perhaps the most encouraging sign for the U.S. men was that they managed to win two individual medals despite a subpar meet for team leader J.R. Celski, the two-time Olympic bronze medalist and world record holder in the 500m.

On Saturday, Eddy Alvarez reached his first World Cup podium by placing third in the 500m, capping a remarkable comeback from double knee surgery 18 months ago. The U.S. coaching staff loves the raw talent of Alvarez, who grew up inline skating and playing baseball in South Beach and has limited experience in international short track.

Jordan Malone, a Vancouver veteran who nearly retired after injuries kept him from competing on the World Cup circuit last year, was the other U.S. medalist, tying for bronze in the 1000m.

Canada’s Charles Hamelin, a double gold medalist in Vancouver, won both the 500m and 1000m and was second to South Korea’s Noh Jin-Kyu in the 1500m.

The U.S. women did not fare as well in Shanghai, continuing a troubling trend for the group that dates back to last year. No U.S. woman made an international podium last season, and in Shanghai, none advanced past the quarterfinals.

The World Cup continues Thursday in Seoul for the second of four stops. The final two events, in November in Torino, Italy, and Kolomna, Russia, will determine Olympic qualifying. One big question for the U.S. team is whether its women can secure one of eight spots in the relay.