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:

Men
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

Women
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

Jordan Thompson, U.S. volleyball’s new weapon, took unique route to NCAA history

Jordan Thompson
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It was about this time last year that Jordan Thompson first appeared on the radar of U.S. women’s volleyball coach Karch Kiraly. Since, Thompson emerged as the youngest starter, and arguably a star, for the national team.

She goes into what could be her final weekend of college volleyball as one of the most dominant athletes in any sport. And one of the most unique stories in NCAA history.

Thompson plays not for a Big Ten or Pac-12 powerhouse, but for Cincinnati, a school that, before she arrived, never made it past the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The unranked Bearcats upset second-ranked Pittsburgh in the second round last Saturday. They play Penn State, winner of six of the last 12 NCAA titles, in the Sweet 16 on Friday.

In 33 games this season, Thompson has registered a Division I-leading 768 kills, which is 143 more than the next most prolific attacker. That margin of 143 is the same number that separates No. 2 from No. 31.

Last season, she had 827 kills, which was 240 more than anybody else and a single-season record (by 112 kills) since NCAA match formats shifted from 30-point to 25-point sets in 2008.

She is a contender, if not a favorite, to be AVCA National Player of the Year. All of the previous winners dating to 1985 came from schools that reached at least one Final Four.

On Oct. 4, a UCF player’s face caught the wrong end of a Thompson attack. Cincinnati teammates watching from the bench dropped to the floor in astonishment.

Thompson tallied 50 kills in one match alone on Nov. 3, becoming the first D-I player to do so in 20 years.

That happened on Senior Day. Before that match, Thompson received a plaqued No. 23 jersey and flowers.

She posed for a photo standing with her husband, former Cincinnati offensive lineman Blake Yager, her mother, Mary, whose bribes helped Thompson develop into an attacker, and her father, 1990s Harlem Globetrotter Tyrone Doleman (and brother of Pro Football Hall of Famer Chris Doleman).

Mary has been most instrumental, raising Thompson as a single mom in Minnesota. Thompson, who is 6 feet, 4 inches now, was always tall for her age.

She played youth basketball against older girls and grew frustrated by the physical contact. Kneepads weren’t comfort enough. She decided to give volleyball a try in middle school.

“She was very timid,” Mary said of her daughter, who has since gotten 10 tattoos, including one of a hummingbird. “She would tell me she didn’t want to hurt anyone on the other side of the net. I told her I would give her a dollar for every time she would whack it. And I would give her $10 if she would actually hit someone on the other end of the court.”

It took a while, but Thompson was motivated by her love of horses. The payouts from her mom went toward a saddle and a bridal. A box with horse equipment remains in the family garage back home.

“She was trying to build up her supplies to be able to one day say to me, look, I’ve got a saddle, I’ve got all of my tack, I’ve got stuff to clean the hooves, can we get a horse now?” Mary said. 

After just two years of club volleyball, Thompson received her first Division-I scholarship offer. It came from Syracuse. Thompson was a high school sophomore.

“In the back of my head, I’m thinking, I’m never going to get another offer, so I better take this one,” she said.

Thompson was intent on Syracuse for a year before a coaching change led her to decommit. She wasn’t sure if many schools knew she had reopened her recruiting. A Minnesota club teammate had committed to Cincinnati and suggested Thompson take a visit.

The Bearcats went 3-29 the season before she committed.

“I said, Jordan, you can play D-I at Texas. You can go to Nebraska,” Mary said. “She was like, no, no, I want to play all four years. I actually want to get playing time, mom. She really struggled believing how good she could be.”

The biggest obstacle came junior year. In a preseason training session, Thompson collided with that Minnesota club teammate, Jade Tingelhoff, and tore the UCL in her dominant, right arm. She was in an armpit-to-wrist brace for two months post-Tommy John surgery, including three weeks with her arm locked in place.

She couldn’t brush her hair, had a hard time brushing her teeth and found it difficult showering and getting dressed.

She still went to every Bearcats game and traveled with the team. Cincinnati went from 22-10 her sophomore season to 13-19 that year without her on the court.

“It ended up being OK,” Tingelhoff said. “She came back that next season — I’m not kidding — 10 times as better than she was even the previous year.”

As a redshirt junior, Thompson and her 827 kills helped Cincinnati to a 26-8 record and its first NCAA Tournament win in seven years. She also caught the eye of Kiraly by the end of that 2018 season.

“She was one of the elite players in all of college volleyball,” he said. “Probably the only one who came from a conference other than the ones known for producing the most NCAA champions, like the Big Ten and the Pac-12.”

By last spring break, Thompson had become a favorite of U.S coaches at a camp to help select teams for summer international tournaments.

She had a one-on-one conversation with Kiraly, the only person to own Olympic indoor and beach gold medals. The legend told her she had potential to play at the Pan American Games. Later, he upped the praise to say she was ready for the top-level Nations League, a precursor to Olympic qualifying.

Thompson made her national team debut in May. By August, she came off the bench to help spur a comeback in a crucial Olympic qualifying match. The next day, she was in the starting lineup for the U.S.’ final Olympic qualifier, where the Americans clinched a Tokyo 2020 berth.

“I think a lot people don’t know she is still in college,” two-time U.S. Olympic outside hitter Jordan Larson said then. “She still has one more year left.”

Agents reached out, but Thompson had no intention of giving up her final year of NCAA eligibility. She wanted to make history at Cincinnati. That was secured with the Sweet 16 berth.

With the new year, she will trade the Cincinnati red and black for Team USA colors. She will keep in mind what the U.S. coaching staff told the team during Olympic qualifying and what she called a dream summer.

“My big goal in life was I just wanted to be in the USA gym,” said Thompson, who is working on her master’s in criminal justice. “To hear that we’re all working towards this goal of trying to make this roster, and we are being looked as potential players to make that roster, my jaw dropped. To know that it’s even a remote possibility is mind-blowing.”

VIDEO: Brazil volleyball star faints during courtside interview

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Tahiti chosen for Olympic surfing competition at 2024 Paris Games

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Paris 2024 Olympic organizers want the surfing competition to be held in Tahiti, an island in French Polynesia that is about 9,800 miles from Paris.

It would break the record for the farthest Olympic medal competition to be held outside the host. In 1956, equestrian events were moved out of Melbourne due to quarantine laws and held five months earlier in Stockholm, some 9,700 miles away.

The Paris 2024 executive board approved the site Thursday — specifically, the village of Teahupo’o — and will propose it to the IOC. It beat out other applicants Biarritz, Lacanau, Les Landes and La Torche, all part of mainland France.

“If, ever, we have two alternatives, and where one alternative gives the athletes of a particular sport more closeness to the heart of the Games and allows them to enjoy the magic and the spirit of the Games better, then in the interest of the athletes, we prefer this solution,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in June when asked about Tahiti’s interest in hosting surfing.

Surfing will debut at the 2020 Tokyo Games but is not on the permanent Olympic program. Surfing was among sports added to the Paris 2024 program in June and could be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

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