J.R. Celski

J.R. Celski watches Seahawks win Super Bowl with Heiden, Holcomb

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SOCHI, Russia — Noted Seahawks fan J.R. Celski shared his dreary-eyed Super Bowl excitement with a pair of Olympic champions.

Celski, a two-time Olympic medalist short track speed skater from Federal Way, Wash., woke up at 3:30 a.m. Monday and watched the Seahawks take a 22-0 lead after two quarters on a stream in the Sochi Olympic Village.

He then took a halftime nap and watched the finishing touches of a 43-8 blowout of the Denver Broncos on a Slingbox provided by 2010 Olympic champion bobsledder Steven Holcomb.

They were joined by US Speedskating team doctor Eric Heiden, the five-time 1980 Olympic champion.

“I’m still kind of recovering right now from it,” Celski said following a weight session and on-ice practice at the Iceberg Skating Palace. “It was not a stressful game at all.

“I wish it was more exciting, but I’m happy with the outcome. It kind of made me question if it was worth getting up that early,” he joked.

A fourth person joined them, a U.S. team staff member and Broncos fan. She was more emotional about it than any of the men, including the soft-spoken Heiden.

“It was interesting watching [Heiden],” Celski said. “He didn’t really react to anything. I think he wanted the ‘Hawks to win.”

Celski said he nearly fell asleep during the second quarter, abstaining from coffee, before resting his eyes and missing the Bruno Mars halftime show.

Altogether, Celski said he got seven hours of sleep.

“He woke up, he got ready, put some makeup on,” teammate and longtime friend Eddy Alvarez said. “He looks good.”

Celski, 23, has been a Seahawks fan since he “was out the womb” and remembered the disappointment in 2006 when they lost Super Bowl XL to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“Actually, at that time I was disappointed with my skating, too,” Celski said. “I took a year after that off. I was on a downhill slope. I wasn’t having fun with it. I’ve been watching the rise of the ‘Hawks for the past couple years, seeing things come into motion and players being placed on the team. It’s funny them winning the Super Bowl now. I hope it’s mirrored in my performance [in Sochi].”

Celski plans to march in the Opening Ceremony on Friday and opens competition in the 1500m next Monday.

American short track skater now competes for Italy

Shelby Houlihan shatters American 5000m record

Shelby Houlihan
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Shelby Houlihan chopped 10.52 seconds off her own American 5000m record, clocking 14:23.92 at a Bowerman Track Club intrasquad meet in Portland, Ore., on Friday night.

Houlihan, who was 11th in the Rio Olympic 5000m, has in this Olympic cycle improved to become one of the greatest female distance runners in U.S. history.

She first broke Shannon Rowbury‘s American record in the 5000m by 4.47 seconds in 2018. In 2019, she broke Rowbury’s American record in the 1500m by 1.3 seconds in finishing fourth at the world championships in 3:54.99.

On Friday, Houlihan and second-place Karissa Schweizer both went under the American record. Schweizer, 24 and three years younger than Houlihan, clocked 14:26.34, staying with Houlihan until the winner’s 61-second final lap.

“I knew Karissa was going to try to come up on me and take the lead. She does that every time,” Houlihan told USATF.tv. “I had decided I was not going to let that happen.”

Houlihan improved from 41st to 12th on the world’s all-time 5000m list, 12.77 seconds behind Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba‘s world record.

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Can T.J. Oshie, other established Olympic hockey stars hold on for 2022?

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T.J. Oshie will be 35 years old during the next Winter Olympics. Jonathan Quick will be 36. Now that the NHL is one key step closer to returning to the Winter Games, the question surfaces: which 2014 Olympians will have a difficult time returning to rosters in 2022?

Oshie was the last of the 14 forwards chosen for the U.S. Olympic team for Sochi, beating out Bobby Ryan and Brandon Saad, in part for his shootout prowess.

In group play against Russia, Oshie was memorably tapped by U.S. head coach Dan Bylsma six times in a shootout, including all five in the sudden-death rounds. Oshie beat Sergei Bobrovsky four times, including the game winner.

“After I went out for my third attempt, I figured I was going to keep going,” Oshie said, according to USA Hockey. “Each time I would look up to see what [Bylsma] had to say, and he would just give me a nod every time. I kind of started laughing toward shot five and six because it was getting kind of ridiculous.”

Oshie became known as “T.J. Sochi” on social media. President Barack Obama congratulated him on Twitter. The U.S. eventually lost to Canada in the semifinals and Finland in the bronze-medal game.

When the NHL chose not to send its players to the PyeongChang Winter Games, it may have spelled the end of Oshie’s Olympic career.

Consider that the oldest forward on the 2014 U.S. Olympic team was 29, six years younger than Oshie will be come 2022. A recent Olympic roster prediction from The Hockey Writers put Oshie in the “Just Missed Out” list.

NBC Sports NHL analyst Pierre McGuire has Oshie among the finalists for the last forward spots in his early U.S. roster prediction.

“I wouldn’t discount T.J. Oshie because shootout is still part of it,” McGuire said. “He still has his shootout moves, even though he’s not getting any younger.”

Quick, the unused third goalie in 2010, played 305 out of 365 minutes in net for the U.S. in Sochi. He was coming off a Stanley Cup in 2012 and en route to another one in 2014.

Since, he was sidelined by a knee injury that required surgery. He remains the Los Angeles Kings’ No. 1 goalie, which almost automatically puts an American in the Olympic roster discussion these days.

“Somebody like Jonathan definitely merits consideration just because of his achievement level over time, but I think he’d be the first person to tell you injuries have definitely affected him,” McGuire said of Quick, looking to become the second-oldest U.S. goalie to play in the Olympics after Tom Barrasso in 2002. “It’s not going to be easy for him.”

The U.S. could bypass Quick for three Olympic rookies in 2022. Connor Hellebuyck, John Gibson and Ben Bishop have superior save percentages and goals-against averages and more games played than Quick since the start of the 2018-19 season.

A wild card is Spencer Knight, the 19-year-old No. 1 from the world junior championships who last year became the highest-drafted goalie since 2010 (No. 13 to the Florida Panthers). Knight would break defenseman Bryan Berard‘s record as the youngest U.S. Olympic hockey player in the NHL era.

The Canadian roster has traditionally been deeper than the U.S. The talent is overwhelming at center, led by Sidney CrosbyConnor McDavidPatrice Bergeron and Nathan MacKinnon. The Canadians must get creative if the likes of veterans Jonathan Toews and John Tavares will join them in Beijing.

Toews, then 21, was the best forward at the 2010 Vancouver Games and Canada’s only one on the all-tournament team. While Toews’ last NHL All-Star selection was in 2017, his last two seasons have been his best in terms of points per game since 2011.

“The one thing that Canada is very good at, they do it extremely well, they select players that fit roles,” McGuire said, noting Mike Richards shifting to the wing during the 2010 Olympics. “When you look at the overwhelming depth that Canada has, that’s going to be the thing that’s going that’s going to be very interesting to watch to see how it plays out at center.”

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