J.R. Celski retires after three Olympics, three medals in short track

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J.R. Celski, the top U.S. short track speed skater of the last decade, retired after three Olympics, where he combined for one silver and two bronze medals.

“I’ve contemplated for a long time,” said Celski, a 28-year-old from Federal Way, Wash., who now attends the University of Utah. “It’s a good time to move on and start a new chapter in my life. That’s where I’m at right now.

“I didn’t think it would affect me as much as it has, like I was going to be immune to the emotions that come along with retirement or something,” Celski said in a 1,500-word open letter. “I felt like I could just sneak out under the radar and carry on with the next chapter in my life. I don’t know how else to say it other than I needed to finally face the reality of things.”

Celski’s enduring story has to be his comeback from suffering a seven-inch-long, two-inch-deep gash in his left quad when he crashed at the September 2009 Olympic Trials.

His skate blade punctured his leg one inch from the femoral artery. Celski could see bone through the gash as he was lifted on a stretcher. He said he thought he might die. Sixty stitches closed the wound.

Less than five months later, Celski earned 1500m and relay bronze medals at his first Olympics in Vancouver.

“The most celebrated and inspirational stories told in this world are born out of struggle,” he wrote. “They are stories of man and woman’s ability to overcome some form of hardship, and go on to do something great. It shakes us to our core every time, without failure. It is the very thing that defines us as humans.”

After executive producing a documentary featuring Macklemore, Celski took another Olympic run for Sochi. He earned a relay silver in 2014 and finished fourth in the 1500m, missing a medal by six tenths of a second.

Celski ended his career last winter with a best finish in three PyeongChang events of fifth in the relay and an appearance at the world championships. He knew before the season that it would be his last — after enduring hip surgery and knee and back injuries in that Olympic cycle — but kept the decision private.

“The thing I’m going to miss most about short track is the dynamics of the sport,” said Celski, who picked up short track around age 12, after first skating inline at 3. “There’s so much you need to pay attention to in training and prepare yourself for. You can’t just be fast. You can’t just be strong. You can’t just be agile. You have to be multiple dimensions in the sport.”

Celski also earned eight world championships medals, the last coming in 2014 when he ranked second overall. He also held world records in the 500m (first man to break 40 seconds) and the 5000m relay.

Celski took one year off from the sport after both the 2010 and 2014 Olympics, but this break will be permanent. He’s studying business at Utah and will stay involved in the sport. His year-old, co-founded company, Nalza, produces speed skating equipment.

“I went into taking those years off after the Olympics previously kind of with the thought that I’d come back. This time it’s different. I guess it’s the only way I can describe it,” he said. “I don’t think as the Olympics get close it’s going to pull me back anymore. I feel like I’ve been through what I needed to go through. I’m really thankful to have competed as long as I have, skated alongside the teammates I had.”

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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‘Race and Sports in America: Conversations’ primetime special covers social justice, combating inequality

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Athletes, including Olympians, discussed social justice, locker room conversations about race and ways that sports can help combat inequality in “Race and Sports in America: Conversations,” airing Monday at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, Olympic Channel, Golf Channel and NBC Sports Regional Networks.

NBC Sports’ Damon Hack hosted roundtables with active and retired athletes at the American Century Championship Golf Tournament in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, last week.

Panelists, including Olympians James Blake and Charles Barkley and Tokyo Olympic hopeful Stephen Curry, also reflected on personal experiences.

Barkley, an Olympic gold medalist in 1992 and 1996, said coaches recently reached out to him to speak to their teams.

“First of all, relax and breathe,” Barkley said. “This crap started 400 years ago. We can’t do nothing about that. We can’t do anything about systematic racism. What I challenge every Black person, every white person to do: What can I do today going forward?

“You have to ask yourself, I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Because if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

Blake, a retired former top-five tennis player and 2008 Olympian, was wrestled to the ground, handcuffed and arrested by a plainclothes New York City police officer in 2015 in a case of mistaken identity caught on video. The police officer’s punishment was a loss of five vacation days.

“The first thing I said when I got tackled was, I’m complying 100 percent,” Blake said. “And that shouldn’t have to be your response the first time you interact with a police officer. And because that’s the way my dad taught me is stay alive. Do whatever you can to stay alive. Sort it out later with lawyers or however you want to do it, and stay alive in that moment. The fact you have to have those rules in 2020 means maybe we have to do something drastic to change the way police interact with the African-American community and the way the community interacts with the police.”

Curry said his daughters, 7-year-old Riley and 5-year-old Ryan, asked questions about the images they recently saw. He’s not shielding them, but rather being honest about society, going back centuries.

“We have to continue to double down and double down and keep people accountable in all walks of life, all industries, all forms of leadership, the judicial system, all those type of things,” Curry said. “And hopefully for my kids’ generation, their kids, we will see change. I’m hopeful and optimistic about, but I understand how much work will need to go into that.”

The full list of athletes who participated in the “Race and Sports in America: Conversations” roundtables:

• Charles Barkley – 1992 and 1996 Olympic basketball champion
• James Blake – 10-time ATP tennis champion, 2008 Olympian
• Stephen Curry – two-time NBA MVP, two-time FIBA world champion
• Troy Mullins – World Long Drive competitor
• Anthony Lynn – Los Angeles Chargers head coach
• Jimmy Rollins – World Series champion shortstop
• Kyle Rudolph – Minnesota Vikings tight end
• Ozzie Smith – Major League Baseball Hall of Famer

Additionally, Hack was joined by Super Bowl champion running back Jerome Bettis for an extended interview that will be published on NBC Sports’ digital and podcast platforms.

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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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