SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Apolo Anton Ohno’s masterful racing inspired many young Americans to try short track speed skating and J.R. Celski now dreams of taking up his idol’s mantle in Sochi.
Celski has big shoes to fill.
The most decorated U.S. Winter Olympian, Ohno brought home eight Olympic medals since his first silver and gold in the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. His retirement left a big void on the team.
“I have someone great to live up to in Apolo,” J.R. Celski told reporters. “He was trying to push the boundaries of our sport and I am chasing that dream as well, so I try to emulate that in everything I do.”
Celski, 23, is looking to do better than the pair of bronze medals he won in 2010 in Vancouver.
He feels close to being at his peak going into the Sochi Games - a far cry from four years ago when a gruesome injury almost prevented him from competing in Vancouver.
Celski’s leg was cut open by his own skate blade following a crash.
“I am not on a hospital bed getting 66 stitches in my leg, that is the main difference,” he told Reuters. “My focus then was just on getting back to the Games and being able to compete.”
The experience left him mentally and physically exhausted, and he stopped skating for a year.
“I didn’t feel like skating anymore, to be honest and it took me quite some time to realize that I wanted to come back and do the sport ... that I wanted to skate purely for the love of the sport and not anything else,” he told Reuters.
Being back “feels amazing,” he said. “I am reaching for the sky here ... I am going out there to push the boundaries this time.”
All four members of the men’s short track team knew each other from competing in inline skating.
Jordan Malone, who won a bronze in the 5,000 meters relay in Vancouver, also credited Ohno with getting him into short track.
“Apolo is the reason I started (skating) in 2002,” he said. “Apolo is the reason a lot of us have started.”
The transition from inline to on ice skating has become the norm for short track in the United States as they share a similar pack-style racing.
“We all used to compete against each other way back in the day and now that we are on the stage together I think we bring some good energy and there is a very good team vibe there,” Celski said.
Reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by Peter Rutherford