- Associated Press - Monday, February 17, 2014

SOCHI, Russia (AP) - J.R. Celski is down to his last chance to win an individual medal at the Sochi Olympics.

The American short track skater is looking to make up for disappointments in the 1,500 meters, where he was fourth, and the 1,000, where he clipped a block and crashed out in the quarterfinals.

Celski bruised his knees in the crash last weekend, but taking himself out of contention was even more painful. It was just the second time in four years he’d gone out of a race that way.

“I really wanted it,” he said after practice Monday. “I kind of saw four years go down the drain for the 1,000.”

After taking Sunday off, along with the rest of the U.S. team, and spending time with his family, Celski had made peace with his misfortune.

“Just trying to stay positive and look forward to what I have left,” he said.

He opens his bid in the 500 with the heats on Tuesday. Celski, the world record holder at the distance, drew the No. 2 lane in a four-man heat that includes Olivier Jean of Canada.

Among Celski’s rivals are Russia’s Viktor Ahn, a two-time medalist in Sochi; and Canada’s Charles Hamelin, the 1,500 champion in Sochi and the defending Olympic gold medalist in the 500. The other U.S. skaters are Eddy Alvarez of Miami, Fla., and Jordan Malone of Denton, Texas.

“Just got to stay calm,” said Alvarez, whose strongest event is the 500. “I know I’m fast enough, I know my passing ability is there, just got to find the right openings.”

The 500 involves three rounds of racing to reach Friday’s final at Iceberg Skating Palace.

“We have good chances, but the margin for error is pretty low,” U.S. coach Stephen Gough said. “The starts are so crucial. The time you skate decides the start for the next race.”

So far, the Americans have yet to get on the short track podium in Sochi. They won six medals in Vancouver four years ago, including a pair of bronzes for Celski, to trail only powerhouse South Korea in the standings.

Celski, a 23-year-old from Federal Way, Wash., took over from Apolo Anton Ohno as the leader of the U.S. team after the eight-time Olympic medalist retired. The team also lost Vancouver medalist Katherine Reutter, who retired at 24 because of chronic injuries.

Through the first three days of short track, Emily Scott of Springfield, Mo., is the only American to make an A final in Sochi. She was involved in a three-skater crash in the 1, 500 and finished fifth.

“It’s a bummer that we haven’t performed quite the way we wanted to individually,” Celski said. “The team energy and atmosphere is still positive.”

The U.S. men are medal contenders in the final short track event at these games, the 5,000 relay. They were advanced to Friday’s final after the South Koreans caused a crash that took out the Americans in the semifinals.

Besides Celski causing his own crash, Alvarez got taken out of the 1,000 in a spill caused by Hamelin, who tripped over the back of his own blade.

“Hopefully all that bad luck turns into some good luck,” Alvarez said.

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