- Associated Press - Friday, August 18, 2017

KEARNS, Utah (AP) - Three-time Olympic medalist J.R. Celski held back when discussing this stage of his career with the Pyeongchang Games rapidly approaching in February. This will be his third Olympics, barring a catastrophe, and possibly his last considering he’s 27 years old.

Celski won the first men’s 1,500-meter final at the U.S. Speedskating Short Track World Cup Qualifier in 2 minutes, 26.697 seconds on Friday. He’s trying to keep himself from getting too antsy as he approaches the Olympics as the United States’ most decorated current Olympic short-track skater. The forecast has changed drastically since his first experience in Vancouver in 2010 where Celski didn’t think he’d qualify.

“The last one, there was definitely some expectations and I felt a little more pressure on my shoulders to perform,” Celski said. “Right now I’m just trying to bring it back to the middle ground.

“I know I have expectations of myself, but I also want to have fun because, chances are, (no) I’m not going to say that.”

Celski tied for the overall Day 1 lead with John-Henry Krueger after Krueger won the second 1,500 final in 2:38.583. Ryan Pivirotto finished the day third overall.

“(The 2022 Olympics) is a long way away,” Celski said. “I’m literally trying to take it race-by-race, day-by-day. I told myself this morning, lap-by-lap.

“I’ve made decisions before on retiring or whatever … and I wound up coming back. I can’t really say what I’m going to do right now. But definitely, I’m getting older.”

The qualifier consists of three days of racing with a single distance each day. There are two rounds of the individual distance every day with points assigned by where each skater finishes. At the end of the three days, the top point earners will earn World Cup spots. The team is scheduled to be announced Tuesday.

Krueger made a significant adjustment this year when he switched from training in South Korea to another team in the Netherlands and he believes the success showed up today. The 22-year-old Pittsburgh native explained the training style is different and changing during an Olympic year was a risk.

“This year was a little of a toss-up and a gamble,” Krueger said. “I was in Korea for two years. It wasn’t easy leaving Korea. That’s definitely like a second home to me. I think I needed a little more individuality and freedom with my training. Where in Korea, there’s such a large amount of skaters that it’s almost impossible, or would be unfair, if the coach gave you very personal 1-on-1.

“I was talking with my mom and said I would rather do something different and fail miserably than stay where I was and not improve or fail miserably again.”

Jessica Kooreman, a 2014 Olympian, won both women’s 1,500 finals, finishing in 2:30.160 and 2:23.754. Lana Gehring was second overall, and Maame Biney was third.

Kooreman, 33, is also trying to stay patient and strike that delicate balance of wanting to win every time she steps on the ice, but knowing the goal is to peak at the Olympics in February. But the Pyeongchang Games are always in her mind, as is the memory of missing out on the 2010 Olympics shortly after she switched to short track from inline skating.

“For four years, eating me alive that I wasn’t going to let that happen again,” said Kooreman, who placed fourth and seventh in 2014 and is focused on reaching the podium. “That tension of that year was eat, sleep, drink, think Sochi. Now that I’ve been there and gotten a taste of the Olympics, these last four years is like the same will and drive. Especially knowing that this is Olympic season and it’s all or nothing.

“I don’t believe that was everything (I have), hence why I’m still here four years later. Just constantly think about Pyeongchang 2018 and wanting to make sure everything’s ready to go.”

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