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Sochi Express: Eight Short Track skaters slice and dice their way onto Team USA

JR Celski seeks more medals in the Sochi Olympics!
JR Celski seeks more medals in the Sochi Olympics! Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

The crazed Short Track U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials raced to a feverish close today at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns, UT.

Dozens of skaters charged towards their Olympic dreams on samurai sword-like blades during this four-day contest of nerves and skills.

Emerging from the flurry of frenzied free-for-all races, eight athletes earned spots on board the “Sochi Express” for Team USA.

While relying on their initial time trial performances in the initial four- and nine-lap events on Thursday, both Olympics medalists and newcomers competed in the 1500m, 500m, and then 1000m events – spanning the three-day weekend.

These timed results, when combined with their event finishes, helped athletes punch their tickets to the 2014 Winter Olympics.

And the Olympians are…

Seizing this advantage were time trial leaders J.R. Celski and Jessica Smith. In Friday’s kickoff 1500m race, Celski and Smith automatically qualified for the Sochi Olympics by outlasting the field. For Vancouver, Smith just missed the cut, and served as the team’s alternate.

Dual Olympics medalist Celski has bulleted his way to the top of the USA pack, having long been overshadowed by the phenom Apolo Anton Ohno who retired last year.

Rising skater Smith bested a field of veteran Olympic medalists: Allison Baver, Kimberly Derrick, and Lana Gehring to etch her spot on Team USA.

Saturday’s slate featured the no-holds-barred 500m contest. And true-to-form, Celski and Smith out-slashed the pack to seal their victories. Celski, who set the world record at this distance in October, is the favorite to win at the Sochi Games.

Emily Scott and Eddie Alvarez, who finished in the runner-up spots on Friday, earned enough cumulative points on Saturday with their second place finishes to earn the nod for the Winter Games.

The Trials culminated on Sunday with the 1000m race – the last chance to secure a Sochi spot through a top placement or via combined points. Thrills and spills were the rage as adrenaline rushed through these nervous athletes’ bodies.

For veteran Olympians seeking to return to the Games, as well as eager newcomers, this do-or-die event pitted their Olympic dreams on the line. The remaining male hopefuls were vying for three more allotted spots, since the American squad had qualified for the Olympics team relay event earlier this season. Whereas, for the women, only one slot was on the table since they failed to qualify for the team relay.

Once the ice dust settled from this dizzying day of last ditch racing, Alyson Dudek grabbed the final team spot, compliments of her third place finish in the 1000m race and overall points.

"I'm going with a really strong team, and I am really excited," said Dudek who won the bronze in the team relay event at the Vancouver Olympics.

All three women will compete in the 500m and 1500m Olympics races, while only two can contend in the 1000m contest.

A trio of men sealed the deal for Sochi, fulfilling their dreams that were casted soon after the Vancouver Olympics. Heading to Sochi are Vancouver bronze medalist Jordan Malone, Kyle Carr, and Chris Creveling whose chances were nearly dashed due to a 1500m race disqualification.

The defacto team leader Celski said about the Sochi Olympics, "I could not have asked for a better team than this. The USA is here to play."

The U.S. squad can field three men in each event, in addition to the team relay.

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The "Sochi Express" has reached the century mark with 100 athletes being nominated to the U.S. Olympic Committee which is expected to approve selections.

Hundreds of athletes still seek to fill the remaining 150 seats on this Team USA train.

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