KEARNS — Eddy Alvarez knows exactly how to come back from a bad day.
One day after a disqualification in the first of two 1,500-meter races kept him off the podium Friday, he managed to earn a silver medal Saturday thanks to some mental tricks, fearless skating and a little help from a childhood friend.
“I just try to keep my composure,” said the veteran short-track speedskater who earned a spot on the U.S. World Cup team with a second-place finish overall in the 500-meter events. “Yesterday was a tough day for me. I know that I have the speed and the passing ability. So I try to stay calm, and I get behind J.R.”
He was joking about Olympian J.R. Celski — but not entirely.
Celski’s consistency reigned for a third-straight day at the U.S. short-track single distance championships at the Utah Olympic Oval Saturday as the Seattle native won both 500-meter finals to claim the overall championship. He won the 1,500-meter championship Friday.
In fact, Celski has been so consistent that he’d crossed the finish line first in every race — from time trials to quarterfinals to finals — until his second semifinal Saturday when he finished second to Chris Creveling in the heat. When asked about it, he wasn’t even aware of his dominance.
“It was just a semi, so I took it a little easy, well not easy, but leading gets a little tough, especially in the 500,” Celski said. Chris came by me with a great pass.”
And for the first time in three days, Celski was satisfied to follow, although not for long. He came out in the finals and skated the dominant, aggressive style that’s kept him on top of the podium this weekend.
When asked how Celski skates so consistently in such an unpredictable sport, Alvarez laughs and changes his voice to a more sing-song tone.
“Because he skate so pretty,” he laughs. And then he gets serious about the man he’s known since the two of them were first-graders. “He’s an unbelievable athlete and unbelievable on his skates so it’s good. I like seeing him a little bit in front of me. It gives me a goal.”
The two enjoy just about the friendliest rivalry around, even exchanging a handshake they developed before taking their places on the podium Saturday.
“One and two for me and him, that’s my brother from another mother,” said Alvarez. “We’ve known each other since we were 6 years old.”
Celski said the two have reversed roles in recent years.
“When we first started, he always beat me,” said Celski. “We always kind of battled, and at the end of the day, I really looked up to that kid. He took a break for a while, and I took a break for a while. Now we’re back short-track racing and butting heads again, so it’s cool.”
Celski said despite his success in the 500, he felt he had something to prove in the event.
“I did pretty good last year, and I wanted to prove to myself that I was going to skate it well,” he said. “It felt really nice. The 500 is a fun distance.”
It’s a difficult distance as skaters have to balance their desire to attack with finding the right moment in the shortest distance in which they compete.
“That’s the hard part about the 500: It’s about finding balance,” Celski said. “You’ve got to find the balance between rushing and relaxing. If you can find that, you’re speed is going to be there and you’ll be comfortable. It’s either really short or really long, and if you can make it longer, you can race without panicking.”
Meanwhile, Jessica Smith claimed her second championship in two days. She had a second-place finish in the day’s first final and a win in the final race of the day.
“In the first 500, I played it a bit more safe,” she said. “I didn’t really have any opportunity to get by, and I was secured with second. I didn’t want to press it. So I just had to stay safe in that race. Coming into that last final, I just wanted to skate a different type of race, different strategy, and see what would happen with it. And it ended up working well.” Smith managed to pass Alyson Dudek, who won the first 500 of the day, with just one lap to go in earning her victory.
“I’m working on trying to stay more calm,” she said. “The 500 meters to most people, and to me also, is a short race. But there is also a lot of opportunity. And sometimes my biggest problem is trying to take advantage of an opportunity that’s not always there in the race.”
Dudek said she felt good about her performance, which gave her the silver medal overall and means she’ll earn a spot on the World Cup team with Smith in that distance.
“The racing has been really good,” she said. “It’s good for us because when we race internationally, it only gets tougher. There are amazing athletes all over the world.”
She felt the challenges of Saturday’s races will help her as the skaters prepare for World Cup competition.
“I’m happy with it,” she said of finishing second overall. “There are a lot of things to build on, and things can only get better.”