Sport: Short Track
Birthdate: July 17, 1990
Birthplace: Federal Way, WA
Hometown: Federal Way, WA
Residence: Long Beach, CA
First-time Olympian J.R. Celski represents the next great hope for U.S. short track. After a breakthrough performance at the 2009 World Championships, where he won four medals and finished second overall, Celski is one of the top contenders in Vancouver.
Celski joins superstar Apolo Ohno in facing a formidable South Korean men’s team that took six medals in Torino — including three of a possible four golds. Celski is one of the most aggressive skaters on the ice, a style that can result in wins or disqualifications, as it did at the 2009 Worlds. He took gold in the non-Olympic 3000m, and was DQ’d in the 500m quarterfinals for a reckless pass. Despite a serious injury that ended his Olympic trials, Celski earned a spot on the 2010 Olympic team in the 1000m and 1500m.
A native of Federal Way, Wash., Celski had early ties to Ohno, who hails from the same Seattle suburb. Celski’s older brother, Chris, grew up skating with Ohno. Though J.R. was just three years old when he started inline skating, he got to know Ohno as he rose through the ranks. Celski, decided take up short track after watching Ohno win gold at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City. Though comparisons to Ohno are inevitable, Celski says, “At first I liked it, but I’m my own person, just like everybody else.”
At age 14, when Celski had been skating short track for about a year, his family decided he should move in order to get the best coaching. His parents, Sue and Bob, weren’t able to leave their jobs in Washington, so his brother Chris moved with him to Long Beach, Calif., where J.R. worked with world-renowned Dutch coach Wilma Boomstra.
Celski says he was inspired by his family’s willingness to sacrifice for his career. “There is not one word that can describe what my family has been to me,” he said. “Dedication and sacrifice don’t even cover it because they have done what most parents would think would be crazy.”
Celski graduated from Lakewood High School in California in 2008 with a 3.71 GPA. He has deferred enrollment at Cal-Berkeley until after the Vancouver Games, and wants to study business or architecture. His decision to put off school came on the advice of an English teacher, who said, “School is a place, the Olympics float in time.”
When Celski is not training, he plays the guitar and listens to music, and lists the Roots, Mos Def and Arcade Fire as a few of his favorite artists.