Ex-U.S. Olympic Education Center skater J.R. Celski happy to take U.S. Olympic team spot

J.R. Celski competes during the men’s 500 meters at the U.S. Olympic short track speedskating trials Saturday in Kearns, Utah. (AP photo)

KEARNS, Utah — Four years ago, Jessica Kooreman qualified for the Olympics on the first day of the team trials. This time, she went into her last race with everything still up in the air.

Kooreman clinched one of the final three Olympic team spots at the U.S. short track speedskating trials on Sunday. It’s her second straight Olympics after competing in the 2014 Sochi Games.

Kooreman joins Lana Gehring, who competed in the 2010 Vancouver Games, and Olympic rookie Maame Biney on the three-member women’s team.

It wasn’t exactly smooth sailing for Kooreman, who finished second in the first women’s 1000 meters race and led the second race going into the final lap. Then a collision with Kristen Santos led to a distant third-place finish.

“I went to battle this whole entire week and I fought through everything that came my way, every challenge,” Kooreman said, characterizing the Olympic trials as one of the most stressful of her career.

“This definitely challenged me going into the end of my career. I wasn’t sure if it was going to be over today or if it was going to be over after Korea. I’m just glad I fought through mentally and stayed strong. Now I get to finish my career where I wanted to (finish).”

Thomas Hong and Ryan Pivirotto claimed the other two open spots. Hong and Pivirotto are first-time Olympians. They join John-Henry Kruger, two-time Olympian J.R. Celski and Aaron Tran on the five-member men’s short track speedskating team.

Celski is a former athlete at Northern Michigan University’s U.S. Olympic Education Center, the forerunner to the current Olympic Training Site.

Kruger capped off a dominant weekend with victories in both men’s 1000 races. He held off Pivirotto to win the first race and edged Celski in the second.

“I kind of have a reputation for racing down and a little bit poorly at trials,” Kruger said. “I normally race better at the international stage, but I was able to transfer my international racing to home ice. I’m very happy about that.”

Kruger scored 5,440 points over three days and won at least one of two finals in all three distances. Celski followed with 3,472 points and Tran took third with 3,438 points.

Celski did not finish the first men’s 1000 final after a crash late in the race. He also endured crashes on Friday and Saturday.

“I’ve been dealing with some equipment issues over the past little while,” Celski said. “It just kind of came out this weekend and, unfortunately, I took a couple of spills. I had to switch blades. I’m happy I got my spots for the Olympics.”