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'Big Four' look to assert dominance in short track

Celski leads U.S. into battle; An back at Olympics, this time for Russia
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J.R. Celski (right) is the United States' best medal hope in short track. -Getty Images

The Iceberg Skating Palace will host, among other events, eight Olympic short track competitions: the men's and ladies 1,500, 1,000 and 500 meters, as well as the men's 5,000-meter relay and ladies 3,000-meter relay. Competition takes place on five days, with at least one medal event each day. A total of 116 competitors are entered from 25 countries, six more than at the last Olympic Games.

Unlike ISU championship events, the Olympic format focuses on single distances. In the men's and ladies 500 and 1,000, there are eight preliminary heats, with four skaters in each. The first two athletes in each heat go through to the quarterfinals and semifinals until only four skaters remain for the final. The third- and fourth-place skaters from each semifinal (a total of four) race in the 'B' final, which determines fifth to eighth place.

In the men's and ladies 1,500, six preliminary heats determine which 18 skaters (three skaters from each heat) go on to compete in three semifinal races, with six skaters in each. The first- and second-place skaters from each semifinal (a total of six) will compete in the 'A' final, while the third- and fourth-place skaters from each race (a total of six) will be in the 'B' final, which determines ranks 7-12.

Short track has often been a sport of surprises, but in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, 23 of the 24 medals won in total went to the "Big Four": eight for Korea, four (all gold) for China, six for the U.S. and five for Canada. Italian Arianna Fontana won the remaining medal.

Ladies

Alas, the best female short track skater in the world, 500-meter and 1,000-meter Olympic champion Meng Wang of China, got injured Jan. 1 and will not compete. Her teammate, Yang Zhou, the 1,500-meter champion in Vancouver, is on the list. For Korea, Seung-Hi Park is back after two bronze medals at the last Olympics; she is world champion in the 1,500. Other strong skaters are Suk-Hee Shim (Korea), who won most of the 1,000- and 1,500-meter races this season, Marianne St. Gelais (Canada), European champion Jorien ter Mors (Netherlands), Elise Christie (Great Britain) and Fontana.

For the U.S., Alyson Dudek, Emily Scott and Jessica Smith race the 500 and 1,500. Scott and Smith also do the 1,000. The Americans did not qualify for the relay.

Men

The most noteworthy athlete is Victor An, who used to skate for South Korea as Hyun-Soo Ahn and won gold in the 1,000, 1,500 and relay in Torino, as well as bronze in the 500. After he missed the 2010 Olympics due to a knee injury, he now skates for Russia. He is the short track skater with the most gold medals from the Olympics and world championships.

Olympic champion Jung-Su Lee is not competing, but 500-meter champion Charles Hamelin of Canada is, and so is his brother, François. Other names to watch are Da-Woon Sin (the reigning world champion from South Korea) and J.R. Celski (USA), the world record holder in the 500.

Celski is joined by Eddy Alvarez and Jordan Malone. Malone will not skate in the 1,000 and 1,500; Christopher Creveling will start at those distances instead. Kyle Carr joins them for the relay. 

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