Things have changed for JR Celski since he skated out of Vancouver, B.C., with two bronze medals in his first Olympic Games.
Most importantly, he’s grown up. The 19 year old who skated in the shadow of his short-track super-star teammate Apolo Ohno will turn 23 in mid-July. The run-up to the Olympics, the stress and frenzy and pressure and joyful madness of the games themselves won’t be new to him this time.
“It’s much different this time. I’m a little older, a little more experienced,” he said during a recent interview at the Southern California rink where he trains during the off-season.
And with Ohno retired from competition, this is JR’s short-track team to lead into Sochi, Russia, next February. It is a responsibility he clearly relishes.
“It’s a big task. But I am mentally ready to step up and take that role,” he said. “It’s going to be good. I’m hoping to lead this team to a lot of medals.”
His long-time coach Wilma Boomstra sees a new, mature JR making a push for Sochi. He has worked with her since he was 14 years old.
“There’s been a big change, a huge change” she said.
JR has rededicated himself to his sport in a way she hasn’t seen before.
“His whole approach to training, his approach to lifestyle, nutrition, everything around him. He’s doing the whole package now,” she smiled with pride. She has been a second mother to him since JR moved to Southern California to train so many years ago. “He’s a pro athlete now.”
Celski modestly agrees, saying his attitude about his sport, his commitment to his sport has changed.
“When I was a kid, I loved to go fast, I loved the speed, I loved to skate. I lost that for a lot of time in my teenage years, I lost that feeling. I was doing it just to do it,” he said.
He took a year off after the Vancouver Games. And when it came time to make a decision about skating, he realized he had missed the ice, the sport, the challenge. More than that, he says, he realized this was a calling, something he had been put here to do.
“Speedskate” he said without hesitation. “It’s my love, my passion. It took me my whole life to realize that and I finally have.”
Now his goals are to stay focused, stay healthy and continue his push to Sochi.