Tran was the top American performer during an otherwise disappointing opening night for the U.S. men’s short-track speedskaters.
GANGNEUNG, South Korea — Aaron Tran zipped nearly 14 times around the short track at Gangneung Ice Arena on Saturday in his Olympic debut, smiling as he crossed the finish line in his third of three official races.
Skating for a 10th-place finish at best in the lower-tier final of the men’s 1,500-meter event, it wasn’t the glorious medal-stand finish Tran, 21, has envisioned since childhood skating at Pattison’s West in Federal Way.
But Tran stood proudly after finishing last in the B final (the five top skaters who did not make the nine-person final), his best-ever 1,500-meter finish on the world stage, crediting the “elevated” Olympic platform and support of friends and family in attendance for his surprise performance.
“It’s a much bigger stage than usual,” Tran said. “It was just really uplifting.”
Tran was the top American performer during an otherwise disappointing opening night for the U.S. men’s short-track speedskaters. Fellow Federal Way native and Beamer High School product J.R. Celski — a three-time Olympic medalist in his third Winter Games — failed to make it past the semifinals, as did John-Henry Krueger, widely regarded as the Americans’ top skater in the event.
Hyojun Lim of South Korea took gold in the event, with Sjinkie Knegt of the Netherlands earning silver. Russia’s Semen Elistratov, competing under a neutral flag after the country was banned from the 2018 Winter Games, won bronze.
Celski, the 1,500-meter bronze medalist in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and fourth-place finisher in Sochi’s 2014 Games, looked to be in position to again reach the final Saturday with just two laps to go in his semifinal heat. Leading the six-man race, he dropped to the back of the pack in a matter of seconds and finished last. He was later disqualified, though that ended up not mattering.
Celski, 27, said after the event he was not injured, but tactical mistakes cost him a spot in the final.
“I felt OK,” Celski said. “Unfortunately I came up short.”
Saturday’s 1,500-meter event was the first of multiple races potentially remaining for both Federal Way natives.
After winning the 500-meter event in U.S. Olympic trials, Tran will headline the American contingent in that event Feb. 22. He is also a possible selection for the 5,000-meter relay team in a preliminary heat Tuesday, U.S. speedskating spokesman Matt Whewell said, but will not compete for the team in the finals.
Celski will next skate Tuesday in a preliminary heat for the 1,000 meters. If he qualifies, Celski will compete in the event’s final rounds on Feb. 17. The 27-year-old will also compete in the 5,000-meter team relay on Feb. 22 in hopes of a third straight medal in the event after winning silver in 2014 and bronze in 2010.
The Federal Way natives were both upbeat speaking after Saturday’s event, despite what Celski called a “disappointing” team performance. That won’t be the case if Saturday’s results are repeated throughout the next two weeks, he added.
“We train to win,” he said.