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Celski, Smith snag golds in 1,500-meter races

Creveling, Scott fill out World Cup qualifying list with silvers
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Chris Creveling (left) and J.R. Celski earned spots on the men's World Cup team. -Getty Images

If there is a secret to J.R. Celski's consistency, he's not sharing it.

The Olympic bronze medalist dominated the men's races for the second straight day at the 2013 U.S. Single Distance Championships to claim the 1,500-meter gold medal at the Utah Olympic Oval.

"Short track is very difficult to maintain consistency," said veteran Jeff Simon, who finished third overall in the 1,500. "I mean, unless you're a superstar like J.R. He seems to be very consistent."

When asked how he races so consistently, the 23-year-old smiled.

"Train hard, really," Celski said. "I put a lot of work in practice this year, and I'm seeing it all come to fruition right now."

Celski easily won the first final, but the second final was a thriller with position and lead changes every lap.

"People are hungry for points," he said. "End of the day, the last race of the day … I think people were going to come out and play a little harder."

Simon, who was third in the first final, was fifth in the second final. He laughed as he discussed what didn't go his way in the second final and said he's trying not to over analyze his performance.

"I think, for myself, it's still August," he said. "It's fairly early, and I'm still trying to dial things in. I try not to destroy myself mentally by thinking, 'I just want to skate.'"

Simon finished the day third overall, which was good enough for a bronze medal.

Chris Creveling finished second overall and earned a hard-fought third place in the second final. Eddy Alvarez was the runner-up in the second final after being penalized for making contact with John-Henry Krueger, which prevented him from advancing to the first final.

Celski and Creveling are guaranteed spots on the U.S. World Cup team in the 1,500-meter.

The women's races were even more competitive, with Emily Scott winning the first final and Jessica Smith winning the second. While Smith was second in the first final, Scott was third, behind Alyson Dudek. But the results mean Smith, who claimed the overall championships, and Scott, who finished second overall, will both be guaranteed spots on the World Cup team in the 1,500. Dudek earned a bronze in the overall championship.

Smith said she had to change her strategy, and her mindset, between the first and second set of races.

"The first race wasn't too bad," Smith said. "The field is so hard, so I think maybe I went a little too early for my liking, and I didn't realize it. Maybe I panicked a little too much. The second race I had to reevaluate what I needed to do. I just didn't panic as much and stayed in control of my race. I did what I needed to do."

Smith said every race is so different that athletes have to see how a race unfolds before they can really make a decision about how to attack the field.

"In the 1,500, you never know what the strategy is going to be," she said. "You never know who is going to go early or late. If the race is fast, you have to have endurance to last to the end, but if the race is slow, it becomes more of a sprinter's field. It depends on who is in the field and what their plan is. …You've got to be prepared for anything."

Scott was thrilled with her victory in the first final, as it's her first at a U.S. championships.

"This is definitely my favorite race," Scott said of the 1,500-meter distances. "I was super excited. It's actually my first win, and I'm feeling really strong."

She said the second final was a bit more physical than the first.

"Strategy kind of went out the door a little bit," Scott said. "There was a lot of bumping and passing, so I was pretty happy about where I ended up."

She said this first competition is unique in that skaters finally get to see just how they compare to their teammates after months of focusing on fitness.

"I feel pretty good," she said. "I'm looking forward to the [rest] of the racing, just to see my fit level. This is just kind of try new things and see how it works out."

Like Celski, Scott said it was nice to have a moment of satisfaction after months of grueling training.

"You never really know what to expect," Scott said. "But, I've been training really hard this summer, and as a team we've been skating really good, so I was pretty confident. I'm just glad that all my hard work finally paid off."

Both Smith and Scott were successful inline skaters when they decided to make the transition to speedskating. Smith was an alternate for the 2010 games, while Smith participated in Olympic trials.

"That was my third competition ever, so I was just happy to be there and experience it," Scott said. "I have high hopes this year."

Bronze medalist Alyson Dudek was pleased with the fact that she moved from fourth to second in the last 1,500 final of the day.

"The first race strategy didn't work for me, so I thought I better try something different," Dudek said. "The 1,500 hasn't been my strongest race. I've been training hard, working on it, and things are starting to come together."

Unlike Scott, she loves the sprint.

"The 500 has always been my favorite race, so I'm really looking forward to tomorrow," she said, grinning.

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