SOCHI, Russia — Eddy Alvarez is very familiar with the pads at the Iceberg Skating Palace.
The American skater crashed again Tuesday in the heats of 500-meter short track, ending his hopes of winning an individual medal at the Sochi Olympics. He’s still got a shot for the podium as part of the men’s relay team.
It was the third time in four events that the 24-year-old from Miami went sliding into the pads that line the ice. He was eliminated from his other race when an aggressive attempt to pass earned a disqualification.
”I tested out most of (the pads) this week,” quipped Alvarez, the first Cuban-American male to make a U.S. skating team. ”Who’s hit the pads more than me? Do you get a medal for that?”
While the first two crashes were not Alvarez’s fault, this one was on him. Trying to set up a pass on South Korea’s Lee Han-bin in a turn, Alvarez’s skates came out from under him. He slid right out the race – again.
”It’s extremely frustrating,” said the skater dubbed Eddy the Jet. ”This is the one event I was really looking forward to. Not to be able to get through the first round is tough.”
J.R. Celski of Federal Way, Wash., was the only American male to advance in the 500. Jordan Malone from Denton, Texas clipped his own skate while trying to keep up with the leaders, lost speed and finished last in his heat.
”I was just focused on my race,” said Celski, who finished second after bumping with France’s Thibaut Fauconnet, nearly losing his balance. ”Unfortunately, Eddy went down and Jordan didn’t get through. Fortunately, we still have a relay left as a team.”
Alvarez also crashed in the relay semifinals, but the U.S. advanced anyway when South Korea was penalized.
The women fared better in the 1,000 on Tuesday. Jessica Smith of Melvindale, Mich., and Emily Scott of Springfield, Mo., both finished second in their heats, with Scott making a furious dash to line to make up a big gap after being bumped in a corner by Katerina Novotna of the Czech Republic.
Scott would have advanced to the quarterfinals anyway – Novotna was penalized – but she didn’t know that on the ice. So Scott scrambled mightily to edge Kazakhstan’s Inna Simonova for the second spot.
”You hope the judges see and feel what you felt,” Scott said. ”I was glad that I was able to just secure that second spot on my own and not have to rely on them.”
Even though they advanced Tuesday, Smith and Scott are longshots to win a medal. Celski seems the only legitimate U.S. hope for an individual podium finish in the short track at Sochi.
But even if Celski comes through in the 500 and the men’s relay makes the podium on the final day of competition Friday, the Americans are assured of falling well short of the medal haul in Vancouver. The 2010 short track team captured six medals, trailing only powerhouse South Korea in the standings. The two biggest stars – Apolo Anton Ohno and Katherine Reutter – both retired after the games.
The short track woes are part of the increasingly dismal games for the U.S. speedskating program. The long-track team has yet to win a medal, either.
”We want to bring home medals, not only for our country but for ourselves,” Smith said. ”That’s still the focus of this team. Everybody’s spirits are up.”