The Incredible Legs Of JR Celski

February 23, 2010

JR CelskiHow does a guy who has had the quadriceps on his left leg accidentally sliced through manage to win an Olympic speed skating medal? How does he do it only five months after they were sundered? A person who can accomplish that has a pretty amazing leg, or perhaps an incredible drive to succeed. The person at the 2010 Winter Olympics who had such a miracle leg was American short track speedskater J.R. Celski, and the evidence that he and his injured leg are really special is that he won the bronze medal in the 1500m event.

On September 12th, 2009, at the sport’s U.S. Olympic Trials, JR Celski was skating in the semifinals of the 500m when he crashed into the protective wall on the last lap. He hit it hard and at an angle that thrust the blade of his right skate into his left thigh. The stabbing was 6″ wide and 2″ deep, cutting to the bone and missing his femoral artery by only an inch. Not knowing what else to do, Celski pulled the embedded blade out his leg himself, and he felt it.

With the blade out, Celski was overwhelmed by what he saw. He described the interior of wound as being a rainbow of colors. “It was blue, purple, yellow, red, white. I could see my femur.”

Celski cried out.

The situation became worse as Celski was taken to a hospital. He was taken in an ambulance that for whatever reason was driven at a regular pace, without a siren, and even stopping at lights. At the hospital, there were no surgeons on duty. At a least one moment during the night, Celski believed that he was going to die.

Eventually Celski was operated on, with his muscles sewn back together. The opening in the flesh was closed with some 60 stitches. But to Celski, it seemed that his skating career was over.

However, Celski knew that he had qualified for the U.S. team – he just needed to get better. So he and his father went to Park City, Utah, to meet with Dr. Eric Heiden, the five-time gold medalist and team orthopedist for U.S. Speedskating. Heiden evaluated the injury and helped put together a treatment plan. After that Celski went to the U.S. Olympic training center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to start the program. The plan would be overseen by staff doctor Bill Moreau. Moreau tried to be realistic, telling Celski, “J.R., I don’t know if you can do this.”

Celski was undeterred and began the rehabilitation program with gusto. He started with things like riding a stationary bike, walking, and doing hydro-therapy. Celski was increasingly pushed by his therapists and he pushed himself harder.

Celski’s training regimen consisted of 3 or 4 hours on the ice and then the same amount of time running, biking, weight training, doing coordination drills and stretching. He would do it six days a week. Relaxation would come with time spent in the sauna.

By October, Celski was able to stop using crutches and by the middle of November he was back on the ice. He was able to skate, but only very slowly. It was eight weeks until the Olympics.

With great determination and grit Celski persevered and miraculously brought himself back to a competitive level in the remaining two months. He would fall and even crash in practice, but his inner strength proved to be invincible. He conquered both the physical injury and the mental challenge that comes with such a devastating injury.

For Celski, the 6″ scar on his leg has become a reminder of just how far he has come. He wants to keep it gruesome so he won’t forget. He said, “People keep telling me to put vitamin E on it. I’m not going to do anything to it. I want to be reminded of what I overcame.”

Celski made it to Vancouver and there he made sure everyone else knew about the injury and the scar, and could see what he had dealt with. On his cell phone he would show anyone that would look a photo of the open wound before he was operated on.

There in Vancouver, Celski created another Olympic “Miracle on Ice”, winning the bronze medal in the 1500m. Where for some it would be a success to walk again or to be able to get back on skates again, for Celski the only worthy goal was to get an Olympic medal. Fortunately, he had that pair of incredible legs that could recover from such a horrendous injury in such an amazingly short time. Of course, it also helped that those legs were part of an incredible person with a spirit that wouldn’t let terrible adversity prevent him from realizing his dream.

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JR Celski Tattoo Is Both Philippine And Polish

February 21, 2010

JR Celski shirtlessAfter his disqualification in the semifinals of the 1000m short track speedskating event at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, JR Celski unzipped his suit and revealed a large tattoo on his upper left chest. Filipinos and Filipino-Americans were quick to note that the basic design was that of the sun and star combination from the flag of the Philippines. What wasn’t so widely noted was that within the sun pattern is the coat of arms of the Republic of Poland.

JR Celski is a Filipino-American (or “Fil-Am”) through his mother, Sue. However, he’s also a Polish-American (as his last name clearly suggests) through his father, Robert. JR wanted to show both sides of his ethnic heritage by merging together in one tattoo the emblems of both of his ancestral homelands. He had the tattoo done several months before the Olympics and it took about three hours to apply.

Link to more about JR Celski.

JR Celski shirtless

J.R. Celski tattoo close-up

On the Philippine flag, in the white triange, is a sun with eight primary rays (composed of three rays each), and three five pointed stars arrayed around it. The eight primary rays represent the eight provinces that initiated the fight against Spanish colonialism in the 1896 Revolution: Manila, Cavite, Bulacan, Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, Tarlac, Laguna, and Batangas. The three stars represent the three major geographical divisions of the country: Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao.

The Polish coat of arms is a crowned white eagle, armed and displayed, on a field of red. The white eagle emblem originated when Poland’s legendary founder Lech saw a white eagle’s nest. The rays of the setting sun made the eagle’s wings appear to be tipped with gold. Lech was so enamored of the sight that he decided to place the image of the eagle on his emblem. The coat of arms appears on the Polish flag in one of the two official variations of it.

Philippine flagPolish eagle

Flag of the Philippines and Polish coat of arms

Besides the cultural significance of the tattoo, it also made some viewers of the scene on television to widen their eyes, as they saw that the cute little guy with the big smile had also become a hot young man. It looks like if he wants to, Celski can be going places other than in a circle on the ice. His talent and looks and charisma can be starting points for being a star like his teammate Apolo Anton Ohno has been before him. We will see more.


2010 Olympics Opening Ceremony

February 17, 2010

Thomas SaulgrainMy favorite aspect of the Olympics Opening Ceremony 2010 was the video projections. David Atkins, the executive producer of the show, used 70 video projectors and 38 still picture projectors to create vivid images on the floor of BC Place stadium, on hanging fabric used with the images to create the appearance of objects and structures, and on the audience themselves, who were clothed in white ponchos to make them part of the electronic canvas.

One of the notable uses of the video displayed on the floor was a segment within the “Landscape of Dreams” showcase of the regions and people of Canada. It was the salute to the prairie areas, and it featured National Circus School (Ècole nationale de cirque) student and aerialist Thomas Saulgrain (above) flying over projected images of fields of wheat. It was inspired by W.O. Mitchell’s “Who Has Seen The Wind”, from which Donald Sutherland spoke the introductory narrative.

During Saulgrain’s performance, the music that was played was Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”, which is a song I really like. The expressiveness of the melody and the emotion of the lyrics were a great fit for this particular aerial ballet.

As much I liked the projections, which I must say I liked as well as the floor screen used in Beijing, I think its usage was too restrained during this segment. It didn’t need a lot more, but just a little more oomph would have been nice. Of course, with the TV coverage focused mainly on Thomas Saulgrain flying overhead, there might have been more that was seen by the audience at the stadium that was not seen by the TV audience. An instance of where the full potential of the system was shown was when the entire floor became one huge field of wheat (or was it prairie grass?)

Thomas Saulgrain

Another noteworthy example of the technology was a displayed image of whales swimming across the floor. It added some 3-D to the 2-D image with real spouting up in the air from the whales (below).

Olympics Opening Ceremony


Little Raj Happy At Last

August 25, 2008

Raj BhavsarWhen Raj Bhavsar returned from the Beijing Olympics to his home in Texas, he was met by a large group of family, friends, and well-wishers. Houstonians came to the airport to let him know how proud they were of his accomplishments and how well he had represented them and his country. A banner read, “Fairy Tale Team!”, “Raj’s Remarkable Journey!”

I would agree that Raj Bhavsar’s journey has been remarkable, although for those that knew what the American team was capable of, it was not so much fairy tale as it was the conclusion of an inspirational movie script.

Seeing the welcome party, Raj remarked that it was just starting to sink in that he really is an Olympic medalist.

With a little goading, Raj pulled his bronze medal from his bag and displayed it for the crowd. When asked how he felt to receive the medal on the award platform he said, “You know, I wanted to cry but I couldn’t, because I was just so happy. You know, it was just all smiles.”

That’s a sentiment shared by many Americans as they saw a great gymnast and role model receive the award that he had deserved for so long.

In an interview with India-West newspaper Raj is quoted as saying, “I think my story is very uplifting for people. In life, it doesn’t really matter where you come from, how much money you have, what your title is in life. Sometimes, life is gonna give you lemons, and we are all taught to make the lemonade, but sometimes we’re never really told how, and I believe I have assembled a formula for picking yourself up and dusting yourself off and starting over and dreaming again. I believe that that message can uplift people, and I think some day I would love to share it with people. If it means public speaking, or writing some articles or a book, then I would love to do that, because I think my mission in life is to uplift the human spirit.”

It would be great to hear Raj Bhavsar do motivational speaking as he has an amazing story to tell.

See Olympian Raj Bhavsar for more background information.


Boudia And Finchum’s Splash Makes Us Wet

August 22, 2008

The American 10m platform divers at the Beijing Olympics are getting people excited. One reason is that they have medal potential in the individual event. The other reason is that a lot of people are finding the pair of Thomas Finchum and David Boudia to be very attractive and a convincing reason to watch barely covered men jump off a three story platform and hurl themselves towards the water at 30 miles per hour. Unfortunately, their swimsuits appear to be held on with superglue because that huge resulting impact has not been enough to dislodge the swimsuits one bit that we could see in the underwater shots. Therefore we will try to be content with focusing on the diving skills.

David Boudia, a 19 year old from Noblesville, Indiana. usually does a list of six dives that equals the highest degree of difficulty ever recorded. The list is rated even more difficult than that of Greg Louganis. More importantly, the collective difficulty of Boudia’s list of dives is even higher than that of the Chinese divers, who had won all seven gold medals at the Beijing Olympics up to the last event, which is the men’s 10m platform. Boudia’s total degree of difficulty is 21.0. That ties Sascha Klein, a 22-year-old German who won the World Cup, for the highest ever. When Boudia can do a superior job executing, the DD and execution gives him a good opportunity to medal.

American divers haven’t won any Olympic medals since Sydney. No male American diver has won a medal since the 1996 bronze on 3-meter by Indiana University graduate Mark Lenzi. With no U.S. medals won in 2004, the Indianapolis based USA Diving organization moved the national training center to Indianapolis and encouraged the country’s elite divers to move there to train together. We haven’t seen medal payoff yet, but things are definitely looking better.

It should be noted that both Boudia and Finchum have been compared to the great Greg Louganis. Boudia has been featured in an ESPN The Magazine bio titled “The Next . . . Greg Louganis?”

Speaking of Louganis, there is a lot of speculation on the internet about either Thomas Finchum or David Boudia being gay. Sports with an artistry component tend to engender that kind of commentary about their male athletes. They are both still too young to be publicly labeled on orientation yet, so peop

For more information on Thomas Finchum and David Boudia, see also: Trick Wire: Boudia, Finchum Both Want To Be The Top: Some Gay Sensibilities

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In the preliminaries for the 10m, David Boudia and Thomas Finchum finished sixth and seventh with 481.70 and 477.00 points, respectively, which secured them a spot in the semifinals. Whew! The top 18 advance. In the semifinals the field will be trimmed to 12. Zhou Luxin of China led the qualification with 539.80 points. Australia’s Matthew Mitcham was second, with 509.60, and Russia’s Gleb Galperin third, with 499.95.

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In the semifinals, David Boudia finished fifth and seventh with 491.55 and 474.95. That put them comfortably in the top 12 that advanced to the final.

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Alas for the Americans, in the final it was not to be. Matthew Mitcham pulled out all of the stops and did an incredible sixth dive to grab the gold. With a 3.8 DD he received 4 10’s and 2 9.5’s to get an astronomical score of 112.10 for it. That was enough to push him in front of China’s Zhou Luxin, who had a terrible sixth dive (for him) and who then got the silver. Russia’s Gleb Galperin had a very impressive 6th dive, which placed him above China’s Huo Liang and earned Galperin the bronze.

David Boudia

American boys
dive in short of vertical
Cry, Indiana!

On to 2012.


Dumais Is Short In Beijing But Still Big

August 19, 2008

Troy Dumais, America’s best hope for a medal in the men’s 3m springboard, finished in 6th place for his third Olympics in a row. Being 6-6-6 in anything is not the best situation to be in, but at least Troy has a good quality about him. He’s big in the sport of diving. Like really, really big. See under the cover coverage of Troy Dumais and Alex Despatie at the Olympics for more explanation.

America’s other entry, Chris Colwill, brought up the rear in 12th (last) place.

The Sino-stoner impersonation team of Qin and Chong finished 1st and 3rd, while Canada’s biggest diver (and again I stress big [see above link]) Alexandre Despartie finished 2nd for the silver.

Rounding out North America, Mexico’s Yahel Castillo ended in seventh place. Yahel is big everywhere. Especially nicely in the badunkadunk.


Horton And Artemev Put U.S. In The Money

August 14, 2008

In the artistic gymnastics men’s team competition at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the United States was able to earn a bronze medal through superior achievement by Jonathan Horton, solid performance by Raj Bhavsar and a nerve-wracking clutch routine by Alexander Artemev.

Among other things, Jonathan Horton‘s high bar routine was stunning and his triple twisting double layout dismount was absolutely breathtaking. After doing his twists while hurdling towards the ground, Horton manged to stick his landing as if the floor was a super-magnet and his feet were made of iron. The mat and Horton’s feet locked and his 5’1″ body wasn’t going anywhere except to an erect display of triumph.

Raj Bhavsar did everything he needed to do to show that he had always deserved to be representing America, delivering his usual high quality results. This despite his age and the mind games that USA Gymnastics have played with him in selecting the Olympic team.

Alexander Sasha ArtemevSasha Artemev came through when he needed to, on his specialty apparatus the pommel horse, in the last rotation, as the last American to perform. The American’s medal chances rested on Artemev’s shoulders and it was anything but certain on how well Artemev would do. He had had widely inconsistent performances on the horse in 2008, at the national championships and the Olympic trials. Would he be the dazzling gymnast he has shown he can be or would he be the choking goat that cost him teammates a third place finish? Fortunately for all involved, except for the fourth place Germans, Artemev was on top of his game and wowed the crowd. It was enough to ensure the U.S. team would stand on the medals platform.

Alexander Artemev and Jonathan Horton also qualified for the all-around competition and two of the finals for individual apparatus (Artemev on pommel horse and Horton on horizontal bar).

In the all-around, Horton finished 9th out of 24. He was 4/10s of a point away from a silver medal. If he could have gotten even a middle of the road score on his lowest apparatus, the pommel horse, he could have easily gotten second place. Artemev ended up in 12th.

Three days later in the pommel horse final, Artemev finally flung himself off of the apparatus in what may become known as the Artemev Fling, as he does it so often. Fortunately, it occurred on the apparatus final and not during the qualifications or team final. He finished 7th out of 8. While it would have been nice for an American to win a medal, Louis Smith’s bronze was the first individual medal in gymnastics in a 100 years for Great Britain, so he and his country probably needed it more.


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