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It may not be a World Cup race and it certainly isn't the Olympics, but make no mistake, America's top speedskaters want to beat one another.
"I think it's always something you want to strive for is to be the best," said Jessica Smith following her time-trial performance Thursday afternoon. "To be able to say you're the best in the U.S. is definitely a confidence-booster."
The U.S. Short-Track Speedskating Championships, held at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns through Saturday, will determine which U.S. speedskaters will be this year's national champions as well as which athletes qualify for the last two World Cup races of the season in Sochi, Russia, and Dresden, Germany.
The skaters competed in time trials Thursday morning, which determined spots in specific heats for official races Friday and Saturday mornings. While the national champions which are determined by total points accumulated over the two days of competition won't be crowned until Saturday afternoon, many speedskaters have a chance to clinch a World Cup spot during the 1,500-meter and 500-meter races Friday afternoon. Saturday's races will feature the 1,000-meter and the 3,000-meter races, presenting another opportunity for skaters to clinch a World Cup spot.
Being able to compete in Sochi, where the 2014 Olympic Winter Games will be held, is enough motivation for the 41 skaters competing for a U.S. title and a World Cup berth today and tomorrow.
"I'm hoping to just race smart and clean and trying to have the best weekend and the best results," said Lana Gehring, who won the U.S. women's national championship in 2011.
P Utah Olympic Oval, Kearns
Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Women's 1,500-meter final • 11:40 a.m.
Men's 1,500-meter final • Noon
Women's 500-meter final • 2 p.m.
Men's 500-meter final • 2:15 p.m.
Women's awards • 2:10 p.m.
Men's awards • 2:25 p.m.
Women's 1,000-meter Final • 12:30 p.m.
Men's 1,000-meter final • 12:50 p.m.
Women's 3,000-meter final • 1:30 p.m.
Men's 3,000-meter final • 1:50 p.m.
Women's awards •
Men's awards • 2:55 p.m.
U.S. National Championships are on the line this weekend, as well as a number of spots on the World Cup circuit.
Top American speedskater J.R. Celski has already won five medals on this year's World Cup circuit, four of which were individual medals.
Former Canadian Olympian Guy Thibault will assume head coaching duties of the U.S. short-track program after this weekend.
Top U.S. women skaters Jessica Smith, Alyson Dudek and Lana Gehring are some of the favorites to win a U.S. national title this weekend in Kearns.