By Tiffany Ran
Northwest Asian Weekly
The 2010 Winter Olympics are hitting close to home, what with them being just over the border in Vancouver, British Columbia. But their location is not the only thing close to home. Hometown short track skaters Apolo Ohno and J.R. Celski are also making a splash in the games.
They’re in good company, too.
The following are the Asian and Pacific Islander Americans who will compete in the games:
Short track skater and Washington native J.R. Celski started inline skating at age 3. At age 14, his family decided that Celski should move to get the best coaching. Celski’s parents were unable to leave their jobs in Washington, so Celski moved to Long Beach, Calif. with his brother. Celski worked with renowned Dutch coach Wilma Boomstra. Celski earned a spot on the 2010 Olympic team despite a serious injury that ended his Olympic trials. On the final night of the competition, Celski sliced his left leg with the tip of the blade from his right skate when he hit the boards coming out of a turn in the 500-meter quarter finals. Celski had to undergo surgery at a local hospital. However, he is confident that he will be in shape for the Vancouver
games. Celski is also known for his past ties to teammate Apolo Ohno. Celski’s older brother skated with Ohno. Celski got to know Ohno as he rose through the ranks and decided at age 13 to take up short track after watching Ohno win the gold medal at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City.
Short track skater Simon Cho is making his Olympic debut in Vancouver. Cho, 18, is the youngest member of the U.S. team. Cho was born in Seoul, South Korea, where he started skating at age 3 because his father wanted to find a way for Cho to release his energy.
Cho and his family moved to Chicago when Cho was 5 years old, and Cho continued to skate at local clubs.
Cho later moved to Maryland in 2000, and he began training in 2001 under the national team coach Jimmy Jang. Jang continues to coach Cho since he moved to Salt Lake City in 2007.
Cho considered quitting skating in January 2009 due to physical and mental exhaustion. However, he made healthwise adjustments to his training schedule and continued training through the Olympic trials with the encouragement of his friends and family. Cho earned his spot on the national team by winning a 500-meter race at the U.S. Olympic trials.
Hockey player Julie Chu is making her third Olympic appearance in Vancouver. Julie began skating at age 8 when her parents enrolled her in figure skating classes. Chu did not take to figure skating but was envious when she looked across the ice one day and saw her older brother practicing power skating with a learn-to-skate hockey group. Chu asked her father if she could trade in her toe picks for hockey pads. Chu began playing with various boys teams until age 13 when she noticed her teammates were gaining height, speed, and muscle. Chu then played for and later captained the premier girls ice hockey team in Connecticut, the Connecticut Polar Bears. Chu has been a member of the national team since 2001 and was named one of Team USA’s top three players. Before the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, Chu’s family agreed to get tattoos if she made the Olympic team. Chu, along with her father, mother, sister, and two brothers got matching tattoos of the Olympic rings and Julie’s No. 13. Chu’s tattoo is on the top of her foot.
American pair figure skater Amanda Levora started out playing hockey and switched to figure skating at age 12 after trying on her sister’s ice skates. Levora left her family’s home in Texas at age 18 to pursue her skating career. Evora’s skating partner is Mark Ladwig. Ladwig recalls that he was floored when Evora requested to do a throw triple loop during their first tryout together. This move is considered a difficult maneuver to tackle so early on. Evora is currently studying business administration at the University of South Florida.
Figure skater Mirai Nagasu began skating at age 5 when her parents took her to a skating rink on a rainy day.
Nagasu’s parents own a small sushi restaurant in Arcadia, Calif. Her family struggled financially, and Nagasu has admitted that most of her clothing was second hand. Before she became a well-known skater, Mirai was given a scholarship by Michael Weiss and his foundation supporting promising skaters with financial needs.
At the 2008 U.S. Championships, Mirai portrayed the story of a doll coming to life; the story was set to music from Léo Delibes’ Coppelia. Despite an initial fall on her opening double axel, Mirai finished the rest of the program without any major mistakes. She became the second youngest U.S. champion.
Short track skater and three-time Olympian Apolo Ohno started skating competitions at a young age at the urging of his father. At age 14, Ohno was persuaded by his father to move to Lake Placid to train under Pat Wentland. Ohno was resistant to the move and skipped his flight to New York after being dropped off at the airport. Ohno’s father eventually talked him into moving and accompanied him to Lake Placid. After failing to make the 1998 team, Ohno had to decide whether to continue skating. Ohno’s father dropped him off at a secluded cabin three hours northwest of Seattle. Ohno spent his time there by taking long runs. During one of these runs, Ohno stopped and sat on a rock in the pouring rain. He realized that he wanted to continue skating. He became the first American to win the overall World Cup for the 2000-2001 season. Ohno has since won every national title since 2001.
A member of the U.S. Alpine snowboarding team in 2000, Graham Watanabe has a background in racing, but he switched to snowboard cross with the Olympic announcement. In 2009, Watanabe consistently pulled in successful results. He had three World Cup top-10 finishes. He hopes to become bilingual. “I’d like to, eventually, learn at least three languages in addition to English,” he said. As for who inspires him, “My dad’s my hero because he’s achieved great successes, but maintains a healthy perspective on who and what is important in his life. He maintains a healthy lifestyle that balances working hard and playing hard. He’s also loved and respected by all who have met him because of his genuine, pleasant nature.”
Caroline Zhang has been an elite junior-level performer for the last three years and has held her own on the senior stage, too, finishing in the top four at the last two U.S. Championships. One of her choreographers is Karen Kwan-Oppegard, Michelle Kwan’s sister. Her parents are Chinese immigrants. She began figure skating at age 5 and attends Connections Academy in Capistrano, Calif. Her hobbies include playing the piano and the violin, ballet, and art. Zhang wants to tour, coach, and help animals after her figure skating career is over. She is bilingual. ♦
Stacy Nguyen contributed to this report.
Tiffany Ran can be reached at email@example.com.