What you might get if you mashed up roller derby and NASCAR, short-track speedskating is essentially a no-holds-barred international grudge match on ice. First launched into the mainstream during the 2002 Olympic Games thanks to Apolo Ohno's winning grin and soul patch – as well as a series of epic, TV-friendly crashes – short track now rivals figure skating for top audience draw. And for good reason: It's fast, aggressive, occasionally violent, and tension-filled to the end.
While Ohno, the most decorated American Winter Olympian of all time, recently hung up his skates in favor of the announcers booth, the United States team remains in good hands under the leadership of 2010 Team Captain Travis Jayner. Winner of two bronze medals in Vancouver, Jayner is particularly driven to make a statement at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. He has been dominant on the World Cup circuit the past few years and is the only male short-track competitor to ever medal in all four of the Olympic distances.
"I've seen a lot of improvement over the last four years – I'm fitter than ever, stronger than ever, I think technically I'm skating better," Jayner says. "I think tactically I'm as sharp as I've been. So I'm looking forward to putting it all together now. My goal is to go there and win." Jayner recently took the time to speak with 'Men's Journal' about the intricacies of short track, what to watch for during the games, and why it's the most exciting Olympic sport on two feet.
Distance is a mental game.
While a well-thought-out game plan is important in short track, it's easy for skaters to get in their own heads in the longer distances – to their peril. "In the 1,500 meter, you can overthink the race," Jayner says. "The race starts out slow. It's a little more tactical at the start, and you start mistakenly thinking, I can stay here for a while, or It's okay that that guy's moving up."
Jayner says that the longer the race, the more the mental aspect of the sport comes into play, with physical fatigue contributing to errors in judgment. "In the 500, it's easier to get into that zone of trusting your instincts because you have no other options," he says. "The race is so short that you can't overthink it."
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