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.
Rubbing is racing.
Unlike most winter sports, short track is one of the few in which athletes make physical contact with each other. "Oh yeah, there's bumping and guys running into each other," Jayner says. "What do they say in NASCAR, 'Rubbing is racing?' Sometimes you just have to deal with it."
Mixing it up physically – sometimes unintentionally, most of the time not, according to Jayner – can play out in different ways. A small bump might be enough for a challenger to pass the leader. Or it could lead to a Daytona-esque field-clearing pileup.
The key, per Jayner, is to take the contact in stride. "Being calmer in those situations has definitely helped me. It's about refocusing on how to get back to the front," he says. "I can only control what I do. If I focus on things outside of my control, it's wasted energy."
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