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.
USA, all the way!
Since the inception of the Winter Olympics, the United States has piled up 85 medals in speedskating – more than any other event. And despite only being added to the Olympic line-up in 1992, short track accounts for 16 of them. Expectations for this year's team are as high as ever, which, as Jayner points out, means that simply getting on the team is extremely difficult. "Once you make this team, you're eliminating some of your main rivals," Jayner says. "If we were allowed, I think we could send two relay and both men's teams could make the finals. I think we're that strong right now."
While the United States might be the favorite, with J.R. Celski, Eddy Alvarez, and Chris Creveling joining Jayner as medal contenders, it has some new competition: There are several dark horses lurking in the mix of traditional powers and young upstarts that could come away with a victory – always an option in the sport. "The sport is really strong across the world: A lot of European countries have stepped up recently, the Italians and the English, and historically there are the Canadians, the Chinese, the South Koreans," Jayner says. "It's awesome to see and be a part of."
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