SOCHI, Russia – Staying up late isn't exactly recommended activity for gold-medal hopefuls, but J.R. Celski believes a few hours of missed sleep to watch the Super Bowl last week can help inspire him to Winter Olympic glory.
The U.S. short-track speedskating star had already arrived in the athletes' village by the time his beloved Seattle Seahawks kicked off against the Denver Broncos last Sunday and agonized over whether to trade a full night's rest for the chance to see his team win pro football's biggest prize.
In the end for Celski, who hails from Federal Way, Wash., fandom won out and he crawled out of bed at 3:30 a.m. Russian time to watch the game. Safe to say, he didn't regret it.
"I hope [Seattle's win] is mirrored in my performance in Sochi," Celski said.
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Celski was joined for the game by long-track speedskating legend Eric Heiden, now a doctor for the U.S. speedskating team, and 2010 bobsled gold medalist Steven Holcomb, who provided a laptop with a Slingbox stream.
After the Seahawks romped to a 22-0 halftime lead, Celski took a nap and woke up in time to enjoy the rest of Seattle's emphatic 43-8 victory over Peyton Manning's Broncos.
The 23-year-old regularly tweets about his love of the new Super Bowl champions and is often spotted wearing a Seahawks jersey. In 2010, months after winning the bronze medal in the 1500 meters and 5000-meter relay in Vancouver, he was invited to perform the team's traditional "12th Man" flag-raising ceremony at a home game against the Green Bay Packers.
"Supporting the team is special because of the connection they have with the fans and it just means even more when they are successful," Celski said.
He has been a Seahawks fan since childhood and is close friends with another iconic figure of the area, performance artist Macklemore, who sang for the CenturyLink Field crowd at halftime of the NFC championship game against the San Francisco 49ers.
Celski has also thrown out the first pitch at Seattle Mariners baseball games and been involved in events with Major League Soccer's Seattle Sounders, but now it is his turn to represent the Emerald City.
Short track enjoys strong popularity in the Seattle area thanks to the standout career of eight-time Olympic medalist Apolo Anton Ohno, who retired after the 2010 Games as the U.S.'s most decorated Winter Olympics athlete. However, the unpredictable nature of short track and the strength of international competition in the sport means lofty targets, such as one day trying to match or pass Ohno's haul, must be kept in perspective.
"I don't set goals for a specific time or a medal. I set a goal to be the best I can be," Celski said. "I know the potential I have and when I get there I will be really satisfied."