Failure from four years ago still motivates speedskater Jessica Smith

By Joe Paisley Updated: December 31, 2013 at 8:44 pm • Published: December 31, 2013 | 8:40 pm 0
photo - Jessica Smith skates during the women's 1000 final at the US Single Distance Short Track Speedskating Championships Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, in Kearns, Utah. Smith won the race.   (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Jessica Smith skates during the women's 1000 final at the US Single Distance Short Track Speedskating Championships Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, in Kearns, Utah. Smith won the race. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Jessica Smith was not used to failure.

She still isn't. But she used her first setback in speedskating four years ago to fuel a razor-sharp determination to make the U.S. Olympic short-track team this weekend.

Her failure to qualify for the 2010 Winter Olympics team still motivates her as Smith, 30, enters the trials in Kearns, Utah, Thursday through Sunday as the national record holder in the 500 meters and as a world championship medalist (one silver, two bronzes) the past three seasons.

"Everyone told me when I was younger to just enjoy the experience but I was a 12-year-old beating 17-year-olds to make the (inline) national team," she said. "I won gold at Pan Ams and worlds and had done everything I wanted in inline. Not making the (Vancouver) Olympic team was my first setback. I decided then that I would use that as motivation for the next four years."

Smith, now 30, left inline speedskating because her former discipline was not accepted into the Summer Olympics. She switched in 2009 but did not have enough experience on ice, she said, when she came one spot short in 2010.

In a way, she is glad to have not made it, realizing she would not have had much of a chance to medal.

"I just didn't have enough experience on the ice and did not know how to plan my skate," she said. "Ice is very different than inline technically. I did not know when to pick up speed or plan an attack. I was not close to being at my best."

Short-track speedskating has multiple athletes competing on an oval at the same time making it an exciting, visually appealing sport with some memorable crashes when several competitors are taken out at once by one slip or bump.

She has spent the past four years gaining valuable experience, but it has not been easy. She stayed with former national team coach Jae Su Chun, who was dismissed in September 2012 after 19 skaters accused the South Korean of mental and physical abuse.

Smith said she had no such problems with him and his technical expertise convinced her and her family and sponsors to pay $1,000 a month for his continued tutelage. She and several other skaters go into the stands during competition to talk to their coach, who must buy a ticket.

"Jae Sun Chun is one of the best technical coaches in the world and that is what I need," she said. "I have been blessed with support from my family and my inline family. A lot of people in inline are happy to help me accomplish something they cannot."

Smith is confident she will reach Sochi. But it will not be her swan song.

"I see no reason why I can't be back in another four years," she said. "I still have the drive and the hunger."

There is little doubt about that headed into this weekend's trials.

"Everything I do is about making Sochi," she said.

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