MELVINDALE, Mich. - Melvindale's Jessica Smith saw her Olympic dreams slip away in 2010, when she missed being part of Team USA by one spot. That setback only fueled her fire as she prepared for the Sochi Olympics in 2014.
Smith is a short track speed skater, and will compete in the 500-meter, 1,000-meter and 1,500-meter races with a controversial coach in tow. She will make the trek to Russia with gold on her mind.
"You know it was definitely a setback for me, not making the 2010 Olympic team," Smith said. "But at the same time I wasn't at the level that I knew I need to be in order to bring home any hardware. It was hard, but at the same time I used it to help me and further my career and go ahead and get more experience racing and train harder with the national team and just learn everything I needed to learn in order to make myself ready to compete in Sochi."
During Jessica's early years she did ballet and modeling, and won countless world titles in inline skating. That sport, combined with the toughness she gained from playing hockey, molded her talent for where she is today.
"Skating short track in an adrenaline rush," Smith said. "You never know what to expect, you never know who's coming from behind, who knows if they're tripping from behind. The next thing you know, they're taking you out. So you have 17-inch razor blades directly next to you, inches away, and people that aren't fearful and that are just going for the gold."
Smith's coach, Jay Sue Chun, is considered to be one of the best coaches in the world, but he also may be one of the most controversial. He led the Americans to six medals in Vancouver; but in 2011, American Olympic medalist Simon Cho confessed to sabotaging a competitors' skate after Chun instructed him to do so.
In 2012, a group of 14 U.S. speed skaters boycotted the team because of what they called "vast, unchecked abuse" that was handed out by Chun and his assistants. Chun eventually resigned as Team USA's coach and has been banned through these upcoming Olympic games.
Despite all of the issues, Smith has stuck with him.
"For me, it was a big decision to follow the coach that I've been training under for the last six years, and I felt that for me to change my program, it wasn't going to be in my best interest if I wanted to get at the level I needed to be at," Smith said. "For me, it was staying with the best technical coach in the world, and that's who I believe will make me skate at the highest level and hopefully reach the podium."
Since Chun has been banned, he cannot travel with Team USA; he can't even be near the athletes during the games. In fact, the only way Chun can attend the events is by purchasing a ticket. Jessica has figured out different ways around these rules and plans to be in constant contact with him.
"We have a little bit of a support system that's been helping us send him to Sochi, so he can be a part of this dream," Smith said. "He's not able to be directly at the pads, but he will be in the stands with a ticket, and you know I'll be calling him with questions and critiquing my training throughout that time and each race. We're going to make it happen and try to figure out a way to keep in touch."
With a resume that includes 12 World Cup medals, Smith is well aware of her talents and has the right mindset as she prepares for the biggest two weeks of her life.
"I can be a threat to other countries and I hope that I am a target for them," Smith said. "I'm going out there to give it my all, just like everyone from every other country on that line's going to do. I don't expect anything less, just as they shouldn't expect anything less from me."
Around Smith's neck, a necklace in the design of a cross and angel wings can almost always be found. She doesn't wear this jewelry for looks; it helps her remember her late grandparents. She is introspective and grounded, with her thoughts taking her toward Olympic gold.
"I've been meditating that for a very long time," Smith laughed. "I've been looking at all my races in my head and picturing every outcome possible. Of course, I'm picturing myself on that stand and I'm looking forward to making dreams come true."
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