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USA'S J. R. Celski (258), left , Eduardo Alvarez (256) and Chris Creveling (259) celebrate their 2nd place finish in the men's 5000 meter relay speed skating race at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, February 21, 2014. USA captured the Silver Medal in the event. (Harry E. Walker/MCT)

Finally, some good news for US speedskaters

SOCHI, Russia -- The skintight, full-body outfits that U.S. short-track speedskaters top with powder-blue helmets are as revealing as they as silly-looking.

That's not, however, why Chris Creveling had been avoiding the McDonald's in the Olympic athletes' village. For health reasons and to train more effectively for the men's 5,000-meter relay, a gluten-free diet worked better than two all-beef patties.

But on Friday night, after the resident of Kintnersville in Bucks County, Pa., helped the U.S. team break its speedskating drought with a silver medal in that relay, Creveling knew how he was going to celebrate.

"I got to break my gluten-free diet and have a McDonald's meal," he said Saturday.

It was an appropriate choice.

After all, the 27-year-old and his American teammates deserved a break that day. And they got a couple of huge ones.

In the semifinals, Eddy Alvarez and a South Korean skater crashed. Alvarez got back on his feet, but his U.S. team could finish no better than fourth. Only the top three teams made the final.

But following a review of the collision, the judges ruled the Korean skater had interfered with Alvarez and moved the Americans to third and into the final. The powerful Koreans were relegated to Pool B, which meant their medal hopes were dead.

The Americans, who couldn't catch a break through speedskating's first 18 events, had a little more good luck in the 19th and last.

In its first lap, two more contenders, the Netherlands and China, crashed and essentially were done. Creveling barely managed to avoid the pileup.

"My eyes lit up in the first corner," he said. "That was our opportunity. We trained for four years, and I wanted to seize that as soon as it showed itself. ... We left everything out on the ice and made it happen for the U.S."

The U.S. team -- Creveling, Alvarez, J.R. Celski, and Jordan Malone -- staged a compelling duel with the Russians throughout the high-speed marathon.

They grabbed the lead with 16 laps to go, but the Russians retook it with eight left and held on. The Americans got silver -- their first speedskating medal -- and China the bronze.

"That's a huge weight off our back," said Malone. "We went into that race and our coach told us he was just tired of seeing other countries celebrate out there rather than us."

A day later, Creveling was asked to explain the Americans' strategy in their medal-winning performance.

"Having a lot of people fall down in front of you," he said.

"I'm glad we were able to capitalize on that. My eyes lit up when I saw the opening, and I was hoping (China and the Netherlands) didn't come back in the race."

His podium appearance was the culmination of years of planning and training for Creveling, who began skating as an in-liner at the Frenchtown, N.J., roller rink his family owned.

The Palisades High graduate, he traveled to Salt Lake City in 2007 to take part in a program that transitioned in-liners to ice speedskaters. That was, he believed, a shortcut to his dream of making an Olympic team.

He started as a long-tracker but eventually made the switch and began working with ex-Olympic short-tracker Derek Parra.

Creveling failed to earn a spot at the 2010 Olympic trials. But after becoming a regular at the World Cup level in 2012, he qualified for the U.S. team in three events last month.

At Sochi, in the men's 1,000 and 1,500, he didn't make it to a final. His luck -- and the Americans' -- changed on Friday.

"I'm just in shock," Creveling said. "We get to bring the silver medal back to our village, back to our teammates, back to our country for long- and short-track speedskating. It was just a dramatic week for us. To come back with a silver medal ... I couldn't be happier."

He's feeling so good, in fact, that perhaps before marching with the U.S. athletes in Sunday's closing ceremony, he'll treat himself to some fries.

(c)2014 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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Distributed by MCT Information Services

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SPEEDSKATING


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