Sochi, Russia • As a former Salt Lake Community College shortstop, Eddy Alvarez is accustomed to having baserunners try to knock him down on a double-play attempt.
That’s good training for the jostling involved in short-track speedskating, although a favorable ruling saved him Thursday. Alvarez was sent crashing into the ice when a Korean short-track speedskater grabbed his ankle in the late stages of the 5,000-meter relay. Thankfully for Alvarez and his teammates, a review advanced them into next week’s finals in the Koreans’ place.
The sequence of events at the Iceberg Skating Palace left Alvarez feeling “extremely relieved,” he said. “It wasn’t a good three minutes that I was out there on the ice. I was very stressed.”
As it turned out, the U.S. team of Alvarez, Jordan Malone, Chris Creveling and J.R. Celski — all Salt Lake Valley residents, who train in Kearns — is in strong medal position. That’s because the favored Canada team was eliminated in the other semifinal race when a skater fell.
Alvarez and his teammates had made a strong move through 40 of the 45 laps in their race, before the Korean skater lost his balance and grabbed Alvarez’s right ankle with his left hand. “In a way, it’s a good move from him, but he kind of got caught,” Alvarez said. “So I’m just thankful, moving forward.”
Alvarez had been disqualified Monday in his heat of the 1,500 meters when he tried to pass and bumped an Italian skater.
Creveling said the relay team deserved to advance, because “even after Eddy fell, we knew that we had done the right thing by making our attack and getting back into the race.”
Anticipating next week’s final, Creveling said, “Four years of practice … we’re here, and we’re not going to let this slip away.”
In Alvarez’s case, this opportunity has been more — and less — than four years in the making. He barely missed making the U.S. team in 2010, then chose to play baseball for SLCC. Alvarez was an All-Scenic West Athletic Conference shortstop, batting .303 for the Bruins in 2011, before determining that he needed surgery on both knees as a toll of speedskating.
After rehabilitating, he returned to the ice. The Miami native is the second Cuban-American to compete in the Winter Olympics.
Prior to the relay, Alvarez advanced to the quarterfinals of the 1,000 meters by finishing second in his four-skater heat. “Probably the scrappiest race I’ve ever been in, in my life — a lot of contact, but it was fun,” he said. “I had a fun time out there. I made the right moves. It paid off. So moving on, I’ve just got to keep picking people off. That’s my thing.”