Kearns •Â Speedskater Jeff Simon had not raced since injuring his back more than two years ago, and he made his comeback a memorable one at the U.S. Short-Track Championships on Friday at the Utah Olympic Oval.
Simon won the men's 1,500 meters by 0.034 seconds in a photo finish, ahead of Travis Jayner and John-Henry Krueger, after three others Â JR Celski, Keith Carroll and Kyle Carr Â crashed during the race.
"It was pretty tough, but exciting," Simon said. "It felt really good to win after all the falls and tough competition. I was just trying to focus on myself, make sure I was safe out there and ready to attack when the time was right."
Simon has emerged as a key figure in the ongoing controversy surrounding national-team coach Jae Su Chun, who has been suspended during an investigation into allegations that he abused skaters.
Simon allegedly was forced to practice while suffering from back pain later diagnosed as fractured vertebrae. Chun also allegedly dumped a bottle of water on Simon, according to a series of complaints, and threw a notebook at him.
Many of the skaters competing this weekend are involved in the scandal, having taken sides for or against Chun. An arbitration hearing on Oct. 8 will begin to resolve the case, if U.S. Speedskating does not act first upon completion of the investigation.
Meanwhile, Celski managed to recover from a crash in the men's 500, too, and finish third behind Robert Lawrence and Eduardo Alvarez. Lana Gehring won the women's 1,500, ahead of Jessica Smith and Emily Scott, while Smith easily won the women's 500 ahead of Sarah Chen and Gehring.
Ultimately, athletes will race twice at each of three distances the 500, 1,000 and 1,500 with winners and points standings determining which skaters will compete for the U.S. at the first four World Cup races of the season.
Skaters will contest the first 1,000 race on Saturday, along with the second 1,500.
U.S. Short-Track Championships
At the Utah Olympic Oval, Kearns
1. Robert Lawrence, 42.377 seconds; 2. Eduardo Alvarez, 42.554; 3. JR Celski, 49.972.
1. Jessica Smith, 44.965; 2. Sarah Chen, 45.723, 3. Lana Gehring, 46.011.
1. Jeff Simon, 2:20.377; 2. Travis Jayner, 2:20.411; 3. John-Henry Krueger, 2:20.420.
1. Lana Gehring, 2:26.688; 2. Jessica Smith, 2:26.807; 3. Emily Scott, 2:26.891.