Golden Goggles Preview, part 1

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USA Swimming’s Golden Goggles are Monday night in New York, and we’re expecting everyone from Michael Phelps (hopefully adorned in all 22 medals) to Ryan Lochte (hopefully not wearing a shirt under his jacket) to show for the event that honors the best athletes and performances in American swimming each year. But before that, a few predictions: here’s how NBC swimming writer Jason Devaney, Olympic trials swimmer (turned NBC online producer) Ryan Hurley, and OlympicTalk’s Matthew Kitchen decided to vote for this year’s awards. Click here for Part 2.
**Breakout Performer nominees
Camille Adams, Haley Anderson, Katie Ledecky, Breeja Larson, Scott Weitz

Jason: Katie Ledecky – Most people didn’t know who Katie Ledecky was in 2011. She was considered a contender at the Olympic Trials and she ended up winning the 800m freestyle by six seconds. In London, the 15-year-old beat reigning Olympic champion and world record holder Rebecca Adlington by more than four seconds. And she was a half second shy of the world record! C’mon people, vote for Katie.

Ryan: Katie Ledecky – In 2011 she won U.S. Junior Nationals, in 2012 she won gold at the London Olympic Games.  The fearlessness with which the 15-year-old Olympic rookie swam, against an incredibly talented and experienced 800m field, was truly awe-inspiring.

Kitchen: Katie Ledecky – Everything they said. For my money, no one was more impressive in London than Katie. It was the most exciting swim race of the Games.
**Perseverance nominees
Tyler Clary, Anthony Ervin, Jessica Hardy, Davis Tarwater

Jason: Jessica Hardy – Ultimately I went with Hardy over Clary because she endured a difficult ordeal after test positive for a banned substance in 2008. She wasn’t allowed to compete in Beijing, was suspended for a year, and was branded a cheat. However, it was eventually ruled that Hardy did not knowingly ingest the substance, clenbuterol. Hardy made the London team and won two medals (gold and bronze).

Ryan: Tyler Clary – Clary took a bath this year after his (misinterpreted) comments about Phelps’s work ethic. After countless second and third place finishes behind Phelps and Ryan Lochte, Clary finally earned his gold medal.

Kitchen: Davis Tarwater – I get the struggle Hardy went through to get back in the pool after being banned in Beijing, but Tarwater’s journey arguably defines “perseverance.” After barely missing qualifying for three straight Olympics (with a retirement thrown in for good measure), a scratch by Michael Phelps in the 200m finally got Davis to London. He made the most of it, helping the team win gold in the relay.
**Coach of the Year nominees
Bob Bowman, Todd Schmitz, Teri McKeever, David Salo, Gregg Troy

Jason: Todd Schmitz – Bob Bowman coached Michael Phelps, Teri McKeever led the U.S. women’s team in London to 14 medals, and Gregg Troy’s four swimmers, including Ryan Lochte, won a combined nine medals. But this award has to go to Todd Schmitz, the genius behind 17-year-old Missy Franklin. Schmitz coached her to five medals in her Olympic debut, including four gold. She also broke two world records.

Ryan: Teri McKeever – With the entire U.S. Women’s Team swimming so well across the board in London, McKeever deserves credit for setting a high bar.  She guided a relatively young group to 15 total medals – 8 of which were gold, compared to only 2 in Beijing.

Kitchen: Bob Bowman – You could argue that coaching Phelps is hardly coaching, but from all the reports we heard about him being lazy for three years (and for how much golf he’s played since London) I imagine getting Phelps motivated after Beijing was his hardest task. Bowman got Phelps over the losing hump after the first race, helped him to win six more medals, and coached Allison Schmitt to five medals just for fun.
**Best Relay Performance nominees
Women’s 4x200m free relay, men’s 4x200m free relay, women’s 4x100m medley relay, men’s 4x100m medley relay

Jason: Women’s 4x100m medley – The Women put together an all-star team that included Missy Franklin, 100m/200m backstroke winner; Rebecca Soni, 200m breaststroke champion and 100m breaststroke silver medalist; Dana Vollmer, 100m butterfly winner; and Allison Schmitt, 200m freestyle gold medalist. They joined forces and broke the world record to win the race for the U.S. for the first time since 2000.

Ryan: Women’s 4 x 100 medley – In the toughest category to pick, the women’s medley out-touched the men’s, mainly because  they set a new World Record.  Both teams won gold, and featured four individual medalists in London, but Franklin, Soni, Vollmer and Schmitt have the edge here.

Kitchen: Men’s 4x100m medley – I could not be more impressed by the what the women did in the 4x100m medley, but the men’s medley team included individual gold medalists Matt Grevers and Nathan Adrian, and capped Phelps’s career with one more gold, the 18th of his career. You’re just not going to beat that.

USOC supports athletes expressing themselves after anthem protests

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PARK CITY, Utah — The U.S. Olympic Committee supports American athletes expressing themselves at winter sports events leading up to the PyeongChang Olympics.

Some MLB, NFL and WNBA players kneeled and remained in locker rooms during the national anthem at games over the weekend.

USOC CEO Scott Blackmun was asked Monday if the USOC would support American athletes peacefully protesting during the national anthem this fall and winter at pre-Games competition.

“I think the athletes that you see protesting are protesting because they love their country, not because they don’t,” Blackmun said at a pre-Winter Games media summit. “We fully support the right of our athletes and everybody else to express themselves. The Olympic Games themselves, there is a prohibition on all forms of demonstrations, political or otherwise. And that applies no matter what side of the issue you’re taking, no matter where you’re from. … But we certainly recognize the importance of athletes being able to express themselves.”

Blackmun was correct to reference the Olympic Charter, which states that “no kind of demonstration … is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”

Blackmun mentioned Tommie Smith and John Carlos‘ raised-fist salute at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, which got them kicked out of the Games by the IOC.

The USOC has honored Smith and Carlos. They visited the White House last year with the Rio Olympic team.

“That was a seminal moment not only for the Olympic Movement, but for the U.S. Olympic team,” Blackmun said of the 1968 podium gesture. “Our stance on this has been fairly clear. We certainly recognize the rights of the athletes to express themselves.”

Olympic hopefuls were peppered with questions about possible protests at the media summit.

“One of the proudest parts of being an American is the ability to have freedom of speech,” four-time Olympian Julia Mancuso said. “I really look up to athletes who take a stand for what they believe in. I really believe as athletes that compete for Team USA, when it comes to the Olympics, I like to think it’s a special event. Not like the NFL or pro sports teams that compete every weekend. For us, it’s every four years. I’m proud for athletes that stand up for what they believe in if they really want to have a message to get out. But I like to think of us all as patriotic.”

Elana Meyers Taylor, a two-time Olympic bobsled medalist, is the daughter of a U.S. Marine who served in Kuwait and spent summers in the 1980s playing at Atlanta Falcons training camps.

She said any decisions on demonstrations or whether she attends a post-Olympics Team USA White House visit come secondary to her pursuit of making the Olympic team this winter.

“I can’t afford to focus on what I would do in that situation or how I would react,” Meyers Taylor said, adding that anything would be a “game-time decision.” “Maybe the social climate changes a little bit [before the Olympics]. … There’s a lot to consider.”

Aja Evans, a 2014 Olympic bobsled bronze medalist, the sister of former NFL defensive tackle Fred Evans, did not say that she would follow the football players’ lead.

“I honor and commend anyone that does that,” Evans said. “My way of showing my stance is to continue to try to be a positive influence for my city, for my country. I’m representing Team USA the best way I can.”

NCAA hockey players Troy Terry and Jordan Greenway, both prospective Olympians with the NHL not participating, said they didn’t envision taking a knee during the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

“I’ve always stood for the national anthem,” Greenway said. “I always will.”

Olympic freestyle skiing medalists Maddie Bowman and Gus Kenworthy have said they plan to skip the traditional Team USA post-Olympic White House visit due to the current presidential administration.

Kenworthy repeated that stance on Monday. He said he was shocked that President Donald Trump believed that athletes kneeling during the national anthem disrespected the flag.

“Those people [servicemen and women] are fighting for the freedom to express their beliefs,” Kenworthy said. “I feel proud to be from a country where we have the right to be able to kind of say what we feel, speak up for what we believe in. I feel that people kneeling before a game is actually quite admirable.”

Kenworthy didn’t rule out a personal demonstration at the Olympics, should he qualify again, but knows he could be stripped of a medal for doing so.

“I’m not saying that I would want to be dictated by fear, and if I was to get a medal and be too scared that it would be taken away from me,” he said. “I think that there’s a way to do things in a way that’s not going to sabotage yourself. You can stand up for something and not throw yourself under the bus.”

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U.S. Olympic men’s hockey player from 2006 has shot at PyeongChang

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PARK CITY, Utah — Though no active NHL players will be in PyeongChang, veteran NHL forward and free agent Brian Gionta could very well play for his second U.S. Olympic team in February.

A USA Hockey official confirmed Monday that the 2006 Olympian Gionta “has a very decent opportunity” to be part of the 2018 Olympic team.

That came in response to a Buffalo radio report that Gionta said it’s looking good for him to play for Team USA.

Gionta, 38, played 15 NHL seasons through last year but is currently unsigned as the NHL preseason continues. The U.S. Olympic team of 25 players named around Jan. 1 is likely to include very few, if any, players with Gionta’s experience.

Gionta was seen at the Rochester (N.Y.) AHL club’s practice Monday (but not taking part), according to media in that area. Gionta could play for an AHL club and be eligible for PyeongChang. USA Hockey wants prospective Olympians to be active in the AHL, NCAA or a European league.

Gionta’s agent has not responded to a request for comment on his Olympic prospects on Monday. Earlier in the summer, Gionta’s agent said that the skater was considering the Olympics.

Gionta led the 2006 U.S. Olympic team with four goals. The Americans lost in the quarterfinals to Finland, their worst Olympic result over the last four Winter Games.

That came during Gionta’s most productive NHL season — 48 goals (sixth in the league) and 41 assists for the New Jersey Devils.

Another Olympian — Ryan Malone from 2010 — embarked on a comeback this preseason and could pursue the Olympics. He has been in camp with the Minnesota Wild. If he doesn’t make the Wild, Malone could play on an AHL contract and be eligible for the Olympics.

USA Hockey confirmed that other players in the potential Olympic pool — at some 100 players at the moment — include Nathan Gerbe. Gerbe, a 30-year-old forward, played 394 NHL games between the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes from 2008-16 before joining the Swiss League.

Another is goalie Ryan Zapolski, who ranks third in the KHL in goals-against average this season.

John-Michael Liles, a 2006 Olympic defenseman and unsigned NHL veteran, is not interested in continuing his career in a non-NHL league to be considered for the Olympics, USA Hockey said.

U.S. general manager Jim Johannson said this summer that he was interested in some players who “have a rich history in the NHL and with USA Hockey that we think could potentially really help this roster.” Johannson wouldn’t name names then.

Johansson said a “long list” of potential players for the final 25-man roster must be submitted in September.

A U.S. team of primarily European-based players will take part in a tournament in November in Germany. That roster is expected to be named in October.

The U.S. staff will also look at NCAA and AHL players ahead of naming the PyeongChang team.

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