Q&A: Mark Ruffalo joins effort to “Keep Olympic Wrestling”

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On top of all the incredible athletes wrestling at Wednesday’s “Rumble on the Rails,” many familiar faces showed up to the event in support of the Keep Olympic Wrestling movement, including champions like Dan Gable, Cael Sanderson, and Kurt Angle, NFL hall of famer Ronnie Lott, ESPN personality Mike Golic, and Hollywood point man Billy Baldwin, who showed me a few wrestling moves between matches. But one surprise guest was Mark Ruffalo, who appeared as the Hulk in last year’s The Avengers and will star as Olympic wrestler David Schultz in the upcoming film Foxcatcher. We chatted with him about how wrestling has shaped his career, and how the IOC’s recommendation to remove wrestling might ultimately help the sport.

Why was it important for you to join the Keep Olympic Wrestling movement?

Well I was a wrestler in Jr. high and high school, and it’s been a really important part of my life. Really informative, and a lot of the things I learned at that time ended up helping me get to where I am today.

And you seem to be pretty popular among the community.

I was just cast in Bennett Miller’s new film Foxcatcher playing David Schulz, so I really got to know this community in a much deeper way. And when I heard the IOC was seriously considering pulling wrestling off its core roster of sports, I thought it was a real shame. So when they were asking for some help I wanted to throw my hat in the ring to and help in any way I could.

But it’s one thing to say you’ll help and another to make an appearance.

I wanted to give back. I came to know guys like Gene Mills, who’s a hero of mine, quite a great deal during the film. And all of these great American wrestlers and Olympic champions were coming in to support us. So I met guys like Bruce Baumgartner, John Guira, and Jesse Jantzen, who was my coach for the role. And I just became friends with all of them during the six months we were working on the film.

What does an event like this and an atmosphere like this do for wrestling?

It’s great. There’s a lot of passion here. There’s a lot of old-timers here, and fans from all over the U.S., Iran, Russia, and the world. I think these kinds of events are going to do a lot to reawaken people to the beauty of the sport and the importance of the sport, and actually the history of the sport. A lot of people don’t realize that it’s one of the original Olympic events.

Do you expect wrestling to be back in 2020?

Hopefully. Ultimately this is going to be a really good thing for wrestling. I kind of see these setbacks as an opportunity for growth and refocusing. I already think the changes they’ve made in FILA and the international scene are really going to help. And it’s a good chance to reintroduce wrestling to the world.

What about sports like squash that want their chance in the Olympics?

I think they’re great and should definitely be considered. But there’s this kind of seniority that should be honored. The Olympics has a great sense of tradition, and I think it’s amazing when they bring in new sports. But how many sports have survived 2000 years? Every athlete should have their chance to compete in the Olympics, but that doesn’t mean wrestling needs to be kicked out.

Javier Fernandez rebounds to lead Grand Prix France

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Spain’s Javier Fernandez was back at his best, landing two quadruple jumps to top the Grand Prix France short program on Friday.

Fernandez, who was sixth at his opening Grand Prix two weeks ago with a reported stomach bug, tallied 107.86 points in Grenoble. It’s the second-best score of his career.

The 2015 and 2016 World champion goes into Saturday’s free skate with a 13.94-point lead over Shoma Uno of Japan. Uno fell on his opening quad flip attempt.

Uno went into France as the clear favorite, the only man to break 300 total points this season. He did it at both of his competitions this fall.

Earlier Friday, Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond led a group of favorites who topped the short programs for the women, pairs and ice dance. All of the free skates are Saturday.

GP FRANCE: Full Results | TV Schedule

Both U.S. men fell Friday, not helping their cases for the three-man Olympic team.

Max Aaron, the 2013 U.S. champion, fell on his opening jump combination. He failed to build on his personal-best free skate from his last competition, where he landed three quads to claim bronze at Cup of China.

U.S. silver medalist Vincent Zhou crashed on both quadruple jump attempts, two weeks after falling three times between two programs at his Grand Prix debut.

Zhou, 17 and the world junior champion, has the jumps to easily make the three-man U.S. Olympic team. But those big mistakes allow the likes of Jason Brown and Adam Rippon to pass him.

“To say the least, my performance was dismal,” was posted on Zhou’s Instagram. “It was not a representation of how I train or who I am. Smiling and waving while my heart is breaking is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I have been following my Olympic dream for as long as I can remember, fighting, being set back, conquering obstacles, and experiencing the ups and downs of striving to better myself every single day. I am capable of so much more. I am a fighter. I fully believe that I can and will draw on my spirit, inner strength, and faith to my words to perform much better in the future.”

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MORE: Figure skating season broadcast schedule

Internationaux de France
Men’s Short Program
1. Javier Fernandez (ESP) — 107.86
2. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 93.92
3. Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 91.51
8. Max Aaron (USA) — 78.64
10. Vincent Zhou (USA) — 66.12

Erin Hamlin nears end of historic U.S. luge career

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Erin Hamlin is looking forward to normalcy. She is getting married next summer in her hometown. She is thinking about career moves. She is trying to figure out the rest of her life.

It is probably her last luge season. It is definitely her last Olympic season.

As such, it would be easy to fall into the trap of saying that winning a gold medal at PyeongChang in February would be the only thing that makes this season a success.

It’s important, sure, but Hamlin is entering her 13th year of World Cup racing with a much broader view and insisting that she’s going to enjoy whatever time she has left on her sled.

“I’m not going to hyperfocus myself on one result or bust,” Hamlin said. “Very likely, it’s going to be my last time in a lot of places, sliding on a lot of tracks. So I think more so, it’s going to be a lot of soaking it all in.”

That process starts Saturday, when the World Cup season opens in Igls, Austria.

Hamlin, who turns 31 on Sunday, is coming off the finest year of her career — she won a gold medal and two silvers at the world championships for the biggest haul ever by an American luger, got two World Cup wins and finished fourth in world rankings.

She might be going out, and there’s a chance she can go out on top.

“We’re working hard to convince her to stay,” longtime U.S. teammate Emily Sweeney said.

Sweeney knows that’s probably futile.

Sliders always tend to cycle out after an Olympics, no matter if it’s bobsled, skeleton or luge, and the Americans will see plenty of veterans take their last rides this winter.

A few U.S. sliders already retired this fall, in part because they weren’t going to have a shot at an Olympic berth.

For her part, Hamlin hasn’t officially said this is the end.

“There’s never really as concrete of a plan as you hope there would be, because you never know what can happen,” Hamlin said. “But at the moment, what I’m excited to do is see what other opportunities are there and what other adventures await.”

Hamlin has been in the world’s top 10 in each of the past 11 seasons — the second-longest current streak of any woman in luge, one year behind German legend Tatjana Huefner.

She won a World Cup each of the past three years, took the world title in sprint last winter and became the first U.S. Olympic singles luge medalist in 2014 with a bronze.

A lesson learned that season: Not expecting much can work wonders. That’s one of the reasons why PyeongChang isn’t taking up all the bandwidth in her brain.

“That’s the nature of winter sports in a Winter Olympic year, there being so much focus on the Games,” Hamlin said. “How I went into the last Olympics taught me a lot. I had no expectation of walking away from the last Olympics with a medal. At this point, goal No. 1 is to make the team and beyond that, I know if I slide as I’m capable of I can be pretty fast and I can do well.”

The schedule this season is hectic.

This weekend’s stop in Austria starts a run of five races in five weekends, with the next two in Germany followed by another in Calgary, Alberta, and then on home ice in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Dec. 15-16.

When that Lake Placid World Cup is over, the U.S. Olympic team will be named.

So when Hamlin needs an escape from all that, the wedding is there to bring her back to reality.

It will be at her parents’ home in July. It will, without question, be the social event of the season in Remsen, N.Y., where the one-time high school soccer player has annually left her tiny hometown brimming with pride.

“Pretty exciting,” Hamlin said. “It’s definitely adding a whole new aspect to an Olympic year, planning a wedding, but it’s cool. It gives me a good distraction when I need to think about something other than sliding.”

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