Lolo Jones

Aja Evans wins bobsled national push championship; Lauryn Williams 3rd, Lolo Jones 5th

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There’s still a long way to go to Sochi, but Aja Evans made an early statement in the competition to make the U.S. Olympic women’s bobsled team by winning a second straight national push championship Thursday.

The national championships combined times of two pushes in Calgary, Canada, to determine standings. The results will help determine the selection of the national team for races this fall.

Evans won with a two-run total of 10.931 seconds. Two-time world medalist Katie Eberling came in second, .06 behind, followed by recent track and field convert Lauryn Williams

Williams, 29, the 2004 Olympic silver medalist in the 100 meters, retired from track in June and was convinced to try the new sport by Lolo Jones. 2010 Olymipan Emily Azevedo was fourth, followed by Jones in fifth.

The push athletes are bidding to make the Olympic team, which will likely be made up of three two-woman sleds. Evans, a former collegiate sprinter, medaled in the last two World Cups of the 2012-13 season, her first in the sport.

“I definitely feel more confident this year after my performances last season, and just having a year of sliding under my belt gives me some added confidence,” Evans said in a U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation release. “I’m more aware, and I know what to expect this season. Now I can focus on the things that matter, like my technique. I think I can be more explosive off the block, so I’m going to continue working on that with hopes of mastering it before the season.”

Eberling, like Evans, would be a favorite for the Olympic team if it was named today. She won silver with pilot Elana Meyers at the world championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, in January.

“This is the first stage of a long season ahead, so I’m pretty happy with how I performed,” Eberling said. “It’s a different feeling now that I’ve been in the sport for two years, because there’s an expectation to do well now.”

If the U.S. qualifies a third sled for Sochi, which it should, the competition could be tight among the push athletes. Azevedo and Jones were the third and fourth women during the last World Cup season. Williams could be a wild card as she gets used to the ice.

“I am very eager to make the most of the next eight weeks and learn as much as possible,” Williams said. “I want to be a bobsledder.”

The World Cup season begins in Calgary in late November. Results will help determine how many sleds the U.S. will qualify for Sochi and which athletes will make the Olympic team, which was named in mid-January for the 2010 Games.

Drivers and push athletes are planned to pair up for a competition Saturday, according to The Associated Press.

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Yuzuru Hanyu opens Olympic season with record score

Yuzuru Hanyu
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A sore knee didn’t hold Yuzuru Hanyu back. A record score to open his Olympic season.

The Olympic and world champion from Japan hit a pair of quadruple jumps in his short program at the Autumn Classic, a lower-level event in Montreal.

He was rewarded with 112.72 points, the highest short program score recorded under the 13-year-old judging system. Video is here.

It looked like a home competition for Hanyu.

Upon finishing, he bowed toward one set of bleachers (maybe a dozen rows) at the Sportsplexe Pierrefonds. More than two dozen Japanese flags made it hard to see most of the faces.

He bettered Javier Fernández, a two-time world champion and training partner, by 11.52 points. Fernández also landed two quadruple jumps to tally 101.2.

Full scores will be here upon the conclusion of the short program. The free skate is Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. A live stream is here.

Hanyu now owns the three highest short program scores under the 13-year-old system. The other two were set in the 2015-16 season.

Showdowns like Hanyu-Fernández are usually reserved for, at the earliest, the Grand Prix series in late October and November.

Hanyu and Fernández are very familiar with each other, having shared a coach in Canadian Brian Orser, the 1988 Olympic silver medalist, since 2012. They train in Toronto.

In that time, Hanyu became the first Japanese man to win an Olympic title (and the second teen from any nation to do it). He followed it up with world titles later in 2014 and this year.

Fernández achieved unfathomable success for a Spanish skater — world titles in 2015 and 2016, overtaking Hanyu in the free skate both times.

In PyeongChang, Hanyu can become the first man to repeat as Olympic champion since Dick Button in 1952. Fernández can become the third Spaniard to earn a Winter Olympic medal of any color in any sport, and the first since 1992.

The figure skating season continues next week with Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany, the final Olympic qualifying competition. North Korea could clinch its first spots in any sport for the Olympics in the pairs event.

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USOC letter assures Olympians about South Korea security

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The U.S. Olympic Committee’s security chief sent a letter to potential Winter Olympians saying there are no indications that recent developments between the U.S. and North Korea have compromised security in South Korea.

The letter, obtained by The Associated Press shortly after it was sent Friday, makes no suggestion that the U.S. is considering skipping the PyeongChang Winter Games for security reasons.

But Chief Security Officer Nicole Deal does write that provocations that have been volleyed between the United States and North Korea are likely to persist for the foreseeable future, and “should not be dismissed as insignificant nor feared as precursors of an inevitable conflict.”

The letter comes at the end of a week in which France’s sports minister suggested the country’s athletes would stay home if security could not be guaranteed.

The International Olympic Committee, trying to calm concerns, reiterated that in conversations with high-level officials in China and South Korea, none have expressed doubt about the Winter Games proceeding as scheduled, next February.

The USOC also sent out a public statement Friday from CEO Scott Blackmun.

“We will continue to work with our State Department and local organizers to ensure that our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe,” he said.

The letter, sent to athletes, national governing bodies and other Olympic leaders in the United States, said the USOC’s security division is operating as “business as usual for our security planning and preparations.”

Deal writes that the USOC is reviewing crisis management plans that address a range of potential scenarios “to ensure our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe.”

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