Alex Ovechkin

Alex Ovechkin on Olympic torch-NHL opener journey: ‘We just have to find a plane’

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Alex Ovechkin is ready to rack up airline miles. Hopefully, he can sleep on a plane.

Ovechkin confirmed Tuesday the news that he will travel to Greece to start the Sochi Olympic torch relay Sept. 29, two days before the Washington Capitals’ season begins in Chicago. He does not intend to miss any games.

“We just have to find a plane,” Ovechkin said, according to The Associated Press.

A flight from Washington, D.C., to Athens is 10 hours, 47 minutes, according to flightmath.com. Athens is 160 miles west of Olympia, where the torch relay starts.

Ovechkin said his agent is working with the organizers of the Sochi Games to figure out the logistics. He joked he could “take some medicine” to sleep while flies back and forth across the Atlantic. It helps that the Capitals aren’t scheduled to practice on Sept. 29, but he’ll want to be back in time join his teammates on the ice the next day for their final skate before traveling to Chicago.

“It’s a huge honor for me,” Ovechkin said, according to the AP. “I’m very proud the Russian federation asked me to do that. … It’s only a once in your life opportunity to carry the torch and represent your country.”

Ovechkin is considered one of Russia’s biggest stars heading into the Olympics. The Russian hockey team’s task is clear, to win the nation’s first Olympic hockey title. The Soviet Union won every title from 1964 to 1988, except 1980, and the Unified Team won in 1992. But “Russia” has never finished better than second, as it did in 1998.

One of the stars of the 1998 team, Pavel Bure, recently declared Russia an ‘indisputable’ favorite next year. Canadians, Americans, Swedes, Finns and Czechs may not agree with that statement.

Also, tight travel is nothing new for Olympic hockey. Recall American Jack Johnson, who was determined to participate in the 2010 Olympic opening ceremony even though the hockey competition didn’t start for another four days and the NHL was not yet on its break.

The Los Angeles Times and NHL.com were among the outlets to report the details of his journey:

Johnson, then a member of the Kings, finished a Thursday shootout loss to the Edmonton Oilers the day before the cauldron was lit in Vancouver. At 6 a.m. on Friday morning, he took a two-hour charter flight to Bellingham, Wash., then hired a driver to take him across the border for Friday night’s ceremony.

After the Friday ceremony, he drove back to Washington and took another charter flight home to make it to Kings practice at 10 a.m. Saturday.

U.S., Russia reveal Olympic hockey jerseys

Haven Denney, Brandon Frazier win U.S. pairs title after year off

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KANSAS CITY — Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier returned from a year off to win their first U.S. pairs title on Saturday, despite an error-prone free skate and against a field lacking any previous U.S. champion teams.

Denney and Frazier jumped from second after the short program to total 188.32 points and win by 2.04 over Sochi Olympian Marissa Castelli and Mervin Tran. Denney and Frazier’s total score was 23.33 points fewer than last year’s winning score.

Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc, who led by 3.96 after the short program, had a strong free skate going until a fall on their throw triple Lutz and finished third Saturday.

Full results are here.

Denney and Frazier were the top U.S. pair in the fall international season by 16 points, taking a silver medal at Skate America.

But Denney struggled on landings in the short program, her right leg wrapped after blowing out her right knee in spring 2015 that caused them to miss the entire 2015-16 season. They also had multiple jumping errors in their free skate, but, unlike the rest of the top five, stayed on their feet Saturday.

“We’re trying harder elements, harder jumps, bigger throws, bigger twists,” Frazier said. “What you see is a couple of ups and downs. This is all building for the next season.”

The U.S. will send two pairs to the world championships in Helsinki in two months, but not definitively the top two finishers from Saturday. The world championships pairs teams will be named Sunday.

Denney and Frazier finished 12th at the 2015 Worlds, after placing second at that year’s U.S. Championships. Castelli and Tran, in their second year as a pair, have no worlds experience together and are ineligible for the 2018 Olympics. Tran, born in Canada, is not a U.S. citizen.

Pairs is the U.S.’ weakest discipline. The last U.S. pair to earn an Olympic or world medal was Kyoka Ina and John Zimmerman at the 2002 Worlds. Eight different pairs have won the last nine U.S. titles.

In 2016, the U.S. pairs finished ninth and 13th at worlds, but both of those teams are out due to injuries.

Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim, the top U.S. pair in international competition in recent seasons, has been out of competition all season due to her September stomach surgery. They have returned to full training.

The Knierims filed a petition to be named to the world championships team, which is selected on a discretionary basis on results from the U.S. Championships and other recent competitions.

“Whatever they decide,” Tran said of a U.S. Figure Skating selection committee, “we’re all for that.”

The 2016 U.S. champions Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea withdrew before the free skate Saturday after Kayne suffered a concussion in a short-program fall. They placed fifth in the short program.

The U.S. Championships continue Saturday night with the women’s free skate (8 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Check out NBCsports.com/USFIGS for all-access coverage all weekend.

VIDEO: Tara Lipinski reflects on 1997 U.S. title at age 14

U.S. Championships Pairs
GOLD: Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier — 188.32
SILVER: Marissa Castelli/Mervin Tran — 186.28
BRONZE: Ashley Cain/Timothy LeDuc — 184.41

4. Deanna Stellato/Nathan Bartholomay — 173.50
5. Jessica Pfund/Joshua Santillan — 168.90

Tara Lipinski reflects on winning 1997 U.S. title at age 14

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Tara Lipinski says she can remember everything about the 1997 U.S. Championships, when she became the youngest national champion at age 14.

The victory 20 years ago helped catapult her to become the youngest individual Winter Olympic champion of all time a year later.

“It changed my life in that moment [in 1997],” said Lipinski, now an NBC Olympics analyst. “That was when you talk about peaking at the right time. I knew when I stepped off the ice as a national champion, I can be Olympic champion.”

In 1996, Lipinski finished third at age 13 at the U.S. Championships behind Michelle Kwan, who won the first of her nine U.S. titles. Lipinski then struggled at the world championships, taking 15th, while Kwan won.

So Lipinski was certainly not the favorite going into the 1997 U.S. Championships in Nashville.

But she delivered an unforgettable performance, landing seven triple jumps in her free skate, including the first triple loop-triple loop combination, to surpass the short program leader Kwan, who fell twice in her free skate.

“I always got very nervous,” Lipinski said. “Now to be a broadcaster on live television, I always wonder, why do I pick these professions where there’s a lot of pressure? It’s because I love it, and I thrive under it. Looking back then, it was interesting to look back and remember how nervous I was and then that relief and that pure joy. Then realizing what happened in the next year, and how I was able to get to the point that I did still gives me chills. I have to sort of pinch myself.”

For perspective on how long ago that victory was, check out this story from the Chicago Tribune:

Within an hour of Tara Lipinski’s victory at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships Saturday night, a “media alert” was on the information table in the press room at the Nashville Arena to announce Lipinski’s site on the Internet.

“Visit America’s hottest sensation at `www.TaraLipinski.com’ ” said the press release from the skater’s agency, Edge Marketing. “Visitors can dive inside Tara’s life by checking out her biography, famiily life stories and other fun facts about Tara (i.e., which of Tara’s talents might pose a threat to Martha Stewart?).”

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