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 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 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

Mikaela Shiffrin runner-up in World Cup season opener

SOELDEN, AUSTRIA - OCTOBER 22: Mikaela Shiffrin of USA in action during the Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup Women's Giant Slalom on October 22, 2016 in Soelden, Austria (Photo by Alexis Boichard/Agence Zoom/Getty Images)
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Mikaela Shiffrin‘s bid for a first outright World Cup giant slalom victory was denied by World Cup overall champion Lara Gut on Saturday, opening what could be a season-long battle between the two.

The Swiss Gut dominated to win the first race in Soelden, Austria, by 1.44 seconds over Shiffrin combining times from two runs. It marked the second-largest women’s margin of victory in Soelden history.

“It’s a big relief to walk away from today with a podium,” Shiffrin said. “It’s always great to win, but I’m starting off on the right foot. I can be happy with that, but I know I can do better.”

Italian Marta Bassino was third. Full results are here.

“I put myself so much under pressure until this morning,” said Gut, who led Shiffrin by 1.42 seconds after the first of two runs. “Sometimes, it’s horrible. You get into the race, and start thinking instead of just skiing. I’m happy I had a fast first run because the second run was just a fight.”

Shiffrin, the youngest Olympic slalom champion, shared victory with Austrian Anna Veith in Soelden in 2014 and finished second to Italian Federica Brignone last year.

Lindsey Vonn and Veith, both coming back from season-ending knee injuries, skipped Soelden.

Gut and Shiffrin could be the top World Cup overall title contenders with Vonn focusing on speed events and Veith’s readiness uncertain. Shiffrin had finished fifth, sixth and fourth in the overall standings before placing 10th last season, when she missed two months due to a right knee injury.

Gut, 25, won six races across four disciplines last season, showing the kind of all-around prowess that Shiffrin can’t yet match. Shiffrin is the world’s best slalom skier and showed she is elite in giant slalom on Saturday, but she has scant experience in downhill, super-G and super combined races.

“Lara’s given us a good pace to chase,” Shiffrin said. “When she comes down, and she’s that far ahead and just taking every gate like it’s the last gate she’s going to ski, it’s really cool to see.”

The men open their season in Soelden on Sunday (4 a.m. and 7 a.m. ET, NBC Sports app; 9:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

The women next race a slalom in Levi, Finland, on Nov. 12.

Shiffrin has won 11 straight slaloms dating to 2015, including her last eight World Cup slaloms, the longest streak since four-time Olympic champion Janica Kostelic won 10 straight from 1999 through 2001.


Ashley Wagner tops Skate America short program

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HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. (AP) — Ashley Wagner topped the Skate America short program Friday night with 69.50 points, building on her second-place finish from last season’s world championships.

Japan’s Mai Mihara, making her Grand Prix Series debut at 17, was second at 65.75, and U.S. champion Gracie Gold third at 64.87.

The free skate will determine the champion Saturday at Sears Centre Arena (live on NBC and the NBC Sports app at 4:30 p.m. ET). Full results are here.

Wagner performed with a fierce and determined style, delivering a technically solid and entertaining program to “Sweet Dreams” by the Eurhythmics.

“I capitalized on the momentum (from worlds) going into the summer,” said Wagner, the 2012 Skate America winner. “It inspired me to train even harder than I had been because it showed me that my training got me onto that podium. It motivated me and made it a realistic goal to get onto that Olympic podium, and I can almost taste it. It’s a totally new season. I’m hopefully a different athlete from that Worlds event and I think it’s just about building on that from here on out.”

Mihara fell during her warmup, which she said relaxed her during her performance.

“I think for my first Grand Prix event, I did a good job,” she said.

Gold, coming off a disappointing fourth-place finish in the world championships, fell on her triple flip, but otherwise was solid in her performance to a tango.

“I had a hiccup on the triple flip, but I went after everything,” Gold said. “I just need to keep working on the program and just keep getting it out there.”

Gold said the months after the world championships were difficult and affected her training.

“It was a pretty hard summer,” she said. “I had trouble getting going and getting my feet under me for some reason. I felt I had let myself down. No one else felt the intense shame that I felt, but it was just so internal that I had trouble getting back out there. But as soon as I got the momentum going, I’ve been feeling excellent.”

Three-time World champion Mao Asada of Japan, hampered by a knee injury, was fifth.

In pairs, Russia’s Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov took a commanding lead program with a score of 75.24. Americans Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, who missed last season with a knee injury to Denney, were second at 67.29, and Canadians Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau followed at 66.49.

Tarasova and Morozov, fifth at the world championships, received high marks on their opening triple twist as well as their lifts, spins and footwork.

“Today we have a short program we did well,” Morozov said. “We have a personal best and were glad to have this moment.”

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