Joannie Rochette

Joannie Rochette will have different role at Sochi Olympics

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Joannie Rochette won’t be competing, but the Canadian figure skater who displayed tremendous courage in winning bronze in 2010 will still be at the Sochi Olympics.

Rochette, now 27, skated at the Vancouver Olympics two days after the sudden death of her mother, Therese. Her emotional bronze captured hearts and became one of the poignant performances of the Games. She hasn’t competed at a major national or international event since and will go to Sochi with Canadian TV broadcaster CBC and sponsor Visa.

She said the decision not to try for a third Olympic berth “just came naturally.”

“I’ve been doing shows for 3 1/2 years now, and I really love it,” Rochette said in a phone interview Monday. “That’s my life.”

She will skate in three weeks at the Japan Open, a team event scheduled to include U.S. champion Ashley Wagner, Olympic silver medalist Mao Asada and Olympic bronze medalist Daisuke Takahashi.

“I’m still training and still enjoy skating, but there’s a big difference between doing the Japan Open and doing the Olympics,” Rochette said. “It’s more to give myself a personal challenge. I don’t have the added pressure of competing in the Olympics.”

Rochette said she has no idea how she was able to skate at the 2010 Olympics two days after her mother died of a heart attack at age 55. She was excellent, scoring a personal best in her short program and holding onto that third-place spot after the free skate two nights later.

“When something like that happens the pressure is on, and you just do it, you just forge ahead,” Rochette said. “The biggest challenge was to stop thinking about everything and skate.”

The Quebec native said she’s still negotiating her Sochi Olympic role with CBC and that it will primarily be in French.

“I’m new to the TV world,” she said. “I don’t know if I’ll be doing figure skating or more like every sport, the perspective of an athlete.”

Rochette sounded like a seasoned analyst breaking down the women’s figure skating field for Sochi. Canadian hopes will rest on Kaetlyn Osmond, 17, who placed eighth at her first World Championships in March.

“I think her potential is endless,” Rochette said. “I saw her two years ago when she was third (at the Canadian nationals). Just to see how much she improved in less than a year is incredible. She came back the following year and won Skate Canada.

“She did not even seem intimidated, and she’s still quite young. There are still things she needs to improve to challenge the top ladies … but I definitely think she can be top 10 (in Sochi).”

As for the medal contenders, Rochette was impressed by Olympic champion Yuna Kim‘s comeback to win the world title by a whopping 20 points in March. Kim is attempting to become the first woman since Katarina Witt in 1988 to defend an Olympic figure skating title.

Is she beatable?

“Yuna at her best is quite hard to beat, honestly, but I would like to say, yes, that it’s still possible,” Rochette said. “At World Championships this year, there was no question she was untouchable. As of now, watching worlds, I would put my money Yuna, but Mao (Asada) can do a triple axel, come to the Olympics and skate really well. So you never know what can happen.”

Gracie Gold stumbles amid coaching uncertainty

Hanyu, Miyahara into Grand Prix Final with wins at NHK Trophy

Yuzuru Hanyu
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Yuzuru Hanyu won the NHK Trophy in front of a home crowd in Japan in spectacular fashion – setting three world records – and qualified for the Grand Prix Final in the process.

He followed up his short program world record with a record setting free skate of 216.07 and a combined overall score record of 322.40.

China’s Boyang Jin finished second overall followed by Japan’s Takahito Mura. The U.S. Grant Hochstein finished fourth after an eighth-place finish in the short program.

Though the results are still unofficial, the men’s field in Barcelona will likely include no U.S. men, a streak that has continued since 2012. Max Aaron is eighth in the standings, but would be invited if he finished seventh overall. More on that the qualifying process here.

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Japan’s Satoko Miyahara took the ladies’ competition over the U.S.’ Courtney Hicks, who finished second in her first career Grand Prix circuit medal, and countrywoman Mao Asada, who finished third.

Ashley Wagner was fourth, the lowest place she could have to give her a berth to Barcelona. Wagner has earned a medal at every Grand Prix Final since 2012 (silver in 2012, and bronzes in 2013 and 2014).

Again, the overall standings are unofficial, but Miyahara, Asada, and Wagner should join Gracie Gold, Evgenia Medvedeva, and Elena Radionova in the Grand Prix Final.

Russia finished off the podium entirely in the ladies’ field – Alena Leonova and Anna Pogorilaya finished eitghth and ninth while Maria Artemieva finished 11th.

The last time no Russian women were on a Grand Prix podium – the final or otherwise – was in the 2012-13 season, where it happened a handful of times. Russian women have been featured on every Grand Prix circuit podium since the 2012-13 season, where they only missed out on Skate Canada, the Rostelecom Cup, the NHK Trophy, and the Grand Prix Final from that season. Names like Olympic gold medalists Adelina Sotnikova and Julia Lipnitskaya, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, Elena Radionova, Pogorilaya, Leonova, and 2015 world junior champion Evgenia Medvedeva all contributed to that streak.

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U.S. pairs champions Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim earned a trip to Barcelona with a bronze medal in Japan. Leading the field in their ninth straight international win was Canadian pair Meaghan Duhamel and Eric Radford followed China’s Yu Xiaoyu and Jin Yang.

7 more Kenyan athletes banned for doping

Emily Chebet
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Two-time cross-country world champion Emily Chebet was among seven Kenyan athletes banned for doping Friday, another indication that the country has a serious problem of cheating among its famed distance runners.

Chebet, the cross-country world champion in 2010 and 2013, was banned for four years after testing positive for the diuretic and masking agent furosemide, the Kenyan athletics federation said.

The list of sanctions announced by Athletics Kenya included bans for the two runners that failed doping tests at the world championships in Beijing in August. Joyce Zakary and Koki Manunga, who were provisionally suspended at the worlds, also received four-year bans for furosemide.

There has been a recent spike in doping cases in Kenya and more than 40 athletes have now failed tests since 2012. Kenyan track officials are under scrutiny after allegations of doping cover-ups, and separate accusations of embezzlement of money at the national federation.

This week, a group of athletes stormed the federation headquarters in Nairobi demanding the resignation of top officials over the doping scandals and corruption allegations.

Along with her two cross-country world titles, the 29-year-old Chebet was a bronze medalist in the 10,000 meters at last year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Her ban was backdated to July 17 and she will be unable to compete until July 16, 2019.

The doping cases of Zakary, a 400-meter runner, and Manunga, a 400-meter hurdler, undermined Kenya’s impressive display at this year’s worlds, where the country tied with Jamaica for the most gold medals with seven. They failed targeted tests carried out by world athletics body the IAAF in Beijing, enhancing suspicions that doping in Kenya is widespread.

Zakary set a national record of 50.71 seconds at the worlds before her failed test. The two were banned until Aug. 24, 2019.

The other four athletes banned on Friday were Agnes Jepkosgei, Bernard Mwendia, Judy Jesire Kimuge and Lilian Moraa Marita.

Jepkosgei was banned for four years for testing positive for the anabolic steroid metabolite norandrosterone. Mwendia was given a two-year ban for norandrosterone. Kimuge was banned two years for the norandrolone and Marita two years for the blood-booster EPO.

A World Anti-Doping Agency panel that recently reported on a systematic program of doping cover-ups in Russia said that Kenya also has a serious doping problem. That has spurred speculation that, like Russia, Kenya could face a blanket ban from international competition.

The IAAF has opened investigations into allegations that track officials in Kenya were involved in covering up positive doping tests. In a separate investigation, the IAAF is also looking at accusations of corruption against top officials at Athletics Kenya after they were questioned by Kenyan police over the alleged embezzlement of around $700,000 of the federation’s money.

One of the officials accused, AK Vice President David Okeyo, is a member of the IAAF’s decision-making council. The athletes protesting at Athletics Kenya this week demanded that Okeyo and AK President Isaiah Kiplagat step down.