Steve Holcomb, Steve Langton

Steve Holcomb, Elana Meyers win U.S. bobsled selection races

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Olympic champion Steve Holcomb and Olympic bronze medalist Elana Meyers began their Olympic seasons successfully, winning the first two-man U.S. bobsled selection races Saturday.

Holcomb, with Steve Langton, took the men’s event with a two-run time of 1 minute, 54.28 seconds. Nick Cunningham and Dallas Robinson were second (1:55.23), followed by Cory Butner and Chuck Berkeley (1:55.52).

Holcomb has a bye onto the national team based on last season’s results but competed anyway.

“I made a mistake the first time I had a bye by taking it too lightly and just going through the motions,” Holcomb said, according to a U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation (USBSF) release.  “I didn’t feel ready for the competitive season because we didn’t rehearse race day.  Today we did everything just like a race.  It’s good practice since there isn’t any pressure to win.”

Holcomb and Langton were the 2012 world champions in the two-man. Butner and Cunningham were the second- and third-best U.S. pilots in the World Cup two-man standings last season and are favored to join Holcomb as Olympic team pilots.

Meyers, with Aja Evans, captured the women’s races in 1:57.21. Jamie Greubel and Katie Eberling followed in 1:57.92, and Jazmine Fenlator and Lolo Jones were third in 1:58.60.

Like Holcomb, Meyers has a bye onto the national team.

“I’m a slow starter,” said Meyers, the 2013 World Championships silver medalist.  “I need some time to get back into it.  It feels really good to get race experience, because race day is different than a training session.  The adrenaline is higher, and you have to deal with the stakes-whether you win or lose.  My goal is to get better every week and to continue improving my driving skills.”

The fourth-place team was an interesting pair — 2010 Olympian Bree Schaaf, coming back from hip surgery, and Lauryn Williams, a three-time Olympic sprinter who won silver in the 100m at the 2004 Games.

Meyers, Greubel and Fenlator were the top three U.S. pilots in the last World Cup season. The U.S. will likely qualify the maximum three women’s sleds for Sochi. Evans, Eberling, Jones, Williams and Emily Azevedo are considered the front-runners for three push athlete spots.

Azevedo did not compete in Lake Placid but is expected to be on one of the teams when selection races continue in Park City in two weeks.

The national team will be named Oct. 26 for the World Cup season, which begins Nov. 30 in Calgary. The U.S. Olympic team will be largely based on World Cup results.

Video: How bobsledders train without ice

U.S. figure skating could have its best world team since 2006

Nathan Chen performs during the men's free skate competition at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
AP
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KANSAS CITY — U.S. figure skating has a shot at medals in three of four disciplines at the world championships in Helsinki in two months, which hasn’t happened in 11 years.

Before this year, the U.S. men and U.S. women hadn’t boasted simultaneous medal contenders in a decade. Johnny Weir and Evan Lysacek spent the 2010 Olympic cycle in the world elite, while the U.S. women faded. After they stopped competing, Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold moved into the women’s medal field while the U.S. searched for a new leading man.

He’s arrived. Nathan Chen confirmed he is one of the world’s best male skaters by landing a record seven quadruple jumps between two programs at Sprint Center this past week.

The 17-year-old already made the podium in an event that featured the world’s best, earning silver at the Grand Prix Final in December. Chen struggled with his short-program jumps at the Grand Prix Final and attempted one fewer quad overall yet still outscored everybody but Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu.

Of all of the U.S. medal hopes at worlds, Chen may face the stiffest trio of challengers. Not only is there Hanyu, but also two-time reigning world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain, plus Japan’s Shoma Uno, all of whom rank higher than Chen in best total scores in international competition this season.

MORE: Chen believes Olympic gold is possible after U.S. title

Wagner, who shares a coach with Chen, did not have her best nationals. She finished second to surprise winner Karen Chen (no relation to Nathan), who has yet to factor internationally.

But Wagner said before and after the U.S. Championships that her focus was to peak for the world championships. The goal for nationals was to make the world team, which required not winning but finishing in the top three. Mission accomplished.

The concern with Wagner is that she hasn’t produced a world medal-caliber result yet this season. Her best score from the fall ranks her sixth among women going to worlds. But Wagner has shown in the last few seasons that she can pull it together for major events. There’s her 2016 World Championships silver medal, plus her three straight Grand Prix Final medals from 2012-14.

At worlds, Wagner will have to deal with a Russian trio capable of sweeping the podium, three strong Japanese skaters, plus the revelation of this season, Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond.

VIDEO: Wagner passed Puffs in emotional press conference moment

The U.S.’ strongest discipline continues to be ice dance. Maia and Alex Shibutani and Madison Chock and Evan Bates finished second and third at the 2016 World Championships. They went one-two at the U.S. Championships this past week.

But two ice dance medals don’t appear to be in the cards in Helsinki. That’s because Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who earned gold and silver at the last two Olympics, came back this season after a two-year break.

Virtue and Moir broke international scoring records in the fall, sweeping their four starts. The two-time reigning world champions, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France, also beat the U.S. couples at the Grand Prix Final.

The Shibutani siblings and Chock and Bates have never finished ahead of Virtue and Moir in competition. Neither has bettered the French since the December 2014 Grand Prix Final, either.

But all it takes is one dance medal, plus Chen and Wagner at their best in Helsinki, and the U.S. could go into the Olympic year in its best place since 2006.

MORE: Gracie Gold comments on split from coach Frank Carroll

Laurie Hernandez discusses life after Rio, new book on TODAY (video)

Laurie Hernandez
TODAY
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Laurie Hernandez‘s book, “I Got This: To Gold and Beyond,” is out Tuesday, and the Olympic champion gymnast stopped by TODAY on Monday to discuss its contents and life post-Rio.

An excerpt on Hernandez’s experience in Rio and the story of her floor-exercise wink to judges, is here.

On TODAY, Hernandez discussed another interesting anecdote from the book about tissues.

“Before Olympic Trials, we went out to eat, and I had a little breakdown because practice was really rough, and my routines weren’t coming the way I wanted them to,” she said. “This poor waitress kept bringing me over piles of tissues. … We were leaving, and my sister [Jelysa] told my dad, I’m going to save these tissues. I’m going to give them to her when she makes the team. I’m thinking to myself, you guys are crazy, this is not going to happen.”

Hernandez went on to finish second to Simone Biles at the Olympic Trials and make the five-woman Olympic team as the first U.S. female Olympian born in the 2000s.

The family celebrated the achievement, where Jelysa handed the tissues to Hernandez in a bag.

“Even when you fell, you couldn’t believe in yourself, we were there for you,” Jelysa told her.

“So it was a really defining moment,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez is away from gymnastics while promoting her book and touring with “Dancing with the Stars,” but she is expected to return to the sport at some point.

MORE: Hernandez explains 2017 goals: First date, driver’s license, Law & Order