Kate Hansen

U.S. bobsled, luge, skeleton continue World Cup selection races

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Several Olympic hopefuls took steps toward Sochi on Sunday and Monday.

The biggest strides came in luge in Park City, Utah, where the fall World Cup teams were named following the final selection races Sunday.

Kate Hansen, sliding with a broken bone in her right foot, completed a sweep of the women’s races to boost her chances of making the U.S. Olympic team.

The 2008 world junior champion said she “T-boned” a wall in training Wednesday, saying she cried and it was the hardest crash of her career.

“Obviously, no one wants to break their foot, but I’m capable of things that I never thought I would be capable of,” Hansen said in a USA Luge interview. “Whether or not the Olympics happen or any of this works out, I think I’ve proven some things to myself and some people that I can do it.”

Hansen is joined on the fall World Cup team by 2010 Olympians Erin Hamlin and Julia Clukey and by Summer Britcher. For the men, 2010 Olympian Chris Mazdzer also swept selection races and is joined by Taylor MorrisJoe Mortensen and Tucker West on the World Cup team.

The doubles World Cup teams are Matt Mortensen and Preston Griffall, Jake Hyrns and Andrew Sherk and Christian Niccum and Jayson Terdiman.

The first luge World Cup is Nov. 16-17 in Lillehammer, Norway, and USA Luge will name its Olympic team in mid-December. It’s expected to be three women, three men and two doubles teams.

In bobsled, 2010 Olympic four-man champion Steve Holcomb finished a sweep of two-man selection races Sunday night in Park City. Holcomb teamed with Chris Fogt one week after riding with Steve Langton.

Holcomb, who was pre-qualified for the World Cup team, completed two runs in 1 minute, 37.20 seconds. Nick Cunningham and Dallas Robinson were second (1:37.55), and Cory Butner and Chuck Berkeley were third (1:37.62).

“I know I need to step up my game because the other drivers are stepping up theirs,” Holcomb said, according to a U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation press release. “This is shaping up to be a solid team trials. We’ve been analyzing the new BMW sleds and making some changes along the way, and hopefully we’ll have it all figured out so we’re ready to go even faster by the time we’re back here for the World Cup.”

It marked the same order of pilot finishes as the first set of selection races in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Oct. 12, leaving a clear picture for three likely U.S. Olympic spots.

The bobsled selection races will finish in Park City on Friday and Saturday with the final women’s race and the men’s four-man races. The national team for upcoming World Cup races will be named Oct. 27. The first World Cup is Nov. 30 in Calgary.

In skeleton, Noelle Pikus-Pace and Matthew Antoine won the first of four national team selection races in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Monday.

Pikus-Pace, the 2013 world silver medalist and a 2010 Olympian, posted runs of 56.80 and 56.45 seconds to finish a comfortable 0.92 seconds ahead of second-place Annie O’Shea in 1:53.25.

“The first week back is always a little nerve-racking,” Pikus-Pace said, according to a USBSF press release. “We are off of the ice for six months, so everyone is anxious to see where they stack up and where off-season training has put them. It’s nice to get the first trips down the track out of the way so we can all look forward to the competitions. After 10 years of sliding, it comes back pretty quickly, but I still feel the butterflies the beginning of each new season.”

Antoine clocked times of 54.81 and 55.20 for a total of 1:50.01, .96 ahead of second-place John Daly, a 2010 Olympian. He feels better after a 2012-13 season hampered by recovery from knee surgery.

“I’ve had one focus and one goal, which was to get back to where I was physically and to get my head back into the game, and I’ve kept my head down working towards that,” Antoine said. “I’ve worked on getting faster and stronger, and never doubted my sliding ability. I want to be my best in Sochi. Last year didn’t go well for me and part of me feels like I’m undervalued heading into the season. Now I can concentrate on the task at hand and continue to get even better.”

Athletes will continue races for 11 national team spots (six men, five women) on Tuesday morning with the second of four runs. Pikus-Pace, 2012 world champion Katie Uhlaender and Daly have byes onto the national team.

Holcomb describes the art of bobsledding

U.S. Olympic tennis player refuses to answer meldonium questions

Varvara Lepchenko
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Varvara Lepchenko, a 2012 U.S. Olympic tennis player, reportedly refused comment eight times Tuesday on a report that she tested positive for meldonium earlier this year.

“At the moment I have no comment on any of this,” Lepchenko said after losing her first-round match at the French Open, according to multiple reports. “I’m here just to answer tennis questions. If you have any questions about my match, I would gladly answer them, but otherwise, I just have no comments.”

Lepchenko, a 30-year-old who lived in Uzbekistan until 2001, was found to have meldonium at about the same time as Russian Maria Sharapova, a physiotherapist who worked with Sharapova said, according to Russia’s Sports-Express last week.

Sharapova announced on March 7 that she tested positive for meldonium in January.

Lepchenko didn’t play on the WTA Tour from late February until early May, withdrawing before the BNP Paribas Open in March with a left knee injury and the Sony Open two weeks later with a right knee injury, according to the WTA.

The World Anti-Doping Agency relaxed meldonium punishments in April, allowing bans to be lifted. Sharapova’s ban has not been lifted.

Lepchenko, who lost in the second round at London 2012, is ranked No. 64 in the world and will not qualify for the Rio Olympics.

MORE: Djokovic calls for rankings points at ‘arguably the fifth Grand Slam’

Russian Olympic champion positive in Beijing retest, coach reportedly says

Anna Chicherova
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London Olympic high jump champion Anna Chicherova is one of many Russians among 31 athletes overall who tested positive in recent retests of Beijing Olympic samples, according to Russian news agency TASS.

TASS named nine 2008 Olympic medalists among 14 Russian athletes, citing a Russian TV report, including eight medalists in track and field, with Chicherova being the superstar of the group.

“Three days ago, Anna received a notice that her doping sample from the Beijing Olympic tested positive after a re-check, and she called me,” Chicherova’s coach said, according to TASS. “So far, this is at the development stage and this has not yet been finally confirmed. But all are aware of this and are dealing with the issue.”

Last week, the International Olympic Committee said 31 unnamed athletes from 12 nations across six sports failed drug tests in retesting of 454 samples from 2008 using the latest drug-testing methods.

Chicherova, 33, took high jump gold at the London Games and bronze in Beijing. She is one of two track and field athletes to earn an individual-event medal at the last five World Championships and last two Olympics. The other is Usain Bolt.

Chicherova, who has had no previously widespread reported doping history, would be one of Russia’s top Olympic track and field medal hopes in Rio, should the ban on Russian track and field athletes competing be lifted before the Games.

Russia is expected to learn if it will be allowed to send a track and field team to Rio on June 17.

“The Ministry of Sport is extremely disappointed to hear the speculation that Russian athletes are among those found to have violated anti-doping rules at the 2008 Beijing Olympics after re-testing their samples,” the Russian Ministry of Sport said in a statement through Burson-Marsteller public relations firm. “Any athletes found cheating should face corresponding sanctions.

“We have taken numerous steps to eradicate the issue of doping, and understand that the roots of the problem, particularly in athletics, go back to the past.”

MORE: Russia track and field boss: ’50-60 percent’ chance of Olympics