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

Claressa Shields congratulated by famous boxing actor (video)

Claressa Shields
Getty Images
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Claressa Shields may just be the most dominant female athlete on the planet. The Flint, Mich., native is now a two-time Olympic boxing champion with a 77-1 record and a four-year unbeaten streak.

Actor Mark Wahlberg, who played boxer Micky Ward in the 2010 film “The Fighter,” took notice.

He taped a video that Shields watched before a celebration in her hometown Thursday, according to the Flint Journal.

“You are the true definition of a champion,” Wahlberg said. “You continue to inspire so many people, not only in Flint, but all over the world. I’m so proud of you. Your performance was amazing. God bless you. I look forward to seeing you, and I look forward to doing lots of things with you.”

Now Shields must decide whether to turn professional, which would end her Olympic career.

“Professional women’s boxing is not nowhere near on the same attention level as the Olympics are,” the 21-year-old Shields said, according to the Flint Journal. “I get way more attention than any female boxer who is professional right now with me being an amateur.

“So the goal is to go professional but still have that same attention and same mainstream. Hopefully, if they have the rule changed that the women professionals can come back and fight the Olympics, I would go professional to fight on TV and make a bunch of money but then come back and defend my two gold medals in 2020.”

MORE: Shields becomes first U.S. fighter to win back-to-back golds

Russian Olympic medalists gifts include racehorse

Abdulrashid Sadulaev
AP
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MOSCOW (AP) — Luxury cars, apartments, even a racehorse — being an Olympic medalist in Russia can come with great material rewards but also controversy.

Under President Vladimir Putin, it’s become a tradition for Russia’s Olympic heroes to be showered with large cash sums and sometimes unwanted gifts.

On Friday, less than 24 hours after dozens of medalists were presented with BMW cars at the Kremlin by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, an advertisement appeared online offering one of them for sale, with photographs showing the car still covered in stickers celebrating Russia’s medal haul in Rio.

The advertisement offering the BMW X6 for 4.67 million rubles ($72,000) was anonymous and quickly withdrawn. It couldn’t be independently verified by The Associated Press, though Russian agency R-Sport claimed the seller was a Russian medalist who thought the car was too big and unwieldy.

Figure skater Maxim Trankov, who received a Mercedes-Benz SUV for his gold medal in 2014, said few Olympians could afford to own such cars.

“Has no one thought that these gift cars are not only liable for the tax on luxury items, but also aren’t cheap to run and earnings can’t cover it?” he wrote on Twitter. “I’d sell mine too if it came to it … Or does everyone think all sports pay as well as soccer, hockey or tennis?”

Gymnast Seda Tutkhalyan said she wouldn’t be able to drive her new BMW because at 17 years of age she was too young to have a license.

While online commenters mostly supported an athlete’s right to sell expensive Olympic gifts, many were critical of the government for a display of conspicuous consumption at the Kremlin at a time when Russia’s pension and healthcare systems are under financial strain.

It’s not fully clear how much the prizes have cost the Russian government.

State TV channel Rossiya 24 reported that the fleet of BMWs was provided by the Olympians’ Support Fund, which is backed by a group of Russia’s richest men, but that the accompanying cash prizes of tens of thousands of dollars per medalist came in part from the federal budget.

More awards are on offer from regional governments, many of which made public displays of generosity despite financial troubles of their own.

The Caucasus region of North Ossetia last month promised a free apartment for any medalists from the area, though it isn’t clear if this has happened yet.

In another grand gesture, the head of the restive Dagestan region gave Olympic wrestling champion Abdulrashid Sadulaev 6 million rubles ($93,000) in cash and a racehorse at a lavish welcoming ceremony featured on local TV.

Still, all may not be well for Sadulaev, who’s nicknamed the “Russian Tank” for his habit of crushing opponents on the wrestling mat. He’s already facing an allegation from a Moscow radio presenter of reckless driving in his eye-catching BMW.

MORE: Putin slams Russia’s Paralympic ban