Shani Davis

Speed skating World Cup storylines

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The World Cup speed skating season, which begins Friday, is the determinant for the number of Olympic spots each country receives and a barometer for Olympic medal contenders.

Countries will earn Sochi Olympic quota spots at the first four World Cup stops before the Olympics — Calgary, Alberta; Salt Lake City, Utah; Astana, Kazakhstan and Berlin.

For the U.S., those quota spots will then be filled at the Olympic Trials in Salt Lake City.

Here are all of the key events before the Olympics:

Calgary World Cup — Nov. 8-10
Salt Lake City World Cup — Nov. 15-17
Astana World Cup — Nov. 29-Dec. 1
Berlin World Cup — Dec. 6-8
Salt Lake City U.S. Olympic Trials — Dec. 27-Jan. 1
Nagano World Sprint Championships — Jan. 18-19

Here are five storylines to watch over the next three months:

1. What will the U.S. Olympic Team look like?

A strong early indicator comes from the U.S. Championships two weeks ago and the resulting World Cup team announcement. However, not every World Cup team member in 2009 made the 2010 U.S. Olympic Team.

Here’s the U.S. World Cup team:

Men
Shani Davis (1000m, 1500m)
Brian Hansen (500m, 1000m, 1500m)
Tucker Fredricks (500m)
Joey Mantia (500m, 1000m, 1500m, 5000m, 10,000m)
Jonathan Garcia (500m)
Mitch Whitmore (500m, 1000m)
Trevor Marsicano (1000m, 1500m)
Jonathan Kuck (1500m, 5000m, 10,000m)
Emery Lehman (5000m, 10,000m)
Patrick Meek (5000m, 10,000m)

Women
Brittany Bowe (500m, 1000m, 1500m)
Heather Richardson (500m, 1000m, 1500m)
Lauren Cholewinski (500m)
Sugar Todd (500m, 1000m)
Elli Ochowicz (500m)
Jilleanne Rookard (1000m, 1500m, 300m, 5000m)
Rebekah Bradford (1000m)
Kelly Gunther (1500m)
Theresa Cliff-Ryan (3000m)
Petra Acker (3000m, 5000m)
Anna Ringsred (3000m, 5000m)
Maria Lamb (3000m, 5000m)

The U.S. can earn a maximum of 20 Olympic quota spots (10 men, 10 women) based on World Cup results and times.

2. Healthy Shani Davis seeks Olympic threepeat

Davis, 31, is the only active U.S. skater with an individual Olympic medal. He has four of them, golds in the 1000m at the 2006 and the 2010 Olympics and silver in the 1500m at both Games. He could become the first U.S. man to win three straight Winter Olympic titles in the same event in Sochi.

The veteran Chicagoan pared down his schedule since 2010. He made the 2009-10 World Cup team in every distance and skated all but the 10,000m on the World Cup tour and at the Vancouver Olympics.

He hasn’t skated a 500m, 5000m or 10,000m internationally since January 2012. Davis swept the 1000m and the 1500m at the U.S. Championships two weeks ago.

“My mindset was just to simply qualify and get through Trials the best that I can and get as close as possible to some times I wrote down earlier that I would like to be a little ahead of, a little close to, a little behind, depending on how I skated,” Davis said then. “I’m skating well, but there’s a lot of room for improvement. But the season is still young and the key, the main goal, is to be ready for the Olympics.”

Davis dealt with a small tear in a groin muscle at this time last year that kept him out for most of November. He still went on to take second place in the World Cup season standings in the 1000m, despite missing two of nine races.

He also won silver in the 1500m and bronze in the 1000m at the World Single Distance Championships in March, held at the Sochi Olympic arena.

Keep an eye on his World Cup results and if Davis re-adds the 500m and 5000m for the Olympic Trials.

3. U.S. women try to rejoin world’s elite

The drought will be the story at the Olympics. No U.S. woman has won an Olympic speed skating medal since 2002. But it would be a shock if multiple Americans don’t make the podium during the first few World Cups.

2010 Olympian Heather Richardson is the reigning World Sprint champion, and she may no longer be the top U.S. woman.

Brittany Bowe, a college basketball player when Richardson skated at the 2010 Olympics, won bronze in the 1000m at the World Single Distance Championships.

The U.S. Championships two weeks ago appeared to be the passing of the torch. Bowe beat Richardson in the 500m, 1000m and the 1500m, posting two personal bests.

“It’s a very rewarding feeling to say the least,” Bowe said. “It’s just one competition, and I have a feeling that we’ll go back and forth this year and hopefully we’ll both be in contention for a medal when Sochi rolls around.”

Keep an eye on how Bowe and Richardson stack up against international stars Lee Sang-hwa (500m), Christine Nesbitt (1000m) and Ireen Wust (1500m) at the early World Cups.

4. Sven Kramer’s countryman competition

For every Vonncouver Olympics mention in 2010, there was just as much Svencouver talk. The zealous Dutch speed skating fans hoped he would win three gold medals. He won the 5000m, was infamously disqualified from the 10,000m and was upset by the U.S. in the team pursuit semifinals.

Kramer, 27, sat out one season and went back to dominating his sport. He became the first man to win six World Allround Championships and added single distance titles in the 5000m in 2012 and 2013.

He is not invincible, however. Not even in his own country. Jorrit Bergsma beat Kramer by two seconds in the grueling 10,000m at the World Single Distance Championships in March.

Kramer did not enter either 10,000m race in last year’s World Cup. He also came back to beat Bergsma by more than five seconds at the Dutch Championships two weeks ago. So, don’t doubt him.

Bergsma’s win was more of a testament to fresh depth on the Dutch men’s squad. The other two individual men’s medalists in Vancouver, Mark Tuitert and Bob de Jong, are now 33 and 36 years old.

Bergsma, Jan SmeekensKjeld Nuis and Michel and Ronald Mulder, all in their 20s, could win medals in Sochi.

5. A mixture of elite women to watch

Start with Ireen Wust, who won five medals in six events, including three gold medals, at the World Single Distance Championships at the Sochi Olympic arena. The Dutchwoman has also won the last three World Allround Championships.

She missed several World Cup races last season but dominated when she did race, winning five of nine and finishing second in two others.

There’s also Christine Nesbitt, the only Canadian women’s speed skating medalist from 2010 still competing. She’s the reigning Olympic champion in the 1000m, which will be the meet-up distance between the American women and Wust, too.

Nesbitt was diagnosed with Celiac disease earlier this year and switched to a gluten-free diet.

In the longer distances, Wust will contend with the woman who came out of the Vancouver Games as the best all-around skater — Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic. Sablikova hasn’t lost a World Cup or World Championship 5000m since February 2011.

Video: Sochi chief addresses Olympic concerns on TODAY

IOC president doesn’t rule out awarding 2028 Olympic host in 2017

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 23: The Olympic Flag waves as part of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony at Fisht Olympic Stadium on February 23, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images)
AP
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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — Signaling a potential radical change in the way Olympic host cities are chosen, IOC President Thomas Bach wants to revise the bidding process because it “produces too many losers.”

He wouldn’t rule out the possibility of awarding two Games at the same time.

Bach’s comments came on Thursday, the same day the IOC executive board cleared all three candidate cities for the 2024 Olympics — Paris, Los Angeles and Budapest, Hungary — to advance to the next stage of the race.

“We have to take into consideration that the procedure as it is now produces too many losers,” Bach said at a news conference. “You can be happy about a strong field in quantity for one day but you start to regret it the next day.

“It is not the purpose of an Olympic candidate city procedure to produce losers. It is to produce the best possible host for an Olympic Games. We will have to look into this.”

It was the first time Bach has publicly spoken about further changes to the bidding process, which has suffered in recent years as voters rejected bids in referendums, and cities dropped out because of concerns over the costs of the games.

Paris, Los Angeles, and Budapest are in the final nine months of the race for the 2024 Games. The International Olympic Committee is scheduled to vote on the host city in September in Lima, Peru.

Paris and Los Angeles are viewed as close favorites, with Budapest as an outsider. Olympic officials in recent months have begun privately discussing the idea of awarding the 2024 and 2028 Games simultaneously, ensuring that Paris and Los Angeles would get one or the other.

Some officials believe that, because both cities are such strong contenders, it would be a mistake for one to lose out. It would seem unlikely that either loser would bid again for 2028.

Bach repeated several times that the 2024 bidding is already in full swing and the IOC is “happy” with that process. However, he was asked twice about the possibility of awarding both Games at the Lima meeting, and he didn’t categorically rule it out.

“Let us study this question, which is not an easy one,” he said.

Bach suggested it is more likely any major change will come for future bidding races.

“We have to think long term,” he said, adding that, for the 2024 race, the IOC advised three unidentified cities during the “invitation phase” not to submit bids because they failed to meet the requirements.

The IOC has been seeking to fix the bidding process for years amid a sharp downturn in interest from potential host cities, many scared off by the $51 billion price tag associated with the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

The bid races for the 2020, 2022 and 2024 Olympics were all hit by withdrawals for political or financial reasons. Six cities pulled out of the contest for the ’22 Winter Games, leaving only two finalists, with Beijing defeating Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Hamburg pulled out of the 2024 race after local residents rejected the bid in a referendum, and Rome’s 2024 bid was scrapped after the new mayor rejected the project over costs.

Bach’s Olympic Agenda 2020 reforms were aimed at making bidding and hosting more flexible and less costly. But Bach acknowledged on Thursday the reforms hadn’t solved everything, saying they have been affected by “more changes in the decision-making mechanisms in politics.”

“You can see how in many countries, you have populist movements and anti-establishment movements getting stronger and stronger, asking different and new questions,” he said.

While the IOC has traditionally awarded one Olympics at a time, some other major sports bodies have awarded multiple events at a time.

FIFA awarded the 2018 World Cup to Russia and 2022 tournament to Qatar in the same bidding process. FIFA leaders say that was a mistake that will not be repeated. Swiss federal prosecutors are still looking into suspicions of wrongdoing during that contest.

VIDEO: LA 2024 Olympic bid venue plan

Yuzuru Hanyu tops Grand Prix Final short program

Yuzuru Hanyu
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Yuzuru Hanyu is well on his way to a record fourth straight Grand Prix Final title.

The Olympic champion landed two quadruple jumps while his closest rival, Spain’s Javier Fernandez, nearly fell twice in the short program in Marseille, France, on Thursday.

Hanyu tallied 106.53 points, the third-highest short program score under the decade-old scoring system, but said he wasn’t completely satisfied. Hanyu owns the five best short programs, all compiled in the last two seasons, with a best of 110.95.

“This program feels like a concert,” said Hanyu, who skated to Prince music in a purple outfit. “I consider this program cannot be completed without the audience.

“I feel this program has a lot more potential. I really wanted to improve my personal-best score here.”

Hanyu is trying to become the first singles skater to win four straight Grand Prix Finals in the event’s 22-year history.

He leads three-time Canadian world champion Patrick Chan by 6.77 points going into Saturday’s free skate. Chan’s clean short program included one quad and marked his first personal best in three years.

“The first good short program in a long time, internationally,” Chan said. “It didn’t feel any more special than any usual training day.”

Fernandez, who beat Hanyu at the last two world championships, nearly fell on a quad Salchow and a triple Axel and is in third, nearly 15 points back of Hanyu.

Fernandez was followed by Japan’s Shoma Uno and the two Americans, training partners Nathan Chen and Adam Rippon, in fifth and sixth in the six-skater field.

Chen, 17, fell on a quad flip and stepped out of a quad Lutz landing.

“I made two pretty big mistakes, so I’m a little bit upset about that,” Chen said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “I was able to land the triple Axel, which I’m happy about because that’s always been my struggle jump.”

Rippon, 27, was the only skater to not attempt a quad.

“I’m trying the least amount of quads so my focus is to skate well overall,” Rippon said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “I want to do my best and improve for the rest of the season.”

Chen and Rippon are the first American men in a Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual competition, since 2011.

The Grand Prix Final continues Friday with the short dance, pairs free skate and women’s short program (broadcast schedule here).

Earlier in pairs, Canadian world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford struggled to third place in the short program. Duhamel fell on a throw triple Axel.

Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov lead by 3.26 points going into Friday’s free skate.

MORE: Javier Fernandez builds toward last Olympic chance

Men’s Short Program
1. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 106.53
2. Patrick Chan (CAN) — 99.76
3. Javier Fernandez (ESP) — 91.76
4. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 86.82
5. Nathan Chen (USA) — 85.30
6. Adam Rippon (USA) — 83.93

Pairs Short Program
1. Yevgenia Tarasovana/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 78.60
2. Xiaoyu Yu/Hao Zhang (CHN) — 75.34
3. Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford (CAN) — 71.44
4. Cheng Peng/Yang Jin (CHN) — 70.84
5. Natalya Zabiyako/Aleksander Enbert (RUS) — 65.79
6. Julianne Seguin/Charlie Bilodeau (CAN) — 60.86