Sarah Hendrickson

Ski Jumping World Cup season preview

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The Olympic addition of women’s ski jumping makes this arguably the most story-filled World Cup season in the sport’s history.

Most U.S. eyes will be on a jumper who might not compete at all before Sochi.  Utah teen Sarah Hendrickson, the reigning world champion, tore the ACL, MCL and meniscus in her right knee in an Aug. 21 crash and hopes to be ready to fly in January.

In Europe, three decorated men enter the Olympic season with something to prove.

Japan has two intriguing jumpers separated by 24 years in age.

The ski jumping World Cup season begins in Klingenthal, Germany, this weekend for men and in Lillehammer, Norway, in two weeks for women. In will make more than a dozen stops — including the prestigious Four Hills Tournament — before the Olympics from Feb. 8-17.

Here are the key storylines:

1. Will Sarah Hendrickson jump in Sochi?

The latest Hendrickson recovery update came via Instagram on Thursday:

It’s hard to believe it has been 12 weeks since my reconstructive knee surgery. Thank god the days of pain and suffering on the couch are behind me and I am back to doing normal things. After hours of hard work in the gym it seemed to have shown at my doctors appointment yesterday. He was absolutely amazed with my gain in muscle strength and “on track for jumping in January” (Without set backs) A huge thanks to my PT for getting me to this phase as we are one step closer to the ultimate goal!

Her goal has been to jump in January from the start. It was quite ambitious but also necessary.

The U.S. Olympic Team is expected to be composed of four women. The winner at the Olympic Trials from Dec. 28-29 in Park City, Utah, will get the first spot. The next three are due to go to the top three ranked women in the World Cup standings as of Jan. 19 or 20.

The Olympic selection procedures include a discretionary selection clause that could allow Hendrickson to be picked even if she doesn’t have any World Cup points.

So, if Hendrickson can’t compete in a pre-Olympics World Cup, she’ll need to prove to coaches she deserves to go to Sochi. There are jumping hills in her hometown of Park City, Utah, where she could take those first jumps whenever she feels ready.

In the meantime, a few healthy U.S. women will set out on the World Cup tour to earn the U.S. the maximum of four quota spots. The leaders will be 2009 world champion Lindsey VanJessica Jerome and Abby Hughes, who were the top three Americans in each of the last two World Cup seasons.

If there are four U.S. women in the top 30, the fourth will be on the bubble come mid-January. If Hendrickson is put on the team, somebody will have to be bumped out.

“With Hendrickson hurt, it will be a test for us,” Hughes said. “We have never competed in an Olympic year, so we never had this kind of intensity. There are all these new emotions that we haven’t ever had with each other before. There are eight or nine of us fighting for four spots.”

source: AP2. An Austrian, a Swiss and a Finn

Gregor Schlierenzauer — Schlieri — is the star of ski jumping. As he was this time four years ago. Yet the Austrian ceded the spotlight to Simon Ammann at the 2010 Olympics, taking two bronzes behind the Swiss wizard’s double gold.

Schlierenzauer is coming off his second overall World Cup title and his second straight Four Hills crown. At 23, he already holds the career World Cup wins record of 50. He enters the Olympic season with the pressure of backing up that success with a breakthrough in Sochi.

“Individual gold is missing in my collection,” Schlierenzauer told Austria’s Kleine Zeitung. “But the real goal is to get to the Olympics in top form. No one knows what will then happen in Russia.”

Ammann enters what would be his fifth Olympics in an unfortunately familiar head-scratching position. Ammann swept the individual Olympic events in 2002 and 2010. But he went into each of the last three Olympic seasons without World Cup results befitting an Olympic champion.

In 2000-01, he competed once and finished 41st. A year later, he flew to Salt Lake City and stunned favorites Adam Malysz and Sven Hannawald in both the normal and large hills.

He fell back into mediocrity between 2003 and 2006, never finishing in the top 10 in the overall World Cup standings. He then went to Torino and, in a dreadful defense of his titles, placed 15th and 38th.

Ammann picked it back up going into 2009-10, but he was still behind Schlierenzauer. No matter, Ammann repeated his Salt Lake City feat and registered the longest jump in Olympic history (144 meters) to boot.

He has since regressed. Ammann hasn’t won an event since March 2012 and finished 14th and 11th in the overall World Cup standings the last two years.

Has he finally passed his prime at 32? Or does he have enough left to win one more Olympic gold and break his tie with mercurial Finnish legend Matti Nykanen?

“I can not be euphoric about Sochi every day,” Ammann, whose wife is Russian, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur. “No, I must do my day-to-day work.”

Finally, there is another Finn. Janne Ahonen is the last link to any semblance of national pride in a sport Finland once dominated. At 36, he’s come out of retirement for a second time.

Ahonen is a five-time Olympian with 10 career World Championship medals and 36 World Cup wins. He is also one of the greatest winter sports athletes of all time without an individual Olympic medal. Ahonen owns two Olympic silver medals in the team event and three fourth-place finishes in individual events.

“I thought, if the ski jumping in Finland is so bad, maybe it helps if I return,” Ahonen said, according to German newspaper Die Welt. “The people are desperately waiting for success. That’s the same for me. I like these situations. I need this pressure.”

3. Japan defies the ages

There’s little doubt the best women’s jumper, with Hendrickson sidelined, is Japan’s Sara Takanashi. She won the World Cup overall title over the American last year and took second at the World Championships.

Even if Hendrickson is healthy, Takanashi could beat her in Sochi. She won a test event at the Sochi venue on Oct. 13, the only jumper to clear 100 meters in both jumps.

Takanashi says she looks up to Hendrickson. This is not surprising given the Japanese turned 17 in October and is 4 feet, 11 inches.

One of Japan’s best men’s jumpers is almost a foot taller. He’s also 24 years older.

Noriaki Kasai is entering his 23rd season on the World Cup tour. He’s a six-time Olympian and likely to make his seventh Games considering he was Japan’s No. 2 jumper last year, 24th overall. The Olympic field will include 70 men at a maximum of five per country.

He’s best known for being part of the Japanese team that won silver at Lillehammer 1994. That team was in line for a possible gold until anchor jumper Masahiko “Happy” Harada mistimed his final jump, soaring about 30 meters shorter than his first jump. Norway took gold.

Japan famously redeemed in Nagano in 1998, but Kasai, who finished seventh on the normal hill individually, was not picked for the team.

Kasai joked in February he would like to compete for another 10 years, according to Deutsche Presse-Agentur.

U.S. skier tore ACL, competed at Olympics 2 weeks later

Ten swimmers to watch at USA Swimming National Championships

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The U.S. team for the world swimming championships will be determined this week, and it’s going to include some new faces.

Absent are the retired Michael Phelps and Maya DiRado, suspended Ryan Lochte and recovering Missy Franklin.

Katie Ledecky is the headliner, but there are of course many others who will emerge this week as medal favorites for Budapest next month.

The top two per individual event at the USA Swimming National Championships, part of the TeamUSA Summer Champions Series, presented by Comcast, are in line to make the world team. Plus extra swimmers in the 100m and 200m frees for relays.

MORE: Broadcast Schedule | Event Schedule/Results

Here are 10 swimmers to watch in Indianapolis from Tuesday through Saturday:

Mallory Comerford
No Olympic experience

The rising Louisville junior tied Katie Ledecky for the NCAA 200-yard freestyle title on March 17. Remember, Ledecky is undefeated in 15 individual finals at the Olympics, World Championships and Pan Pacific Championships. It was all the more surprising given Comerford, who is five months younger than Ledecky, was 12th and 13th in the 100m and 200m frees at the Olympic Trials. She enters nationals ranked Nos. 2 and 5 in the 100m and 200m freestyles, respectively.

Madisyn Cox
No Olympic experience

Cox is the best all-around female swimmer in the U.S. aside from Ledecky. She ranks second this year in both individual medleys and the 200m breaststroke. The former University of Texas standout is the direct beneficiary of Ledecky opting not to swim the 400m IM on Thursday, given Ledecky is fastest in the U.S. this year in that event. Cox was fourth in both IMs at the Olympic Trials.

Lilly King
Olympic 100m breast champion

Best known for finger-wagging Yuliya Efimova and then beating the Russian in Rio. King actually ranks No. 2 — in the U.S. — this year in the 100m breast behind Rio bronze medalist Katie Meili. Meili has also been 2.72 seconds faster than King this year in the 200m breast, an event King is trying to improve after being eliminated in the Olympic semifinals.

Katie Ledecky
Five-time Olympic champion

It would be shocking if Ledecky does not win the 200m, 400m, 800m and (if she races it) 1500m frees this week. The intrigue comes in the 100m free, which Ledecky did not contest at this meet four years ago. She lowered her 100m free personal best from 56.00 to 53.75 in the last four years and enters Tuesday’s event ranked No. 5 in the U.S. this year (same as her ranking last year). No doubt Ledecky has the talent to make the 4x100m free relay at worlds (as she did at the Olympics), but could she make the 100m free team outright by finishing top two?

Simone Manuel
Four-time Rio Olympic medalist

Manuel is comfortably the fastest U.S. woman this year in the 50m and 100m frees, where she earned silver and gold in Rio. She’s also ranked No. 4 in the 200m free, and only .18 behind No. 2, after handing Ledecky two defeats in the NCAA 200-yard free this past season.

Michael Andrew
No Olympic experience

Andrew, who turned professional at age 14 in 2013, is entered in nine events this week. No way he swims them all, but could this be the year Andrew fulfills promise and makes his first major international meet? He ranks fourth in the 50m free and third in the 200m individual medley nationally this year but has been best known in recent years for his breaststroke. His best Olympic Trials finish was fourth in the 100m breast.

Caeleb Dressel
Olympic 4x100m free relay champion

Dressel memorably delievered under pressure in Rio, setting a personal best in his first Olympic swim leading off the 4x100m free relay final. Dressel went even faster in his three 100m free swims, placing sixth overall. At age 20, Dressel already holds NCAA records in the 50- and 100-yard frees, plus the 100-yard butterfly. Is he ready to overtake Nathan Adrian as the top U.S. sprinter?

Anthony Ervin
Two-time Olympic 50m free champion

At 36, Ervin is the oldest swimmer at nationals by three years. He defied age most recently in Rio, becoming the oldest individual Olympic swimming champion in winning the 50m freestyle a whopping 16 years after sharing gold in the event in Sydney. Ervin hasn’t shown that kind of form this year. He ranks No. 16 in the U.S. in the 50m free.

Chase Kalisz
Olympic 400m IM silver medalist

No U.S. male swimmer has been more impressive this season than Kalisz. In a three-day span in May, he set personal bests in the 200m IM and the 200m breaststroke, swam the second-best 200m butterfly of his life and posted the then-fastest time in the world this year in the 400m IM. Kalisz is entered in three events this week and owns the fastest time in the U.S. this year in all of them — 200m and 400m IM and 200m butterfly.

Ryan Murphy
Three-time Rio Olympic champion

Murphy may have swept the backstrokes in Rio, but he is ranked second in the country this year in the 100m and 200m distances. London Olympic champion Matt Grevers has been faster in the 100m back. Rio Olympic teammate Jacob Pebley tops the 200m back. Still, it would be a shock to not see Murphy swimming both in Budapest, plus perhaps the 50m back.

MORE: King to be less vocal on Efimova topic this summer

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Tori Bowie does not want to double at world champs

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Add Tori Bowie to the list of sprinters not looking to double at the world championships in August.

Bowie won the 100m and finished third in the 200m at the USATF Outdoor Championships, part of the TeamUSA Summer Champions Series, presented by Comcast.

That put her on the U.S. team for worlds in London in both sprints.

But Bowie, who earned Rio 100m silver and 200m bronze, was exhausted after four days of racing in Sacramento heat that eclipsed 110 degrees.

“I for sure don’t want to do the double [at worlds],” Bowie said Sunday. “I just wanted to give myself an option [to race the 100m or the 200m].”

Bowie said she and her coaches will probably decide her racing schedule for worlds in the next two to three weeks.

“More than anything I wanted to try to get this 100m right and try to achieve a gold medal somewhere,” Bowie said, according to TeamUSA.org. “I don’t have a gold medal yet individually, so that’s my main concern right now.”

If Bowie drops the 100m, Olympian Morolake Akinosun is in line to take her spot. If she drops the 200m, it’s Ariana Washington.

“I already experienced that, I did the double in Rio,” Bowie said. “I collected my two medals that I wanted to collect in both events. Right now, I’m satisfied.”

Deajah Stevens and Christian Coleman also made the U.S. team in both the 100m and 200m and are expected to compete in both events.

Meanwhile, both Olympic 200m champions — Usain Bolt and Elaine Thompson — are expected to sit out the 200m in London to focus on the 100m.

World 200m silver medalist Justin Gatlin, 2012 Olympic 200m champion Allyson Felix and LaShawn Merritt all pulled out of the 200m at USATF Outdoors, ruling out world championships doubles.

Gatlin doubled in 2015. Felix doubled in 2011 (200m and 400m) and tried to for Rio but finished fourth in the 200m at the Olympic Trials. Merritt raced the 200m and 400m in Rio.

Both Olympic 400m champions — Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa and Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas — plan to also race the 200m at worlds.

MORE: Centrowitz recovers from ‘rock bottom’ to make world team

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