Julia Mancuso

U.S. Ski Team depth on display in Beaver Creek, Lake Louise

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Lindsey Vonn may be on the mend, but several other U.S. Olympic medal contenders are among the skiers in action at (mostly) speed events the next two weeks.

The men’s and women’s World Cup tours make their only North American stops this weekend and again from Dec. 6-8 at Beaver Creek, Colo., and Lake Louise, Alberta.

The women race at Beaver Creek this weekend (downhill Friday, super-G Saturday, giant slalom Sunday) and the men at Lake Louise (downhill Saturday, super-G Sunday).

They flip next weekend, the men at Beaver Creek and the women at Lake Louise.

Here’s the TV schedule for the women at Beaver Creek this weekend:

Friday: Downhill, 12:30-2 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Saturday: Super-G, 12:30-2 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Sunday: Giant Slalom, 2:30-4 p.m. ET, NBC

They will also be streamed on NBC Live Extra. Universal Sports will have coverage of the men in Lake Louise.

Here are storylines to watch the next two weekends:

1. American women’s depth in speed events

The U.S. will likely have a dilemma come Sochi, with or without Vonn. Americans took up six of the top 16 spots in the World Cup downhill standings last season. A nation may enter no more than four skiers in a given Olympic event.

That’s what makes every World Cup downhill race over the next two months (and Olympic training runs in Sochi) so important. Two women with World Cup podium credentials will not ski the Sochi Olympic downhill.

World Cup results and form will largely determine the makeup of the U.S. Olympic Team, but the U.S. can bring more than four skiers to Sochi and then decide who starts after training runs.

Here are the contenders:

Lindsey Vonn — 2010 Olympic champion out with a partially torn ACL who returned to skiing Thursday and may compete in Lake Louise.
Julia Mancuso — 2010 Olympic silver medalist, who is a stronger contender in the super-G.
Stacey Cook — Fourth in World Cup downhill standings last season; fastest training run at Beaver Creek on Wednesday.
Alice McKennis — Won a World Cup downhill in Austria in January, broke right leg in February; not ready to compete yet.
Leanne Smith — Made two World Cup downhill podiums last season.
Laurenne Ross — Made one World Cup downhill podium last season.

Mancuso, Cook, Smith and Ross are slated for the Beaver Creek downhill on Friday, and it would seem the super-G on Saturday. Next week, there are two downhills and one super-G in Lake Louise.

If three or fewer American women earn top-three finishes in any World Cup race, they qualify for the Olympics. If four earn top-three finishes, tiebreakers enter the equation.

Regardless, there is room for discretionary selections, which opens the door for Vonn or McKennis to be placed on the Olympic Team even if they don’t race any World Cups.

“One of the best traits of our team is everyone has the understanding that if you get beat out for that spot, it’s not somebody else’s fault,” Cook said, according to The Associated Press. “It’s probably something you did or your own fault in some way. There’s not a lot of the blame game that you might see typically.”

The Americans will go up against international favorites German Maria Hoefl-Riesch, Slovenian Tina Maze and Swiss Lara Gut in Beaver Creek.

source: AP2. The return of Bode Miller

The five-time Olympic medalist is set for his first World Cup speed races since February 2012 in Lake Louise this weekend.

Miller, 36, missed all of last season after knee surgery. He opened this season with a 19th-place in a giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, but the downhill is his best event.

Lake Louise will provide a better look at how much rust Miller has worked off and how he stacks up to the world’s best, including Norwegian Aksel Lund Svindal.

Another American, Ted Ligety, has said he will not race the downhill in Sochi. In February, Ligety became the first man to win three gold medals at a World Championships in 45 years.

Ligety also said he values the World Cup overall title over an Olympic gold medal. He’s already won an Olympic gold (2006 combined) but has never taken the World Cup overall. That in mind, expect Ligety to ski the super-G in Lake Louise in Sunday.

3. Mikaela Shiffrin in giant slalom

Ski fans are well area of the Vail teen’s strength in slalom, but she focused on giant slalom training in the offseason to become a multiple-medal threat in Sochi.

Shiffrin, who won the first slalom of the season in Levi, Finland, on Nov. 16, also placed a career-best sixth in the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden on Oct. 26.

She’s expected to compete in the giant slalom in Beaver Creek on Sunday, her only race over the next two weeks. Shiffrin posted the Instagram photo below of super-G skis last week, but the U.S. Ski Team said she’s only competing in giant slalom.

You can't really tell from here.. But those are SG skis!:) and my awesome tech making me super fast! @atomicski #weareskiing

A photo posted by Mikaela Shiffrin (@mikaelashiffrin) on

You have to wonder how long Shiffrin waits before giving speed events a shot, and if her results in giant slaloms will determine when she decides to try a super-G, downhill or combined.

Shiffrin strapped on downhill skis for the first time in her life in April and owns one downhill start to her name, at the Russian National Championships in February, according to the International Ski Federation.

Video: Lindsey Vonn talks crash, comeback on TODAY

Gary Bettman not bullish about NHL participation in 2018 Olympics

Gary Bettman
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PITTSBURGH (AP) — The NHL remains open to continuing to send its players to the Olympics, just so long as it doesn’t have foot the bill.

“Our teams are not interested in paying for the privilege” of Olympic participation, Commissioner Gary Bettman said Monday before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks.

NHL players have been a fixture at the Olympics since the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, thanks in large part to significant financial support from the International Olympic Committee and the International Ice Hockey Federation, which have handled most of the travel costs, accommodations and insurance for league owners.

Bettman pointed to IOC President Thomas Bach‘s stated resistance to providing subsidies for any sport as a major stumbling block to having the league stop in the middle of the 2017-18 season so over 100 players can head to Pyeongchang, South Korea for the 2018 Winter Games.

Bettman said if the issue remains unresolved “I have no doubt it will have significant impact on our decision.” He described the potential cost as “many, many millions of dollars. This is no small-ticket item.”

The Olympics has helped the NHL expand its global footprint while providing a series of iconic moments, including Sidney Crosby‘s golden goal on home soil in the 2010 final and T.J. Oshie‘s shootout performance while leading the U.S. to a victory over host Russia in Sochi two years ago.

Yet with the NHL-backed World Cup of Hockey coming to North America this fall, the league may no longer need the Olympics as much as it once did. Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly declined to speculate whether the World Cup would become a more frequent event if the NHL pulled out of the Winter Games.

“The World Cup is not going to be an isolated event, it’s something we’re committed to,” Daly said. “It’s part of a series we want to do, events we want to create that adds to international presence of NHL.”

The biggest issue concerns insurance premiums required to cover NHL players during Olympic competition. Owners want protection should one of their players get hurt during the games, an injury that could have both short- and long-term ramifications on the team and the player’s future. With salaries skyrocketing, providing coverage for 150-plus NHL players is a major financial commitment, one the IOC and IIHF appear to be in no rush to cover.

There remain other issues the league would have to work out with the NHL Players’ Association, and Bettman said there have been no “substantive” talks with the union about 2018, though if the financial specifics with the IOC and IIHF aren’t worked out, it probably won’t matter.

“It almost becomes an easy showstopper, and you don’t have to get into the other discussions,” said Bettman, who expects there to be some sort of final decision by December.

MORE: 2018 Olympic hockey groups announced

IPC president: Now is the right time to have Paralympics in Brazil

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International Paralympic Committee president Philip Craven said the upcoming Paralympic Games, which open in 100 days, could not be going to a better city than Rio de Janeiro.

“Many people might think that it’s not the time to go there now with the economic and political problems,” Craven said in a phone interview last week. “But is that not just the right time to be going, to just show what sport can truly do to mobilize and galvanize a people?”

And the Zika virus?

“We believe that the measures that have been communicated on a regular basis, reiterated to our member nations, will be effective, and the Zika virus will not have a major effect on the Games,” Craven said.

The Paralympics will visit South America for the first time in their 15th edition. The Rio Games, which run from Sept. 7-18, will have more broadcast coverage than ever and an expected record number of athletes and nations in the largest number of sports on a single Paralympic program.

NBC and NBCSN will air a record 66 hours of coverage of the Games. The USOC will provide live coverage at TeamUSA.org, too.

How the Paralympics will deal with the well-known issues facing Brazil will be largely impacted by how the preceding Olympics handle them.

But one issue unique to the Paralympics came to light four weeks ago.

A British Paralympic champion swimmer was disqualified from a European Championships event because his Olympic rings tattoo was not covered (he later competed at the meet with the tattoo covered).

An International Paralympic Committee swimming rule states, “body advertisements are not allowed in any way whatsoever (this includes tattoos and symbols).”

The rule will cover all sports at the Rio Paralympics. Craven said he has not heard of any appeals by para-athletes to change the rule.

The IPC will take a “common-sense approach” to enforcing the rule in Rio to make sure there are no disqualifications by communicating thoroughly to national committees, Craven said.

“IPC has got very strict rules for the Paralympic Games and for other events prohibiting body advertisements, and this includes tattoos for commercial brands and non-IPC symbols, such as the Olympic rings,” Craven said. “These rules were emphasized, re-emphasized to all competing teams and swimmers at that particular event, and, similarly, we’ll be doing so prior to the Games in Rio.”

Some Paralympians identify themselves as Olympians, too — some have event competed in both Games — but Craven made the difference clear.

The 65-year-old, five-time Paralympic wheelchair basketball player likened Olympic rings tattoos at the Paralympics to an NFL player with an NBA team tattoo.

Craven added that there has been no pressure from the IOC regarding the rule and that he would expect a hypothetical Paralympian competing at the Olympics to cover up a tattoo of the Agitos, which is the Paralympic logo.

“We want Paralympic athletes to show pride in promoting the Paralympic movement, including our symbol, which is the Agitos, which is very different from the Olympic rings,” Craven said. “When you have a Paralympic athlete, a para-athlete sporting a branding from another event, then it just creates confusion. It creates confusion for the IPC. It creates confusion for the IOC.”

MORE: Paralympic champ long jumper still hopes to be allowed into Olympics