Shani Davis

U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials preview

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Up to 20 more athletes will qualify for Sochi at the U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials in Salt Lake City over the next week.

The U.S. has won more medals in speed skating than any other Winter Olympic sport, and it is projected to add to that total of 67 in Sochi.

Shani Davis is a four-time Olympic medalist and entered in both of his Olympic medal events this week — the 1000m (Sunday) and 1500m (Tuesday) — and the 500m (Saturday).

Davis, 31. is not entered in the 5000m, an event he competed in at the 2010 Olympics. This is not surprising as Davis has pared his schedule in recent seasons as he’s fought injury.

World sprint champion Heather Richardson and world record holder Brittany Bowe are expected to be the top U.S. women in the 500m, 1000m and 1500m. They are Sochi Olympic medal threats along with Davis.

Here’s the Olympic Trials schedule (all times Eastern):

Friday — Men’s 5000m/Women’s 3000m, 5:30 p.m. (NBCSN,  8 p.m.)
Saturday — Men’s/Women’s 500m, 11:30 a.m. (NBC, 3 p.m.)
Sunday — Men’s/Women’s 1000m, 1:30 p.m. (NBC, 3 p.m.)
Tuesday — Men’s/Women’s 1500m, 5 p.m. (NBCSN, 6 p.m.)
Wednesday — Men’s 10,000m/Women’s 5000m, 3:30 p.m. (NBCSN, 5 p.m.)

The U.S. cannot send more than 10 men and 10 women to the Sochi Olympics, even though it qualified more than 10 quota spots across all distances via World Cup results.

Therefore, it will help if Davis, Richardson, Bowe and others qualify for the team in multiple events.

The U.S. could have up to four Olympic entries each in the men’s and women’s 500m and 1000m and the men’s 1500m. It could have up to three in the women’s 1500m and men’s 5000m. It could have up to two in the women’s 3000m and one in the women’s 5000m and men’s 10,000m.

Here’s an event-by-event preview of the U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials:

Men’s 500m
Maximum Olympic entries: Four
Contenders: Tucker Fredricks, Mitchell Whitmore, Joey Mantia, Jonathan Garcia, Shani Davis

Fredricks, 29, is a two-time Olympian, but his best results have not come at the Games (25th and 12th). At his best, he has threatened the best in the world.

In a surprise, Fredricks began the World Cup season as the fastest man in Calgary, Alberta, in early November. He hasn’t made the podium since but appears to still be the top American.

Whitmore, 24 and the American record holder, has finished no lower than 15th over eight World Cup races this season. He is a solid No. 2 behind Fredricks and should make his second Olympic team after finishing 37th in Vancouver.

Mantia and Garcia were third and fourth to Fredricks and Whitmore at time trials at the Salt Lake City oval last week.

source: Getty Images
Brittany Bowe could make the U.S. Olympic Team in three individual distances. (Getty Images)

Women’s 500m
Maximum Olympic entries: Four
Contenders: Heather Richardson, Brittany Bowe, Elli Ochowicz, Sugar Todd, Lauren Cholewinski

Richardson, the former inline skater from High Point, N.C., has been the fastest American woman each of the last five seasons. She was sixth at the 2010 Olympics, won the World Sprint Championship in January and made the podium in three of eight World Cup races this season.

Bowe, the former college basketball player, has gained on Richardson since taking up speed skating after watching Richardson on TV at the 2010 Olympics. She has yet to make a World Cup 500m podium but hasn’t finished lower than 11th in eight races this season.

Ochowicz, 30, is the daughter of three-time 1976 Olympic speed skating medalist Sheila Young and Jim Ochowicz, who manages the BMC Pro Cycling Racing Team. She is trying to make her fourth Olympic team. Her best Olympic finish is 17th.

Todd and Cholewinski were fourth and fifth behind Richardson, Bowe and Ochowicz at time trials in Salt Lake City last week.

Men’s 1000m
Maximum Olympic entries: Four
Contenders: Shani Davis, Brian Hansen, Joey Mantia, Trevor Marsicano, Jonathan Garcia, Mitchell Whitmore

Davis, 31, is the two-time reigning Olympic 1000m champion and the favorite to win Sunday.

Hansen, 23, is also a Sochi medal threat after winning bronze at the first two World Cups of the season. He skipped the last two World Cups overseas to focus on training in Wisconsin.

Mantia, 27, won a bevy of world inline titles in 2009 and 2010 and has been on a stellar rise since switching to ice, especially this season. In his first four World Cup 1000m races, he finished 11th, 11th and second in three B division races for lower-ranked skaters. He moved up to the A division for the last World Cup in Berlin and took sixth, the top American behind Davis.

Marsicano, 24, held the 1000m world record for about 20 minutes in March 2009 before Davis retook it at the same competition. He’s struggled with injuries since winning four medals at the 2009 World Championships and is in a fight to make his second Olympic team.

Garcia and Whitmore were the fastest men at time trials in Salt Lake City last week, but that event didn’t include Davis, Hansen or Marsicano and Mantia did not finish.

The comeback story of the U.S. Olympic Trials

Women’s 1000m
Maximum Olympic entries: Four
Contenders: Heather Richardson, Brittany Bowe, Sugar Todd, Elli Ochowicz, Lauren Cholewinski, Rebekah Bradford

Richardson and Bowe should go one-two in this event, in either order, after taking gold and silver together at three of four World Cups. Richardson won three of those races and took second in the other with the second fastest time ever.

Bowe broke Olympic champion Christine Nesbitt‘s world record in Salt Lake City on Nov. 17 to relegate Richardson to silver. She’s been second to Richardson in the 1000m World Cup standings each of the last two seasons.

The fight for third and fourth is among 500m hopefuls Todd, Ochowicz and Cholewinski as well as 2010 Olympian Bradford.

source: AP
Joey Mantia is looking to make his first Olympic team. (AP)

Men’s 1500m
Maximum Olympic entries: Four
Contenders: Shani Davis, Joey Mantia, Brian Hansen, Trevor Marsicano, Jonathan Kuck

Davis is the two-time reigning Olympic 1500m silver medalist. He could get competition from Mantia, who won the last World Cup event in the second A division start of his career on Dec. 6 (Davis was eighth).

Hansen has won World Cup 1500m medals each of the last two seasons. Marsicano and Kuck appear to be fighting for fourth, though Kuck is better in longer distances.

Women’s 1500m
Maximum Olympic entries: Three
Contenders: Brittany Bowe, Heather Richardson, Jilleanne Rookard

Bowe, faster than Richardson here, made two of four World Cup podiums this season. Richardson made her first career World Cup 1500m podium in Salt Lake City on Nov. 16, putting her in the Sochi medal mix.

Rookard, a 2010 Olympian, leads a group racing for third.

Women’s 3000m
Maximum Olympic entries: Two
Contenders: Jilleanne Rookard, Maria Lamb, Petra Acker, Anna Ringsred

As the distances get longer, the U.S. Olympic medal prospects get dimmer. No U.S. woman has finished in the top 10 of a World Cup 3000m the last three seasons.

Rookard, 12th at the 2010 Olympics, was the last to make a World Cup 3000m podium, winning an event in November 2010.

The 2010 Olympian Lamb is stronger in the 5000m. Acker and Ringsred are trying to make their first Olympic teams.

Men’s 5000m
Maximum Olympic entries: Three
Contenders: Jonathan Kuck, Brian Hansen, Emery Lehman, Patrick Meek

Kuck made the 2010 U.S. Olympic Team at 19 and went on to win silver one month later at the World Allround Championships, an event that measures skaters across all distances. Kuck is best at the 5000m and 10,000m and a clear favorite to win both events this week.

Hansen sparingly races the 5000m internationally. Lehman, 17, could become the youngest male member of the entire U.S. Olympic Team.

Women’s 5000m
Maximum Olympic entries: One
Contenders: Maria Lamb, Jilleanne Rookard

The single spot is likely to come down to the two women who competed in the 2010 Olympic 5000m. Rookard was eighth at the Olympics, seven spots ahead of Lamb, but the younger Lamb was three seconds faster than Rookard at the only World Cup 5000m this season.

Men’s 10,000m
Maximum Olympic entries: One
Contenders: Jonathan Kuck, Emery Lehman, Patrick Meek

No American has been within 10 seconds of Kuck in any of the last three seasons. The single spot should be his if he wants it.

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Pressure on Ashley Wagner at world championships

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Ashley Wagner‘s four-year plan has her peaking in 2018, not at the 2017 World Championships, but many call Wagner to carry the U.S. women at worlds in Helsinki next week.

“Next year is the year that I am, like, in it to kill,” she said. “This year is maintaining. This year is my chance to work out all of the kinks, figure out where I want to be mentally going into next year.”

Wagner, the 2016 World silver medalist, is the only skater of three American women on this year’s worlds team with prior worlds experience. She is the only one ranked higher than 20th in the world this season.

Normally, figure skating is an individual sport. But next week, the top two U.S. women’s results must add up to no greater than 13 (Wagner places third, and either U.S. champion Karen Chen or U.S. bronze medalist Mariah Bell places 10th or better, for example).

If not, the U.S. will have two rather than the maximum three women’s entries at the PyeongChang Olympics. The U.S. had three spots at four of the last five Olympics.

Anything less than three in 2018 would mean the U.S. is not keeping up with world power Russia and maybe even Canada and Japan. And it becomes that much harder for Wagner and everyone else to make the Olympic team.

“I know that I have a huge role in these three spots at these world championships,” Wagner said. “I need to set this team up as good as I possibly can, so that way the pressure’s off the other girls.”

The others are the 17-year-old Chen, the surprise winner at the U.S. Championships in January, who then placed 12th at February’s Four Continents Championships, an event that doesn’t include Europeans. Chen said she suffered from nerves, a flu and foot pain caused by broken boots at Four Continents.

And Bell, who took silver at October’s Skate America behind training partner Wagner. Bell, 20, finished sixth at Four Continents at the 2018 Olympic venue in South Korea, where she competed with an amount of pressure she had never before felt.

Of skaters entered at worlds, Bell has the 10th-best total score this season. The skater with the 12th-best total in the worlds field is more than nine points shy of Bell. Chen comes in seeded 16th.

“The tough thing about this worlds is that we have two rookies going into a very stressful event,” Wagner said. “So these two girls are in a really tough position, and I really feel for them. It’s kind of like you have to buckle up and deal with this, and that’s like your only option.”

There is reason for optimism, should Wagner put up something close to the performance of her life from last year’s worlds, where she became the first U.S. women’s medalist in a decade.

“Success in Finland is getting onto that podium,” Wagner said.

But Wagner is nearing the end of her (so far) least impressive season in probably six years. She is seeded eighth at worlds by this season’s top international scores.

She failed to qualify for December’s Grand Prix Final for the first time since 2011. She was beaten at nationals despite longtime rival Gracie Gold underperforming.

However, Wagner’s goal at nationals wasn’t to win, but to finish in the top three to make the worlds team. She called the runner-up result “perfect.” She focused the last two months on firming up the areas where she lost points.

“Even though to some on the outside looking in, it wouldn’t look like it was the most successful season for me,” Wagner said. “I think at the end of the day this season has been exactly what I needed it to be.”

The favorite in Helsinki is clearly Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva, who hasn’t lost since November 2015 and can become the first repeat world champion since Michelle Kwan in 2001.

Wagner said she hasn’t watched any of Medvedeva’s programs this season.

“The only thing that I know about is her long program music is not my favorite piece of music,” Wagner said, alluding to Medvedeva’s choice of sound from “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” a 2011 film relating to the 9/11 attacks. The music includes, at one point, the voice of George W. Bush declaring that two airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center.

But Wagner was effusive of Medvedeva, the latest in a string of Russian Olympic and world champions dating to the Sochi Olympics.

“She is a set bar that everybody is chasing after, and I think in years past that bar was always changing,” Wagner said. “Now it’s one set thing I know exactly the quality of skating I have to reach, I know exactly the technical program that I have to be able to accomplish.”

Wagner, a seasoned 25 years old, noted a key point this week. She is the only active women’s skater in her class, with her length of experience, who hasn’t taken a break.

Italian Carolina Kostner is 30, but she’s competing at worlds for the first time since 2014, following two seasons off. Japan’s three-time world champion Mao Asada is 26, but she took a season off after Sochi and this year failed to make the worlds team.

Wagner reflected on her world silver medal and her three national championships. She knows they mean nothing next week.

“I have to prove myself all over again,” she said.

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NBC Sports researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.

More Russians retroactively disqualified from 2012 Olympics

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MOSCOW (AP) — Three Russian athletes have been disqualified from the 2012 Olympics after failing doping retests, the country’s track and field federation said.

Hammer throwers Maria Bespalova and Gulfiya Khanafeeva and triple jumper Viktoria Valyukevich were all disqualified. None were medalists.

The disqualifications of Bespalova and Khanafeeva mean all three Russian women who competed in the hammer throw in 2012 have tested positive for doping. Tatyana Lysenko was the original winner, but was stripped of her gold medal in October.

Valyukevich, a former European indoor champion, was eighth in the triple jump at the 2012 Olympics and finished two places ahead of Russian teammate Tatyana Lebedeva, who has been stripped of two medals from the 2008 Beijing Games for doping.

In Tuesday’s statement, Russian officials didn’t say which substances were involved. The International Olympic Committee had no immediate comment.

It is the third time Khanafeeva, who won European championship silver in 2005, has been found guilty of a doping offense. She previously served bans in 2002 for a positive test and in 2008 for providing someone else’s urine in a drug test sample.

Bespalova is currently serving a four-year ban after testing positive for a banned steroid in 2015.

Since the IOC started retesting samples from the 2008 and 2012 Games last year, more than 30 Russians in various sports have tested positive. That makes them the largest group out of more than 100 positive tests. Seven more Russians have been disqualified for other doping offenses.

Russia has lost 26 Olympic medals as a result, most of them in track and field. Many of the cases involve turinabol, a substance which former Moscow anti-doping laboratory director Grigory Rodchenkov has admitted supplying to athletes in a steroid cocktail.

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