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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Paul Elvstrom, Olympic sailing legend, dies at 88

ESTORIL, PORTUGAL - NOVEMBER 5:   Paul Elvstrom of Denmark is inducted during the launch of the ISAF Sailing Hall of Fame  on November 5, 2007 at the Estoril Casino in Estoril, Portugal.  (Photo by John Gichigi/Getty Images)
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Danish sailor Paul Elvstrom, the first Olympian to win individual gold medals at four Games, has died at age 88, according to the Denmark sailing federation.

Elvstrom won firefly gold at London 1948, then gold in a slightly different event, the finn, at Helsinki 1952, Melbourne 1956 and Rome 1960.

Since, five Olympians have won individual gold medals at four Games — Al Oerter (discus), Carl Lewis (long jump), Ben Ainslie (sailing), Michael Phelps (swimming) and Kaori Icho (wrestling).

Elvstrom also competed in the 1968, 1972, 1984 and 1988 Olympics, completing a 40-year span of Olympic competition at age 60 in Seoul.

His daughter, Trine, crewed for him in 1984 and 1988, making them the only father-daughter combination to compete together at an Olympics.

He was named Denmark’s greatest male athlete of the 20th century.

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Nathan Chen, once the darling boy of U.S. figure skating, is now a leading man

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In January 2010, a 10-year-old Nathan Chen skated off the ice at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships exhibition gala to a standing ovation.

Chen had rocked his performance to “Peter and the Wolf,” wearing a bright red outfit with blue pants, looking like a Toy Soldier. At 4 feet, 5 inches, he was slightly taller than the rink boards.

Chen had earned a spot in the exhibition with Vancouver Olympians by winning the U.S. novice title six days earlier. The youngest of five siblings had started skating at age 3 in his hometown of Salt Lake City, at a 2002 Olympic practice rink, and also trained ballet and played hockey.

“We’ll be seeing a lot more of this young man, that’s for sure,” 1984 Olympic champion Scott Hamilton said on the NBC broadcast from Spokane, Wash., six years ago.

Sandra Bezic, a longtime Canadian choreographer and commentator, remarked on the show that Chen wouldn’t be age eligible for the Olympics until 2018.

“Remember that name,” Bezic said.

Chen, now 17 years old, has become the name in U.S. men’s figure skating going into this week’s Grand Prix Final in Marseille, France. He qualified into the six-man event as the world’s fifth-best skater in the fall Grand Prix series, best by an American in five years.

“I’m trying to place myself among the top,” Chen said by phone before flying to Marseille. “I’m glad I have the opportunity.”

Chen was confined to a hospital bed for a week 10 months ago and off the ice for months.

On Jan. 24, he aggravated a left hip injury 15 seconds into his U.S. Championships exhibition gala skate — the same event where he melted hearts in Spokane six years earlier — and had to be wheeled away from the Xcel Energy Center rink in St. Paul, Minn.

Chen was taken to the emergency room, underwent X-Rays and was told he needed surgery. He wouldn’t be able to compete again that winter or spring.

“That was kind of devastating,” said Chen, who had an avulsion injury, meaning a piece of bone tore away from the main part of the bone, not uncommon for a growth-spurting teenager. “I was thinking, how am I going to get back on the ice as fast as possible?”

Hours before the exhibition, Chen had won the U.S. bronze medal and qualified for the world championships team. He landed two quadruple jumps in his short program and four in his free skate. Both firsts for an American.

Chen was the youngest man to make the top three at nationals in 43 years. He represented a shot in the arm for U.S. men’s skating in the middle of its longest international medal lull since the 1970s.

“I had distinctive sights on what I wanted to accomplish,” at nationals, Chen said. “I wanted to make the world team.”

Chen had come to St. Paul with a left hip injury but skated two electric, quad-filled programs without pain. Maybe it was the preventative physical therapy. Or adrenalin.

After his free skate, Chen went through drug testing and a change of costume for the exhibition.

Chen had no time to warm-up, was shivering and says now he really wasn’t ready to perform in the gala, but he doesn’t blame anybody for what happened.

“I just felt like it was something I had to do,” Chen said. “I always kind of use my exhibitions as a redemption to an extent, if things didn’t quite go the way I wanted to in competition.”

Chen, who had fallen on a triple Axel in his free skate, aborted his exhibition program after 15 seconds, botching his opening triple toe loop attempt in discomfort from the takeoff.

Chen pressed his left hip, grimaced and hobbled to the boards, which he was tall enough to lean over after growing a foot since 2010.

A wheelchair arrived, Chen eased into it and was pushed out of sight. He wouldn’t be seen in competition again until October.

It was hard to know what to expect out of Chen this fall, but he quickly put the injury behind him.

In his first event back, Chen attempted five quads in his free skate, one more than at nationals. He fell three times over two programs but still won a lower-level event in Finland over three-time world champion Patrick Chan of Canada.

He made his Grand Prix debut the next month, finishing fourth and second in France and Japan. In Japan, Chen posted the highest total score by an American under the decade-old judging system. He also had an epiphany practicing on the same ice as Yuzuru Hanyu.

“I was like, oh crap, this is the Olympic champion,” Chen said. “This is pretty sick.”

Chen’s season is even more remarkable considering he spent two months away from his California-based coach, Rafael Arutunian. It was Arutunian who helped develop Chen into a jumping phenom.

But Chen needed to improve his artistic skills, spins and footwork. He flew to Michigan and learned from choreographer Marina Zoueva, who guided the last two Olympic ice dancing champions. But he never forgot Arutunian’s training.

“I can hear him in my head,” said Chen, whose ability to land clean quads this season has been a coin flip. “I know what he would say to certain things when I make certain mistakes.”

Chen returned to Arutunian after NHK Trophy, training for two weeks ahead of the Grand Prix Final. He predicted he would have to combat nerves skating in Marseille, beginning Thursday, in the biggest event of his young career.

“I’m not completely satisfied with the way I’m skating lately,” Chen said.

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