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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Justin Gatlin, alter ego trailed by film crew for documentary

Justin Gatlin
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Justin Gatlin swears he’s not as bad as he’s made out to be.

He calls his alter ego “J Gat.” And that’s someone you don’t want to mess with.

Before a race, the mild-mannered American sprinter says he transforms himself into the feisty guy named “J Gat,” a nickname he’s given to a version of himself that wants to take over the world from archrival Usain Bolt. Their rivalry heading into the Rio de Janeiro Olympics has sometimes been portrayed as “Good vs. Evil” given Gatlin’s doping history.

“I don’t accept myself being the bad guy,” Gatlin said. “I’m a winner. I’m a competitor. I’m a brave person. I’m a good person. I know this about myself and I have to act like that.”

“J Gat” to the rescue. He runs with fury and looks “mean and intimidating” when caught on camera after races.

That’s not the real Justin Gatlin.

“Justin has only gotten as far as starting line. After the gun goes off, it’s never Justin. It’s always as ‘J Gat,'” Gatlin said. “I’m a whole different person away from track.”

To illustrate that, Gatlin is making a documentary. The 34-year-old will have a film crew trailing him around at the Prefontaine Classic this weekend in Eugene, Ore., to record his every move.

One caveat: Stay out of the way of “J Gat.” You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry. (Case in point: gesturing toward a heckler who was bothering his mother in the stands during the awards ceremony at Worlds last summer).

“A lot of athletes get consumed by the Hollywood lights,” said Gatlin, who will face a 100m field at Pre that includes Americans Tyson Gay and Mike Rodgers, along with Asafa Powell of Jamaica. “I’m like, ‘We can make this story, but I have to still do my job. We have to coexist together. I can’t give you my undivided attention and go off and start losing races.'”

There’s no working title yet for the film or date when it will air. And no subject is out of bounds, including his doping past. The 2004 Olympic 100m gold medalist tested positive for excessive testosterone in 2006, was reinstated from his ban on July 24, 2010, and returned to capture bronze at the London Games two years later.

He’s been one of Bolt’s biggest threats ever since.

“The theme of (the movie) is basically my journey,” Gatlin said.

Gatlin recently showed the roughly 90-second trailer to his 6-year-old son, whose first words were: “Play it again, dad.”

“That was the cutest thing ever,” Gatlin said. “He’s like, ‘I have to be faster than a cheetah to keep up with you, dad.’ That makes me proud.”

The trailer shows flashes of Gatlin stretching, lifting weights and sprinting. In one scene, he said: “If I could do this forever, I would. I love the pain I get from training. I know that it’s a pain of growth. Inside, I’m infinity.”

Gatlin said he’ll race at least through the 2020 Tokyo Olympics so his son could be there.

“I’d like to give that to him as a gift,” Gatlin said. “Even if I don’t win in 2020, just to be able to be on the team.”

Gatlin’s times in the 100 have been slower this season, running 9.94 seconds so far compared with 9.74 this time a year ago.

All by design.

He’s treating the early season races more like rounds so he can work on his form. Gatlin believes he has the speed to keep up with Bolt, but needs to execute his style of race.

That didn’t happen in Beijing at the World Championships last summer. Gatlin was a slight favorite in the 100m given that Bolt wasn’t exactly race sharp. Gatlin was neck-and-neck with the Jamaican, but over-strided with about 15 meters left. Gatlin went into his lean too early, paving the way for Bolt to capture gold yet again.

“It’s all a process,” Gatlin said. “Sometimes, processes are rewarding and sometimes processes are painful.”

Before a 100m showdown with Bolt can occur in Rio de Janeiro, Gatlin has to make Team USA at the Olympic Trials in July. It’s not an easy task with sprinters such as Gay, Rodgers, Trayvon Bromell and Gatlin contending for three spots. Gatlin also will try to earn a place in the 200m.

To assist him, he will summon “J Gat.”

“Very rarely will you find an athlete that calls me Justin,” Gatlin said. “It’s always ‘J Gat.’ Justin has never run a race.”

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Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas headline Secret Classic; Maggie Nichols out

Maggie Nichols
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World all-around champion Simone Biles and Olympic all-around champion Gabby Douglas are expected to compete at the Secret U.S. Classic on June 4, while World Championships teammate Maggie Nichols remains out after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery several weeks ago.

USA Gymnastics announced the field Thursday for the tune-up meet for the P&G Championships later in June and U.S. Olympic Trials in July.

Nichols is the only member of the seven-woman World Championships team who isn’t scheduled to compete at the Secret Classic in Hartford, Conn.

She is expected to be ready for the P&G Championships in St. Louis from June 23-26, an official from her gym and USA Gymnastics said Thursday.

In early April, U.S. national team coordinator Martha Karolyi said Nichols was expected to be out four to six weeks, putting her in line to be ready in late May. Participation in the Secret Classic is not mandatory to be eligible for the Olympic team.

Nichols suffered the injury, a meniscus tear, on an Amanar vault landing in training, according to multiple reports.

The five-woman U.S. Olympic team will be named after the trials from July 8-10. The all-around champion at trials will clinch one of those five berths.

Nichols, an 18-year-old from Little Canada, Minn., is a favorite to make the Olympic team if healthy.

She was the only U.S. gymnast who competed in all four events in the World Championships team final Oct. 27. She earned a floor exercise bronze medal five days later.

Nichols opened her Olympic year by finishing second in the AT&T American Cup all-around behind Gabby Douglas on March 5.

Nichols was on the roster to compete at the Pacific Rim Championships from April 8-10 but was removed before the meet due to a slight knee injury, USA Gymnastics said.

She previously dislocated her left kneecap in summer 2014.

The men’s P&G Championships will also be held in Hartford, Conn., next week, with every major U.S. Olympic hopeful in the expected field. That includes London Olympians Danell LeyvaJohn OrozcoSam Mikulak and Jacob Dalton.

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