Evgeni Plushenko

Yevgeny Plushenko may not be chosen for Sochi Olympics

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Russian Yevgeny Plushenko wants to skate only in the team event at the Sochi Olympics, but that may not be possible.

Plushenko plans to compete in the new Olympic team event and then cede a potential singles spot to a younger skater, he said after finishing second at the Russian National Championships on Christmas.

“I think I’ll choose the team event and will give the individual competition to a young and prospective athlete,” Plushenko said, according to R-Sport. “I understand everything adequately. It will be enough for me to take part in the team event.”

An official from Russia’s figure skating federation differed. Russia qualified one men’s skater for the Olympics out of the maximum possible three, and using different skaters for the team and individual events may not be possible.

“The final decision on who will be the main representative and who will be the reserve will be taken after the European Championships [Jan. 13-19],” federation general director Valentin Piseyev said, according to Agence France-Presse citing R-Sport.

Piseyev said Plushenko’s comments were spoken “out of emotion” and were not logical, according to the report.

Piseyev pointed out that the same skater must represent a nation in the team event and the later singles competition, unless the skater was injured from the team event.

“Not all the sportsmen know the precise rules,” Piseyev said.

This very issue was presented to the International Skating Union in an email last month when reports first surfaced that Plushenko might only want to do the team event.

An ISU communications coordinator responded, writing, “The ISU cannot comment on potential decisions that are the responsibility of the Russian NOC or the IOC,” and suggested contacting the IOC.

An email to the IOC on Thursday was not immediately returned.

Plushenko, 31, was expected to be Russia’s lone men’s Olympic singles entry if he wanted it despite finishing second at the Sochi Olympic venue Wednesday.

Plushenko is coming off a left knee injury that forced him to withdraw from a Grand Prix event in Moscow in November. Before that, he won a minor event in Riga, Latvia.

That was his first competition since withdrawing after the short program of the last season’s European Championships in January with a back injury.

The team event calls for short and long programs just as the men’s singles event does but with three days between the men’s programs as opposed to one day in men’s singles. Plushenko would be more likely to win a medal in the team event than in men’s singles if he competes in both.

At Russian Nationals, Plushenko was beaten by Maksim Kovtun, 18, giving up his lead after the short program. Plushenko scored 261.37 total points (free skate video here) to Kovtun’s 267.13 (free skate video here).

“I cannot call my skate a success,” Plushenko said, according to Agence France-Presse. “I need more practice so that my legs don’t die on me.”

Plushenko won Olympic silver in 2002, gold in 2006 and silver in 2010.

With one Sochi medal, he will become the second skater to win four Olympic medals. Swede Gillis Grafstrom won gold in 1920, 1924 and 1928 and silver in 1932.

Russia, Canada, Japan and the U.S. are expected to vie for medals in the team event, which starts the night before the Opening Ceremony.

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Mary Cain ‘back to basics’ after ‘disappointing year’

Mary Cain
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Mary Cain, who in 2013 became the youngest U.S. track and field athlete to make a World Championships team and turned pro at age 17 later that fall, is spending her run-up to next year and the 2016 Olympics home in New York rather than returning to Oregon where she went to college and trained last year.

In June, Cain finished eighth in the 1500m at the U.S. Championships, missing the top-four placement necessary to make the World Championships team.

“After a disappointing year, I knew that I needed a change,” Cain said in a blog post Tuesday. “For me, that meant returning home to New York (and its bagels) or where it all started. With 2016 being such an important year, it’s a blessing to be able to, as my mom says, ‘Go back to basics.'”

Cain, who was a freshman at the University of Portland last year, is still coached by three-time New York City Marathon champion Alberto Salazar with the aid of New Zealand 2004 Olympic 10,000m runner John Henwood, according to the blog.

“We’re trying to get [running] back to fun with her,” Henwood said, according to Runner’s World.

Cain moved from Bronxville, N.Y., to Portland after graduating high school last year, completing a decorated prep career filled with records and state and national titles. She trained with Salazar’s group, which includes Olympic 10,000m gold and silver medalists Mo Farah and Galen Rupp.

Cain won the World Junior Championships 3000m in 2014 and became the youngest woman to make a senior World Championships 1500m final in 2013, when she finished 10th.

“I always said the key to running well was keeping the sport fun,” Cain said in the blog post. “With the help of this great NY running community, I am happy to say that I have found that love again! I’m looking forward to a rewarding Indoor and Outdoor season.

“Thanks to everyone who has supported me through the ups and downs! I hope to make 2016 a year to remember!”

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Brazil’s best tennis player: ‘tough to dream’ of Rio Olympic medal

Thomaz Bellucci
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Thomaz Bellucci admits playing at a home Olympics brings at least some pressure.

“To well represent Brazil,” the Sao Paulo native clarified at the U.S. Open in New York last month. “It’s tough to dream about having a medal.”

The 27-year-old Bellucci is the only Brazilian tennis player, man or woman, ranked in the world top 50. He sits at No. 31, having this season reached his first ATP final since 2012 and winning it at the Geneva Open in Switzerland in May.

Brazil’s Olympic Committee set a target of 27 to 30 medals in Rio, after earning 17 at London 2012. The added glory likely won’t come from tennis, a sport in which a Brazilian has never stood on an Olympic podium.

“For the Olympics, I don’t feel too many pressure,” Bellucci said, “because even if I play in Brazil, I know there are many players more favored than me because [Roger] Federer‘s going to play, [Novak] Djokovic, all these guys have so much more pressure than me because they have more chance to have a medal.”

Olympic tennis gained greater significance on the busy tour calendars among top players with recent Games.

On the men’s side, every medalist from 2008 and 2012 had already reached at least one Grand Slam final in his career. That group of six included Federer (2012 silver), Djokovic (2008 bronze), Rafael Nadal (2008 gold) and Andy Murray (2012 gold).

But if Bellucci and the Brazilians look back, they can find unexpected, inspiring runs. In 1996, Brazil’s Fernando Meligeni came to the Atlanta Games ranked No. 95 in the world, having never made it past the fourth round of a Grand Slam.

The charismatic Meligeni, a lefty who sometimes played wearing his cap backwards, reached the final four in Stone Mountain, twice playing for a medal, and hitting a tweener on the penultimate point of his semifinal against Spain’s Sergi Bruguera.

He lost both medal-round matches, including the bronze match to Indian Leander Paes, who won the U.S. Open mixed doubles last month with another 1996 Olympic singles tennis player, Swiss Martina Hingis. Hingis is attempting to return to the Olympics next year for the first time since 1996.

In 2004, Chile’s Nicolas Massu won singles and doubles gold in Athens having never reached the fourth round of a Grand Slam in singles.

Bellucci debuted at the Olympics in 2008 and hasn’t won a single Games match. He rose from a No. 85 overall ranking in Beijing to No. 42 going into the London 2012 Olympics, where he forced then-Wimbledon semifinalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to three sets. Bellucci and partner Andre Sa were the only doubles pair to take a set off Americans Bob and Mike Bryan at London 2012.

“Beijing I was very surprised, because I was very young and had no idea,” Bellucci said. “In London, I had a very tough draw against Tsonga. Let’s see if I can have more luck in Brazil to have a better draw.”

Not even the great Gustavo Kuerten could sniff an Olympic medal. The three-time French Open champion — the only Brazilian man to win a Grand Slam — couldn’t do better than the quarterfinals in 2000 and 2004.

The analysis of Bellucci in the scope of Kuerten, who is of a similar tall, thin build, has silenced in recent years.

“They used to say that when I was young, when I was starting to play well,” said Bellucci, whose four ATP titles came on Kuerten’s favorite surface, clay, while the Rio Olympic tournament will be on hard courts. “They want to compare me and Guga [Kuerten], but anyway they are not comparing anymore because Guga is so much bigger than me.”

As much as Bellucci tries to keep expectations low, he urges that his sport is one of the most popular in Brazil.

“I think soccer, for sure, is No. 1 and then volleyball is second and then tennis, I think,” he said. “I think we have more people playing tennis than volleyball because I think all the ages can play tennis.”

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