Lindsey Van

U.S. Olympic Ski Jumping, Nordic Combined Trials preview

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They fought for a decade for Olympic inclusion. Now, women’s ski jumpers are set to vie for the sport’s first U.S. Olympic berth.

The U.S. Olympic Trials for ski jumping and Nordic combined will take place at 2002 Olympic venues in Park City, Utah, this weekend.

The winner of each event — three athletes total — will earn a nomination to the U.S. Olympic Team. The rest of the ski jumping and Nordic combined teams will be named by Jan. 22.

In all, the U.S. Olympic Team for ski jumping can include up to four women and four men and for Nordic combined can include up to five men. This is if International Ski Federation quotas hold through Jan. 19. Quotas are determined by countries’ results in international competitions.

Here’s the U.S. Olympic Trials schedule of events (all times Eastern):

Saturday
Nordic combined ski jump — 12:15-12:45 p.m.
Nordic combined 10K cross-country — 4-4:35 p.m.

Sunday
Ski jumping men’s and women’s jump one — 1:50-2:05 p.m. (LIVE on NBC)
Ski jumping men’s and women’s jump two — 2:36-2:52 p.m. (LIVE on NBC)

The NBC broadcast Sunday (1:30-3 p.m. ET) will include a Nordic combined recap.

Here’s an event-by-event preview:

Women’s Ski Jumping

Women’s ski jumping will no doubt be the focus of this weekend. The International Olympic Committee added women’s jumpers into the Olympics in 2011, paving the way for this first edition of U.S. Olympic Trials.

“This is such a historical season already with the first chance for women to jump in the Games,” U.S. jumper Jessica Jerome said, according to the U.S. Ski Team. “Now to be able to compete with the nation’s top field to earn our nomination to the team will turn one of our lifelong dreams into reality.”

Five women are essentially in the running for four spots in Sochi. Four of them are competing this weekend.

Reigning world champion Sarah Hendrickson remains out after tearing the ACL, MCL and meniscus in her right knee in an Aug. 21 crash. Hendrickson, 19, expects to return to jumping on snow in the second week of January, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, and compete in World Cup events later in the month.

Hendrickson is expected to be placed on the Olympic Team. The other three spots ought to come down to Jerome, Lindsey VanAbby Hughes and Alissa Johnson. Barring a shocking upset, one of them will wrap up the first berth Sunday.

“It’s really nerve-racking,” Hughes told KSL News in Salt Lake City. “We’ve never been in this situation before. It’s really intense, but it’s really exciting at the same time.”

Nordic combined

The U.S. Nordic combined team isn’t quite the Olympic medal threat it was in 2010, when it broke through with a team silver medal, one individual gold and two individual silvers.

No U.S. man has placed better than seventh in this season’s World Cup events. The U.S. did not reach the podium in the first two team events, either.

Expect the competition Saturday to come down to three men — brothers Bryan and Taylor Fletcher and 2010 Olympic champion Bill Demong.

The younger Taylor Fletcher made the 2010 U.S. Olympic Team at age 19, but Bryan did not. However, Taylor did not compete in the Vancouver team event. Thus, neither owns an Olympic medal.

Bryan was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at age 3, underwent chemotherapy for seven years and survived a stroke before it went into remission.

They are opposites in competition. Bryan is better at jumping. Taylor is stronger at cross-country skiing.

The Fletchers traded the top American spot in World Cup standings the last three seasons and are expected to make the Sochi Olympic Team regardless of what happens Saturday.

As is Demong, eyeing his fifth Olympic berth. Nothing will top his experience in Vancouver, when he won the first U.S. Nordic combined Olympic gold medal, successfully proposed to his wife and was named flag bearer for the Closing Ceremony on the same day.

Demong, 33, is not the most experienced skier at trials. That would be Todd Lodwick, 37, trying to become the first six-time U.S. Winter Olympian.

“I have to make sure I am doing everything every day to get there,” Lodwick told TeamUSA.org earlier this month. “It comes with a lot of personal gratification to get to the Olympic Games, not just once, but multiple times.”

Men’s Ski Jumping

The U.S. men’s ski jumping program has long sought a boost. It hasn’t produced a World Cup medal since 1991 and hasn’t put anybody or team in the top 10 of an Olympic event since 1988.

The contenders this week include the three members of the 2010 Olympic Team — Peter FrenetteAnders Johnson and Nick Alexander — and Nick Fairall. 

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Ashley Wagner ‘sick’ of hearing about her age

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KANSAS CITY — Ashley Wagner can become the oldest U.S. women’s figure skating champion in 90 years, but it would not be wise to tell her that.

“I think that this sport focuses on age way too much,” the three-time U.S. champion Wagner, 25, said in a press conference after Thursday night’s short program at Sprint Center (recap, videos here). “I’m so sick of hearing about my age. I’m so sick of it guys. If anybody asks me one more question about my age, I’ll just stop talking. It’s ridiculous.”

Wagner placed third in the short program, 1.88 points behind leader Karen Chen, who is 17 years old. She’ll try to surpass Chen in the free skate Saturday (8 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Chen sat in Thursday’s press conference between Wagner and second-place Mirai Nagasu, a 23-year-old who won the U.S. title way back in 2008.

“They’re my role models,” Chen said. “I watched them skate for years and years.”

Wagner then interjected before the next question.

“You just made both of us feel so old,” Wagner said, drawing laughter.

Truth is, Wagner is often asked about her age, her experience, her highs and lows, and answers respectfully and with wisdom. She did again after competing Thursday night for the first time in nearly two months, under the pressure as U.S. Championships favorite.

“I choose to view the word ‘veteran’ as experienced, and experience is never a bad thing, because I’ve gone through the good experiences and the brutally terrible awful experiences,” said Wagner, who last season earned world championships silver, ending a 10-year U.S. women’s drought.

NBC Olympics analyst Tara Lipinski was surprised to learn Wagner wasn’t particularly interested in questions about her age.

“Age is definitely a factor,” Lipinski said Friday. “You can pretend it’s not, but it is. I tried to pretend that it wasn’t, but it was. It was talked about a lot. I was too young [winning the Olympics at age 15]. Whether it’s the opposite [age] range, age is a factor.”

Wagner competes in a sport where, in other top countries, crops of teens are replaced by the next crop of teens. At last month’s Japanese and Russian Championships, the oldest women’s podium finisher was 18 years old.

Wagner may be past the usual prime years for skaters, but Lipinski pointed out that being (very) young has its disadvantages.

“I felt that I didn’t have a lot to draw on,” said Lipinski, who at 14 became the youngest U.S. women’s champion in 1997. “I didn’t have a lot of outside perspectives. Skating was my life. So any small mistake took me so down, and it was very hard for me to put this sport in perspective.”

Wagner was asked if she worried she may have peaked with that 2016 World Championships silver medal.

“If I peaked,” she said, “I would have retired.”

If Wagner makes the PyeongChang Winter Games, she would become the oldest U.S. Olympic women’s singles skater since 1928. Which would actually be an incredible accomplishment in a teen-dominated sport.

That sort of statistic was probably furthest from her mind in Thursday’s press conference.

“We definitely need a new crop of girls to come in,” Wagner said, cracking a smile, “because I will die one day.”

MORE: U.S. Figure Skating head says Russia shouldn’t be in PyeongChang

How to watch U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Friday

FILE - In this Dec. 8, 2016, file photo, Nathan Chen of the United States, competes in the men's short program at the Grand Prix of Figure Skating final in Marseille, southern France. The 17-year-old's revelatory performance at last month's Grand Prix final in France has made him American figure skating's bright new star. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, File)
AP
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U.S. Figure Skating Championships coverage continues Friday, live on NBCSN, Universal HD and streamed on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app, starting at 6 p.m. ET.

The short dance and men’s short programs are scheduled in Kansas City.

The NBC Sports All-Access page will provide live scoring and more all week.

Short dance
6-8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live, NBC Sports app
STREAM LINK | SKATE ORDER | PREVIEW

Men’s short program
8:30 p.m.-midnight ET, Universal HD
SKATE ORDER | PREVIEW

In dance, defending champions Maia and Alex Shibutani take on two-time world medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue. They’re heavy favorites for the three world championships berths.

Nathan Chen leads the men’s field, seeking to become the youngest U.S. men’s champion since 1966. He faces past champions Jason Brown and Max Aaron with two worlds berths at stake this weekend

The free dance will be Saturday and the men’s free skate Sunday, both on NBC and streamed on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app. A full broadcast schedule is here.

MORE: U.S. Figure Skating boss says Russia shouldn’t be in PyeongChang