Heather Richardson

Strange DQ as Heather Richardson, Shani Davis qualify for Sochi (video)

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Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe can make plans for Sochi. Shani Davis is looking good, too.

The three biggest stars of US Speedskating headlined the second day of the U.S. Olympic Trials in Kearns, Utah, on Saturday.

Richardson and Bowe went one-two in the 500m. That put Richardson on her second U.S. Olympic Team and all but assured Bowe’s first Olympic berth. Sugar Todd and Lauren Cholewinski took third and fourth and are likely going to Sochi, too.

Davis, a four-time Olympic medalist over the 1000m and 1500m, took fourth in the men’s 500m, an event where the U.S. can enter a maximum of four skaters in the Olympics.

Winner Mitchell Whitmore clinched his second Olympic berth. He’ll likely be joined on the Sochi roster by second-through-fourth finishers Tucker Fredricks, Brian Hansen and Davis.

Jonathan Garcia initially posted a fast enough two-run time to place fourth, knocking out Davis, but did not wear a time-recording ankle transponder in his second 500m, where he clocked 34.85, which would have been a personal best by .29 of a second.

“I know that I was good enough to be on the team,” Garcia said, according to The Associated Press. “That’s something nobody can take away from me.”

That time was wiped out. Garcia reskated and was slower, finishing sixth.

“It’s really unfortunate,” Davis said, according to the AP. “I remember the special feeling I had when I went [to the Olympics] the first time. I was really pulling for Garcia to pull through and take the spot, even if it knocked me off the team. He’s a friend of mine. I want the best skaters to go. If someone is clearly faster than me, I want them to go. It’s just unfortunate that rule worked to his disadvantage.”

Davis is technically not assured of making the U.S. Olympic Team in the 500m yet. He could also drop the event altogether given he’s more focused on the 1000m and 1500m.

A maximum of 10 men and 10 women can make the U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Team, but the U.S. has more than 10 Olympic spots combined across all distances.

If stars like Richardson, Bowe and Davis qualify in multiple events at trials through Wednesday, it will help the U.S. stay at or under the 10 men and 10 women maximum and ensure the second, third and fourth finishers from Saturday go to Sochi.

The U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials continue with 1000m races Sunday (NBC, 3 p.m.).

U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials preview, schedule

Richardson, 24, won the women’s 500m with a two-race total of 1:14.19, which was 1.32 faster than second-place Bowe. Cholewinski (1:16.18) and Todd (1:16.42) beat out three-time Olympian Elli Ochowicz (1:16.54) to likely make their second and first Olympic teams, respectively.

“It’s really special this time because of all of us inliners here, together,” Richardson said on NBC. “I grew up skating with Brittany and Lauren. To qualify for the Olympics together is really a special moment.”

Todd would not be the first “Sugar” to compete in the Olympics. Hungary’s István Sugár ran the men’s 4x100m track and field relay at the 1928 Amsterdam Games, according to sports-reference.com. There’s also the great boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, who won gold at the 1976 Montreal Games.

Richardson and Bowe are expected to make the Olympic team in the 500m, 1000m and 1500m. Paired together, Richardson was .51 faster than Bowe in their opening race Saturday, all but sealing her title.

Richardson, 24, has been the fastest U.S. woman in the 500m each of the last five seasons. She’s the reigning World Sprint Champion (combining 500m and 1000m results) and has made three of eight World Cup 500m podiums this season.

Richardson grew up cherishing Cheerwine and skating inline in High Point, N.C., before switching to ice in 2007. She posted the best individual finish of any U.S. female speed skater at the 2010 Olympics, sixth in the 500m.

She was thought to be the biggest and perhaps only hope to end a U.S. female speed skating Olympic medal drought dating to 2002. Then Bowe came along.

Bowe, 25, spent the 2010 Olympics playing basketball in Boca Raton, Fla., a senior starting guard for Florida Atlantic. She also joined the inline invasion and could share the Sochi podium with Richardson.

“Heather’s definitely one of my inspirations to come over and try to pursue my Olympic dream,” Bowe said on NBC.

The clear favorite for Olympic 500m gold, however, is South Korea’s reigning Olympic, world and World Cup champion Lee Sang-hwa, who broke her own world record three times this season.

Bowe and Richardson are expected to go head to head again at trials in the 1000m (Sunday) and the 1500m (Tuesday), two distances Bowe is better in than the 500m.

Whitmore, 24, is going back to the Olympics after winning with a two-race time of 1:09.12 on Saturday. Fredricks was second at 1:09.44 followed by Hansen (1:09.85) and Davis (1:10.21).

Whitmore placed 37th out of 38 finishers in the 2010 Olympic 500m. His chances in Sochi are looking up now that he owns the American record in the 500m and has finished no lower than 15th over eight World Cup races this season.

Fredricks, 29, made his third Olympic team. His international results have been hit or miss. His best Olympic finish is 12th, but nobody was faster at the opening World Cup event in Calgary, Alberta, in November.

Hansen and Davis are better in the 1000m and 1500m, which they are slated to skate Sunday and Tuesday.

If Davis does not skate the Olympic 500m, he would go into defending his 1000m gold medal without any prior Olympic competition on the Sochi oval. In 2006 and 2010, he warmed up for the Olympic 1000m by skating the 5000m and/or the 500m.

The Olympic men’s 500m could be wide open given eight different men won World Cup races this season.

Comeback story of Olympic trials

Ted Ligety out for rest of season

SOLDEN, AUSTRIA - OCTOBER 25:  (FRANCE OUT) Ted Ligety of the USA takes 1st place during the Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup Men's Giant Slalom on October 25, 2015 in Soelden, Austria.  (Photo by Michel Cottin/Agence Zoom/Getty Images)
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Ted Ligety will undergo back surgery and miss the rest of the Alpine skiing season, the latest in a series of health setbacks for the double Olympic champion, according to his social media.

Ligety, who won the combined at Torino 2006 and the giant slalom at Sochi 2014, said he had “stabbing (nerve) pain all the way down my leg” since the season-opening race in Soelden, Austria, on Oct. 23.

“That has no (sic) allowed me to ski at the level that I expect of myself,” was posted on Ligety’s social media Monday. “I have seen many doctors and therapists, undergone an array of treatments and therapies to no effect. Unfortunately surgery (microdiscectomy) means my season over … I will be back strong and fast again.”

Ligety also ended last season prematurely, after tearing his right ACL on Jan. 27. He also suffered three herniated disks in his back and tore a hip labrum in 2015.

Of his last seven giant slaloms dating to last season, Ligety has failed to finish four times and placed fourth, fifth and 11th.

Ligety’s World Cup giant slalom podium drought is his longest since he notched the first top-three finish of his career in 2006. He racked up 40 podiums in a decade.

Ligety, 32, also owns the last three world giant slalom titles, plus five World Cup season titles in the discipline, in addition to his Sochi gold.

If healthy, Ligety would have tried next month to become the first male Alpine skier to take gold at four straight world championships.

With Ligety’s absence, the U.S. will have zero past men’s Olympic or world gold medalists at a world championships for the first time since 2001.

Worlds are in St. Moritz, Switzerland, from Feb. 6-19.

MORE: Franz Klammer stars in commercial with Alpine skiing champions

Ashley Wagner, Nathan Chen make for contrasting favorites at U.S. Championships

Ashley Wagner, Nathan Chen
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Ashley Wagner and Nathan Chen trained on the same ice for the last three years. They enter this week’s U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Kansas City as favorites, but took different routes to arrive there.

Wagner, 25, seeks her fourth national title, following the worst Grand Prix result of her 10-year career.

Still, Wagner is the 2016 World Championships silver medalist, which carries the most weight of all with the PyeongChang Olympics coming in 13 months.

Wagner, the most accomplished U.S. women’s singles skater in a decade, can become the oldest U.S. women’s singles champion in 90 years.

“Mentally, I’m feeling very confident,” Wagner said last week. “At this point in my career it is very easy for me to get mentally worn out and worn down, but I usually feel strongest when my training is backing me up and when I know that I am physically fit.”

Chen, 17, is an even bigger favorite in the men’s field. The Salt Lake City native is already one of the most accomplished young skaters in U.S. history, taking two novice and two junior national titles.

In this his first senior international season, Chen had the best fall series of a U.S. man since Evan Lysacek won gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Chen’s autumn culminated with a silver medal at December’s Grand Prix Final, beating the reigning Olympic and world champions in the free skate.

This week, Chen can become the youngest U.S. men’s singles champion in 51 years. He would do it one year after taking bronze and suffering a hip injury later that day that required season-ending surgery.

“I never thought that I would get there that fast,” Chen said.

MORE: U.S. Figure Skating Championships broadcast schedule

Chen was already working with Armenian coach Rafael Arutyunyan in Los Angeles when Wagner joined the training group in the middle of 2013.

Chen was barely 14 years old at the time, but Wagner, by then already a two-time U.S. champion, had learned about him back in 2010.

Wagner saw Chen win the U.S. Championships novice division at age 10, beating skaters six and seven years older than him, including her younger brother, Austin.

“And my brother retired after that year because of Nathan Chen,” Wagner said with a hint of humor.

Under Arutyunyan, a noted jumping technician, Wagner developed into the top consistent challenger to the dominant Russians.

She endured failure — finishing fourth at the 2014 U.S. Championships and last-place programs at the Grand Prix Final. She experienced success — national and international feats not done by an American since Michelle Kwan.

Most of the U.S. skaters whom Wagner came up with have retired. Her closest recent domestic rivals — Olympic teammates Gracie Gold and Polina Edmunds — struggled with poor performances and injury, respectively, in the last year.

If Wagner prevails as she should in Kansas City, the next step is returning to the podium at the world championships in two months in Helsinki, where three Russians, three Japanese and a Canadian will try to keep her off of it. A second straight world medal would make Wagner the best U.S. hope for an Olympic women’s singles medal since 2006.

“The biggest thing about her is her mental toughness,” Chen said of Wagner, “especially when she goes to competitions and zones in on what she wants to do and comes out with the result she wants.”

MORE: Gracie Gold makes desperate move after rock bottom

Mental toughness is something Chen hopes to develop with experience. He already owns the physical tools, most notably an arsenal of quadruple jumps.

Chen, whose adorable 2010 U.S. Championships exhibition at age 10 aired on NBC, is now electrifying. He attempts six quads combined in two programs.

At his last event, the Grand Prix Final in December, Chen recorded the highest free skate score, bettering Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan and world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain, who both were off their game. He finished second overall behind Hanyu, becoming the second-youngest men’s medalist in the event’s 22-year history.

NBC Olympics analyst Tara Lipinski, who took 1998 Olympic gold at age 15, has, like Wagner, known about Chen since 2010. Lipinski was in Spokane, Wash., for those U.S. Championships seven years ago.

“I remember thinking, oh boy, this kid is so talented, but not really thinking much of it because he was itty-bitty,” Lipinski said of Chen, who has grown a foot since 2010, to 5 feet, 5 inches. “Over time and with growth spurts, everything can change. But that’s why he’s so special. Every year, he improves. You talk about this quad revolution. He’s leading it.”

Chen responded to critics of his artistic skills this season by spending weeks away from Arutyunyan, which the coach supported.

“There is a brain of an adult in this kid’s head,” Arutyunyan said.

Chen went from Los Angeles to work in Michigan under Marina Zoueva, a Russian known for coaching the last two Olympic champion ice dance teams.

NBC Olympic analysts Johnny Weir and Lipinski saw an upgrade in Chen’s artistic components in his fall competitions. If he can challenge the top international skaters artistically, he can beat them with his jumping strength.

“The way that men’s figure skating is progressing, it’s about the quad game and how many you can do,” Wagner said. “It’s starting to look a little bit like ping-pong on the ice. … Going into the next couple of years, the ones that are going to stand out are the ones that do quads and are able to have a full, well-rounded program.”

In Sochi, the U.S. earned no singles figure skating medals for the first time since 1936.

The U.S. hasn’t earned men’s and women’s figure skating medals in the same Olympics since 2002, but it’s certainly looking possible with 13 months until PyeongChang.

“Of course, my goal would be to win the Olympics,” Chen said. “I feel like that’s everyone goal. It’s still a goal for me, but we’ll see how realistic it becomes over the next season.”

MORE: Jason Brown again slowed by injury going into U.S. Championships