J.R. Celski

U.S. Olympic Short Track Speed Skating Trials preview

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The atmosphere will be unfamiliar at the U.S. Olympic Short Track Speed Skating Trials beginning Thursday in Kearns, Utah.

The retirements last year of Apolo Ohno and Katherine Reutter, the most decorated U.S. skaters this century, left a void for not only new Olympians but also new stars.

Here’s the Olympic Trials schedule (all times Eastern):

Thursday — Men’s and women’s four- and nine-lap time trials, 3:30 p.m.
Friday — Men’s/Women’s 1500m, 5:30 p.m. (NBCSN,  8-10 p.m.)
Saturday — Men’s/Women’s 500m, 12 p.m. (NBCSN, 4-5:30 p.m.)
Sunday — Men’s/Women’s 1000m, 12 p.m. (NBC, 4-6 p.m.)

The U.S. men and women earned Olympic quota spots via World Cup results this season. The men earned the maximum allotment of five total skaters with three entries in each distance.

The women did not qualify the maximum allotment — failing to qualify an Olympic relay team for the first time — and will send its smallest team, three, since the sport was added to the Olympic program in 1992. The U.S. can enter three women in the Olympic 500m and 1500m and two in the 1000m.

The Olympic team selection process is not as simple as taking the top finishers from every distance. Skaters will be ranked by distance and in an overall standing via the following points system:

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Skaters’ four-lap time trial points are added to their points from two 500m races. Skaters’ nine-lap time trial points are added to their points from the 1000m and 1500m races for standings in those separate events. A time trial is worth 20 percent of a skater’s ranking per distance. Each result in a race is worth 40 percent.

The top-ranked skater in every distance will make the Olympic team. That could be one skater per gender (if he or she sweeps every distance), two skaters or three skaters (if a different skater wins each distance).

After that, if there are Olympic roster spots still available (there definitely will be for men), the second-ranked skater in every distance will make the Olympic team. If adding all of the second-ranked skaters exceeds the maximum Olympic roster size, priority would go to a skater who finished second in two of the three distances.

If that didn’t happen, the tiebreaker is a skater’s overall distance ranking, adding up points from both time trials and all three distances.

If there are Olympic roster spots still available after taking the top two skaters from every distance, the Olympic team will be filled by the top skaters remaining in the overall distance ranking.

Men’s Outlook

In the absence of Ohno and Reutter, one skater comes into trials already owning an individual Olympic medal. That would be J.R. Celski, who came back from a crash at the 2010 Olympic Trials to win two bronze medals in Vancouver.

On the last day of those trials (September 2009), Celski’s right skate drove into his left thigh, slicing it to the point he could see his femur and one inch from his femoral artery. Celski needed 60 stitches but said he was pain free six weeks later.

Celski took a full season off after Vancouver, collaborating with Macklemore and others for a film project, and came back faster than ever. In October 2012, he became the first man to break the 40-second barrier in the 500m.

He is clearly the best hope for a medal in Sochi, having made the podium in two of three races at the most recent World Cup event in Kolomna, Russia, in November.

Two other 2010 Olympians join Celski at trials — Travis Jayner and Jordan Malone. Ohno will be there, too, as an analyst for NBC and NBCSN.

The fifth member of the Vancouver team, Simon Cho, will not be competing. Cho was suspended through the Sochi Olympics for tampering with a Canadian’s skate blade in 2011. Cho’s admission came in 2012 and also involved US Speedskating coaches since let go. It created a schism among skaters, an issue still making headlines.

Back on the ice, Celski’s greatest competition will likely come from potential Olympic rookies. John-Henry Krueger, 18, and Eddy Alvarez, 23, also won World Cup medals this season.

Krueger, the son of a figure skating coach, was a three-time medalist at the 2012 World Junior Championships. Alvarez, of Miami, is the Spanish-speaking son of Cuban immigrants.

Women’s Outlook

Not qualifying a relay team cut the Olympic women’s roster from five to three, putting more pressure on a group that hasn’t won a World Cup medal since February 2012.

Jessica Smith, an alternate for the 2010 Olympic team, is now the leader. She’s the top U.S. skater in World Cup rankings for the 500m (21st overall) and 1500m (13th) and second in the 1000m (24th).

Emily Scott is ranked 15th in the 1000m and also a contender to make her first Olympic team.

Of the 2010 Olympians, Alyson Dudek and Lana Gehring were in the best form at the U.S. Championships in August.

WADA could introduce hair tests for doping

Bryan brothers pull out of Olympics, won’t defend gold medal

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 04:  (L-R) Silver medalist Michael Llodra and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France, gold medalist Mike Bryan and Bob Bryan of the United States and bronze medalist Julien Benneteau and Richard Gasquet of France pose on the podium during the medal ceremony after the Men's Doubles Tennis final match on Day 8 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on August 4, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Bob and Mike Bryan have pulled out of the Rio Games, less than a week before they were to begin defending their men’s doubles Olympic gold medal.

The Americans made the announcement on their Facebook page, citing their “family’s health,” but not directly concerns with the Zika virus, which has caused many other tennis players and golfers to withdraw.

“After countless hours of deliberation Mike and I have decided to forego the Rio Olympics. Though we’d love to compete again, as husbands and fathers, our family’s health is now our top priority,” they wrote.

The 38-year-old identical twin brothers are the second-ranked men’s pair in the world. They defeated Michael Llodra and France Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France for gold four years ago in London.

At the 2008 Beijing Games, they fell to Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland in the semifinals before knocking off Llodra and Arnaud Clement for bronze. The Bryan brothers were the No. 1 seed in both 2008 and ’12.

After winning gold in London, Bob and Mike went on to collect titles at the next four Grand Slams (2012 U.S. Open, 2013 Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon). The brothers have won a total of 16 Grand Slam titles together.

MORE: Tomas Berdych joins growing list of tennis players skipping Rio

Doping investigator ‘inundated with requests’ for more info on Russians

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The Canadian lawyer who accused Russia of operating a state-run doping program is facing “a deluge of requests” for information on individual athletes implicated in his investigation.

Richard McLaren, who was commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, issued a report that accused Russia’s sports ministry of overseeing doping among Olympic athletes in more than two dozen summer and winter sports.

The IOC rejected calls by WADA and other anti-doping bodies to ban Russia’s entire Olympic team from the Rio de Janeiro Games. Instead, the International Olympic Committee asked individual sports federations to determine which Russian athletes would be cleared to compete.

“My office has been inundated with requests for information on individual athletes,” McLaren said in a statement released late Friday from London, Ontario. “The (IOC) decision has resulted in a deluge of requests to provide information to the IFs (international federations); Russian national federations; the Russian Olympic Committee; the Russian Paralympic Committee and individual Russian athletes.”

McLaren said he has provided information to WADA that names athletes whose urine samples were part of a state-run cover-up.

“WADA in turn has shared this information with IFs,” he said.

More than 100 Russian athletes have been barred from the games so far – including the track and field team banned by the IAAF and more than 30 athletes excluded by other federations since the release of McLaren’s report. Russia’s entire weightlifting team was kicked out Friday.

Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said Friday that 272 of the country’s original 387-strong team had been approved by international sports federations to compete in Rio.

The IOC has said that any Russian athlete with a prior sanction for doping would not be allowed into the games. Anyone implicated in McLaren’s report would also be excluded, the IOC said.

McLaren said his mandate has been extended to finish the investigation and “identify any further athletes that might have benefited from such manipulation to conceal positive doping tests.”

Until now, he said, the focus of his investigation was to look into evidence of a “state-dictated program which used the Moscow and Sochi laboratories to cover up doping.”

“It has not been to establish anti-doping rule violation cases against individual athletes,” McLaren said, adding that it was not his job to process doping cases against individual athletes.

“I have, however, received a considerable amount of reliable evidence, which clearly implicates individual athletes in the state-dictated program described in the report,” he said. “That evidence includes documents supported by the testimony of confidential witnesses and in some cases additional forensic and analytical evidence from the examination of sample bottles and their contents.”

McLaren said his ongoing investigation includes developing evidence which may be used in the future to sanction individual athletes.

“At this stage, I will not release any of the specific information I currently have concerning any athletes,” he said. “To do so would compromise the ongoing investigation.”

MORE: Entire Russian weightlifting team banned from Olympics