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:

source:

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.

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Olympic champions chasing world records face tests in Paris

Omar McLeod, Devon Allen
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Omar McLeod and Christian Taylor, both on world-record quests this season, face their top challengers at a Diamond League meet in Paris on Saturday.

McLeod, the 110m hurdles gold medalist, the triple jump champion Taylor and sprint queen Elaine Thompson headline the Paris meet, live on Saturday at 1 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold and 2 p.m. on NBCSN.

McLeod, who last Saturday ran the fastest 110m hurdles in five years, could take aim at the world record as part of a field including the five fastest men in the world this year.

Taylor faces Will Claye in the most anticipated head-to-head in Paris. Taylor relegated countryman Claye to silver at the last two Olympics, but Claye won the U.S. title last weekend with a personal-best leap.

Olympic 100m and 200m champion Thompson is coming off winning the Jamaican 100m title in 10.71 seconds last week, .01 off her shared national record.

Athletes are preparing for the world championships in London in August.

Paris start lists are available here. Here’s the schedule (all times Eastern):

1:08 p.m. — Men’s high jump
1:25 p.m. — Women’s shot put
1:32 p.m. — Men’s pole vault
2:03 p.m. — Women’s 400m
2:14 p.m. — Men’s 3000m
2:29 p.m. — Women’s 100m
2:35 p.m. — Men’s javelin
2:38 p.m. — Men’s triple jump
2:40 p.m. — Men’s 800m
2:50 p.m. — Men’s 100m
3 p.m. — Women’s 3000m steeplechase
3:25 p.m. — Men’s 110m hurdles
3:40 p.m. — Women’s 1500m
3:52 p.m. — Men’s 200m

Here are five events to watch:

Men’s Pole Vault — 1:32 p.m. ET

World-record holder Renaud Lavillenie is the only French track and field athlete to take Olympic gold in the last 20 years (at the 2012 London Games), so he is certainly the crowd favorite across all events Saturday.

That said, Lavillenie is not the favorite. He was third in a domestic competition on Wednesday, failing to clear 5.71 meters, which wasn’t an Olympic medal height. Lavillenie, the Rio silver medalist, was beaten by Sam Kendricks, the Rio bronze medalist, at two previous Diamond League meets this season. Kendricks, who just cleared six meters for the first time at the U.S. Championships last week, is in the Paris field.

Women’s 100m — 2:29 p.m. ET

Thompson has won 14 straight 100m events that she’s finished, according to Tilastopaja.org, and the two-year streak should extend here. The question is whether she can break 10.7 for the first time to claim the Jamaican record outright and move into solo third on the all-time list.

The field does not include her biggest threat at the world championships — Rio silver medalist Tori Bowie — but present are Ivorians Murielle Ahoure (ranked No. 3 in the world this year) and Marie-Josee Ta Lou (fourth at the Olympics).

Men’s Triple Jump — 2:38 p.m. ET

Taylor’s three losses since July 2014 have come to either Claye or Cuban Pedro Pablo Pichardo. Here, he faces both of them in a final for the first time since 2013, but Claye is the clear challenger.

Taylor ranks No. 1 in the world this year with his 18.11-meter jump from the Prefontaine Classic on May 27, just 18 centimeters off the world record he covets.

Claye is on a roll, having gone at least 17 meters in all 12 of his competition jumps this year, including a personal-best 17.91 to win the U.S. title last week (Taylor didn’t have to compete at nationals as he had a world championships bye). Claye also jumped 18.05 with slightly too much tailwind at Pre. Claye has the second-through-sixth best triple jumps in the world this year.

Women’s 3000m Steeplechase — 3 p.m. ET

Fresh off another U.S. title, Olympic bronze medalist Emma Coburn takes aim at Olympic champion and world-record holder Ruth Jebet of Bahrain and 18-year-old phenom Celliphine Chespol of Kenya.

Jebet, a Kenyan-born 20-year-old, has looked shaky this year, finishing third in two of three Diamond League starts. But the only women to beat her were Kenyans. Including Chespol, who won the Pre Classic in the second-fastest time ever despite stopping to fix her shoe.

Coburn was routinely finishing 10 seconds behind Jebet in 2016, but at Pre managed to close the gap to four seconds, running three tenths shy of her American record from Rio.

Men’s 110m Hurdles — 3:25 p.m. ET

There will be two early heats to qualify into this final, but expect McLeod to lead the field. The Olympic champion broke his national record in lowering his personal best by seven hundredths at the Jamaican Championships last week.

McLeod ran 12.90 seconds, but spoke confidently afterward, reportedly saying his target was actually 12.85. Nonetheless, it was the fastest time in the world since Aries Merritt set the current world record of 12.80 in 2012.

Merritt isn’t in this field, but McLeod is joined by the other four fastest men in the world this year — France’s Garfield Darien, Jamaican Ronald Levy, South African Antonio Alkana and the American Allen.

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Katie Ledecky wins again at nationals; Lilly King sets Russian showdown

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Katie Ledecky, racing while not very rested, still lowered her fastest time in the world this year in the 200m freestyle by a half-second Wednesday night.

And Lilly King set up another showdown with her Russian rival.

Ledecky took her second title in as many days at the USA Swimming Nationals, part of the TeamUSA Summer Champions Series, presented by Comcast.

The quadruple Rio Olympic champion clocked 1:54.84 to win by 1.84 seconds over Leah Smith, repeating their one-two finish from the 800m freestyle Tuesday in Indianapolis.

“Certainly growing in confidence in that race,” Ledecky said. “It’s right on, or faster than what I was at Trials last year [1:54.88].”

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The top two swimmers per individual event are in line to make the team for the world championships in Budapest in July, plus extra swimmers in the 100m and 200m frees for relays.

The women’s 200m free was loaded with not only Ledecky and Smith, but also Mallory Comerford, who on Tuesday swam the second-fastest 100m free ever by an American. Plus, Olympic 100m free champion Simone Manuel and Olympian Melanie Margalis.

They made up the top five in the 200m free final, putting them all in the world 4x200m free relay pool.

Ledecky has one race left at nationals, the 400m freestyle on Friday. She is the least tapered she’s ever been at a trials meet, meaning she should be much faster at worlds.

If she finishes top two in the 400m free, she’ll be in line to swim six events at worlds in Budapest, her busiest schedule yet at an Olympics or worlds. In 15 career Olympic/world events, Ledecky brought home 14 golds and one silver.

In other events Thursday, King took 2.2 seconds off her 200m breaststroke personal best to win in 2:21.83 over Bethany Galat.

Only Rebecca Soni and Micah Lawrence have swum faster among Americans all time. Only Russian rival Yuliya Efimova has swum faster this year (though significantly, 2:19.83). King of course won the Rio 100m breast over Efimova but didn’t make the Olympic 200m breast final.

King smiled and laughed when asked if she looked forward to facing Efimova for the first time since Rio.

“Of course, I love racing fast people,” King said. “That’s why I’m here. I’m here to race the fast people. I’m here to chase people.”

Olympic silver medalist Josh Prenot failed to make the world team in the men’s 200m breast, finishing third behind Rio teammate Kevin Cordes and Nic Fink.

Townley Haas convincingly won the men’s 200m free in a personal-best 1:45:03. Haas had the fastest 4x200m free relay split in Rio but finished fifth in the individual final at his first Olympics.

His time on Thursday is second to only one man over the last three years — Olympic champion Sun Yang.

Rio 4x100m free member Blake Pieroni finished second Thursday (1:46.30) to nab the other world team spot.

Zane Grothe (1:46.39) and Olympic bronze medalist Conor Dwyer (1:47.25) were third and fourth and made the relay. The last time Dwyer did not qualify for the 200m free at a major international meet was the 2012 Olympics.

Olympic champion Ryan Murphy took the 200m backstroke followed by Jacob Pebley in a repeat of the Olympic Trials.

Kathleen Baker won the women’s 200m backstroke by 2.17 seconds in 2:06.38, the fastest time in the world this year. The Olympic 100m back silver medalist dropped 2.98 seconds off her personal best in the 200m back on Wednesday.

Regan Smith, a 15-year-old who finished second, will in Budapest become the youngest American to race individually at a worlds since Elizabeth Beisel in 2007.

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