Apolo Anton Ohno

Apolo Ohno ready for short track analyst debut at Olympic trials

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Apolo Ohno has a simple goal as he ventures into commentating.

“Hopefully, I can bring a little bit of an inside perspective given my previous history in the sport,” he said.

That likely won’t be a problem.

Ohno, the most decorated Olympic skater and U.S. Winter Olympian of all time with eight medals, will call the action rather than taking part in it for the first time this weekend.

Ohno signed on to be NBC Olympics’ short track speed skating analyst for Sochi after retiring last year. He’ll get his feet wet at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Kearns, Utah, beginning at 8 p.m. ET on Friday on NBCSN and streamed live on NBC Sports Live Extra (full trials schedule here).

The 31-year-old is well prepared.

He already has TV credentials from winning “Dancing With the Stars” in 2007, serving as an NBC Olympics reporter at the 2012 London Games and hosting the game show “Minute to Win It” earlier this year.

Ohno did more homework, talking to Ted Robinson, the NBC Olympics short track play-by-play voice in 2002, 2006 and 2010, and Dan Jansen, the long track analyst at the last three Winter Games.

He also went into the archives, watching Olympic short track action from as far back as 1992, its debut as an official Olympic sport.

“Just to refresh my memory,” Ohno said, “and get that different perspective from being on the other side of the camera.”

What was short track coverage like 20 years ago?

“Minimal,” Ohno said. “The analysts, it was their first time ever seeing the sport. They were as much in the dark as anyone watching. The sport was still growing. The speeds weren’t as high as today. The equipment wasn’t the same.”

Ohno had a laser focus during his three Olympic Games and hopes to delve into the mental side of the sport.

“What goes into the mind of an athlete, four years of training and now trying to perform and gain their place on the Olympic team,” Ohno said. “What goes on in the psyche and the last moments before the final.”

The technical side won’t be lost, though. Ohno said the most popular questions he was asked by fans during his career — outside of “Aren’t you that dancer guy?” — were about equipment, technique and the ability to stay upright while bending his body on race turns.

But avoiding jargon and confusion is key, something he’s learned from watching Cris Collinsworth and Ato Boldon in other sports.

Ohno goes into his first short track meet as an analyst with no fears. He also has no desire to jump back on the ice, even though he felt that competitive itch watching Michael Phelps swim in London.

“I would be lying if I did say that I didn’t miss training and competing and being at the top of my game,” Ohno said. “I actually got so excited [in London] that I thought about coming back and competing in ’14. But I think I made the right decision.”

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Kerri Walsh Jennings’ next partner is a familiar one

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Kerri Walsh Jennings is slated to play with with 2008 Olympian Nicole Branagh this summer, after she and Olympic bronze medal teammate April Ross split last month.

Walsh Jennings, a three-time Olympic champion with Misty May-Treanor before that bronze in Rio, and Branagh, who made the Beijing Games quarterfinals with Elaine Youngs, are entered in an FIVB World Tour event in Croatia the last week of June.

Walsh Jennings and Branagh are both 38 years old and briefly paired in 2010 when May-Treanor was uncertain about making a run for the London Olympics. When May-Treanor told Walsh Jennings she was all-in for London, Walsh Jennings split from Branagh.

Walsh Jennings and Branagh are hoping to play together through the World Tour Finals in late August, according to Volleyball Magazine.

That includes the world championships in Vienna, Austria, in late July and early August.

It’s not known if they will have the combined ranking points to earn an outright worlds spot. They could also receive a wild card for worlds. Entries will be announced next month.

Walsh Jennings, a mother of three, has said she hopes to play in the 2020 Olympics at age 41, when she will be older than any previous Olympic beach or indoor volleyball player, according to Olympic historians.

Branagh returned to competition this year after a one-year break to have her second child. She has played few international events since 2012 and last won internationally in 2010 (with Walsh Jennings).

Ross, an Olympic silver and bronze medalist and 2009 World champion, is now partnered with Lauren Fendrick, who played with Brooke Sweat in Rio. Ross, 34, said she will figure out her long-term partner plans for Tokyo 2020 after this season.

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Catching up with Ross Powers

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Ross Powers, now 38 years old and 15 years removed from his Olympic snowboarding title, is still out with halfpipe riders on the snow five days per week.

The difference now is that Powers is coaching. He runs the snowboarding program at Stratton Mountain School in Vermont, where he graduated from in 1997.

Powers spoke with OlympicTalk before last season, reflecting on 20 years of snowboarding in the Olympics, Shaun White and how he likes coaching.

OlympicTalk: The PyeongChang Winter Games will mark 20 years since snowboarding’s debut in Nagano. What was it like competing in the first Olympic halfpipe?

Powers (who won bronze in Nagano at age 19): It seemed kind of like a regular World Cup. We were up in the mountains. At the time, it was a really good halfpipe, but we ended up competing in some bad weather, some rain. I didn’t realize until I left Japan and got home how big the Olympics were. But looking back, it was a special time. And I really learned from the ’98 Olympics, like if I get this chance again, I’m going to go there, I’m going to do it all. I’m going to go to Opening Ceremonies, Closing Ceremonies, watch as many events as I can and just make the most out of the Games.

OlympicTalk: The Nagano halfpipe was about half the size of today’s superpipes (394 feet long with 11 1/2-foot walls vs. 590 feet with 22-foot walls in Sochi). Could today’s snowboarders compete with you guys back in 1998?

Powers: It was so different. At the time, I want to say it was the biggest pipe we rode, but compared to today’s standards, it’s small. The weather was tricky. I think a lot of those guys [today] could ride it, but it’s so much different than today’s halfpipe for sure.

OlympicTalk: In 2002, when you led a U.S. men’s halfpipe medal sweep, the rider who just missed the Olympic team was a 15-year-old Shaun White. What do you remember about him?

Powers: You kind of knew he was going to be the next guy. Where he took our sport and certain tricks. One thing that really impressed me about him is he’ll train really hard for an event, show up, even if the conditions are bad, he’s planned this trick he wants to do, and he’ll try it no matter what. Most of the time he’ll give it a go and land it. That actually hurt him in Russia [White attempted but couldn’t perfect the YOLO Flip 1440 in Sochi] because he probably could have stepped down a notch, gotten a medal and maybe even won the event.

OlympicTalk: Did Shaun ever beat you before you retired?

Powers: I had my run from 1998, ’99, ’00, ’01, all those times that I was doing really well. I tried to make the 2006 Olympics in Italy. I was the alternate, so I just missed that. He was definitely beating me up through those times.

OlympicTalk: Did you travel to the Torino Olympics as an alternate?

Powers: I did, yeah. I traveled over there and actually watched my buddy [Seth] Wescott win the gold in boarder cross. That night, he was like, you should try boarder cross. That kind of got me into doing that my next few years after that.

[Editor’s Note: Powers almost made the 2010 Olympic team in snowboard cross, even finishing third in a December 2009 World Cup.]

OlympicTalk: Which is tougher, coaching or competing?

Powers: I would say it is tougher coaching than competing. You just have so many responsibilities and so much work. The nice thing about coaching, though, compared to competing, is you can kind of push yourself and have fun [riding] on certain days but then also sit back and really work with the athletes on all other days. So when you’re feeling it, you can push yourself. So it’s not like an athlete, where you have to push yourself.

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