Steve Holcomb

Steve Holcomb’s bobsled win streak ends in Winterberg

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It took eight races to beat Steve Holcomb this season.

The Olympic four-man champion finished seventh in a two-man event in Winterberg, Germany, on Friday, snapping a seven-race winning streak overall to start the World Cup season.

“I knew coming into this race that it was going to be a challenge,” Holcomb said, according to the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation. “I drive by feel, not by visual cues. I’ve always struggled here, but understanding that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. Knowing that it’s going to be difficult adds pressure, especially since I’ve been undefeated this season.”

Swiss Beat Hefti won by a comfortable .46 of a second in a two-run time of 1 minute, 52.68 seconds. Another American, Cory Butner, took third, .01 behind second place Aleksander Zubkov of Russia.

“It’s hard not to wonder where you lost that and how you could have made up some time,” said Butner, who won his first World Cup medal in Europe. “We have the best equipment, best coaches and techs, and everything is coming together just like it’s supposed to.”

The bobsled World Cup continues with a four-man competition Saturday at 4 a.m. ET on Universal Sports.

Holcomb not winning wasn’t a major shock because his seven-race streak came entirely in North America — Calgary, Alberta, Park City, Utah, and Lake Placid, N.Y. Winterberg is the first of four straight weekends of racing on European tracks, where Holcomb has had far less success.

Holcomb  has not won a World Cup or World Championships two- or four-man race outside of North America since Dec. 13, 2009, also in Winterberg.

Both Holcomb and Nick Cunningham, who was 12th on Friday, crashed in four-man training in Winterberg earlier this week. Holcomb was in the Night Train 2. Cunningham was in the Night Train 1, the sled that won the 2010 Olympic gold medal. Cunningham started driving the Night Train 1 in December and crashed in his fourth run in the sled.

Winterberg Two-Man
1. Beat Hefti/Alex Baumann (SUI) 1:52.68
2. Aleksander Zubkov/Alexey Voeveda (RUS) 1:53.14
3. Cory Butner/Chuck Berkeley (USA) 1:53.15
7. Steve Holcomb/Steve Langton (USA) 1:53.45
12. Nick Cunningham/Justin Olsen (USA) 1:53.72

Lolo Jones on USA-1 in Winterberg

Yuzuru Hanyu opens Olympic season with record score

Yuzuru Hanyu
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A sore knee didn’t hold Yuzuru Hanyu back. A record score to open his Olympic season.

The Olympic and world champion from Japan hit a pair of quadruple jumps in his short program at the Autumn Classic, a lower-level event in Montreal.

He was rewarded with 112.72 points, the highest short program score recorded under the 13-year-old judging system. Video is here.

It looked like a home competition for Hanyu.

Upon finishing, he bowed toward one set of bleachers (maybe a dozen rows) at the Sportsplexe Pierrefonds. More than two dozen Japanese flags made it hard to see most of the faces.

He bettered Javier Fernández, a two-time world champion and training partner, by 11.52 points. Fernández also landed two quadruple jumps to tally 101.2.

Full scores will be here upon the conclusion of the short program. The free skate is Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. A live stream is here.

Hanyu now owns the three highest short program scores under the 13-year-old system. The other two were set in the 2015-16 season.

Showdowns like Hanyu-Fernández are usually reserved for, at the earliest, the Grand Prix series in late October and November.

Hanyu and Fernández are very familiar with each other, having shared a coach in Canadian Brian Orser, the 1988 Olympic silver medalist, since 2012. They train in Toronto.

In that time, Hanyu became the first Japanese man to win an Olympic title (and the second teen from any nation to do it). He followed it up with world titles later in 2014 and this year.

Fernández achieved unfathomable success for a Spanish skater — world titles in 2015 and 2016, overtaking Hanyu in the free skate both times.

In PyeongChang, Hanyu can become the first man to repeat as Olympic champion since Dick Button in 1952. Fernández can become the third Spaniard to earn a Winter Olympic medal of any color in any sport, and the first since 1992.

The figure skating season continues next week with Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany, the final Olympic qualifying competition. North Korea could clinch its first spots in any sport for the Olympics in the pairs event.

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USOC letter assures Olympians about South Korea security

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The U.S. Olympic Committee’s security chief sent a letter to potential Winter Olympians saying there are no indications that recent developments between the U.S. and North Korea have compromised security in South Korea.

The letter, obtained by The Associated Press shortly after it was sent Friday, makes no suggestion that the U.S. is considering skipping the PyeongChang Winter Games for security reasons.

But Chief Security Officer Nicole Deal does write that provocations that have been volleyed between the United States and North Korea are likely to persist for the foreseeable future, and “should not be dismissed as insignificant nor feared as precursors of an inevitable conflict.”

The letter comes at the end of a week in which France’s sports minister suggested the country’s athletes would stay home if security could not be guaranteed.

The International Olympic Committee, trying to calm concerns, reiterated that in conversations with high-level officials in China and South Korea, none have expressed doubt about the Winter Games proceeding as scheduled, next February.

The USOC also sent out a public statement Friday from CEO Scott Blackmun.

“We will continue to work with our State Department and local organizers to ensure that our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe,” he said.

The letter, sent to athletes, national governing bodies and other Olympic leaders in the United States, said the USOC’s security division is operating as “business as usual for our security planning and preparations.”

Deal writes that the USOC is reviewing crisis management plans that address a range of potential scenarios “to ensure our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe.”

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