Ashley Wagner

Preview: Ashley Wagner, Gracie Gold headline Ladies’ field at U.S. Figure Skating Championships

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Four years after they represented the U.S. at the Vancouver Games, Rachael Flatt and Mirai Nagasu return to the U.S. Championships this week in Boston for another shot at the Olympics, but they aren’t the headliners in the chase for the team’s three spots in Sochi.

Instead, such distinction belongs to reigning and two-time national champion Ashley Wagner, who just missed out on the Vancouver team by placing third in 2010, and teenager Gracie Gold, who vaulted to a second-place finish at Nationals a year ago in her senior debut.

The ladies skate Thursday and Saturday nights at TD Garden with the Olympic selections being announced Sunday at a noon press conference.

“I’ve been training really hard going into Nationals, which is obviously such an important event this year,” said Wagner, who at age 22 is the favorite for a third straight U.S. title. “I want to do everything that I can do make sure I’m ready.”

U.S. Figure Skating Championships Previews: Men | Women | Ice Dance | Pairs | Schedule

Gold will look to do the same after her first season on the senior Grand Prix circuit. A year ago at Nationals she was ninth after the short program – beset by nerves – before she won the free skate, launching her to a silver-medal finish.

“The senior ladies – this is a big event,” Gold told reporters last week on a conference call. “I just need to trust my training in order to have a steadier Nationals this year, but with the same great outcome.”

Any color of medal for the girl called Gold would put Gracie in a strong position to be named to one of the three spots on the U.S. team this year after she won bronze at Skate Canada and placed fourth at the Grand Prix stop in Tokyo.

But nothing is certain for Wagner or Gold as a flurry of talented skater nip at their boots for the chance to head to Russia.

Agnes Zawadzki is one of them, the 19-year-old Chicago native having placed third at the last two U.S. Championships.

Zawadzki had struggles through the Grand Prix season, however, placing sixth and seventh at two events after changing back to her old coach, Tom Zakrajsek, in October, who also works with reigning U.S. men’s champion Max Aaron.

“I felt like that definitely was not what I wanted to present for the season, especially with the Olympics approaching,” Zawadzki said in an interview with NBCOlympics.com. “But I sat I’ve felt more consistent and confident with Tom and he’s kicking my butt. We’re working so hard.”

Boston-based Christina Gao also had difficulty at her Grand Prix assignments, placing fourth at Skate Canada and eighth in Paris. She’s taken the year off from Harvard to focus on her Olympic quest, but will need to snap a streak of four straight fifth-place finishes at Nationals in order to have a chance to make the team.

“[The Boston skaters] have such great programs this year that when we’re training together it’s such a good energy prior to the Olympics,” Gao said. “I can only imagine what it will feel like inside TD Garden. I’m really excited because I have a ton of friends at Harvard who I’ve told need to come and get tickets so they can come and watch.”

But there are other skaters for fans – and competitors – to watch, as well. Nagasu is perhaps the most notable, having been fourth at the 2010 Olympics and recently placing third at the Cup of Russia in November, the season’s final Grand Prix stop. Like Gao, she’ll need to up a string of two-straight seventh-place finishes to earn a shot at Sochi.

Injuries have derailed Flatt’s efforts, the 2010 national champion now making a comeback of sorts at 21 years old. The Stanford junior qualified via regional and sectional events and – always known as a steady skater – will look to deliver two reliable programs in Boston.

Courtney Hicks, fourth at Nationals a year ago, is coming off a solid season in which she won two Senior B events, just a step below the Grand Prix level. The 18-year-old beat Gold at the season-opening U.S. Figure Skating Classic in September in Salt Lake City and was fifth at Skate Canada.

Samantha Cesario, 20, aims to build off of two top-five finishes on the Grand Prix circuit from the year while Polina Edmunds, the reigning U.S. junior champion, won two junior Grand Prix gold medals this season and looks to make a splash at the age of 15.

Two-time U.S. champion Alissa Czisny ended her Olympic bid earlier this season with an ongoing injury, while two-time U.S. medalist Caroline Zhang struggled to a 10th-place finish at Skate America in October.

Wagner, who has placed fourth (2012) and fifth (2013) at the last two World Championships, says that the third-place finish that left her off the team in 2010 at Nationals has certainly motivated her.

“2010 absolutely still drives me,” she told reporters last week. “I owe it to myself for everything that I’ve given up – the sacrifices, the struggles – to make it onto this Olympic team and to do everything that I possibly can to make it onto the podium.”

NBC will air live coverage of the Ladies’ free skate Saturday night from 8 to 11 p.m. Eastern, as well as host a livestream of the event on NBCOlympics.com.

Neymar on Rio’s athletes village setbacks: ‘It’s not nice’

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 29:  Neymar of Brazil sings the national anthem prior to kickoff during the international friendly match between Brazil and Chile at the Emirates Stadium on March 29, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazilian soccer star Neymar says the problems at the athletes’ village could harm the preparations of some Olympic competitors at the Rio Games.

“If this is all true, we have to lament it. We had so much time to get everything ready, but some things didn’t work out,” he said as Brazil’s men’s team prepares for the Olympic tournament.

“I hope they fix all the problems,” he said. “It’s complicated for athletes to come from abroad and realize that their accommodation is not in good condition. You prepare three years of your life to be in the Olympics and then something like this ends up hurting you. It’s not nice. I hope they can fix everything and that everybody can be happy”

Brazil’s men’s team is preparing for the games at a training camp in the mountain city of Teresopolis on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro.

In other news, Brazil’s starting goalkeeper injured his right elbow and could miss the team’s final warmup match ahead of the games.

Fernando Prass did not practice on Tuesday after complaining of pain in his elbow and it remains unclear whether he will be fit to play the friendly against Japan on Saturday. The 38-year-old Palmeiras player will be re-evaluated daily.

Prass was one of the players older than 23 selected for Brazil’s squad, under Olympic soccer rules.

Brazil’s opening game at the Olympics is against South Africa on Aug. 4 in Brasilia.

MORE: Belarus says athletes village unsanitary, but Australia set to move in

Film on African-American Olympians in 1936 Games set to release Aug. 5

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A documentary telling the story of 18 African-American Olympians who took part in the 1936 Berlin Games is set to be released Aug. 5, in conjunction with the 2016 Olympics Opening Ceremony in Rio.

“Olympic Pride, American Prejudice” highlights the black athletes, headlined by Jesse Owens, who competed in the face of Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler on the brink of World War II.

The independent film was written, directed and executive produced by Deborah Riley Draper, who was recently named one of 10 “Documakers to Watch” by Variety. The film is narrated by Grammy award winner and two-time Golden Globe nominee Blair Underwood, who also was an executive producer.

Draper and Underwood are hoping to share the stories of all the athletes, not just Owens. They recently had a screening in Brazil, and will show the documentary at the Monica Film Center in Los Angeles and Cinema Village in New York City before rolling it out across the U.S.

You can watch trailers for the film here and here.

From the film’s website:

“Olympic Pride, American Prejudice is a feature length documentary exploring the trials and triumphs of 18 African American Olympians in 1936. Set against the strained and turbulent atmosphere of a racially divided America, which was torn between boycotting Hitler’s Olympics or participating in the Third Reich’s grandest affair, the film follows 16 men and two women before, during and after their heroic turn at the Summer Olympic Games in Berlin. They represented a country that considered them second class citizens and competed in a country that rolled out the red carpet in spite of an undercurrent of Aryan superiority and anti-Semitism. They carried the weight of a race on their shoulders and did the unexpected with grace and dignity.

The athletes experienced things that they were not expecting—applause, warm welcomes, integrated Olympic villages and the respect of their competitors. They were world heroes yet returned home to a short-lived glory. This story is complicated. This story is triumphant but unheralded.”

MORE: Jesse Owens’ daughter cried watching ‘Race’ film ending