Polina Edmunds

Meet Polina Edmunds, breakthrough Olympic figure skater

Leave a comment

She’s been called an iron butterfly, a breath of fresh air and even cocky.

She’s Polina Edmunds, 15 and the youngest U.S. Winter Olympian since Tara Lipinski in 1998 (though slopestyle skier Maggie Voisin may take that crown in the next week).

Few, if any, prognosticators pegged the wispy Californian as a contender to make the Olympic Team going into this weekend’s U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

But Edmunds opened eyes in her first senior event, finishing second in the short program Thursday and holding on for the silver medal in the free skate Saturday. She was named to the three-woman Olympic Team on Sunday.

We should have seen this coming.

U.S. women’s figure skating is not as deep as it was 10 or 15 years ago. U.S. champion Gracie Gold and two-time former U.S. champion Ashley Wagner have been seen as the only Sochi medal threats over the past year — and it’ll likely be bronze at best.

At some point, somebody had to rise from the junior ranks above a stagnant group behind Gold and Wagner. That time was the last few days, and that skater was the reigning U.S. junior champion, labeled “cocky” by the New York Daily News.

“I move like a ballerina,” Edmunds told the San Jose Mercury News. “I’m a very soft skater. But I tend to combine it with speed and power.”

Edmunds shows international promise. She won junior Grand Prix events this season and was fourth at the Junior Grand Prix Final in December, behind three Russians.

Edmunds, who started skating at around age 2, has roots in the 2014 Olympic host country. Her mother, Nina, grew up in Russia. Her father was a hockey player.

The New York Times profiled Edmunds four years ago at the 2010 U.S. Championships, where the Vancouver Olympic Team was named. There, Edmunds took sixth as the youngest of 12 skaters in the novice division — one step below juniors.

She was 4 feet, 11 inches, then and 70 pounds. Her current biography lists her at 5-4 with no weight given.

Venerable coach Frank Carroll devotes plenty of time to his star pupil, Gold, but has occasionally helped Edmunds, a San Jose high school sophomore, for the past six months.

“She is the future,” he told reporters after the short program in Boston on Thursday. “She’s like an iron butterfly.”

She’s been compared to Lipinski not just for her precociousness, but also for her toughness. Lipinski herself has called Edmunds feisty.

“My biggest dream would be to go to the Olympics and win,” Edmunds told The New York Times four years ago.

Can she? That’s quite unlikely in Sochi, where South Korea’s Yuna Kim and Japan’s Mao Asada are vying for gold.

But consider this: Edmunds was second at the U.S. Championships, her first senior event, despite falling in her free skate that included six landed triple jumps. This year might only be the beginning.

Ashley Wagner makes Olympic Team over Mirai Nagasu

Simone Biles among Time Person of the Year finalists

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 07: Simone Biles of the United States competes on the uneven bars during Women's qualification for Artistic Gymnastics on Day 2 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Rio Olympic Arena on August 7, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Simone Biles is one of 11 finalists for Time‘s Person of the Year.

Time‘s Person of the Year, named annually since 1927, has never been an individual athlete or team. Tennis player Billie Jean King was part of the “American Women” group named in 1975.

In 2015, the 1976 Olympic decathlon champion Caitlyn Jenner was one of eight finalists.

The Person of the Year “is the person or persons who most affected the news and our lives, for good or ill, and embodied what was important about the year.”

Biles, 19, is the only teenager finalist and is six years younger than the youngest-ever solo Person of the Year, Charles Lindbergh in 1927. Biles won four gold medals and one bronze in Rio, the largest collection for a female gymnast at one Olympics since 1988.

The Person of the Year will be announced on Wednesday morning on “Today.”

Here are the finalists, in alphabetical order:

Simone Biles
Hillary Clinton
CRISPR Scientists
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Nigel Farage
The Flint Whistleblowers
Beyoncé Knowles
Narendra Modi
Vladimir Putin
Donald Trump
Mark Zuckerberg

VIDEO: Biles shows Stephen Colbert how to stick the landing

Tonga flag bearer Pita Taufatofua eyes 2018 Winter Olympics

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 08:  (BROADCAST - OUT) Pita Taufatofua of Tonga poses for a photo on the NBC Today show set at Copacabana Beach on August 8, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Tonga’s famous flag bearer, Pita Taufatofua, said he wants to compete at the 2018 Winter Olympics as a cross-country skier.

“I’m going to be taking my Olympic dream one step further,” Taufatofua said in an Olympic Channel video published Monday. “My goal is to let people see, if I can do it, they can do it. The goal is to hunt down that Olympic medal at the 2018 Olympics.”

Sure enough, Taufatofua already has an International Ski Federation bio page. The federation lists one other Tongan cross-country skier with a bio, Makeleta Stephan, who was last of 93 finishers in a 2015 World Championships event.

In 2014, Bruno Banani became the first Tongan to compete at a Winter Olympics, placing 32nd in men’s luge. He was later the subject of a documentary. Banani gained fame starting in early 2012, when the story of his name was widely publicized. Banani’s real name is Fuahea Semi, but he changed it to the name of his German clothing sponsor as a marketing ploy.

Taufatofua lost his opening Olympic taekwondo match by mercy rule in Rio, two weeks after his his shirtless, oiled-up appearance in the Opening Ceremony.

Judging by the Olympic Channel video, Taufatofua’s chances of qualifying for the Olympics look better for Tokyo 2020 than Pyeongchang 2018.

PHOTOS: Tongan flag bearer steals show at Opening Ceremony