Ashley Wagner

Ashley Wagner changes long program

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U.S. figure skater Ashley Wagner changed her long program less than one month before the Olympics.

Wagner, the 2012 and 2013 U.S. champion, struggled at the Grand Prix Final in December and the U.S. Championships two weeks ago, her last two events.

She finished fourth at the U.S. Championships and was placed on the three-woman Olympic Team. Third place Mirai Nagasu was left off.

“If I had not skated poorly at Nationals I wouldn’t have been able to change a program that wasn’t going to get me far in Sochi,” Wagner said.

She’s reverting her long program music from “Romeo and Juliet” to “Samson and Delilah,” which she used in 2012-13, when she won her first two Grand Prix series events and was second at the Grand Prix Final.

“I told my coach the night they picked the Olympic Team that we needed to change this program because it was something I struggled with all season,” Wagner said. “I just couldn’t connect with the Juliet character, the program made me nervous. I was terrified. I didn’t feel confident stepping out onto the ice.”

The skate setup will stay the same.

“My coach let me change the music if we didn’t completely re-do the skate itself,” she said.

Wagner will also revert to a similar yellow free skate costume she wore last season.

“I feel like now I’m really going to be a name to watch, I really feel that,” she said.

Ghana, Nigeria skeleton racers set for Olympic berths

Akwasi Frimpong, Simdele Adeagbo
Cocoa/Candice Ward photography
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New Olympic bobsled and skeleton criteria that helped Nigeria qualify female bobsledders for Pyeongchang should also get skeleton racers from Ghana and Nigeria into the Winter Games, experts believe.

Ghana’s Akwasi Frimpong is ranked 104th in the world men’s skeleton rankings. The Olympic skeleton field will be 30 men.

But Frimpong is all but assured an Olympic berth when the field is announced in mid-January because he is the only ranked slider from Africa, bobsled and skeleton officials said.

Same for Nigerian Simidele Adeagbo, who triple jumped at the 2004 and 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials, in the women’s skeleton field.

Provided Adeagbo completes one more qualifying race, which she is expected to do January in Lake Placid. She is ranked 81st in the world.

Olympic bobsled and skeleton qualifying now grants the top athlete per continent a near-guaranteed Olympic place per event. So long as they complete five races on three different tracks in the last two seasons (and three races on two tracks this season).

Under previous rules, Frimpong and Adeagbo needed to be ranked in the top 60 and top 45 in the world, respectively, to make the Olympics. Not anymore.

They could become the second and third Africans to compete in Olympic skeleton (Tyler Botha, South Africa, 2006).

Frimpong, 31, finished 44th out of 44 sliders at last season’s world championship in Koenigssee, Germany, more than four seconds behind the top men on each of his three runs.

He has raced on the lower-level North American Cup this season, finishing at or near the bottom in Park City, Calgary and Whistler.

Frimpong rejects “Cool Runnings” comparisons to the Jamaican bobsled team.

“I’m not out there to make a Disney movie,” he said. “I’m not there to be mediocre. I’m there to compete, but I also know my boundaries and limits. My wife told me when you go to the Games, you’re going to be the least experienced athlete. You have to accept that part. My plan has always been 2022 to win a medal for Africa.”

Frimpong moved from Ghana to the Netherlands at age 8 and became a junior champion sprinter. He flew to the U.S. for college, sprinting for Utah Valley University in 2010 and 2011.

“Holy cow, 99 percent white people,” Frimpong said of moving to Utah, according to the Deseret News. “And of course I was invited right away to come to church. I went, because you know what, they had food.”

Then he got injured and switched to bobsled, joining the Dutch national team as a push athlete after missing the London Olympics on the track. Frimpong raced in one World Cup but did not make the 2014 Winter Olympic team.

Frimpong said he then became the top salesman in the U.S. for Kirby Vacuum Company.

“I sold 32 Kirbys in 28 days,” he said.

Frimpong took one more foray into sports in 2015, becoming a skeleton racer and this time competing for his native Ghana. He confirmed this story from the Herald in Scotland:

He was born in Ghana and was raised in his formative years by his grandma, Minka. She brought up 10 children, including Frimpong, in a room measuring only four metres squared. They were so poor that they only had a full egg or entire bottle of Coca Cola on Christmas day.

Frimpong can become the second Winter Olympian from Ghana, joining Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong (aka the “Snow Leopard”), who was 47th out of 48 finishers in the 2010 Olympic men’s slalom.

Adeagbo, 36, can join the bobsledders as Nigeria’s first Winter Olympians.

She was born in Toronto to Nigerian parents. Adeagbo said she moved back to Nigeria when she was 2 months old — her dad needed to go back for requirements to become a university professor — and lived there until she was 6.

Then they moved to Memphis. Then Newfoundland. Finally, to Kentucky — high school near Louisville and college at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, where she triple jumped.

Adeagbo graduated in 2003 and has worked for Nike ever since.

Including while triple jumping in 2008, when she set a personal best by a foot in the U.S. Olympic Trials qualifying round and ranked third in the nation for the year. But she was eight inches shy of the Olympic qualifying standard. She retired.

Adeagbo continued with Nike in Oregon — once performing as a Serena Williams body double for a press kit — until taking a new job with the company in 2013 in South Africa. She has been a marketing manager for Nike’s Africa division for the last four years.

About this time last year, Adeagbo learned of the Nigerian bobsled team seeking to become the first Olympians from Africa in the sport. All three women on the team are former NCAA track and field athletes like Adeagbo.

“I was immediately intrigued,” she said. “I had heard about track and field athletes making the move to bobsled [Lolo Jones and Lauryn Williams in Sochi, most recently] and I thought, hmm, that would be interesting.”

Adeagbo was told the bobsled team was pretty set and an immediate opportunity to make it for the Olympics in a year would be difficult. She let it simmer for a few months. In July, she flew from Johannesburg to an open combine tryout for the team in Houston.

The Nigerian federation called her back for her first on-ice sliding camp in Canada in September. She tried both bobsled and skeleton.

“By the end of the week I started to kind of see the opportunity was really in skeleton,” she said. “In terms of bobsled, the timing wasn’t quite right to integrate into the team.”

Adeagbo raced for the first time on Nov. 12 — three months before she may slide in Pyeongchang. She called her introduction to zooming over 50 miles per hour head-first down an icy chute “violent and turbulent.”

In four North American Cup races this fall, Adeagbo finished in last place every time, an average of about six seconds per run behind the winner.

“My goal [at first] was to just not scream bloody murder as I’m going down,” she said. “Within a few runs, your brain somehow catches up with the speed at which you’re going, and it starts slowing down.

“It’s been a lot of learning in a short amount of time with a very lofty goal.”

Adeagbo said that from the beginning she was told it takes eight years to develop into a world-class skeleton athlete, if it happens at all. She was also told that the Pyeongchang Olympics were a possibility for her given the continental representation spot.

“I think the sport should be as global and universal as possible,” Adeagbo said. “That’s what sport is about.”

She said the International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation has not communicated to her whether she is safely in the Olympic field. Quota spots will be announced in mid-January for all countries.

“Based on different conversations and just kind of what I’ve observed in the sport and looking at the [ranking] list, it’s highly probable that if I do what I need to do, which is get that minimum requirement [of one more race], that I should be in for sure,” Adeagbo said.

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MORE: 100 Olympic storylines 100 days out from Pyeongchang

Akwasi Frimpong can be followed on Twitter — @FrimpongAkwasi. Simidele Adeagbo can be followed on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at @SimiSleighs.

U.S. Olympic short track trials preview, broadcast schedule

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Olympic medalists J.R. Celski and Katharine Reutter-Adamek headline the U.S. Olympic short track speed skating trials, live on NBC, NBCSN and streaming on NBCOlympics.com from Friday through Sunday.

The top five men and three women from trials in Kearns, Utah, will make up the U.S. Olympic team for Pyeongchang.

The best Olympic medal prospects lie with the men, four of whom teamed up in November to break the 5000m relay world record. The only U.S. speed skating medal in Sochi — a silver — came in that relay.

Celski anchored that relay, earning his third Olympic medal. Celski debuted at the Winter Games in 2010, earning bronzes in the 1500m and the relay five months after needing 60 stitches to sew a left-leg gash caused by his own skate blade in a fall.

He’s also the only U.S. skater to earn an individual World Cup medal in the last 13 months, a pair of bronzes.

Each day at trials, the men and women will twice skate rounds of one of three individual Olympic distances (1500m on Friday, 500m on Saturday and 1000m on Sunday).

For the men, the top two skaters each day are in line to make the Olympic team, unless that results in six different men.

In that case, the runner-up skater with the lowest standing combining all six races will not make the Olympic team. Basically, if and when a skater gets top two in two distances, everyone in the top two for all distances is safe.

If taking the top two each day results in fewer than five different men, then the Olympic team will be rounded out by the next highest-ranked skaters in overall standings combining all six races.

For the women, the winner of each distance will make the Olympic team. If a woman wins multiple distances, then second-ranked skaters in each distance come into play, with priority given to the runner-up with the highest ranking combining all six races.

If the same two women finish first and second in every distance, then the final Olympic spot will go to the third-ranked woman in the 1500m, the only event where the U.S. earned the maximum three Olympic spots.

The U.S. women earned three Olympic spots rather than the maximum five because they failed to qualify a relay for the Olympics for the second straight time.

If Celski is the men’s favorite, then John-Henry Krueger is right behind.

Krueger was the No. 2 U.S. man behind Celski in the fall World Cup season and is the only U.S. skater other than Celski to earn an individual World Cup medal in this Olympic cycle.

The 22-year-old based in the Netherlands was favored to make the 2014 Olympic team but contracted swine flu the week of trials and withdrew during the event.

Celski is the only man with Olympic experience competing this week.

The U.S. women are in the midst of a 5 1/2-year World Cup medal drought, but they have experience and a bright young talent.

Reutter-Adamek was the world’s No. 2 skater in 2011 but retired in 2013 due to back and hip injuries. She came out of retirement in 2016 and broke her American record in the 1000m at her second World Cup.

She missed this fall’s first two World Cups due to a January concussion but was the top American at the most recent World Cup in the 1000m and 1500m.

Jessica Kooreman won the 2014 Olympic Trials — and was fourth in the 1000m in Sochi — and looks primed to make her second Olympic team at age 34. She ranks first or second among Americans this season in all three Olympic distances.

Then there’s Maame Biney, a 17-year-old who moved to the D.C. area from Ghana with her father at age 5.

Biney is the top U.S. woman internationally in the 500m after breaking out in August by winning the overall standings in the U.S.’ World Cup qualifier. She also placed seventh overall at last season’s junior worlds, including a bronze in the 500m.

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MORE: U.S. Olympic short track skater gets 4-year doping ban

U.S. Olympic Short Track Trials

Day Time (ET) Events Network
Friday 6:45-8 p.m. 1500m rounds STREAM LINK
8:30-10 p.m. 1500m finals NBCSN | STREAM LINK
Saturday 12-1:45 p.m. 500m rounds STREAM LINK
2:30-4 p.m. 500m finals NBC | STREAM LINK
Sunday 10:15 a.m.-12:15 p.m. 1000m rounds STREAM LINK
1-3 p.m. 1000m finals NBC | STREAM LINK