Gracie Gold

Who will represent U.S. Figure Skating in Olympic team event?

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The new team event in Olympic figure skating carries secrecy. Just ask the U.S. skaters.

“For us, we’ve been looking at it and evaluating what strategy to take for a while,” ice dancer Charlie White said. “Right now I don’t think we’re supposed to talk about too much strategy.”

The U.S. skaters in the team event have yet to be announced. The way they will be determined recalls the way the Olympic Team was decided after the U.S. Championships earlier this month. If you recall that, there was a little bit of drama.

The team event will begin the night before the Opening Ceremony (Thursday, Feb. 6) and wrap up two nights after the cauldron is lit (Sunday, Feb. 9).

The medal contenders are thought to be the U.S., Russia, Canada and Japan.

Each nation entered will have men’s, women’s, pairs and ice dance skaters perform one short program and one free skate each. The event will include 10 nations with a cut down to five after the short programs.

Two skaters (or two couples or one skater and one couple) may be subbed out after the short program. For example, the U.S. could enter Gracie Gold in the women’s short and then Polina Edmunds or Ashley Wagner in the women’s free skate.

The key question at this point is who will compete for the U.S. There are procedures in place that provide an outline.

All skaters needed to submit intent to U.S. Figure Skating in December if they were interested in doing two programs, one program or no programs in the team event. They could still change their intent though.

From there, the first item to be determined is which two disciplines could be subbed out from among men’s, women’s, pairs and ice dance.

Here’s how U.S. Figure Skating tells it, referring to the International Committee Management Subcommittee (ICMS).

The ICMS ranks the four disciplines based on their “opportunity to medal and/or provide the strongest field in the individual events.” It’s the same criteria that was used to determine the Olympic Team after the U.S. Championships earlier this month.

The top-ranked discipline will get first choice of subbing out. What are those rankings? Well, U.S. Figure Skating is keeping those internal.

Clearly, the best U.S. chance for a medal comes in ice dance with reigning world champions Meryl Davis and White, Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Maia and Alex Shibutani.

It is thought the next best chances for a medal are, in order, the women with Gold, Edmunds and Wagner followed by men with Jeremy Abbott and Jason Brown and then pairs with Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir and Felicia Zhang and Nate Bartholomay.

If the rankings go that way, ice dance and women will have the first option of being the two disciplines that may sub out after the short programs.

The next question, after it’s decided which disciplines will sub out, is which specific athletes will be subbed in and out?

Again, it’s determined by rankings, the same individual skater rankings that were used to determine the Olympic Team. Those rankings came under scrutiny when Wagner, who finished fourth at the U.S. Championships, was ranked above third place Mirai Nagasu and put on the three-woman Olympic Team.

The top-ranked skater(s) will get first choice of which program(s) they would like to enter. They could enter both programs, one program or no programs. Whatever’s left over goes to the second-ranked skater and then the third-ranked skater.

It is unknown what the specific ICMS rankings are. Gold won the U.S. Championship, but it’s not assured she’s ranked first. If Gold is ranked first, and women’s is one of the two disciplines able to sub out, she said she would prefer to skate one event and allow another woman to sub in.

“We talked it over, of course,” Gold said. “But it’s all trying to keep it super secret. We don’t want to share the USFS deep, dark secrets. But I think that it would be best, especially since it’s new, to probably split. So, just maybe do one program and let another lady step in. That way more people get to be on the team and experience it, and we don’t get too tired before the big [individual] competition starts.

“The long program is strong, and I’ve had a lot of really consistent runs with it. Competing is definitely easier for me once I get going, but the short program I am totally in love with. … Whichever one I’m selected for I’ll be very happy with.”

Here’s where it would get interesting.

If the U.S. enters different women for the short and long program, who goes? Will the rankings fall straight in line with U.S. Championships results — Gold, Edmunds, Wagner — or will they be different when factoring in U.S. Figure Skating’s criteria of looking at results in the year preceding the U.S. Championships?

The wait for answers to some of these questions could be long. U.S. Figure Skating said the entries for the short program are due Feb. 5 at 10 a.m. Sochi time.

The entries for the long program are due 10 minutes after the short program concludes.

U.S. Olympic Team roster (with Twitter handles)

Yulia Stepanova, doping whistleblower, appeals her Olympic ban

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - JULY 06:  Yuliya Stepanova looks on after finishing last in the Womens 800m heats during day one of the 23rd European Athletics Championships at Olympic Stadium on July 6, 2016 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images for European Athletics )
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Whistleblower Yulia Stepanova‘s hopes of competing in the Summer Olympics are all but over. Her fight to expose doping and corruption is not.

“It’s OK to lose a good fight,” Stepanova’s husband, Vitaly Stepanov, told The Associated Press on Monday.

They have appealed to the International Olympic Committee to reverse its decision, handed down Sunday, that denies Stepanova a chance at competing in the Rio Games, which begin Aug. 5. The decision, the Stepanovs claim, is based on incorrect information, including the IOC’s framing of Stepanova’s decision to become a whistleblower as a too-little-too-late desperation play made after the Russian team had cast her aside.

It’s a conclusion that both the World Anti-Doping Agency and track’s governing body, the IAAF, disagree with; both recommended Stepanova be allowed to compete in Rio.

But Stepanov said he received several signals that the IOC would not go along, beginning with a general lack of interest from the key decision makers. He said that during the push for Olympic eligibility, he spoke with two separate IOC officials for a total of 90 minutes.

“I think what the IOC didn’t do is spend enough time to understand how big the problem is in Russia and how much covering up is happening in Russian sports,” he said.

Stepanova was the 800-meter runner who was entrenched in the Russian doping system but later came forward with details about the cheating. That triggered investigations that led to the banning of the Russian track team from the Olympics. After receiving more information about Russian sports as a whole, the IOC opted against a ban of the entire Russian team.

Part of that decision included a ruling that any Russian with a previous doping ban would not be allowed in Rio. That includes Stepanova, though the legality of that ruling is in question: In 2011, the Court of Arbitration for Sport invalidated the IOC’s Rule 45, which called for Olympic bans for any athlete who’d served more than a six-month doping penalty. CAS said it amounted to double jeopardy.

It was one of several facets from the decision handed down Sunday that indicated the difficulty the IOC had in finding the right balance between, as president Thomas Bach called it, “individual justice and collective responsibility.” There also were political concerns; a Russian official addressed the IOC executive board and told members not to cave into geopolitical pressure.

While Russia largely welcomed the decision, it was roundly criticized by those in the anti-doping world. The move to ban Stepanova was widely viewed as the worst part of the judgment.

“The decision to refuse her entry in to the Games is incomprehensible and will undoubtedly deter whistleblowers in the future from coming forward,” said Travis Tygart, CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

Stepanov said his wife got a bout of the stomach flu on Sunday – making a bad day that much worse.

She was training for the Olympics, knowing that if she made it, she would not compete for a medal, the way she had in the past.

“Her goal is to participate,” Stepanov said. “In my view, she deserved to be an Olympian a lot more than when she was a doped athlete.”

But the odds are against her.

Stepanov said there is no money to fund an appeal to CAS, which would have the last say on her possible ban.

“Sunday was a day to cry a little, to get disappointed,” Stepanov said. “But today’s Monday. We feel we’re trying to fight for the right thing, so we wake up and start fighting again.”

MORE: Russian whistleblower denied bid to compete in Rio Olympics

Gabby Douglas ‘a very strong possibility’ for all-around, Martha Karolyi says

Gabby Douglas
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Gabby Douglas has “a very strong possibility” to get a chance to defend her Olympic all-around title in Rio, U.S. national team coordinator Martha Karolyi said Monday.

“Gabby’s preparation is in a very, very good direction, and I foresee that she can be in the all-around, but we’re not taking this decision as of now yet,” Karolyi said.

The U.S. will put no more than three women from its five-woman team in the all-around in qualifying. The top two Americans in qualifying will advance to the all-around final, the most prestigious individual competition in the sport.

“We have a tentative lineup, but that’s absolutely tentative and we would not reveal that lineup at the moment yet, because most likely there will be changes as time goes,” said Karolyi, adding that the lineup won’t be finalized until next week.

Simone Biles is considered a lock to be one of the all-arounders in qualifying. Who joins her is unclear.

Douglas and Aly Raisman were tapped at the 2015 World Championships, with Biles and Douglas topping Raisman in qualifying and then going one-two in the all-around final.

However, both Raisman and first-year senior Laurie Hernandez finished higher than Douglas in the all-around at the P&G Championships and the Olympic Trials in the last month.

Karolyi said that Douglas, who fell off the balance beam on both nights at the Olympic Trials, has improved at a pre-Olympic training camp. Karolyi also said that Douglas would not perform the difficult Amanar vault in Rio, which carries five tenths more in start value than the vault Douglas used at the Olympic Trials.

Biles and Raisman both perform the Amanar. If Biles, Douglas and Raisman do the all-around in qualifying, Douglas will go in with a start-value disadvantage in the chase to grab two available final spots.

In 2012, Douglas, Raisman and Jordyn Wieber all did the all-around in qualifying, with the 2011 World all-around champion Wieber finishing third out of the Americans (and fourth overall), missing the all-around final.

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