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)

Russian skeleton stars banned from World Cups

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The two Russians who had their medals from the Sochi Olympics stripped because of doping have been barred from competing in World Cup races, at least temporarily.

It’s the latest sanction against Alexander Tretiyakov and Elena Nikitina, who had their medals — gold for Tretiyakov, bronze for Nikitina — taken away Wednesday after it was determined they were part of Russia’s state-sponsored doping program for Sochi.

They have already been banned from future Olympics and now may have no place to slide.

The International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation handed down the suspensions Thursday, effective immediately.

Tretiyakov and Nikitina were both planning to compete in World Cup races at Whistler, B.C., this weekend.

In all, four Russians have been suspended by the IBSF.

Along with Tretiyakov and Nikitina, Maria Orlova and Olga Potylitsyna — who have been racing on the lesser-tier Intercontinental Cup Circuit this season — were also banned, just as they were by the IOC.

All four are expected to appeal, and the IBSF said they will be entitled to a hearing if that happens.

“Sport is all about who’s the best on that day and if anything compromises that, like the situations in Sochi, it taints everything and kind of undermines the fundamental belief in the system and the competition itself,” said USA Bobsled and Skeleton CEO Darrin Steele, also is a vice president with the IBSF. “This is kind of righting the ship.”

The IBSF’s decision is a strong one and is in stark contrast to one made by the International Ski Federation (FIS), which is allowing Russian cross-country skiers found guilty of doping in Sochi to compete in World Cup events this weekend.

FIS wants to see detailed reasons why the IOC disciplinary panel reached its decisions about the Russian athletes.

The IBSF isn’t waiting.

“I understand that it was a difference of culture and that the Russians don’t believe they did anything wrong,” U.S. skeleton veteran Katie Uhlaender said after the IOC decision to strip the medals and issue the Olympic bans was announced Wednesday. “But this was the only way to fix it.”

Uhlaender should be promoted to the bronze medal spot once Nikitina, as the IOC has ordered, surrenders what had been her bronze from Sochi.

Tretiyakov was the men’s gold medalist; the revised results for that event would have Latvia’s Martins Dukurs getting gold, Matt Antoine of the U.S. bumped up to silver and Latvia’s Tomass Dukurs, Martins’ brother, taking bronze.

Uhlaender, originally fourth, would be third behind gold medalist Lizzy Yarnold of Britain and silver medalist Noelle Pikus-Pace of the U.S.

Sliders lauded the IOC for doing the right thing, though noted that racers like Uhlaender and Tomass Dukurs — even once they have medals in hand — will never be able to replicate the moment on a podium that they should have had in Sochi.

“Having the physical medal’s cool, but most of it in my opinion is the experience of everything that happens,” Antoine said. “That’s what you cherish the most.”

Not having the top Russians on the World Cup circuit figures to have a major impact on the points standings.

Nikitina leads after the first two races of the season, including a win last weekend in Park City, Utah.

Tretiyakov is fourth in the men’s standings, including a bronze at the season opener in Lake Placid, N.Y.

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Russian skiers banned from Olympics allowed to race World Cup opener

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GENEVA (AP) — Russian cross-country skiers found guilty of doping at the Sochi Olympics can compete in World Cup races this weekend because the International Ski Federation (FIS) has been unable to prosecute its own cases in time.

Six Russians, including two Sochi medalists, were retroactively disqualified from the Winter Games this month and banned from the Olympics for life by the IOC.

FIS previously blocked all six from competing with interim suspensions, but those expired on Oct. 31. The International Olympic Committee judging panel then reached its verdicts this month.

However, FIS said Thursday that its own judicial body lacks key IOC documents to process cases.

“Consequently, the FIS Doping Panel is obliged to wait until the IOC Disciplinary Commission reasoned decisions are submitted with details of the evidence relied on,” said the governing body, which is responsible for imposing competition bans.

“As a consequence the active athletes are eligible to compete in FIS including World Cup competitions for the time being,” FIS said.

The World Cup season for men and women begins Friday in Ruka, Finland, with sprint and long-distance racing.

Organizers had not published starting lists Thursday for the three-day meeting and it was unclear which of the six intend to start.

Alexander Legkov and Maxim Vylegzhanin both won multiple medals in Sochi but were stripped by the IOC. The others suspended by the IOC were Evgeny Belov, Alexei Petukhov, Yulia Ivanova and Evgenia Shapovalova.

FIS said rules governed by the World Anti-Doping Agency meant it could not re-impose interim bans without “a specific allegation” plus evidence.

Attempting to assure cross-country skiers they will not be competing against doped rivals, FIS said an additional and independent testing program for Russians has been in operation since June and has taken about 250 blood and urine samples.

The three-man IOC disciplinary panel — chaired by Denis Oswald, a Swiss lawyer and member of the Olympic body’s executive board — has not issued detailed reasons for judgments in 10 cases from Sochi so far completed in cross-country skiing and skeleton.

Without positive doping tests, the panel used evidence of state-backed cover-ups and tampering of sample bottles in the Sochi laboratory first gathered last year by WADA investigator Richard McLaren.

At least 18 more Russian athletes are having their cases prosecuted in an ongoing series of hearings in Lausanne, Switzerland.

On Wednesday, the International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation said it would update “within the next days” action against four Russians, including the Sochi gold medalist Alexander Tretiyakov and bronze medalist Elena Nikitina.

Nikitina won a skeleton World Cup race last weekend in Park City, Utah — a result which may soon be overturned by the IBSF.

All the Russian athletes disqualified by the IOC can appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

On Dec. 5, IOC President Thomas Bach will announce after a board meeting if the Russian team will be banned from the Olympics, which open Feb. 9 in PyeongChang.

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