Steve Holcomb, Chris Fogt

IndyCar engineer contributes to U.S. bobsled squad

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An open-wheeled IndyCar and a streamlined bobsled may seem worlds apart, but for David Cripps – a former engineer for IndyCar Series team Panther Racing that’s now helping the U.S. bobsled team in Sochi – his new job isn’t much different from his old one.

“My responsibilities are very similar to an IndyCar race engineer. I am basically responsible for the performance, reliability, development and day-to-day running of the sleds,” Cripps told IndyCar’s official website ahead of training runs in Russia. “There has been a fairly large amount of development upgrades coming up to the Games.”

Cripps knows a thing or two about making things go fast. He helped take Panther’s No. 4 National Guard Honda (now Chevrolet) to four consecutive runner-up finishes in the Indianapolis 500 from 2008-2011 with three different drivers – Vitor Meira (2008), late two-time “500” champion Dan Wheldon (2009-10), and American racer J.R. Hildebrand (2011).

And he’s not the only IndyCar Series link to the U.S. bobsled effort. Richard Laubenstein, a former member of Penske Racing’s legendary open-wheel team, works directly with Cripps as a sled technician. Another IndyCar team, Rahal Letterman Lanigan, has provided steering upgrades for six of the team’s two-man sleds.

Steven Holcomb and Co. will be searching for the first U.S. Olympic medal in the two-man competition since 1952 in addition to trying to defend their four-man gold from Vancouver in 2010.

Cripps’ move into the world of winter sports began after leading a tour of Panther’s garage at Detroit’s Belle Isle Park in 2012 for officials from USA Luge. That led to Panther installing telemetry on one of the luge sleds for a test in early 2013 at Lake Placid, New York.

Then, after officially parting ways with Panther last June, Cripps became a permanent member of the U.S. team through the Olympics. So far, he’s enjoyed what he calls the “invigorating challenge” that’s come with learning a new form of racing.

“So far, this has been an amazing adventure and the best is yet to come,” he added. “It truly has been an honor to work with such an amazing group of athletes and coaches. Their level of effort and dedication is commendable. I think we will be assembling one of the strongest pit crews ever for this year’s Indy 500.”

The bobsled competition begins Feb. 16 at the Sanki Sliding Center, with medal events on Feb. 17 (two-man), Feb. 19 (women’s), and Feb. 23 (four-man). As for the IndyCars, they’ll return to NBCSN on Apr. 13 with their second race of the season, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Karen Chen breaks U.S. Champs scoring record; Ashley Wagner, Gracie Gold trail

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KANSAS CITY — A skater broke the U.S. Championships women’s short program scoring record Thursday night, but it wasn’t Ashley Wagner or Gracie Gold.

Karen Chen, a 17-year-old former junior star who struggled the last two years, tallied 72.82 points at the Sprint Center to lead going into Saturday’s free skate (8 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Mirai Nagasu, a 2010 Olympian, is second, .87 of a point behind.

That leaves Wagner and Gold, who combined to win the last five U.S. titles, in third and fifth, respectively.

This is concerning for Wagner (1.88 behind Chen) and Gold (7.97 behind) given U.S. Figure Skating can send three women to worlds in two months. That selection will be made this weekend, primarily — but not totally — based off U.S. Championships results.

Tessa Hong is in fourth place, but at 14 years old is too young for senior worlds.

Full results are here.

Though Wagner and Gold are usually higher placed, the biggest surprise was Chen.

“My body’s still trembling right now,” she said, two hours after her performance.

Chen skated a clean program Thursday, rare for her in the last couple of seasons. Chen burst onto the scene as a 15-year-old two years ago, finishing third at nationals behind Wagner and Gold.

She was too young to be selected for the 2015 Worlds team. Little has been heard from Chen since.

She dropped to eighth at the 2016 U.S. Championships and came into Kansas City as the seventh-ranked U.S. woman this season. Struggling to find comfortable boots — a common skater problem — has plagued her. She went through 14 pairs in a four-month stretch.

“Everyone has doubts, and I certainly do as well,” said Chen, who choreographed her short program. “But I just kept pushing and telling myself that I’m gaining more experience, I’m learning about everything in the process and I’m just going to keep getting better.”

Wagner bounced back from her last outing — her worst Grand Prix finish in 25 career starts — with a decent program. She needed to save a double Axel near the end of her short. The 2016 World silver medalist was the pre-event favorite.

“People do not understand how difficult of a position I am in,” said Wagner, a 25-year-old bidding to become the oldest U.S. women’s champion in 90 years. “It might seem like I’m on top of the world, or second from being top of the world, but this is a very tough position to be in. It’s mentally been weighing on my shoulders all season. To be able to come out and show people I am a fighter, I’m really proud of that.”

Gold needed to show a fighting spirit given her well-publicized disaster of a fall season. And she did. Her only miss in the short program was doubling a planned triple flip.

“I can feel a huge improvement as a skater. I think everyone can see it,” Gold said. “I have made comebacks before. This doesn’t feel like a major comeback in some ways, because I felt pretty solid. … A long program is worth a lot of points, and I can certainly deliver some good long programs. I kind of feel like I’m due for a good one.”

If Gold doesn’t improve in the free skate, she could be left off the worlds team for the first time in her senior career. However, Gold believes her strong credentials in recent seasons merit consideration.

“We’ve seen different controversies where people aren’t on the [nationals] podium, and they’re still selected for events,” Gold said. “Michelle Kwan has not gone to nationals and been selected for an Olympic team [in 2006]. I believe that I deserve to be on the world team, but I’m not on the selection committee. Of course, every athlete feels like they should be on the world team.”

Earlier Thursday, the pairs short program produced surprise leaders.

The U.S. Championships continue Friday with the short dance and men’s short program. A full broadcast schedule is here.

MORE: U.S. Figure Skating boss wants Russia out of PyeongChang

Women’s Short Program
1. Karen Chen — 72.82
2. Mirai Nagasu — 71.95
3. Ashley Wagner — 70.94
4. Tessa Hong — 65.02
5. Gracie Gold — 64.85

 

Gwen Jorgensen pregnant, to sit out 2017 triathlon season

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 20: USA's Gwen Jorgensen followed by Switzerland's Nicola Spirig Hug (L) compete in the running portion of the women's triathlon at Fort Copacabana during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 20, 2016.(Photo by Jeff Pachoud-Pool/Getty Images)
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Olympic triathlon champion Gwen Jorgensen is pregnant and will not compete this year.

“Just kind of take this year a little bit easier,” Jorgensen said in a video posted on Facebook on Thursday.

The baby is due Aug. 3, according to Jorgensen’s social media.

Jorgensen, 30, became the first U.S. Olympic triathlon champion in Rio after going in as the heavy favorite. She has said for months that she planned to take time off to have a baby before returning to defend her Olympic title at Tokyo 2020.

Swiss Nicola Spirig, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist and 2016 silver medalist, is reportedly expecting a child in May.

In Jorgensen and Spirig’s absences, the top triathletes going into the season are defending world champion Flora Duffy of Bermuda, U.S. Olympians Katie Zaferes and Sarah True and Britons Vicky Holland and Helen Jenkins.

Jorgensen’s last competition was the New York City Marathon on Nov. 6, when she finished 14th in her first running race longer than 10 miles.

The World Triathlon Series kicks off in Abu Dhabi the first weekend of March.

MORE: Triathlon federation boss wants Olympic races shortened