Noelle Pikus-Pace of the U.S. celebrates after winning second place in the women's skeleton event at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics

Sochi Olympic Daily Recap & Medal Count: Day 7

Leave a comment

After going through so much both on and off the ice, U.S. skeleton racer Noelle Pikus-Pace finally has her Olympic medal.

The U.S. skeleton racer won the silver today in the women’s skeleton behind gold medal winner Lizzy Yarnold of Great Britain. Pikus-Pace, a former world champion, has battled through injuries from a bobsled crash, a fourth-place finish in Vancouver and a miscarriage two years ago. But today, her Olympic dream was realized.

“This is everything I could have imagined and more, just to have my family here with me and all of the love and support and cheers we’ve had, and all of the trials we’ve had to overcome to come to this moment,” she said afterwards. “This is as good as gold.”

VIDEO: Complete Team USA recap for Day 7

Her emotional breakthrough shared top billing today with a men’s figure skating final that was supposed to feature a sizzling battle between Yuzuru Hanyu and Patrick Chan for the gold medal.

But while those two did indeed duel for victory, they were both far from flawless in their free skates. In the end, Hanyu emerged victorious while Jason Brown of the U.S., after being in medal contention to start the day, wound up finishing ninth…

The men’s Alpine skiing super combined was not a good day for Bode Miller and Ted Ligety. Both Americans finished outside the Top 10 in the downhill section, and were unable to make up ground in the slalom and finished out of the medals. Miller shared his frustration over his result on Twitter but did congratulate the podium finishers, led by gold medalist Sandro Villeta of Switzerland…

Here’s a quick rundown of the other medal events this afternoon in Sochi:

In hockey, the women had the day off while the men’s side featured four contests, including Team Canada taking a 6-0 win over Austria. Here were the other contests:

Out of competition, U.S. Speedskating has reportedly asked for the option to switch out of their current suits after a tough series of opening races…

An Irish skeleton racer went for a jaw-dropping ride in men’s skeleton

Vladimir Putin stopped by Team USA’s headquarters…

Team USA athletes celebrated Valentine’s Day

There was a bit of monkey business going on at the men’s super combined…

TODAY’s Meredith Vieira is the next one to step in for Bob Costas as NBC Olympics host…

And snowboard slopestyle gold medalist Sage Kotsenburg palled around with Jimmy Fallon.

MEDAL COUNT – Feb. 14
(Country – Gold/Silver/Bronze – Total Medals)

1. Germany – 7/2/1 – 10
2. Switzerland – 5/1/1 – 7
3. Canada – 4/5/2 – 11
T-4. Norway – 4/3/6 – 13
T-4. United States – 4/3/6 – 13
6. Netherlands – 4/3/5 – 12
7. Belarus – 3/0/1 – 4
8. Russia – 2/5/5 – 12
9. China – 2/2/0 – 4
10. France – 2/0/2 – 4
11. Poland – 2/0/0 – 2
12. Austria – 1/4/0 – 5
13. Japan – 1/2/1 – 4
14. Slovenia – 1/1/2 – 4
T-15. Great Britain – 1/0/1 – 2
T-15. Korea – 1/0/1 – 2
17. Slovakia – 1/0/0 – 1
18. Sweden – 0/5/2 – 7
19. Italy – 0/2/2 – 4
20. Czech Republic – 0/2/1 – 3
21. Australia – 0/1/1 – 2
T-22. Croatia – 0/1/0 – 1
T-22. Finland – 0/1/0 – 1
24. Latvia – 0/0/2 – 2
T-25. Kazakhstan – 0/0/1 – 1
T-25. Ukraine – 0/0/1 – 1

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 )
Getty Images
Leave a comment

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
Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.

MORE: USA Gymnastics agrees to buy Karolyi Ranch