Around the Games: Day 11 - 2014 Winter Olympic Games

NHL boss: “What comes next we’ll all have to figure out”

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SOCHI, Russia — Let’s start with a direct quote from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman:

“I don’t want to get into what the pros and cons are for participating. Everybody knows them, and they’ve been debated ad nauseam. We are here because we think it’s great to be here today at this tournament. What comes next we’ll all have to figure out, as we’ve done each of the other times that the NHL players have participated.”

Because that, folks, is the most important takeaway from today’s press conference that featured Bettman, NHLPA chief Donald Fehr, and IIHF president René Fasel. Anyone who figured we’d learn something more definitive about the future of NHL participation in the Olympics was left disappointed, and was probably a bit naive to figure that in the first place.

“It’s nothing that’s been discussed. It’s nothing that will be discussed while we’re here in Sochi.”” said Bettman of the potential to send NHLers to Pyeongchang, South Korea, in 2018.

“From our standpoint, we have a process we go through,” said Fehr. “We have a significant time period which we talk to the players, digest what they have to say, figure out what they want, and then they tell me what they’d like me to do, and we try and make that happen. And that process will play out after the Games.”

The most entertaining part of today’s affair came near the end, when Fasel — a big supporter of maintaining NHL participation — said, “There is nothing like an Olympic gold medal in the life of an athlete. Nothing.”

To which Bettman responded, “Except perhaps winning the Stanley Cup.”

So failing any actual hard answers, at least there were some laughs.

At this point, the ball seems very much in the court of the players. As we wrote last week, if NHLers want to keep coming to the Olympics, they need to make that clear.

“None of this moves forward at all, if it moves forward at all, if the players don’t want to play,” said Bettman. “The reason we’re here in the first instance is this is a game with a history and tradition of international competition and our players, NHL players, love representing their countries. And so, if the players ever said, ‘We’re not interested,’ we’re not going to ever force them to go.”

As for when the decision will be made? Fehr employed a famous legal phrase: “I think it will be done…with all deliberate speed. You do it as fast as you can, but in a democratic organization, you have to do it at the rate the players are prepared to do it. All the players.”

Bettman backed the time frame of six months that was proposed by deputy commissioner Bill Daly.

“As a logistical matter, subject to what Don said, we don’t see why it couldn’t be done in that time frame,” said Bettman. “Frankly, if we’re going to continue to participate, having as long a runway as possible to use the advantages would be a good thing. And if we’re not going to participate, giving the various national federations an opportunity to adjust to that, giving them as much time as possible would be good.”

Nathan Chen ushers in new era with record-breaking nationals short program

ST PAUL, MN - JANUARY 24: Nathan Chen looks on after competing in the Men's Free Skate at the 2016 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championship on January 24, 2016 at Xcel Energy Center in St Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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KANSAS CITY — Nathan Chen is in position to become the youngest U.S. men’s champion in 51 years and, as he said Friday night, help put the U.S. “back on the map” in men’s skating.

Chen, 17 and already an Olympic medal contender, tallied 106.39 points in the short program, taking Jeremy Abbott‘s U.S. Championships record of 99.86 from 2014 off the books.

He carries a whopping 17.72-point lead into Sunday’s free skate (4 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Chen, a past U.S. novice and junior champion, landed two quadruple jumps and continued his rise in a breakout senior season after taking silver at the Grand Prix Final last month.

He said after his skate that he’s ready to handle the tag of Olympic medal contender and to go for the world title in Helsinki in March.

“I’m able to stack up against these top-level skaters,” said Chen, who beat the reigning Olympic and world champions in the Grand Prix Final free skate. “That’s something I’ve strived for my whole life. I don’t think it’s something I should necessarily be afraid of, something that I’ve wanted my whole life.”

Chen leads the U.S. Championships over a member of the old guard, Ross Miner, a 25-year-old who made three straight U.S. podiums from 2011-13 but none since.

Vincent Zhou, who turned 16 three months ago, was third, but within .82 of Miner. Full results are here.

“Nathan Chen has always been a few steps ahead of me,” said Zhou, who won the 2013 U.S. junior title and finished fifth at the 2016 World Junior Championships, taking two years off in between to recover from a torn meniscus in his right knee and focus on school. “When he was intermediate, I was just a little preliminary admiring him. Now it feels amazing to start closing the gap.”

The U.S. will send two men to the world championships in two months, selected after Sunday’s free skate, and they likely won’t be the usual names. Neither Chen nor Zhou has been to senior worlds, and Miner’s last appearance was 2013.

The 2016 U.S. champion, Adam Rippon, is not competing this week due to a season-ending broken foot. The 2015 U.S. champion, Jason Brown, is in fourth place, 8.62 behind third-place Zhou. Max Aaron, the 2013 U.S. champion, fell twice and tumbled to 12th place Friday.

“It just wasn’t a good day,” Aaron said. “It’s not me.”

There are no more pressure-filled world championships than those one year before the Olympics, where skaters earn Olympic entries for their countries.

“That would definitely be a massive step up that I haven’t prepared for in the fullest, but it would be an absolute honor if I were to be able to go,” Zhou said. “But, for now, I’m setting more of my sights on junior worlds.”

Hopes will mostly be riding with Chen, who has a shot to become the first U.S. men’s medalist at an Olympics or worlds since Evan Lysacek took the 2010 Olympic title.

“We’re pushing back up to where we should be,” Chen said of the U.S. men. “We kind of sunk a little bit, but I think me and some of the other skaters coming up at this event will help bring the U.S. back on the map.”

The U.S. Championships continue Saturday with the pairs free skate, free dance and women’s free skate, with coverage starting at 3 p.m. ET on NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

Check out NBCsports.com/USFIGS for all-access coverage all weekend.

MORE: Ashley Wagner ‘sick’ of hearing about her age

Men’s Short Program
1. Nathan Chen — 106.39
2. Ross Miner — 88.67
3. Vincent Zhou — 87.85
4. Jason Brown — 79.23
5. Grant Hochstein — 79.10

Maia, Alex Shibutani break U.S. Championships short dance record

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KANSAS CITY — Maia and Alex Shibutani broke the U.S. Championships short dance record held by Olympic champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White on Friday.

The defending national champion Shibutanis tallied 82.42 points at Sprint Center, easily taking down the Davis-and-White mark of 80.69 set at the 2014 U.S. Championships.

Scores have been higher this season overall, leading to records in international competitions, too.

“Didn’t know it was a record,” Maia Shibutani said. “It was our strongest performance of the short dance so far this season. That’s exactly what we want to be showing right now before we head to the second half of the season.”

The Shibutanis lead by 2.46 points over 2015 U.S. champions Madison Chock and Evan Bates going into Saturday’s free dance (3 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, three-time U.S. bronze medalists, are again third. Full results are here.

U.S. Figure Skating will send three dance couples to the world championships in two months. The Shibutanis, Chock and Bates and Hubbell and Donohue were those three couples the past two seasons.

The U.S. is the world power in ice dance, impressively rising during Davis and White’s break since Sochi.

The Shibutanis took silver and Chock and Bates took bronze at the 2016 World Championships. Hubbell and Donohue made it three U.S. couples in the top six at worlds for the first time since 1955.

Chock and Bates had been the top U.S. couple since the Sochi Olympics up until last year’s U.S. Championships. The Shibutanis have topped Chock and Bates in their last three competitions together.

Check out NBCsports.com/USFIGS for all-access coverage all weekend.

MORE: U.S. Championships broadcast schedule

Short Dance
1. Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani — 82.42
2. Madison Chock/Evan Bates — 79.96
3. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue — 79.72
4. Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker — 72.60
5. Elliana Pogrebinsky/Alex Benoit — 67.17