Sochi Olympics Speedskating Men

Don’t forget from Sochi: Canadian speedskater Gilmore Junio, a real team player

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Every now and then, Olympic Talk will look back at athletes and/or stories who were memorable, even if they didn’t end up earning medals. As it turns out, some of the best stories don’t come with gold, silver or bronze.

Canadian speedskater Gilmore Junio had already finished with a Top-10 result in the men’s 500m at the Sochi Olympics, and was slated to compete again in the 1000m on Feb. 12.

Junio was one of the four Canadian skaters that had qualified at that distance, but notably absent from that group was Denny Morrison, a two-time world champ in the 1500m that was no slouch in the 1000m, either.

Morrison had failed to qualify in the 1000m when he fell in that event during the Canadian trials in December.

But in a gracious gesture, Junio gave his spot for the Sochi 1000m to Morrison, the first alternate for Canada at that distance.

He did it because he thought Morrison would give their country the best chance in the event, calling him “a consistent medal threat in the distance.”

When it came time for the race, Morrison would reward his teammate’s faith in him with a silver medal finish – just .04 of a second behind gold medal winner Stefan Groothuis of the Netherlands.

“I was breathing hard, I have lost my voice and I am so pleased for him,” Junio said immediately following the event per Reuters.

As for Morrison, he pushed for Junio to become Canada’s flagbearer for tonight’s Closing Ceremony, saying that he “embodies what it means to be a Canadian Olympian.”

Junio ultimately didn’t get the nod, which went instead to women’s bobsled gold medalists Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse.

But he could get something else.

Toronto-based design firm Jacknife Design is now trying to raise $7,000 CDN on Indiegogo that will go toward the creation of a special medal for Junio.

It would be comprised of three primary materials – maplewood to represent the people of Canada, silver to represent the 1000m medal Morrison won, and gold to represent the country’s gratitude toward Junio.

“Junio’s ability to put his own lifelong dream aside to give another athlete a shot, set an example for not only Canada but people all over the world,” Jacknife creative director Michael Richardson said to the CBC.

“The way he put the pride of the country ahead of his own personal aspirations made my head spin and left me truly inspired. We had to do something to recognize this true Canadian hero.”

Let’s hope Canadians can give one of their own the recognition he deserves.

Mikaela Shiffrin runner-up in World Cup season opener

SOELDEN, AUSTRIA - OCTOBER 22: Mikaela Shiffrin of USA in action during the Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup Women's Giant Slalom on October 22, 2016 in Soelden, Austria (Photo by Alexis Boichard/Agence Zoom/Getty Images)
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Mikaela Shiffrin‘s bid for a first outright World Cup giant slalom victory was denied by World Cup overall champion Lara Gut on Saturday, opening what could be a season-long battle between the two.

The Swiss Gut dominated to win the first race in Soelden, Austria, by 1.44 seconds over Shiffrin combining times from two runs. It marked the second-largest women’s margin of victory in Soelden history.

“It’s a big relief to walk away from today with a podium,” Shiffrin said. “It’s always great to win, but I’m starting off on the right foot. I can be happy with that, but I know I can do better.”

Italian Marta Bassino was third. Full results are here.

“I put myself so much under pressure until this morning,” said Gut, who led Shiffrin by 1.42 seconds after the first of two runs. “Sometimes, it’s horrible. You get into the race, and start thinking instead of just skiing. I’m happy I had a fast first run because the second run was just a fight.”

Shiffrin, the youngest Olympic slalom champion, shared victory with Austrian Anna Veith in Soelden in 2014 and finished second to Italian Federica Brignone last year.

Lindsey Vonn and Veith, both coming back from season-ending knee injuries, skipped Soelden.

Gut and Shiffrin could be the top World Cup overall title contenders with Vonn focusing on speed events and Veith’s readiness uncertain. Shiffrin had finished fifth, sixth and fourth in the overall standings before placing 10th last season, when she missed two months due to a right knee injury.

Gut, 25, won six races across four disciplines last season, showing the kind of all-around prowess that Shiffrin can’t yet match. Shiffrin is the world’s best slalom skier and showed she is elite in giant slalom on Saturday, but she has scant experience in downhill, super-G and super combined races.

“Lara’s given us a good pace to chase,” Shiffrin said. “When she comes down, and she’s that far ahead and just taking every gate like it’s the last gate she’s going to ski, it’s really cool to see.”

The men open their season in Soelden on Sunday (4 a.m. and 7 a.m. ET, NBC Sports app; 9:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

The women next race a slalom in Levi, Finland, on Nov. 12.

Shiffrin has won 11 straight slaloms dating to 2015, including her last eight World Cup slaloms, the longest streak since four-time Olympic champion Janica Kostelic won 10 straight from 1999 through 2001.


Ashley Wagner tops Skate America short program

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HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. (AP) — Ashley Wagner topped the Skate America short program Friday night with 69.50 points, building on her second-place finish from last season’s world championships.

Japan’s Mai Mihara, making her Grand Prix Series debut at 17, was second at 65.75, and U.S. champion Gracie Gold third at 64.87.

The free skate will determine the champion Saturday at Sears Centre Arena (live on NBC and the NBC Sports app at 4:30 p.m. ET). Full results are here.

Wagner performed with a fierce and determined style, delivering a technically solid and entertaining program to “Sweet Dreams” by the Eurhythmics.

“I capitalized on the momentum (from worlds) going into the summer,” said Wagner, the 2012 Skate America winner. “It inspired me to train even harder than I had been because it showed me that my training got me onto that podium. It motivated me and made it a realistic goal to get onto that Olympic podium, and I can almost taste it. It’s a totally new season. I’m hopefully a different athlete from that Worlds event and I think it’s just about building on that from here on out.”

Mihara fell during her warmup, which she said relaxed her during her performance.

“I think for my first Grand Prix event, I did a good job,” she said.

Gold, coming off a disappointing fourth-place finish in the world championships, fell on her triple flip, but otherwise was solid in her performance to a tango.

“I had a hiccup on the triple flip, but I went after everything,” Gold said. “I just need to keep working on the program and just keep getting it out there.”

Gold said the months after the world championships were difficult and affected her training.

“It was a pretty hard summer,” she said. “I had trouble getting going and getting my feet under me for some reason. I felt I had let myself down. No one else felt the intense shame that I felt, but it was just so internal that I had trouble getting back out there. But as soon as I got the momentum going, I’ve been feeling excellent.”

Three-time World champion Mao Asada of Japan, hampered by a knee injury, was fifth.

In pairs, Russia’s Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov took a commanding lead program with a score of 75.24. Americans Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, who missed last season with a knee injury to Denney, were second at 67.29, and Canadians Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau followed at 66.49.

Tarasova and Morozov, fifth at the world championships, received high marks on their opening triple twist as well as their lifts, spins and footwork.

“Today we have a short program we did well,” Morozov said. “We have a personal best and were glad to have this moment.”

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