Sam Mikulak

Sam Mikulak, Elizabeth Price win American Cup (video)

Leave a comment

Sam Mikulak wants another shot at the World Championships and Olympics. Elizabeth Price eyes her first trip to either.

Mikulak and Price took early steps to both major competitions by topping international fields at the American Cup in Greensboro, N.C., on Saturday.

Mikulak overtook Japan’s Shogo Nonomura in the final rotation after Nonomura fell on high bar. Mikulak, the reigning U.S. all-around champion, won his first American Cup with 90.098 points.

Nonomura finished 1.133 behind. Another American, John Orozco, was fifth.

“Final rotation was intense,” Mikulak said on NBC. “There was a lot of nerves going in. Big crowd. Big stadium. I just wanted to go out there and hit my routine, no falls, and then let the pressure sink in on the other competitors. It worked out in my favor.”

Price cruised with 59.966, bettering fellow American Brenna Dowell by a comfortable 2.434. She also won her first American Cup.

“To add this title to a list of many, it’s pretty cool,” Price said. “I hope to keep making the list bigger and bigger.”

Mikulak was the least experienced member of the 2012 U.S. men’s Olympic team that finished a disappointing fifth in London. The 21-year-old Michigan senior came back in 2013 to win his first U.S. all-around title.

But Mikulak won zero medals at the 2013 World Championships in Antwerp, Belgium, where he finished sixth in the all-around after being second to Japanese legend Kohei Uchimura in qualifying.

Mikulak remained the best American man by topping Orozco in Greensboro.

“To be able to win another American title outside of the NCAA season, it just feels spectacular,” Mikulak said. “I’m excited for what else is to come.”

Orozco, also 21, won the 2012 U.S. all-around title going into the Olympics, but he did not bring back any medals from London. He suffered a torn ACL and meniscus in October 2012 and came back to win world bronze on parallel bars in Antwerp.

Mikulak and Orozco could face competition from Olympic all-around bronze medalist Danell Leyva and two-time Olympian Jonathan Horton at the U.S. Championships in Pittsburgh from Aug. 21-24.

Leyva, 22, needs to improve upon results from last year’s U.S. Championships (seventh overall) and last month’s Winter Cup (ninth overall) if he’s to be an international medal threat again.

Horton, 28, had shoulder surgery in early 2013 and missed the entire season. He petitioned onto the National Team for 2014 though, a strong indicator of his intention to compete again.

This year’s World Championships, in October in Nanning, China, will include a team competition, unlike in 2013. The U.S. men should vie for medals with powerhouses Japan and China.

Price, 17, notched her biggest victory on U.S. soil at the American Cup. The alternate for the 2012 Olympics and 2013 World Championships is a threat for medals at this year’s U.S. Championships and World Championships should she stay healthy.

“Being so close to the Olympic team back in 2012 definitely made me like really hungry for more meets,” Price said. “Hopefully I can soon say that I’ve won even bigger meets than this one.”

Dowell, also 17, made the 2013 World Championships team after taking third in the all-around at the U.S. Championships. She did not compete in Antwerp, however. Instead, the U.S. opted to enter Simone BilesKyla Ross and McKayla Maroney in all-around qualifying.

So Price and Dowell go into the major spring, summer and fall events with something to prove. The next big meet is the Pacific Rim Championships at the 2010 Olympic speed skating oval in Richmond, B.C., from April 9-12.

The women-only U.S. Classic just outside Chicago is Aug. 2.

Biles and Ross, the world all-around gold and silver medalists, missed the American Cup with injuries. Maroney is trying to bolster her all-around prospects after winning a world title on vault last year.

That’s not to mention the expected return of triple Olympic medalist Aly Raisman, perhaps at the U.S. Classic. Gabby Douglas and Jordyn Wieber have said they’ve returned to training, but it’s unknown when they will compete again.

Ryan Hall impressed by president Obama’s jogging skills

John-Henry Krueger makes Olympics, four years after swine flu

Leave a comment

Four years ago, John-Henry Krueger spent Friday night and early Saturday morning at Olympic Trials lying on an apartment bathroom floor, unable to keep food down due to swine flu.

Tonight, Krueger celebrates his first Olympic berth.

“The win today in spite of what happened four years ago just made the victory that much sweeter,” Krueger said on NBCSN.

He topped the 1500m at the Olympic Trials in Kearns, Utah, to become the first of five men to qualify for PyeongChang this weekend.

Krueger was second in the first of two 1500m races behind three-time Olympic medalist J.R. Celski. Celski went into the second and final 1500m as the heavy favorite but slipped and fell with a lap and a half left.

Krueger won the race and moved ahead of Celski in the overall standings for the one Olympic berth available. Celski will have more chances Saturday and Sunday to get one of the last four Olympic men’s spots.

Vancouver Olympian Lana Gehring swept the women’s 1500m to make the Olympic team, too. Gehring, 27, held off Jessica Kooreman by .113 of a second in the second 1500m final to clinch the spot. Kooreman was later disqualified.

Gehring failed to make the Sochi Olympic team, retired, unretired in late 2015 to try long-track speed skating, then switched back to short track this year.

In 2014, the U.S. won zero individual short track medals at an Olympics for just the second time since the sport debuted at Albertville 1992.

Celski and Kooreman came the closest to the podium, each picking up a fourth-place finish.

Individual medal prospects in the six events in PyeongChang are not great. The U.S. bagged one individual World Cup medal this season in 24 total races — a bronze from Celski.

Krueger leads the program with five individual World Cup medals since Sochi, one coming in the last three years.

In 2013, he also won a World Cup medal and was a favorite to make the team. But he came down with swine flu the week of Trials.

He fought, even finishing second in one of the Saturday finals after that harrowing night in the bathroom, but didn’t have enough strength to make the Olympic team.

“All the lovely side effects that come with swine flu,” Krueger, who now lives and trains in the Netherlands, said earlier this fall. “I had all the classic symptoms of that.”

The best U.S. hope in PyeongChang may be the men’s relay, where the U.S. made the podium at the last three Olympics. A U.S. quartet anchored by Celski broke the world record last month.

The four men who will join Krueger in PyeongChang will be decided the next two days in Utah. The top finishers in the 500m (Saturday) and 1000m (Sunday) are guaranteed Olympic berths.

The U.S. women did not qualify an Olympic relay, but the 500m and 1000m winners will join Gehring in PyeongChang for individual races.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: U.S. Olympic short track skater gets 4-year doping ban

U.S. Olympic Short Track Trials

Day Time (ET) Events Network
Friday 6:45-8 p.m. 1500m rounds STREAM LINK
8:30-10 p.m. 1500m finals NBCSN | STREAM LINK
Saturday 12-1:45 p.m. 500m rounds STREAM LINK
2:30-4 p.m. 500m finals NBC | STREAM LINK
Sunday 10:15 a.m.-12:15 p.m. 1000m rounds STREAM LINK
1-3 p.m. 1000m finals NBC | STREAM LINK

Chloe Kim qualifies for U.S. Olympic snowboard team

Getty Images
Leave a comment

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. — In 2014, Chloe Kim ranked high enough to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team in snowboard halfpipe, but she was too young to compete at the Winter Games.

Four years later, she’ll finally have the opportunity to represent the red, white and blue at the Olympics.

Kim won her second straight Olympic qualifier, which will secure her nomination to the U.S. halfpipe team. The 17-year-old, who is the only woman currently capable of landing back-to-back 1080s, is considered the gold medal favorite for PyeongChang 2018.

“It seems like a dream almost, and I’m trying to wake up,” Kim said of earning her spot on the Olympic team. “I think today when I get home, it’s going to sink in, and I’m probably going to cry.”

With the pressure of Olympic qualifying over with, Kim says that cleaning up her cab 1080s will be a primary focus as she prepares for PyeongChang.

Who will join Kim on the women’s halfpipe team remains up in the air, though Kelly Clark is in good shape after a third at the Copper Grand Prix and a second at Dew Tour Breckenridge, which hosted Friday’s qualifier.

The three-time Olympic medalist crashed on her first two runs in the final and needed to be checked out by the medical staff after hitting the deck on a frontside 1080 attempt on Run 2. With a bandage on her nose, she came back undeterred in Run 3, landed the frontside 1080 and got onto the podium.

“These are Olympic qualifying events, and me ending up in the middle of the pack isn’t really going to benefit me,” Clark said. “I have one shot, so I went for it.”

The men’s halfpipe competition produced a surprise winner in 19-year-old Jake Pates, who outdueled not just his own U.S. teammates but also a stacked field of international riders.

Pates came out firing on his third and final run, putting down a sequence of tricks that ended with a unique variation on the double McTwist 1260 made famous by Shaun White. Instead of doing a standard grab, Pates executed a tail grab on the trick that added extra difficulty and clearly caught the eye of the judges.

“That was a trick I’ve been wanting to do forever,” Pates said of the double McTwist, which he had never landed in a contest before. “Seriously, I saw that happen when I was, like, 8 years old. I saw that happen at X Games and it was crazy.”

According to Pates, it was just the fourth time he had ever landed the trick on snow.

With such a stacked group of riders on the U.S. team, Pates was mostly overlooked when it came to Olympic qualifying favorites. Now he’s suddenly in the discussion as a possible medal contender.

“I never thought in a million years I would have won this event today,” he said. “I just wanted to land that run, actually I’ve never done that before. I’ve been dreaming about that all week.”

Ben Ferguson, who was the top American at the first selection event, took a strong step toward making his first Olympic team as well by finishing third overall and second among Americans in Breckenridge. He and Pates will both be in position to potentially secure their spots on the team at the next qualifier.

“For every other American out there, there is another level of pressure we’ve got to deal with doing these [Olympic qualifiers],” Ferguson said afterward. “And for me, doing well in these last two has kind of pulled some of that pressure off and relieved a little bit of anxiety, and I can just focus on having fun more.”

Aside from helping to shape the U.S. Olympic team, the men’s halfpipe competition in Breckenridge also provided a showcase of international stars who will be in the mix for medals in PyeongChang.

Scotty James of Australia unveiled a new run which included back-to-back double cork 1260s and a switch backside 900. It was a very technical run which earned him a massive score and would have given him the victory were it not for Pates stepping it up at the very end.

Also standing out was Japan’s Ayumu Hirano. The Sochi silver medalist started his run off with a massive indy air before going into a difficult sequence of tricks that included a frontside double cork 1440 and frontside double cork 1260. He finished in fourth.

Absent from the men’s field was White, the two-time Olympic gold medalist. White was unable to put down a clean run amid snowy conditions during Thursday’s qualifying round and therefore failed to advance to the final.

Despite the disappointing result, White is still in good shape when it comes to Olympic qualifying. He was second among U.S. riders at the first selection event and still has two qualifying events left.

Up to three spots on the U.S. team for both men and women will be allocated through automatic qualification. In order to be eligible, riders need a top-three finish at one of the selection events. Each rider’s two best results will be used as a tiebreaker.

There are two selection events remaining for snowboard halfpipe, and they will both take place in January.

Olympic qualifying for snowboard and freeski slopestyle resumes Saturday in Breckenridge.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Shaun White details crash that led to 62 stitches

Snowboard Halfpipe
Qualifying Standings 
(through two of four events)
1. Ben Ferguson — 1,800*
2. Jake Pates — 1,320*
3. Danny Davis — 1,200
4. Shaun White — 1,120*
5. Gabe Ferguson — 950
5. Chase Josey — 950

1. Chloe Kim — 2,000* (QUALIFIED)
2. Kelly Clark — 1,400*
3. Maddie Mastro — 1,300*
4. Arielle Gold — 1,100*
5. Elena Hight — 850
*Has automatic qualifying minimum of one top-three result.

Breckenridge Finals (all times Eastern)
Friday
Men’s Ski Halfpipe — 11 a.m.-12:15 p.m.
Women’s Ski Halfpipe — 12:45-1:30 p.m.
Men’s Snowboard Halfpipe — 2:30-3:45 p.m.
Women’s Snowboard Halfpipe — 4:15-5 p.m.

Saturday
Women’s Snowboard Slopestyle — 11-11:45 a.m.
Men’s Snowboard Slopestyle — 12:15-1:30 p.m.
Men’s Ski Slopestyle — 2:30-3:45 p.m.
Women’s Ski Slopestyle — 4:15-5 p.m.