Heather Richardson

U.S. speed skaters excel at first post-Olympic World Cup

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U.S. speed skaters quickly corrected whatever went wrong at the Olympics.

Heather Richardson and Brian Hansen won races on the final day of World Cup competition in Inzell, Germany, on Sunday. Brittany Bowe added a second-place finish, giving the U.S. eight podium finishes in Inzell after zero medals at the Sochi Olympics.

The Netherlands, which won 23 of 36 speed skating medals in Sochi, had 14 podium finishes in Inzell. It was the only nation better than the U.S. in three days of races.

The two most common explanations for the U.S. struggles in Sochi were a) a new skin suit billed as the fastest in the world that was thrown out after early struggles and b) the fact that most skaters trained at altitude (and a pre-Olympic training camp at altitude in Collalbo, Italy) and the Olympics were held at sea level.

However, U.S. skaters didn’t perform much different in Sochi after they switched to their old suits that brought them so much success in the World Cup season before the Olympics. They were still in the old suits in Inzell.

Inzell is about a half-mile high in elevation, but the U.S. performed well at a World Cup in Berlin in January that wasn’t much above sea level. Plus, some skaters, such as Hansen in Milwaukee, don’t train at elevation.

So what the heck happened in Sochi?

“I think we’re all asking ourselves that same question,” Hansen told Dutch media outlet NOS after his win Sunday. “We all know we were better than we performed in Sochi.

“Was it the skin suit? Was it Collalbo? Was it a coincidence? We don’t know.”

Richardson, who finished eighth and seventh in the 500m and 1000m in Sochi, won both 500m races and the 1000m in Inzell this weekend. She and Bowe went one-two in the 1000m on Sunday.

Bowe, who was eighth and 14th in the 1000m and 1500m at the Olympics, also took third in the 1500m on Friday.

Hansen, who finished ninth and seventh in the 1000m and 1500m at the Olympics, took third in the 1000m on Saturday and won the 1500m in Inzell on Sunday.

“I’m pretty pumped,” Hansen said, holding a piece of paper with the phrase “Happy birthday mom” written in marker. “A little bit bittersweet knowing it was right after the Olympics. I’d rather have this than nothing at all.”

Four-time Olympic medalist Shani Davis, who was eighth in the 1000m and 11th in the 1500m at the Olympics, won the 1000m on Saturday and finished fourth behind Hansen in the 1500m on Sunday.

“There’s a lot of mixed feelings,” Davis told NOS on Saturday. “I’m still really depressed about my past results, but I’m happy that I can still race the 1000m at the highest level.

“It lets me know in my heart that it wasn’t me [in Sochi]. This was Shani that should have been two weeks ago.”

The speed skating World Cup concludes in Heerenveen, Netherlands, next weekend.

Inzell Men’s 500m 2
1. Jan Smeekens (NED) 34.91
2. Nico Ihle (GER) 34.97
3. Michel Mulder (NED) 35.00
10. Tucker Fredricks (USA) 35.21
15. Mitchell Whitmore (USA) 35.36

Women’s 1000m
1. Heather Richardson (USA) 1:14.87
2. Brittany Bowe (USA) 1:15.26
3. Olga Fatkulina (RUS) 1:15.34
18. Sugar Todd (USA) 1:18.03

Men’s 1500m
1. Brian Hansen (USA) 1:44.58
2. Denny Morrison (CAN) 1:45.28
3. Koen Verweij (NED) 1:45.68
4. Shani Davis (USA) 1:45.72

Women’s mass start
1. Claudia Pechstein (GER)
2. Janneke Ensing (NED)
3. Irene Schouten (NED)
7. Maria Lamb (USA)

German wins World Cup slalom 3 weeks after car crash

Kerri Walsh Jennings’ next partner is a familiar one

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Kerri Walsh Jennings is slated to play with with 2008 Olympian Nicole Branagh this summer, after she and Olympic bronze medal teammate April Ross split last month.

Walsh Jennings, a three-time Olympic champion with Misty May-Treanor before that bronze in Rio, and Branagh, who made the Beijing Games quarterfinals with Elaine Youngs, are entered in an FIVB World Tour event in Croatia the last week of June.

Walsh Jennings and Branagh are both 38 years old and briefly paired in 2010 when May-Treanor was uncertain about making a run for the London Olympics. When May-Treanor told Walsh Jennings she was all-in for London, Walsh Jennings split from Branagh.

Walsh Jennings and Branagh are hoping to play together through the World Tour Finals in late August, according to Volleyball Magazine.

That includes the world championships in Vienna, Austria, in late July and early August.

It’s not known if they will have the combined ranking points to earn an outright worlds spot. They could also receive a wild card for worlds. Entries will be announced next month.

Walsh Jennings, a mother of three, has said she hopes to play in the 2020 Olympics at age 41, when she will be older than any previous Olympic beach or indoor volleyball player, according to Olympic historians.

Branagh returned to competition this year after a one-year break to have her second child. She has played few international events since 2012 and last won internationally in 2010 (with Walsh Jennings).

Ross, an Olympic silver and bronze medalist and 2009 World champion, is now partnered with Lauren Fendrick, who played with Brooke Sweat in Rio. Ross, 34, said she will figure out her long-term partner plans for Tokyo 2020 after this season.

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Catching up with Ross Powers

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Ross Powers, now 38 years old and 15 years removed from his Olympic snowboarding title, is still out with halfpipe riders on the snow five days per week.

The difference now is that Powers is coaching. He runs the snowboarding program at Stratton Mountain School in Vermont, where he graduated from in 1997.

Powers spoke with OlympicTalk before last season, reflecting on 20 years of snowboarding in the Olympics, Shaun White and how he likes coaching.

OlympicTalk: The PyeongChang Winter Games will mark 20 years since snowboarding’s debut in Nagano. What was it like competing in the first Olympic halfpipe?

Powers (who won bronze in Nagano at age 19): It seemed kind of like a regular World Cup. We were up in the mountains. At the time, it was a really good halfpipe, but we ended up competing in some bad weather, some rain. I didn’t realize until I left Japan and got home how big the Olympics were. But looking back, it was a special time. And I really learned from the ’98 Olympics, like if I get this chance again, I’m going to go there, I’m going to do it all. I’m going to go to Opening Ceremonies, Closing Ceremonies, watch as many events as I can and just make the most out of the Games.

OlympicTalk: The Nagano halfpipe was about half the size of today’s superpipes (394 feet long with 11 1/2-foot walls vs. 590 feet with 22-foot walls in Sochi). Could today’s snowboarders compete with you guys back in 1998?

Powers: It was so different. At the time, I want to say it was the biggest pipe we rode, but compared to today’s standards, it’s small. The weather was tricky. I think a lot of those guys [today] could ride it, but it’s so much different than today’s halfpipe for sure.

OlympicTalk: In 2002, when you led a U.S. men’s halfpipe medal sweep, the rider who just missed the Olympic team was a 15-year-old Shaun White. What do you remember about him?

Powers: You kind of knew he was going to be the next guy. Where he took our sport and certain tricks. One thing that really impressed me about him is he’ll train really hard for an event, show up, even if the conditions are bad, he’s planned this trick he wants to do, and he’ll try it no matter what. Most of the time he’ll give it a go and land it. That actually hurt him in Russia [White attempted but couldn’t perfect the YOLO Flip 1440 in Sochi] because he probably could have stepped down a notch, gotten a medal and maybe even won the event.

OlympicTalk: Did Shaun ever beat you before you retired?

Powers: I had my run from 1998, ’99, ’00, ’01, all those times that I was doing really well. I tried to make the 2006 Olympics in Italy. I was the alternate, so I just missed that. He was definitely beating me up through those times.

OlympicTalk: Did you travel to the Torino Olympics as an alternate?

Powers: I did, yeah. I traveled over there and actually watched my buddy [Seth] Wescott win the gold in boarder cross. That night, he was like, you should try boarder cross. That kind of got me into doing that my next few years after that.

[Editor’s Note: Powers almost made the 2010 Olympic team in snowboard cross, even finishing third in a December 2009 World Cup.]

OlympicTalk: Which is tougher, coaching or competing?

Powers: I would say it is tougher coaching than competing. You just have so many responsibilities and so much work. The nice thing about coaching, though, compared to competing, is you can kind of push yourself and have fun [riding] on certain days but then also sit back and really work with the athletes on all other days. So when you’re feeling it, you can push yourself. So it’s not like an athlete, where you have to push yourself.

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