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, April Ross win World Series of Beach Volleyball

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Rio bronze medalists Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross bounced back from an Olympic upset to win the biggest annual tournament in the U.S. on Sunday.

Walsh Jennings and Ross captured the Asics World Series of Beach Volleyball title in Long Beach, Calif., for the second time in three years. They beat Spanish pair Liliana Fernández and Elsa Baquerizo 21-16, 21-16 in the final.

“We love those girls so much, they are dear friends of ours,” Walsh Jennings said. “We wanted to beat them down.”

Absent from Long Beach were Olympic gold medalists Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkenhorst of Germany and silver medalists Ágatha and Bárbara of Brazil.

Walsh Jennings and Ross, who lost to Ágatha and Bárbara in the Olympic semifinals, dropped a total of two sets in seven undefeated matches this past week.

They earned their fifth international title of the year after winning none in 2015, last season shortened by Walsh Jennings’ fifth right shoulder surgery.

In the men’s final, Brazil’s No. 2 pair, Pedro and Evandro, beat top U.S. pair Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena 19-21, 21-17, 15-9.

Olympic champions Alison and Bruno of Brazil did not compete in Long Beach.

The beach volleyball season continues with the FIVB World Tour Finals in Toronto in two weeks.

MORE: Tough for Misty May-Treanor to watch Kerri Walsh Jennings in Rio

Monica Puig’s unlikely Olympic tennis gold reminded her of ‘Miracle’ scene

Monica Puig
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NEW YORK (AP) — Monica Puig gazed out at her fellow Puerto Ricans jamming the parade route, and in their eyes she saw hope.

They hailed her with “a sense of satisfaction,” she recalled Saturday, “and a sense of belief that things are going to get better.”

Throughout her stunning run to the Olympic tennis gold medal, Puig embraced the symbolism of each upset victory. An economic crisis is devastating the island of her birth, and she appreciated that if she could prove the impossible is possible, that message would reverberate far beyond sports.

“If Puerto Rico channels that same energy and belief that things will get better and working for the better of the island, the better of the community, things will improve,” Puig said four days after the U.S. territory honored its Olympic team and, above all, its first gold medalist.

“I really hope I gave them a lot of confidence moving forward,” she added, “that things will actually get better.”

The world’s 34th-ranked women’s tennis player met with a roomful of reporters Saturday, exactly two weeks after she beat Australian Open champ Angelique Kerber in three sets in the final in Rio de Janeiro. Poised and philosophical in ways that bely her age, the 22-year-old realizes some people deem her gold medal “a fluke.”

After all, Puig has never made it past the round of 16 at a major. And at the U.S. Open, which starts Monday, she’s never advanced beyond the second round. Puig is already bracing herself for the reality that her run at Flushing Meadows could fall well short of what took place in Rio.

“I’m 22 years old. There’s still a long way for me to go, a long stretch of career,” she said. “If anything happens, any kind of slip-up, it’s not really going to be a big deal, because I have a process and I have a long-term view of where I want to go.”

Which isn’t to say she expects a slip-up.

“I know that the Olympics wasn’t a fluke for me, because I have worked very hard to get to where I am,” Puig said. “I know the hours and the tears and the sweat and everything that’s been put into my practices. It’s been very difficult for me.

“But that moment, nobody will be able to take away.”

Even she considers that Olympic moment to be like something out of a movie script. When spectators chanted “Si se puede!” (“Yes you can!” in Spanish) during the final against the second-ranked Kerber, Puig flashed back to a scene from the film “Miracle” about the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team.

With fans roaring “U-S-A!” coach Herb Brooks tells his players: “Listen to them. That’s what you’ve done.” As Puig said Saturday, “I needed to listen to the crowd.”

Her gold might not have been quite as unlikely as the Miracle on Ice, but it wasn’t too far off. The night after her victory, Puig slept with the medal on her nightstand, waking up every few hours to make sure it was real. She still feels the need to check up on it during the day.

“I see the videos and I’m like, ‘Did this really just happen?'” Puig said.

When they showed the clip of her medal ceremony when she was honored in Puerto Rico, she started crying again. Through it all, she insisted Saturday, she felt she kept her focus, knowing the U.S. Open was looming.

After Rio, Puig spent some time with her family in Miami, where she lives. Then it was on to the island “where the big party was waiting.” It’s been hard to squeeze in sleep and alone time and practice — all the things she needs to recover from one big event and prepare for another.

Puig faces 60th-ranked Zheng Saisai, who upset Agnieszka Radwanska at the Olympics, in the first round Monday. She originally wasn’t seeded at Flushing Meadows, which meant she could have faced a top player in her opening match, but she moved up to the final seed when Sloane Stephens withdrew because of an injury Friday.

It’s the first time Puig has been seeded at a major, and in what was a breakthrough season even before her golden moment, she’s starting to grow comfortable with those sorts of roles.

“I feel like I finally understand what I’m doing when it comes to tennis,” she said.

MORE: U.S. goes one-two in Olympic mixed doubles