US Speedskating report on Sochi to be finalized shortly

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A number of issues contributed to U.S. speed skaters’ poor results in Sochi, including pre-Olympic travel, the new skin suit and a new skate sharpening system, the US Speedskating executive director told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“Certainly, there’s no silver bullet,” US Speedskating executive director Ted Morris told the newspaper. “There were several factors that led to our lack of performance in Sochi. The good news is that in identifying them we can put together a really good plan for Korea [2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang].”

U.S. speed skaters were expected to rack up medals in Sochi, led by Olympic and world medalists Shani Davis and Heather Richardson. Americans won zero medals with a top individual finish of seventh place.

The U.S. has historically won more medals in speed skating than any other Winter Olympic sport and finished off the podium altogether for the first time since the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Games.

Immediate blame was placed on an Under Armour racing suit billed as the fastest in the world, different from the suits that U.S. skaters wore during a successful World Cup season leading into the Olympics. Skaters reverted to the old suits during the Olympics, but results didn’t get any better.

A new skate sharpening system was also introduced, but that did not receive nearly the same attention.

“That backfired on us, without a doubt,” Morris told the newspaper. “Our athletes did not feel comfortable with the suits or the polish.

“Obviously, as we plan for the future if we have ‘secret weapons’ we want our athletes competing in them before the Olympics.”

Also scrutinized was the decision to hold a pre-Olympic training camp in Collalbo, Italy, outdoors and up in the mountains. The Sochi Olympic speed skating venue was indoors and near sea level.

“Collalbo probably was not the right place to go based on the weather conditions,” Morris told the newspaper. “It was helpful for us from a team-building aspect. … But with the cold weather and the fluctuation in the ice conditions it was not the ideal place to be able to peak from an on-ice standpoint.”

US Speedskating, the U.S. Olympic Committee and outside experts spent weeks since Sochi dissecting what went wrong. A report is expected to be finalized within a few days, Morris told the newspaper.

“It became fairly clear that a majority of our athletes for whatever reasons just did not peak at the Olympics,” Morris said. “We saw that in testing of their physical strength, including at the Olympics, and we saw it from a performance standpoint on the ice.”

Travel might have been too excessive. Not only did the team gather in Collalbo, but some skaters also traveled to Japan for the World Sprint Championships in January and the team also went to Munich for U.S. Olympic Team processing just before the Games.

U.S. skaters won a combined 11 medals at two World Cup stops after the Olympics to close the 2013-14 season.

The four-time Olympic medalist Davis will be 35 years old come 2018. The top U.S. women, Richardson and Brittany Bowe, will be 28 and 29.

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Katie Ledecky beaten in NCAA Championships individual medley

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Katie Ledecky lost an NCAA Championships race for the first time in eight career finals, taking second in the 400-yard individual medley on Friday.

Stanford teammate Ella Eastin easily beat Ledecky by 3.69 seconds and grabbed the American and NCAA records from Ledecky, too. Eastin’s 3:54.60 is 1.93 seconds faster than Ledecky’s time from the Pac-12 Championships last month.

How did she do it?

“Honestly, I don’t know,” Eastin said on ESPNU. “I’ve built a lot of endurance this year, and it really showed.”

Eastin is decorated in her own right. She three-peated as NCAA 400-yard IM champion and held the American record in the event before Ledecky lowered it last month.

Eastin would have made the 2017 World Championships team had she not been disqualified for an illegal turn after finishing in second place at nationals.

Ledecky, a sophomore, has never contested the 400m IM at a U.S. Championships, Olympics or world championships, nor did she race the 400-yard IM at 2017 NCAAs. She raced the 400 IM instead of the 200 freestyle on Friday.

All of Ledecky’s races at major meets before Friday were in freestyle events. Her only defeat in a major international meet individual final was the 200m freestyle at 2017 Worlds.

Ledecky won five NCAA titles last year and the last two nights anchored the 800-yard freestyle relay and captured the 500-yard freestyle by eight seconds.

Meet results are here.

Later Friday, Lilly King of Indiana three-peated in the 100-yard breaststroke, breaking her American and NCAA records and winning in 56.25 seconds. King is also the Olympic and world champion in the 100m breast, plus the world-record holder.

“Always excited to get the record, but was really hoping to break 56 today,” King said.

Louisville’s Mallory Comerford became the second woman after Missy Franklin to break 1:40 in the 200-yard freestyle, winning in 1:39.80. Co-Olympic 100m free champ Simone Manuel of Stanford was third. Comerford and Ledecky tied for the 2017 NCAA 200 free title.

Stanford’s Ally Howe won the 100-yard backstroke in 49.70, one hundredth shy of her NCAA and American records. Olympic 100m backstroke silver medalist Kathleen Baker of Cal-Berkeley was third.

NCAAs conclude Saturday. Ledecky swims the 1,650-yard freestyle. She is the overwhelming favorite, having gone 35 seconds faster than anyone this season.

Ledecky hasn’t discussed with Stanford whether she will return for her junior season or turn pro, according to the school.

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World vault champion out for all of 2018

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Maria Paseka, a two-time world vault champion and four-time Olympic medalist, said she is out for the rest of the year after December back surgery, according to Russian news agency TASS.

Paseka, 22, earned the lone Russian title at worlds in October, repeating as champion on vault by edging American Jade Carey by .084. She handed Simone Biles her only defeat in a 2015 Worlds final, also on vault.

Paseka also took vault silver and bronze medals at the last two Olympics, as well as helping Russia to team silvers in London and Rio.

As Paseka is sidelined, Russia’s two other recent headliners are on the comeback trail.

Viktoria Komova, the all-around silver medalist at the 2011 Worlds and 2012 Olympics who missed Rio due to a back injury, competed in December for the first time since 2015.

Aliya Mustafina, a seven-time Olympic medalist with two uneven bars golds, is expected to return to competition this spring from June childbirth.

The world championships are in Doha in October.

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