Ashton Eaton

Ashton Eaton headlines Oslo Diamond League; preview

Leave a comment

Ashton Eaton, perhaps the most recognizable U.S. male track and field athlete, was until this year largely absent from the sport’s premier meet series — the Diamond League — across America, Europe and Asia.

That’s because the Diamond League does not include decathlons, the event in which Eaton is the reigning Olympic and World champion and world-record holder.

Eaton has a passion for track and field beyond times, heights and lengths — he’s asked for historic data on Twitter — and has wished his primary trade could be included.

“I believe decathlon should have a hand in the Diamond League circuit,” he told Spikes in April 2013. “I would say we should compete across five competitions, with two events per competition like, 100m and long jump for one meeting and then shot and high jump the next.

“I think this would be a good timeframe and keep people interested in the multis. A similar competition could also be run for the women multi-eventers.”

Well, the decathlon is not yet on the Diamond League program. But Eaton is in Oslo for his second Diamond League meet of this season Wednesday.

That’s because Eaton is taking a break from decathlons this season in favor of the 400m hurdles, which is not one of the 10 decathlon events. It’s a luxury he can afford given it’s the one year in the four-year cycle with no Olympics and no World Outdoor Championships.

“I was good at [400m hurdles] and was always curious so tried it, and I needed a break from the past few years especially ahead of the 2015, 2016 and 2017 seasons,” he said in Oslo on Tuesday. “The 400m is my base training so we just took a step further with the hurdles, and that’s why I chose that event.”

Eaton has said focusing on the 400m hurdles has reinvigorated him, especially mentally, for when he reverts to the decathlon going toward the 2016 Olympics. Eaton, 26, feels he could compete until 2020 or 2024.

In 2016, he could become the first man since Daley Thompson in 1984 to successfully defend an Olympic decathlon title (and first since Bob Mathias in 1952 to do it in non-boycotted Games).

Eaton has run in Diamond League meets before — contesting the 110m hurdles at the Prefontaine Classic — but Oslo marks his circuit debut in the 400m hurdles.

Universal Sports will have TV and online coverage of Oslo beginning at 2 p.m. ET on Wednesday. Full start lists are here.

Here are four events to watch Wednesday:

Men’s 400m hurdles

Eaton’s personal best 49.07 set Sunday ranks ninth in the world this year. That would have placed sixth at the 2013 U.S. Championships.

It’s also made him the second fastest man this year in the Oslo field, behind 2011 World bronze medalist LJ Van Zyl. It’s a bit of an open race, without any of the reigning Olympic or World medalists. Close competition could give Eaton extra juice to sub sub-49.

Men’s 5000m

Galen Rupp competes for the first time since smashing his American 10,000m record at the Pre Classic on May 30. His primary competition in the Norwegian capital will be Kenyan Caleb Ndiku, who is the fastest 5000m man this year, and Ethiopian Olympic silver medalist Dejen Gebremeskel.

Women’s 200m

Four-time Olympic champion Allyson Felix is still looking for her first victory of 2014. She finished fifth in a 400m in Shanghai and third in a 200m in Eugene, Ore., in her first races since tearing a hamstring at the 2013 World Championships.

That win could very well come in Oslo, where she won’t have to worry about longtime 200m rival Veronica Campbell-Brown or World champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. Felix is the fastest woman this year among the field, just better than 2013 World silver medalist Murielle Ahoure.

Men’s 100m

Justin Gatlin, the fastest man in the world this year, is sitting this one out. The sprinter to watch instead is Trinidad and Tobago’s Richard Thompson, the second man to cross the finish line in the 2008 Beijing Olympic 100m final, well behind Usain Bolt.

Thompson reportedly ran a 9.74 in Clermont, Fla., two weeks ago, a time lacking a wind reading and not registered on the IAAF’s top lists page. Gatlin ran a wind-aided 9.76 at the Pre Classic on the same day.

Apolo Ohno completes Ironman 70.3 Boise (photos)

North Korea could qualify for PyeongChang Olympics in pairs figure skating

Bronze medalists Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik of North Korea pose for photographers during the victory ceremony of the Pairs event of Figure Skating competition at Makomanai Indoor Skating Rink at the Asian Winter Games in Sapporo, northern Japan, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
AP
Leave a comment

Perhaps the most intriguing result of the just-completed Asian Winter Games in Sapporo, Japan, when it comes to looking ahead to the PyeongChang Olympics, came in pairs figure skating.

To no surprise, China took the top two spots. But the bronze medalists from North Korea turned heads.

Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik tallied 177.40 points, easily distancing pairs from South Korea, Japan and Australia for the last place on the podium.

With that score, it appears Ryom and Kim became the first North Korean athletes to be favored to qualify for the PyeongChang Olympics, though they likely can’t seal the deal for another seven months.

One of the biggest international Olympic storylines over the 11 months is whether North Korea will be present at the PyeongChang Winter Games.

Despite winning at least four medals at every Summer Games since boycotting Seoul 1988, North Korea didn’t have any athletes at the Sochi Olympics and just two at Vancouver 2010. There’s no guarantee North Korea can qualify any athletes for PyeongChang.

There is also the question of another potential boycott of a South Korea-hosted Olympics, but North and South Korea have shown solidarity at recent Games.

The nations marched together under one flag at the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Opening Ceremonies in Sydney and Athens. In Rio, North and South Korean gymnasts posed for a selfie together. And North Korea did compete in the two Asian Games hosted by South Korea in the last 30 years, in 2002 and 2014.

Enter Ryom and Kim. Their Asian Winter Games pairs score was a whopping 20-point improvement on their tally from the 2016 Four Continents Championships, their only other recent major international event. North Korean athletes don’t typically compete often internationally.

Ryom and Kim are still a ways off from vying for global podiums (177.40 would have placed 14th at the 2016 Worlds).

But with their Asian Winter Games result, the North Koreans are suddenly favorites to qualify for the PyeongChang Olympics, should they enter the last qualifying event in Germany in September.

Here’s how it works:

A maximum of 20 pairs can qualify for the Olympics, beginning at the world championships next month, with no more than three spots per country.

At worlds, 16 of those 20 Olympic quota spots for 2018 will be filled.

If the results hold anything close to form, those 16 quota spots will be spread among Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and the U.S.

After worlds, four qualifying spots will remain available. Those quota spots will be decided at the last Olympic qualifier, Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany, in late September.

The final four spots can only be attained by countries not already qualified in each event. And only one spot is available per country.

If one excludes Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and the U.S., here are the highest-scoring pairs this season via the International Skating Union (and thus the early favorites for Nebelhorn):

  1. Duskova/Bidar (CZE) — 189.09
  2. Ziegler/Kiefer (AUT) — 165.63
  3. Suto/Boudreau-Audet (JPN) — 164.96
  4. Alexandrovskaya/Windsor (AUS) — 159.26

The North Koreans would slot in second place in those standings with their Asian Games score of 177.40.

What’s more, Boudreau-Audet and Alexandrovskaya still needed to fulfill citizenship requirements to be eligible to compete in PyeongChang, as of 2016 reports. If either can’t, then the North Koreans’ path to PyeongChang gets that much easier.

Four years ago, a different North Korean pair missed qualifying a Sochi Olympic quota spot by .99 of a point at Nebelhorn Trophy.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: U.S. figure skating could have its best world team since 2006

Snow volleyball hopes to stake claim in Winter Olympics

In this March 2016 photo released by Chaka2 GmbH, Austria's Michael Leeb, serving, and Florian Schnetzer face off against Poland's Michal Matyja and Rafal Matusiak, far court, during a snow volleyball match in Wagrain-Kleinarl, Austria. The sport's international governing body hopes tournaments from the Alps to the Andes will earn snow volleyball a spot in the Olympics and make volleyball the first sport to be played in both the Winter and Summer Games. (Thomas Leskoschek/Chaka2 GmbH via AP)
AP
Leave a comment

Beach volleyball is moving to the mountains and swapping its sand for snow.

A spinoff of the sun-splashed sport familiar to Summer Olympic fans and seaside frolickers, snow volleyball is spreading from the Alps to the Andes and making a run at the Winter Games. If all goes well, volleyball officials say, their sport would be the first to appear in both the Summer and Winter Olympics.

“Our key message is to be the No. 1 family sport in the world,” Fabio Azevedo, the general director of the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB), said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I think it fits perfectly to our plan.”

Itself an offshoot of the more traditional indoor game, beach volleyball has grown into one of biggest attractions of the Summer Games, thanks no doubt to the bikini and boardshorts uniforms and the party atmosphere.

Now the FIVB wants a piece of the Winter Olympics, and it sees snow volleyball as the way in. With a European tour already established, volleyball officials have set out an agenda that would bring the new snow sport to Asia, Argentina and the United States with an eye toward approval as a demonstration sport at the 2022 Beijing Winter Games.

“They want to push it ultimately to the Winter Olympics,” said Martin Kaswurm, whose company manages the Snow Volleyball European Tour. “It’s not something we put into the mouths of the FIVB. It’s something they had as a goal themselves.”

The continental circuit, which kicks off this weekend in the Czech ski resort of Spindleruv Mlyn, was officially sanctioned by volleyball’s European governing body for the first time last winter. Azevedo said the goal is to have a world tour next year and a fully-fledged world championship in 2019. A spot in the 2020 Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne — where the FIVB has its headquarters — is also on the federation’s radar.

From there, snow volleyball could apply for status as a demonstration sport at the 2022 Winter Olympics. Azevedo hopes to have at least an informal display at the Winter Games next year in Pyeongchang, South Korea, even if it’s just stringing up a net in a plaza somewhere.

“We definitely want to be there and show people what snow volleyball is like,” he said. “Being really conservative, in order to climb this mountain step by step, I think the Olympics in 2026.”

While Olympic ice hockey and field hockey have different rules, different equipment and different governing bodies, snow volleyball is almost identical to the beach game. The tactics and rules are also similar to the two-a-side beach sport, and many of the competitors come from beach volleyball.

“Basically, we’ve just changed the surface,” Kaswurm said. “They only thing different is that they wear soccer shoes.”

The atmosphere also resembles beach volleyball, with disc jockeys cranking out music and cheerleaders — in lederhosen instead of bikinis — pumping up the crowd .

“Music, it’s inside our DNA, man,” Azevedo said.

Usually there is a hot tub courtside, and traditionally the winners will jump in after their matches to celebrate (and warm up).

“If you’re brave enough and have your swimsuit — or not — you can just jump in. And with the drinks and other friends you can enjoy the view on the center court and all the mountains around,” said Bobb Kufa, the 2016 Czech beach champion. “Pure happiness.”

Austrian national champion Flo Schnetzer said the crowd especially loves the post-match hot tub celebration.

“The people laugh when they see people in their underwear jumping into the whirlpool,” he said. “It’s so much fun to play in such an amazing atmosphere and to play in such an amazing place. The crowd is really crazy; they love it. They like to party and they like to celebrate in the mountains.”

But playing on a mountain has its own challenges.

Mostly, because the snow is slicker than sand there is more of a premium on players who can read and react quickly than on tall ones who can block. It’s also easier to jump on the compacted snow, so shorter players can be more effective blockers and height is less of an advantage.

“Snow volleyball is for smart and flexible players,” Kufa said. “All the moves are much slower. That means you have to be smarter – especially in defense. You have to decide the direction you want to go, and that’s all. You can’t take it back – otherwise you find yourself on your back with the shoes up to the air.”

The thinner air also slows the players down.

“You can really feel it,” Schnetzer said. “It’s really intense after just a short time. So you need to be physically really well prepared to be able to play on the mountains.”

And let’s not forget the cold.

“It is a mountain, so you should be ready for weather changes and be prepared for all kinds of weather,” Kufa said.

So far, the tournaments have been scheduled at resorts — with free admission — as something for the skiers to watch when they need a break. For the players at an event in Iran earlier this month, it was a quick diversion from the Kish Island beach event scheduled the following week.

That’s one big advantage snow volleyball has over other sports trying to join the Olympic program: It already has a strong federation and a ready pool of potential players from the beach game, including 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Martins Plavins of Latvia and the top beach players from several European countries.

Three-time Olympian Phil Dalhausser, a 2008 gold medalist, said he would wait until his beach career is over to give it a try.

“I would be too afraid of hurting myself,” said Dalhausser, who was born in Switzerland but has spent most of his life near the beaches of Florida and California. “The snow probably would be pretty slippery.”

Dalhausser said anything that gets people to watch and play any form of volleyball is good for the sport. And once fans see snow volleyball, Azevedo said, they will be hooked — just like those who have come to follow the beach version every four years at the Summer Olympics.

“Both of them are two parties,” Azevedo said. “But if you organize a party in your home, it’s probably different than a party I am organizing in my home. So, there are two different energies. But I can tell you you are going to enjoy both of them.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Kerri Walsh Jennings, April Ross map out new Olympic cycle