Lolo Jones

Lolo Jones re-energized after emotionally stressful bobsled season

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Lolo Jones lacked motivation to return to track and field after the Sochi Olympics, but her recent travel log shows she’s over it.

Jones cleared hurdles on three continents last week.

On June 8, she won a 100m hurdles race in a season’s best 12.74 seconds in Marrakech, Morocco (video here). It wasn’t a major meet, but the field included World Indoor 60m hurdles champion Nia Ali, Olympic bronze medalist Kellie Wells and Kristi Castlin, who was the co-world leader two weeks ago.

Jones then moved to China for an exhibition race on a TV show against a local celebrity. Jones had to run over 10 hurdles, while the celebrity only had to clear one.

“I dominated,” Jones said. “I probably should have let him win. I feel bad.”

Jones then went through another unique experience. She opened her Diamond League season at the Adidas Grand Prix in New York on Saturday, one day after landing from a 17-hour flight from China.

Jones said she was on the bubble to get into the meet initially because other hurdlers have faster times than her this season (it was a slow start as she dropped more than 20 bobsled pounds after Sochi). When a lane opened up, she jumped at the chance after not getting into a Diamond League meet in Rome on June 5. And even though she was already booked for the Chinese TV spot.

She did well in New York considering the tiring circumstances, finishing third in 12.77 seconds behind Queen Harrison and Dawn Harper-Nelson.

“I felt great over five [hurdles], and then I was like, all right, I feel you jetlag, you win,” Jones said. “I’ve never done anything like this before.

“I was actually nervous something bad would happen,” said Jones, who joked she saw a mirage of 20 hurdles at the start line. “This [third place] is good. I’ll take this.”

Jones, 31, is transitioning back to track and field after cutting her season short last July 4 to focus on making the Sochi Olympic Team in bobsled. She made it to Russia and finished 11th, becoming one of 10 Americans to compete in both the Summer and Winter Games.

She called her third Olympic experience emotionally stressful.

“When I got done, physically, I was ready to keep going, but mentally, I was drained,” Jones said. “I kept telling my coach I don’t have any motivation. There’s really no point for this track season. There’s no World Championships. There’s nothing on the line. I’m having a hard time getting refocused. So it took me like two months to really get energized. It wasn’t really until I started competing, I was like, well, my goal for this year will be to compete against myself this year, have a personal best.”

Jones’ best-ever time came in the 2008 Olympic semifinals, a 12.43. She entered the final as a favorite, took the lead after six of 10 hurdles but hit the ninth, falling to seventh place. The winner, Harper-Nelson, clocked 12.54, .11 of a second slower than Jones’ semi time.

In 2012, Jones made the Olympic Team by .04 of a second and finished fourth in the Olympic final.

The last American to make three Olympic teams in her event was two-time Olympic 100m champ Gail Devers, who made five straight from 1988 through 2004 but never won an Olympic hurdles medal.

The U.S. is very deep in the 100m hurdles. There’s the reigning Olympic medalists Harper-Nelson and Wells, the World Indoor champion Ali, the rising Castlin, Harrison and, above them all, World champion Brianna Rollins.

There are seven U.S. women faster than Jones this year (there were four last year), so she has catching up to do.

Jones said her bobsled future is up in the air. If she competes on ice next season, she said it will only be for the early North American portion that concludes in December. She doesn’t plan to at all in 2015-16 as the Rio Olympics near.

“I don’t think I can do a full season because it delays my start for track,” she said. “This year I kept feeling rushed to compete [in track after Sochi], and I’d like to just be able to be on cue.”

One thing bobsled has done is give Jones a greater love for track. She competed in front of a larger crowd Saturday than she did in Sochi (though track meets are more fan accommodating than bobsled races).

“It made me more humble and enjoy more things about track that I didn’t before,” Jones said.

Like pay.

“It makes you appreciate the [track] meets where you’re making like $500,” Jones said. “In bobsled, that may be four races.

“I’ve seen the bottom of the barrel.”

Jones next plans to run at the U.S. Championships in Sacramento, Calif., next week and then determine the rest of her European season. But at the end of a high-mileage week, she could only think of her immediate future.

“I want to sleep now,” Jones said.

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World Figure Skating Championships pairs preview

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Volosozhar and Trankov couldn’t do it. Neither did Shen and Zhao. Nor Gordeeva and Grinkov.

Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford can win a third straight pairs world title next week, a feat not seen since Irina Rodnina and Alexander Zaitsev of the Soviet Union won six in a row from 1973 through 1978.

But they don’t feel like favorites.

“We’re coming in a little more under the radar,” Radford said.

They lost their two most recent international competitions — third at the Grand Prix Final in December; second at the Four Continents Championships in February.

Duhamel and Radford are seeded fifth by best international scores this season going into the world championships in Helsinki (broadcast schedule here).

“Sometimes it feels like worlds last year was so long ago,” Radford said.

Last year in Boston, Duhamel and Radford had the performance of their seven-year partnership in the world championships free skate. They tallied a personal-best 153.81 points, more than seven points clear of their previous best.

It was easily enough to overtake Chinese short-program leaders Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, who were relegated to silver behind the Canadians for a second straight year.

This season, Duhamel and Radford haven’t come within 13 points of their 2016 World Championships total. Duhamel went through “an unforeseeable circumstance” in her personal life in November that she chooses not to reveal.

They implemented the throw triple Axel, but Duhamel fell three times in a four-event stretch this fall. They lost by nearly 13 points at December’s Grand Prix Final, which ended with a Duhamel backstage meltdown.

“We never fell like that at home [in practice],” Duhamel said on the IceTalk podcast. “It started to shake us up a little bit.”

They replaced the throw triple Axel in their program. Without it in February, both skaters had trouble with jumps at Four Continents at the 2018 Olympic venue and finished nearly 13 points behind Sui and Han.

“We kind of went back to square one, to the drawing board after Four Continents, reassessing what’s gone on this season, why are we underperforming, why are we not succeeding in competition the way we are training,” Duhamel said.

They made program changes, notably on their throw and jump entrances and overhauling the footwork in their short program.

Duhamel adopted a rescue dog from South Korea. Radford, who had surgery over the summer to remove a cyst from his ankle bone, leaned on a sports psychologist.

“I personally feel a lot more relaxed and seemless,” Radford said. “That feeling has come a little bit later this season.”

Five pairs could take gold in Helsinki in perhaps the most wide-open event.

Germans Aliona Savchenko and (French-born) Bruno Massot won both of their fall Grand Prix events but missed the Grand Prix Final after she tore an ankle ligament. They returned to take silver at the European Championships in January with the best score of their two-year partnership.

Young Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov stepped up to win the Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual competition, and then the European Championships. But free-skate struggles have dogged them this season.

Another Russian pair, Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, are perhaps the biggest wild card. They missed the fall season due to Stolbova’s left leg injury, but then beat Tarasova and Morozov in their season debut at the Russian Championships. Stolbova fell on their throw triple flip in both programs at the European Championships in January, and they finished fourth.

Then there are Sui and Han, looking to break through for a first senior world title in their sixth try (though Sui is just 21 years old, and Han 24). They missed the fall season after Sui underwent right ankle and left foot surgeries last spring. They returned at Four Continents and posted personal-best free skate and total scores, ranking only behind Tarasova and Morozov for the season.

U.S. pairs Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim and Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier have both missed significant time due to injury in the last two years. They are behind the top pairs from Canada, China and Russia.

The U.S. hasn’t put a pair in the world championships top five since 2006, and that doesn’t figure to change next week.

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NBC Sports researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.

Ashley Caldwell will win or lose Olympic aerials gold with triples

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PARK CITY, Utah (AP) — As a teenager, Ashley Caldwell never had problems hanging with the boys when it came to doing the biggest flips off the aerials ramp. Now in her 20s, she sees no reason for that to change.

Caldwell will make or miss her third U.S. Olympic team, then potentially win or lose the gold medal in South Korea, by doing triple flips off the kicker while most of the women are doing doubles. It’s an all-or-nothing proposition that sets the bar high, and sends a certain message, regardless of whether she finishes first or last.

“It’s not just about trying to be there by myself,” Caldwell says. “It’s about maybe inspiring some younger girls to say, `I should be able to push to whatever I’m capable of doing, not necessarily what people say my gender is capable of doing.”‘

Caldwell never shirked from joining the teenage boys when they started moving to the bigger kickers and adding an extra flip to the doubles they did as kids.

Triples are the price of admission for the men, and while not unheard of among the women, the list of athletes who will try them is short: Jacqui Cooper, Alla Tsuper and Xu Mengtao are among the few who have tried them over the years. They’re also among the best to ever fly off a ramp.

At the Sochi Olympics, Lydia Lassila of Australia became the first woman to land a quadruple-twisting triple flip on snow in training. The next night, she brought it to the medals round, and though she touched her hand to the ground on the landing, she won a bronze medal anyway and stole the headlines.

“That’s who I’m inspired by,” Caldwell said that night. “She’s trying to push the sport so that girls are jumping like the boys, and she’s doing it, and it’s really impressive.”

At freestyle world championships earlier this month, Caldwell sent her message when she became the first woman to cleanly land that same triple-flipping, quadruple-twisting jump in competition (video here).

“It was the first time I had every coach come up to me and shake my hand before the score even came up,” said Todd Ossian, who works with Caldwell as head coach of the U.S. aerials team.

And yet, Caldwell was oh-so-close to not being able to even try that winning jump.

Aerials competitions go through a series of qualifying and elimination rounds that include only one jump each. Consistency is rewarded, and most women train a variety of double flips to make it through the rounds, then bring out their most intricate jump – more often than not, also a double – for when the medals are awarded.

Caldwell doesn’t go that route. She tries triples every time she steps onto the hill.

It adds extra – some might say unnecessary – risk to the early rounds. When the field was being cut from 12 to nine at world championships, for instance, Caldwell didn’t land her triple flip. She was able to squeak into the top nine and advance only because her degree of difficulty for the triple was so high.

“I’m OK sacrificing some good competition results to increase my consistency on the triple,” says Caldwell, giving a nod to the reality that training days on snow are precious and she needs to use them to focus on the jumps she’ll be performing when the contests start.

The recently ended season tested the limits of how much Caldwell was willing to sacrifice. In meet after meet, from Moscow to Minsk to an Olympic test event in South Korea, difficulties with the triple kept her far away from the podium. In the World Cup standings, Caldwell finished 10th.

To her, that’s more a badge of honor than a sign of failure. In a sport that oddly transforms daredevils into conformists, and rewards consistency over risk-taking, Caldwell plans to keep pushing anyway.

In doing triples, her mission is as much about winning as bringing others along for the ride.

“I want the crowd to feel like they know who won,” Caldwell said. “I want it to be impressive. I just want people to say, `That’s sweet. That’s what’s deserved.’ If a lot of girls are doing triples up there and I fall, there would still be a lot of girls who would do well. I’m cool with that. If I mess up, that’s OK. But I want the sport to look good.”

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VIDEO: Top U.S. aerials skier crashes hard at World Cup