Gwen Jorgensen

Gwen Jorgensen’s glory awaits in Edmonton

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Gwen Jorgensen leads the ITU World Triathlon Series rankings going into the season-ending Grand Final on Saturday, just as she did a year ago.

Jorgensen, who took up the sport in 2010, went to the 2013 Grand Final in London’s Hyde Park eyeing her first World Championship and a better finish than in her Olympic debut at the same site (38th, after a flat tire).

She accomplished neither.

Jorgensen crashed on the second bike lap and did not finish the 2013 Grand Final. She tumbled from first to fourth in the rankings.

“I’ll leave London even more motivated,” Jorgensen said last year, “and am very much looking forward to what next year holds.”

What a year it has been.

Jorgensen became the first athlete to win four straight World Triathlon Series events in the same season and leads the rankings by a mountainous 848 points (compared to eight going into last year’s Grand Final).

She will win this year’s World Championship (accumulating World Series results) with a finish of 16th or better in Edmonton on Saturday. A fifth straight win would cap one of the most dominant years for any Rio Olympic hopeful.

“I still make mistakes. I’m not unbeatable,” said Jorgensen, truthfully, since she finished 12th in Auckland and third in Cape Town in April before rattling off four straight wins. “You go into every race, and you have no idea what’s going to happen.”

Jorgensen’s rise also couldn’t have been predicted.

She graduated from Wisconsin in 2009 and was less than a year into an accounting job with Ernst & Young when approached out of the blue by USA Triathlon.

Jorgensen competed for the Badgers’ cross-country, swimming and track and field teams, but won zero NCAA Championships medals.

Still, that multi-sport background that appealed to USA Triathlon.

Jorgensen proved a natural, quickly gaining elite status and making her first World Triathlon Series podium in 2011.

Her real leap came after the London Olympics, when, seven minutes after the winner, she crossed the Hyde Park finish line thinking only about gold in Rio.

Jorgensen changed her training regimen later in 2012, from working mostly alone in the U.S. to joining a group of men and women splitting time in Wollongong, Australia, and Vitoria, Spain.

Jorgensen is now the target, two years before the Games go to Brazil.

She won her most recent World Series event in Hamburg, Germany, by six seconds, though she was at her “D game,” said her coach, who also believes Jorgensen still has room to grow.

“If I give somebody an inch, they’re going to take a mile from me,” Jorgensen said.

American triathletes have collected a total of one medal since the sport was added to the Olympics in 2000 — a bronze in 2004.

We may be in the midst of a professional breakthrough in a sport already known for rising recreational participation in the U.S.

The world’s second-ranked female triathlete is also American, Sarah Groff.

To have any chance Saturday, Groff and the other contenders must lead Jorgensen going into the run, and by a hefty margin.

Jorgensen has beaten the field by 63, 84, 39 and 84 seconds in the running splits of the four World Triathlon Series events with 10Ks this season.

“If it comes down to a running race,” she said, “I’d say it’s my race to lose.”

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Yuzuru Hanyu opens Olympic season with record score

Yuzuru Hanyu
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A sore knee didn’t hold Yuzuru Hanyu back. A record score to open his Olympic season.

The Olympic and world champion from Japan hit a pair of quadruple jumps in his short program at the Autumn Classic, a lower-level event in Montreal.

He was rewarded with 112.72 points, the highest short program score recorded under the 13-year-old judging system. Video is here.

It looked like a home competition for Hanyu.

Upon finishing, he bowed toward one set of bleachers (maybe a dozen rows) at the Sportsplexe Pierrefonds. More than two dozen Japanese flags made it hard to see most of the faces.

He bettered Javier Fernández, a two-time world champion and training partner, by 11.52 points. Fernández also landed two quadruple jumps to tally 101.2.

Full scores will be here upon the conclusion of the short program. The free skate is Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. A live stream is here.

Hanyu now owns the three highest short program scores under the 13-year-old system. The other two were set in the 2015-16 season.

Showdowns like Hanyu-Fernández are usually reserved for, at the earliest, the Grand Prix series in late October and November.

Hanyu and Fernández are very familiar with each other, having shared a coach in Canadian Brian Orser, the 1988 Olympic silver medalist, since 2012. They train in Toronto.

In that time, Hanyu became the first Japanese man to win an Olympic title (and the second teen from any nation to do it). He followed it up with world titles later in 2014 and this year.

Fernández achieved unfathomable success for a Spanish skater — world titles in 2015 and 2016, overtaking Hanyu in the free skate both times.

In PyeongChang, Hanyu can become the first man to repeat as Olympic champion since Dick Button in 1952. Fernández can become the third Spaniard to earn a Winter Olympic medal of any color in any sport, and the first since 1992.

The figure skating season continues next week with Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany, the final Olympic qualifying competition. North Korea could clinch its first spots in any sport for the Olympics in the pairs event.

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USOC letter assures Olympians about South Korea security

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The U.S. Olympic Committee’s security chief sent a letter to potential Winter Olympians saying there are no indications that recent developments between the U.S. and North Korea have compromised security in South Korea.

The letter, obtained by The Associated Press shortly after it was sent Friday, makes no suggestion that the U.S. is considering skipping the PyeongChang Winter Games for security reasons.

But Chief Security Officer Nicole Deal does write that provocations that have been volleyed between the United States and North Korea are likely to persist for the foreseeable future, and “should not be dismissed as insignificant nor feared as precursors of an inevitable conflict.”

The letter comes at the end of a week in which France’s sports minister suggested the country’s athletes would stay home if security could not be guaranteed.

The International Olympic Committee, trying to calm concerns, reiterated that in conversations with high-level officials in China and South Korea, none have expressed doubt about the Winter Games proceeding as scheduled, next February.

The USOC also sent out a public statement Friday from CEO Scott Blackmun.

“We will continue to work with our State Department and local organizers to ensure that our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe,” he said.

The letter, sent to athletes, national governing bodies and other Olympic leaders in the United States, said the USOC’s security division is operating as “business as usual for our security planning and preparations.”

Deal writes that the USOC is reviewing crisis management plans that address a range of potential scenarios “to ensure our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe.”

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