KC Boutiette returns to World Cup speed skating for first time since 2006

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Four-time Olympian KC Boutiette, inspired to come out of retirement by a U.S. Olympic legend, will skate in an international race for the first time since the 2006 Olympics on Saturday.

Boutiette, 44, pioneered the inline invasion to speed skating in the 1990s, making his Olympic debut at the Lillehammer 1994 Winter Games, perhaps the greatest Olympics ever and certainly the most memorable in speed skating. His best Olympic finish was fifth.

Boutiette will return to compete this weekend to that same site, made famous by triumphs from Bonnie BlairDan Jansen and Johann Olav Koss 21 years ago.

He is the oldest member of the US Speedskating team at a World Cup competition at the hallowed Viking Ship in Hamar, Norway. He is entered in the 5000m on Saturday and the 1500m and mass start on Sunday.

“I’m not anywhere near what I used to be,” Boutiette, two decades removed from skating with his tongue pierced and bleached blond hair, said in a phone interview. “It’s like I’m starting over. It’s almost like my first year of skating again.”

It began in five-time 1980 Olympic speed skating champion Eric Heiden‘s house in Park City, Utah, in August 2013.

“We were talking about skating and the [Olympic] team and all this stuff and kind of joked around about me skating again,” Boutiette said. “A little bug in my head that he put there. I saw my wife after that, and said well, I might give skating a try.”

A few months later, Boutiette competed at the 2014 U.S. Olympic trials in at the 2002 Olympic oval in Kearns, Utah, just for fun.

“I couldn’t even skate five laps on my own last year,” he said of his physical shape several weeks before trials.

He was pretty distinguishable, the only skater there wearing the 2006 U.S. Olympic speed skating skinsuit.

“I fit in it, believe it or not,” Boutiette said. “Squeezing a sausage into a casing a little bit.”

His times were more ordinary — 13th in the 1500m and 18th in the 500m and 1000m, nowhere near making the Sochi Olympic team.

Boutiette continued, buoyed by the news that a mass start event could be added for the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics. It’s already on the World Cup program, differentiated from regular races where only two skaters are on the ice at once. Mass start mirrors short track speed skating (but with many more skaters and on the much larger long-track oval) and plays into Boutiette’s experience in marathon skating in the Netherlands.

“The tactics and things like that, that I’m pretty good at,” said Boutiette, whose unretirement made headlines in the Netherlands in the fall. “Speed, endurance, a little bit of everything. It kind of plays into my forte.”

Boutiette earned a spot on the U.S. team for this winter’s World Cups at the U.S. Championships three weeks ago, where the lack of depth gave him a chance.

Only four men entered the longest distances of 5000m and 10,000m. Boutiette finished second in the 5000m and third in the 10,000m, averaging about 30 seconds slower than when he shattered the American records in the events at the 2002 and 1998 Olympics, respectively.

“My back is totally blown out,” Boutiette said. “It’s hard for me to skate five minutes at a time. The 10K [which required 14 minutes, 24.04 seconds] is just brutal.”

Boutiette said he’s trained with four-time Olympic medalist Shani Davis, the best U.S. speed skater for the last several years.

“He kicked my ass not too long ago,” Boutiette joked. “I thought I’d be able to help him out. I led every other set, then the last set, I couldn’t do it. He put the hammer down. That kid works hard.”

So Boutiette is back in Hamar, some 21 years after his first Olympics. He remembers being in the Viking Ship to catch every memorable moment of those Winter Games — Blair’s two golds, Jansen’s long-awaited victory and the Norwegian Koss bringing the house down with three world records.

“I made sure I was on the ice, actually, when [Koss] was skating the 1500m,” Boutiette said. “Listening to the crowd.”

Boutiette hasn’t committed to trying to make the 2018 Olympic team. As it stands, his last Olympic race was not the way he wanted to end his international career.

Boutiette was looking for his first Olympic medal in Torino in 2006, with the addition of the team pursuit. He was the veteran on a trio of former U.S. inliners, including Chad Hedrick and Charles Leveille.

The U.S. led for most of its quarterfinal matchup with Italy but fell behind with Boutiette setting its pace in the latter stages. When Boutiette shuffled to the back of the U.S. train, he lagged, flailing his arms in a desperate attempt to regain contact with Hedrick and Leveille.

He couldn’t.

In team pursuit, the clock stops when the third skater for a team crosses the finish line after eight laps and 3200m.

If Boutiette had crossed with Hedrick and Leveille, it would have been very close. Instead, Italy won by .47 of a second, eliminating the U.S. one step shy of the medal rounds.

“K.C., as soon as the race was over, was crying, came up to me and said he gave it his all, that the tough thing for him was, he was going to have to live with, was knowing he fell behind with two laps to go,” Hedrick reportedly said in Torino.

Boutiette, then 35, left the 2006 Olympics with a comment reflecting his place in the sport that could be repeated in Hamar this weekend.

“I’m not a young buck anymore,” he said.

Yohan Blake details ‘dreams’ for 2015

Alina Zagitova hands Yevgenia Medvedeva first loss in 2 years

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Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva is no longer the clear favorite in the Winter Olympics’ marquee event.

The two-time world champion lost for the first time in more than two years, upset by training partner Alina Zagitova at the European Figure Skating Championships in Moscow.

Italian Carolina Kostner earned bronze.

Zagitova, the 15-year-old world junior champion, set personal bests in the short program and free skate and totaled 238.24 points. She beat Medvedeva by 5.38 points.

Medvedeva, in her first competition since November due to a broken foot, fully rotated all of her jumps Saturday, but Zagitova was cleaner. She also stumbled out of a double Axel in her short program.

“I did not feel the injury,” Medvedeva said after the short program, according to the International Skating Union. “Everything has healed.”

Full results are here. NBCSN will air coverage Saturday at 9 p.m. ET.

Zagitova was born three months after the Salt Lake City Olympics and without a name for her first year. Her parents eventually decided on Alina after watching Olympic rhythmic gymnastics champion Alina Kabayeva on TV.

She had been working to this point in her first senior international season. She swept her two fall Grand Prix starts, then won the Grand Prix Final in December, all without Medvedeva in the field.

On Saturday, she landed all of her jumps (including seven triples) in the second half of her program for 10 percent bonuses. It’s the type of technical content layout ambitious enough to challenge Medvedeva.

“I think that Zhenia [Medvedeva] is her role model in life, in behavior, in her way to work,” shared coach Eteri Tutberidze said last year, according to Goldenskate.com. “Alina absolutely tries to copy her way to work, the amount of work and she doesn’t stop. This helps. I can sometimes show Zhenia and say, ‘Look how Alina is working,’ and I tell Alina, ‘Look how Zhenia is working.’”

Medvedeva, whose last defeat was in November 2015, also won both of her Grand Prix starts, posting the world’s highest scores this season, while dealing with foot pain.

She underwent an MRI that revealed a crack, then withdrew from the Grand Prix Final and the Russian Championships in December. She is still expected to be on the Olympic Athlete from Russia team in PyeongChang.

Kostner, the 2014 Olympic bronze medalist who made her Europeans debut in 2003, fell on her opening triple Lutz and landed just three triple jumps Saturday.

She hung on to win a medal at her 11th straight European Championships.

Russian Maria Sotskova, the Grand Prix Final silver medalist, fell on her last triple jump, a Lutz, among other landing troubles. She placed fourth.

Those four skaters are the Olympic medal contenders along with Canadians Kaetlyn Osmond and Gabrielle Daleman and Japanese Satoko Miyahara and Kaori Sakamoto.

U.S. champion Bradie Tennell ranks 14th in the world this season.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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Julia Marino, Hailey Langland qualify for Olympics; U.S. sweeps possible

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The addition of snowboard big air to the Olympics next month means Jamie AndersonJulia Marino and Hailey Langland have two chances for a U.S. podium sweep in PyeongChang.

Marino and Langland qualified for the U.S. big air and slopestyle team Saturday, joining the already qualified Anderson, who won slopestyle’s debut in Sochi.

Anderson, Marino and Langland swept the podium in that order at the last Olympic qualifier in slopestyle in Mammoth Mountain, Calif.

They also made up three of the top four riders at the 2017 X Games big air and slopestyle.

The U.S. has never swept the Winter Olympic medals in a women’s event but could do so in big air, slopestyle and even snowboard halfpipe in PyeongChang.

MORE: U.S. Olympic roster

While Anderson is the veteran, an X Games medalist 11 of the last 12 years, Marino and Langland represent the new wave of U.S. big air and slopestyle riders.

Marino, a 20-year-old from Connecticut who trains in Quebec, earned slopestyle and big air medals at X Games Aspen and Oslo last year in her debuts at those events.

They included slopestyle gold in Aspen over Anderson.

Langland, a 17-year-old from Southern California who plays the ukulele, guitar and piano, won the first X Games women’s big air title last year and took bronze in slopestyle in 2016.

Born in 2000, she is younger than any previous female Olympic snowboarding medalist.

“She reminds me of a younger me,” Anderson said, according to NBC Olympic Research.

The U.S. could add a fourth woman to the big air/slopestyle team, likely either Jessika Jenson or Ty Walker, a pair of 2014 Olympians in slopestyle.

The U.S. men are not as strong internationally in big air and slopestyle, where the Olympic favorites hail from Canada and Norway.

Kyle Mack won the last qualifier Saturday — without the top international riders in the field — to clinch the third and last automatic spot on the men’s big air/slopestyle team.

Chris Corning and Red Gerard previously qualified for PyeongChang. A fourth rider can be added via discretionary selection.

U.S. Olympic Qualifying Standings
Snowboard Big Air/Slopestyle 
(through five of five events)
Three riders auto qualify per gender; one possible discretionary spot
1. Chris Corning — 2,000* QUALIFIED
1. Red Gerard — 2,000* QUALIFIED
3. Kyle Mack — 1,800* QUALIFIED

4. Chandler Hunt — 1,400* (2nd and 3rd)
5. Ryan Stassel — 1,400 (2nd and 3rd)

1. Jamie Anderson — 2,000* QUALIFIED
2. Julia Marino — 1,800* QUALIFIED
3. Hailey Langland — 1,600* QUALIFIED
4. Jessika Jenson — 1,600 (1st and 3rd)
5. Ty Walker — 1,300 (2nd and 4th)
*Has automatic qualifying minimum of one top-three result against entire field.

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