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.

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Chinese lead, star pairs struggle in world championships short program

AP
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China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong recorded the highest pairs short program score in the world since the 2014 Olympics, topping the world championships field in Helsinki on Wednesday.

Two-time defending world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada and Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov are well behind in seventh and 13th place, respectively.

Sui and Han, in just their second event this season, tallied a personal-best 81.23 points.

They lead by 1.39 over Germans Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot going into the free skate Thursday (1 p.m. ET, NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov are in third.

The Chinese will go for their first world title after giving up a short-program lead last year and taking silver for a second straight time.

Full worlds short program results are here.

PREVIEWS: Men | Women | Pairs | Dance | TV schedule

Sui and Han missed the fall season after Sui underwent right ankle and left foot surgeries last spring. They returned at the Four Continents Championships in February and posted personal-best free skate and total scores, ranking only behind Tarasova and Morozov for the season.

Duhamel and Radford, looking to become the first pair to three-peat in 40 years, came in slowed by Radford’s hip injury suffered in the last week. Radford was off-balance on his triple toe loop landing Wednesday. Duhamel’s hand touched the ice on her throw triple Lutz landing.

They scored 72.67 points, which is 8.56 behind Sui and Han.

Stolbova and Klimov both suffered falls in their short program and scored 65.59, qualifying for the 16-pair free skate by four points. The Russian champions missed the autumn season due to Stolbova’s left leg injury.

The top U.S. pair was Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim, who posted a personal-best 72.17 points for eighth place. The husband-and-wife pair are competing for the second time this season after Scimeca Knierim’s serious abdominal injury.

U.S. champions Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier suffered two falls and placed 20th, matching the worst U.S. pairs finish in worlds history. They did not qualify for the 16-pair free skate.

Therefore, the Knierims must finish 10th or better after the free skate to ensure the U.S. earns two pairs places at the 2018 Olympics.

Pairs is the U.S.’ weakest discipline. The last U.S. medal in pairs at worlds came in 2002. The last Olympic medal was in 1988.

North Korean pair Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik placed 14th in the short program, the highest of any pair expected to compete for one of four final Olympic quota spots in September.

North Korea sent no athletes to the Sochi Olympics, and it’s not a guarantee it will qualify any athletes for PyeongChang, or if it will send athletes to South Korea in February. But Ryom and Kim’s personal best by nearly 11 points on Wednesday was very encouraging.

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Pairs Short Program
1. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 81.23
2. Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot (GER) — 79.84
3. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 79.37
8. Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Christopher Knierim (USA) — 72.17
20. Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier (USA) — 56.23

Missy Franklin out due to shoulder surgeries

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Missy Franklin is sidelined from swimming competition for an undisclosed period of time to recover from surgeries on both of her shoulders due to bursitis, according to her social media.

“This is what’s best for me to come stronger than ever,” was posted on Franklin’s Instagram. “I’m so far from being done with this sport.”

The five-time Olympic champion was diagnosed in early January following an MRI, underwent surgeries that month and has returned to limited training.

Franklin, who has not raced since the Rio Olympics, will not compete in the next USA Swimming Pro Series meet in Mesa, Ariz., in two weeks.

Her return date is not set.

The U.S. Championships are in June in Indianapolis and serve as a qualifying meet for the world championships in Budapest in July.

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