Lindsey Vonn
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Olympic Year in Review: Winter Sports

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OlympicTalk takes a look back at the year in Olympic sports this week. Today, we review winter sports.

Alpine Skiing

The year began with Lindsey Vonn chasing a record while coming back from two major knee surgeries. It will end with Vonn chasing another record as the healthiest elite U.S. Alpiner.

The 2010 Olympic downhill champion won 10 World Cup races in 2015 (so far), including breaking Annemarie Moser-Pröll‘s record of 62 women’s World Cup wins on Jan. 19. Vonn returned to her pre-2013 World Championships crash form, dominating the speed disciplines of downhill and super-G.

However, Vonn won zero races at the biggest event of the year, the World Championships near her Colorado home in February.

At Worlds, the most memorable U.S. story was Bode Miller, who at 37 may have competed for the final time, crashing in the super-G. Miller, though, has said there is a “good likelihood” he returns to racing, but a run for a sixth Olympics in 2018 is “really unlikely.”

Mikaela Shiffrin, who in 2014 became the youngest Olympic slalom champion, repeated as World champion in the slalom and three-peated as World Cup champion. However, Shiffrin suffered a torn MCL in a Dec. 12 crash and is unlikely to race again until next fall.

Ted Ligety three-peated as World champion in his best event, the giant slalom, but was kept from a third straight World Cup season title in March by Austrian rival Marcel Hirscher. Ligety looked to continue his competition with Hirscher this season, but hip and back injuries in the fall put him well behind as the winter begins.

Julia Mancuso, who earned medals at the last three Olympics, finished no better than sixth in any race in 2015. She was slowed by a hip injury last winter, cutting her season short, and underwent surgery in November, ruling her out this season.

That leaves Vonn as the major story heading into 2016. She has reached 71 World Cup victories, inching closer to the overall wins record of 86 held by retired Swede Ingemar Stenmark. If she continues on her recent healthy pace, Vonn would break the record in the 2017-18 Olympic season.

A more pressing matter is the World Cup overall title, the biggest prize this season with no Olympic or Worlds. Vonn seemed a heavy favorite for her fifth crown following Shiffrin’s injury (with past champions Anna Fenninger and Tina Maze already out), but that changed this past weekend.

MORE: Lindsey Vonn cedes World Cup standings lead

Yuzuru Hanyu
The ice is showered with gifts after Yuzuru Hanyu skates. (Getty Images)

Figure Skating

The singles skating power still lies with the Russian women and Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu.

This time last year, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva was en route to one of the most dominating seasons of all time, a World title and talk of adding a quadruple jump in March. While Tuktamysheva has struggled this fall, a new Russian teen ascended to win the Grand Prix Final two weeks ago — 16-year-old Yevgenia Medvedeva.

The Olympic champion Hanyu was upset for the World title by Spain’s Javier Fernandez in March. Hanyu rebounded to become untouchable this fall, breaking records for highest short program, free skate and total scores under the decade-old judging system in his last two competitions.

Medvedeva and Hanyu appear easy favorites heading into the World Championships in Boston in three months. Conversely, the pairs and ice dance pictures are less clear with injuries and breaks for past Olympic and World champions, including Meryl Davis and Charlie White.

U.S. singles skaters failed to reach the podium in 2015 at a global championship for a ninth straight year for the women and a fifth straight year for the men. But they were oh-so close.

Jason Brown was fourth and Gracie Gold and Ashley Wagner were fourth and fifth, the best efforts by Americans since Evan Lysacek took 2010 Olympic gold and Kimmie Meissner captured the 2006 World title.

Brown, 21, who last year became the youngest U.S. men’s champion since 2004, withdrew before his last competition in November with a back injury. He may be challenged at the U.S. Championships in January by Nathan Chen, a 16-year-old who won the Junior Grand Prix Final.

Gold and Wagner both qualified for the six-skater Grand Prix Final earlier this month, but neither reached the podium against skaters they will likely have to beat to earn medals at Worlds. They’ll go head-to-head at the U.S. Championships in January.

MORE: Ashley Wagner questioned her career at Grand Prix Final

Freestyle Skiing

Hannah Kearney, the most decorated U.S. freestyle skier of all time, tied the World Cup moguls wins record in her final competition before retirement in March.

Then, Canada’s Mikael Kingsbury capped his year by breaking the men’s moguls wins record on Dec. 12. Kearney and 1992 U.S. Olympic champion Donna Weinbrecht notched 46 victories. Kingsbury is at 29.

In aerials, first-grade classmates Kiley McKinnon and Mac Bohonnon recorded the first U.S. sweep of World Cup season titles since 1995.

In ski halfpipe, Olympic champions David Wise and Maddie Bowman continued to star. Bowman took her fourth straigth Winter X Games title in January. Wise’s bid for an X Games four-peat was denied, but he came back to win the Dew Tour Mountain Championships this month.

In slopestyle, Olympic bronze medalist Nick Goepper won X Games, while silver medalist Gus Kenworthy prevailed at Dew Tour, two months after coming out.

MORE: Big air ski/snowboard event set for Fenway Park

Nordic Skiing

The top recent U.S. stars in cross-country skiing, Nordic combined and ski jumping are not competing this season.

In cross-country, four-time Olympian Kikkan Randall is taking the campaign off to have a baby. In Nordic combined, 2010 Olympic champion Billy Demong retired following the 2014-15 season. And in ski jumping, 2013 World champion Sarah Hendrickson is out after undergoing another right knee surgery in August.

Outside of competition, U.S. skiers caused a buzz in February with their “Uptown Funk” music video.

MORE: U.S. Olympian wins Red Bull 400 up ski jumping hill

Luge
U.S. lugers Erin Hamlin (center), Emily Sweeney and Summer Britcher swept a World Cup race Dec. 5. (AP)

Sliding Sports

The year after the Olympics proved eventful for U.S. bobsledders, lugers and skeleton sliders.

In bobsled, Elana Meyers Taylor became the first U.S. woman to pilot a World Championship-winning sled in February, while Olympic champion Kaillie Humphries continued to break the gender barrier by competing in the four-man at Worlds.

Meyers Taylor was sidelined in December by long-term concussion effects. Humphries has been in a dispute this fall with the Canadian federation regarding competing in four-man bobsled. And U.S. Olympic driver Jazmine Fenlator announced she planned to compete for Jamaica moving forward in hopes of piloting the first Jamaican Olympic women’s bobsled in 2018.

In luge, the U.S. emerged as a world power this fall. Olympians Erin HamlinSummer Britcher and Chris Mazdzer all won World Cup races in the first half of the season. However, all of those victories came on North American ice, and the rest of the season, plus the World Championships, will take place in Europe.

Finally, in skeleton, three-time Olympian Katie Uhlaender took a run at track cycling in the summer before returning to the ice following 2014 hip and ankle surgeries.

MORE: Former NFL wide receiver makes U.S. bobsled team

Snowboarding

Shaun White finished fourth at the Winter X Games in January in his first competition since also taking fourth at the Sochi Olympics. Then, in his second competition since Sochi, he beat the riders who trumped him in Sochi and at X Games at the Dew Tour Mountain Championships in December.

While White is back atop the men’s pipe, the women’s picture changed drastically in 2015. Olympic champion Kaitlyn Farrington announced her retirement in January due to a congenital spine condition. One week later, Chloe Kim became the youngest Winter X Games champion by winning the women’s halfpipe at age 14.

Olympic slopestyle champions Sage Kotsenburg and Jamie Anderson were both beaten at X Games and missed Dew Tour.

Meanwhile, Lindsey Jacobellis continued a run of dominance dating to 2003 by sweeping X Games and the World Championships in snowboard cross. Jacobellis has won 13 gold medals in 18 career appearances at the Olympics, Worlds and X Games, yet she is missing an Olympic title.

In June, it was announced that ski and snowboard big air would be added to the Olympics in 2018, with snowboard parallel slalom being cut after it debuted in Sochi.

MORE: Shaun White talks Olympic skateboard, Air & Style, more

Brittany Bowe, Heather Richardson-Bergsma
Brittany Bowe (left) and Heather Richardson-Bergsma dominated women’s speed skating in 2015. (Getty Images)

Speed Skating

U.S. long-track skaters rebounded in a big way after going medal-less at the Sochi Olympics. Americans won more gold medals in Olympic events than any other nation — including host Netherlands — at the World Single Distance Championships in February.

Shani Davis re-emerged after questioning his future in the sport in 2014 to win the World 1000m title. Davis, though, went winless in World Cup competition in a calendar year for the first time in his career dating to 2005.

Heather Richardson-Bergsma and Brittany Bowe traded World titles in the winter and world records this fall, while the Netherlands’ Ireen Wüst, who won the most medals of any athlete at the Sochi Olympics, failed to make her nation’s World Cup team this fall.

In short track, three-time U.S. Olympic medalist J.R. Celski returned after a one-season break, though U.S. skaters earned zero World Cup medals in a calendar year for the first time since the tour started in 1997. Americans also missed the podium at the World Championships in March.

MORE: Dan Jansen explains recent flurry of world records

Team Sports

Canadian men dominated the World Hockey Championship in May, going 10-0 and outscoring opponents by a combined 51-goal margin. Sidney Crosby captained the team to its first gold since 2007, crushing Alex Ovechkin and Russia 6-1 in the final.

The U.S. women nearly collapsed against Canada in its gold-medal game, as it did in Sochi, but this time held on after squandering a 5-2 lead for a 7-5 victory at Worlds.

In curling, Sweden’s men and Switzerland’s women took World titles, while mixed doubles was added to the Olympic program for 2018.

And in sledge hockey, the U.S. men won their first World title on home ice, blanking Canada in the May final to follow up on a Sochi Paralympic title.

Olympic Year in Review: Winter Sports | Summer Sports | Photos | Social Media

With USOC in turmoil, athletes testify about sex-abuse cases

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The question sex-abuse victim Craig Maurizi would like to ask U.S. Olympic leaders is simple and searing: “How can you sleep at night?”

Every bit as perplexing: How to make sure this doesn’t happen again?

The figure skater was one of four Olympic-sports athletes who testified to a Senate subcommittee Wednesday about abuse they suffered while training and competing under the purview of the U.S. Olympic Committee and the national sports organizations that controlled their Olympic dreams.

Their testimony provided yet another reminder of the way leaders at the USOC, US Figure Skating, USA Gymnastics and other federations failed to protect them over a span of decades.

At a USOC board meeting held later in the day, acting CEO Susanne Lyons outlined a six-part “Athlete Action Safety Plan” the federation is developing as a response to the abuse cases.

But the abuse victims, including Olympic gymnasts Jordyn Wieber and Jamie Dantzscher and speed skater Bridie Farrell, cast doubt on the USOC’s motivation to solve this problem.

Wieber, who won a gold medal in 2012, is among the roughly 200 athletes who have detailed abuse by team doctor Larry Nassar, who is in prison for molesting athletes on the U.S. gymnastics team and at Michigan State.

“After many people came forward and said Larry Nassar had abused them, I didn’t get a phone call from anyone at the USOC asking anything until after I gave a victim-impact statement,” Wieber said, recalling the emotional week in a Michigan courtroom that spotlighted the depth of the abuse scandal. “If you’re not currently a competing athlete, you’re not really relevant. They don’t really care anymore.”

The USOC is in search of a new CEO — someone to replace Scott Blackmun, who resigned with health problems in February.

When Blackmun resigned, the USOC announced a number of initiatives that mirrored the six-part plan Lyons described Wednesday.

It includes more funding for abuse victims and a review of the governance structure of the USOC and the 47 national governing bodies, whose sports make up the Olympics.

The USOC has also doubled its funding — to $3.1 million a year — for the U.S. Center for SafeSport, which opened last year.

Two months ago, the center responded to Maurizi’s call about a four-decade-old abuse case that US Figure Skating swept under the rug when he first reported it 20 years ago.

“When I think back to my particular situation, there’s just no way that dozens, if not hundreds, of people around the ice rink didn’t know what was going on,” he said. “Five-hour meetings in the office with a 15-year-old boy? That’s ridiculous. So, my question would be: How do you live with yourself? … How can you sleep at night?”

Leaders at the USOC, USA Gymnastics and Michigan State could be forced to answer those questions May 22, which is the date the Senate subcommittee has scheduled its next hearing on the sex-abuse cases.

It’s doubtful the USOC will have a new CEO by then, though it’s becoming clear it needs a well-articulated path forward through a devastating 12 months for Olympic athletes and the organizations that are supposed to protect them.

Max Siegel, the CEO of USA Track and Field, said commercial partners are hesitant to strike deals under the current climate.

“It’s an indication to me that it’s impacting the commercial viability of the business, and it’s a reflection of the societal challenges we face,” he said.

He said he was not opposed to a rethinking of the relationship between the USOC and NGBs, which have long valued their independence as the training grounds for Olympic athletes. The USOC has often positioned itself as an umbrella organization — a mere bystander when it comes to day-to-day operation of the sports.

“It’s not always clear what role we should be playing,” said Lyons, who attended the hearings in Washington. “Sometimes, athletes fall between the cracks a bit when they have issues with NGBs.”

Farrell served up the only concrete proposal in the more than two hours of testimony to the Senate subcommittee.

She would like to see more athletes — closer to 50 percent — placed on NGB boards. She’d also like to see retired athletes given a chance to serve.

The USOC appears amenable to that suggestion; one of its reforms is to see that athletes have a louder voice in decisions that impact them.

When asked what she would say to the leaders, Farrell said she would make one simple request:

“Take our names out, take our pictures out, and put their kids’ names and pictures in there, and see if it makes a difference,” she said. “Let them know there are thousands of people looking at them, as they should be, for missing the opportunity.”

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MORE: McKayla Maroney speaks publicly for first time since Nassar case

U.S. Ski & Snowboard names new Alpine director

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Jesse Hunt is returning to U.S. Ski & Snowboard as the Alpine team director, replacing Patrick Riml, who left the post last month after seven years in the position.

Hunt first joined U.S. Ski & Snowboard as a coach in 1993 and became Alpine director after the 2002 Olympics, leaving the post in 2009 for Park City Ski & Snowboard in Utah. He served as program director and general manager in Park City over the last nine years.

“We have an exciting challenge ahead of us to give our Alpine ski racers the chance to be best in the world, but that is precisely the challenge that motivates me the most, helping athletes achieve everything that they are capable of,” Hunt said in a press release. “We have a strong mix of highly experienced athletes and those coming up through the ranks in both the men’s and women’s teams, in speed and tech, and the chance to help all of them achieve greatness is one I could not turn down.”

No reason was given when Riml stepped down last month.

Under Riml, the U.S. Alpine skiing team earned eight medals between the 2014 and 2018 Olympics, led by Lindsey VonnMikaela ShiffrinJulia MancusoBode Miller and Ted Ligety.

In PyeongChang, the U.S. earned zero men’s Alpine medals at the Olympics for the first time since 1998. Riml called the Olympic men’s performance “disappointing” and said “we definitely have to rebuild” before the 2022 Olympics, according to The Associated Press.

The U.S. had one men’s World Cup podium finish this past season and two the season before, its least successful stretch since 1999-00.

Mancuso retired before PyeongChang, and Vonn is expected to retire after next season, large boots to fill on the women’s speed side.

U.S. Ski & Snowboard has a goal of becoming the world’s best team by 2026 through “Project 26,” a change in national team selection and development programming with a focus on the 2022 and 2026 Olympics.

“Some of our Alpine team’s greatest successes have been propelled by the work that Jesse accomplished during his first tenure with us,” U.S. Ski & Snowboard Chief of Sport Luke Bodensteiner said in the press release. “He’s the right person to lead our team right now, as we continue to maximize the capability of our elite team, while also activating the roadmap in our development efforts to build our team for the future.

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MORE: Lindsey Vonn looks ahead to likely last season