Steven Holcomb
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Steven Holcomb mulled retirement after bobsled setbacks

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Steven Holcomb thought it may have been a sign. Maybe it’s time to pack it up. Find something else to do.

Retire from bobsled.

Holcomb, a 2010 Olympic four-man champion and three-time Olympic medalist driver, lost two of his three push athletes to injuries during recent U.S. national team selection races. He was on the verge of retirement.

Only two men’s sleds are funded by U.S. Bobsled, so any setback in selection races that determine who gets those sleds is crucial.

At age 36, in a sport where Holcomb knows money can be hard to come by, and his last two years plagued by injury, it got the veteran thinking about his future.

“I knew I had a lot of close friends that are retired Olympians, and the most common piece of advice I get is make sure you have something to fall back on, a little bit of financial security when you retire,” Holcomb said in a phone interview last week. “I’m already in debt in this sport. It’s an incredibly expensive sport.”

Holcomb learned push athlete Ryan Bailey, also a 2012 Olympic 100m sprinter, would be unavailable eight days before four-man selection races in Park City, Utah, two weeks ago.

Holcomb had no pool of viable push athletes in Park City from which to choose a replacement, since everybody was already competing in other sleds against Holcomb.

So he called Casey Wickline, a firefighter and national-team push athlete last season who had performed poorly in preseason testing this year and had gone back to his native South Carolina. Wickline agreed to help and was flown in.

Holcomb and push athletes Carlo Valdes, Sam McGuffie and Wickline finished in third place in their four-man selection race on Nov. 2. It was the penultimate selection race.

Codie Bascue had already all but sewn up first place and the first of two funded sleds. To earn that second spot, Holcomb needed to beat fellow Olympian Nick Cunningham in the final selection race Nov. 3.

But Holcomb’s hopes were dealt another blow when McGuffie, a former University of Michigan running back, was ruled out of the last selection race due to a hamstring injury.

Again, Holcomb was scrambling for a replacement, but unlike with Bailey, he had mere hours to find one this time.

Thankfully, former push athlete turned skeleton slider Nic Taylor (husband of two-time Olympic medalist Elana Meyers Taylor) was in Park City. Taylor would fill McGuffie’s spot in the final race.

With his slapped-together team, Holcomb finished second to Bascue in the last selection race. Cunningham was fourth, putting Holcomb in second place overall and safely into a funded sled.

Now, a healthy Holcomb is preparing for the start of the World Cup season the first weekend of December at the 2010 Olympic track in Whistler, B.C., where he won gold.

The last two seasons have been a struggle for Holcomb — two podiums in 32 World Cup races. His best finish at the 2015 and 2016 World Championships was ninth.

Holcomb earned two bronze medals at the Sochi Olympics despite competing on a partially torn Achilles, which bothered him in the 2014-15 season. Then he tore a quad muscle last December.

“I’m on my way out,” said Holcomb, who stressed that sponsor Under Armour has helped him financially get through non-Olympic years. “I can’t really see myself going for another six years [to the 2022 Olympics]. I’m getting to the point where I’m getting a little old in the sport.”

Holcomb said he will likely compete in his last world championships this season, since there are no worlds in Olympic years. Bobsled and skeleton worlds will be in Sochi in February.

Given Russia’s anti-doping issues, especially at the Sochi Olympics, some skeleton sliders have said they’re considering boycotting worlds.

“We discussed this as a team, we’re up in the air,” Holcomb said. “We don’t know what we’re going to do yet. Safety is a concern. What are the chances I go there, and all of a sudden Russian anti-doping tests me, and I [falsely] test positive? That wouldn’t surprise me in the least. Being outspoken, yeah I’m a little nervous about going there.”

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Chinese lead, star pairs struggle in world championships short program

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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.

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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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