Lindsey Vonn
Getty Images

Lindsey Vonn returns to World Cup, boost to Mikaela Shiffrin

Leave a comment

FLACHAU, Austria (AP) — With Lindsey Vonn‘s return to the World Cup this week, Mikaela Shiffrin is looking forward to leaving the limelight to her American teammate.

Nursing a knee injury and a broken arm for the past 11 months, Vonn will take part in official downhill training in Altenmarkt-Zauchensee, Austria, on Thursday and Friday, and a downhill race Saturday (5:15 a.m. ET, NBCSports.com/live and NBC Sports app; 3 p.m. ET, NBC), according to the U.S. Ski Team.

Vonn earned two of her record 76 victories at the Austrian resort a year ago.

Shiffrin can’t wait for the four-time overall champion to return to the start gates.

“For sure, when she is around, I feel like I am less the one that people want to talk to, and that is definitely nice. I am generally a quiet person,” Shiffrin told The Associated Press after finishing third in a night slalom on Tuesday.

“She is really good at the spotlight, I have to say that,” Shiffrin said. “She knows how to put on a show. I don’t even think she is trying to, she is just like skiing fast and doing her thing and everybody wants to see that.”

Vonn hasn’t raced since fracturing her left knee in a super-G crash in Andorra last February (video here). Two weeks before her planned comeback at speed races in Lake Louise, Alberta, in November, she broke her right upper arm during a fall in training.

The 2010 Olympic downhill champion returned to skiing last week in Vail, Colorado, and traveled to Europe after the weekend to join the U.S. speed team.

Another American standout, Julia Mancuso, was also closing in on her comeback to World Cup racing. A winner of nine medals at major championships, Mancuso sat out the entire last season to have surgery on a persistent hip problem.

Like Vonn, Mancuso planned to start in this week’s training runs in Austria before deciding about racing over the weekend.

“They both have been amazing athletes in the sports. For ski racing in the U.S. they have been huge,” Shiffrin said. “I am crossing my fingers that they can get back in the starting gate and ski fast because everybody loves watching them.”

The races in Altenmarkt-Zauchensee consist of a downhill on Saturday followed a day later by a combined event, with a super-G and a slalom run.

A winner of 24 slaloms and three GS races, Shiffrin has been tiptoeing into speed races as well. The Olympic slalom champion was planning to start in Sunday’s combined event but was reluctant to put too many super-G and downhill races on her schedule.

Her head coach, Mike Day, said Shiffrin “is a racer who puts in a lot of volume into the training and is looking for a specific feeling to be confident going into the races.”

Shiffrin has done 13 technical events and three speed races so far this season.

“With that high-volume approach, fatigue is obviously an issue,” Day said. “We are monitoring fatigue to make sure she wouldn’t be going into a speed race with mental or physical fatigue. She needs to be sharp.”

With Tuesday’s third-place finish, Shiffrin passed the 1,000-point mark for the season as she extended her overall World Cup lead over defending champion Lara Gut of Switzerland to 365 points.

Not chasing the overall title, Shiffrin said she will stick to her initial goals for the season: Winning the slalom title again and improving in GS.

“(Gut) has already won the overall. I am sure it’s a big, big thing in her head so she will be going into every single one of these races looking for 100 points,” Shiffrin said. “I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if she takes that lead very quickly.”

However, with Vonn back, Gut will have to face another strong competitor for World Cup points in the speed races.

“It’s definitely a thought on my mind, I have to admit,” Shiffrin said. “Lindsey comes back and obviously she wants to win, so I am like, ‘Go right ahead.'”

MORE: Vonn sees embarrassment, but not for her, in bid to race men

NBC Sports broadcast schedule (all ET)

Friday
Downhill training 
6 a.m., NBCSports.com/live and NBC Sports app
Saturday
Downhill race
4:45 a.m., NBCSports.com/live and NBC Sports app
5:30 p.m., Universal HD
Sunday
Super combined race
3:30 a.m., super-G, NBCSports.com/live and NBC Sports app
6:15 a.m., slalom, NBCSports.com/live and NBC Sports app
6 p.m., Universal HD

USOC supports athletes expressing themselves after anthem protests

Getty Images
Leave a comment

PARK CITY, Utah — The U.S. Olympic Committee supports American athletes expressing themselves at winter sports events leading up to the PyeongChang Olympics.

Some MLB, NFL and WNBA players kneeled and remained in locker rooms during the national anthem at games over the weekend.

USOC CEO Scott Blackmun was asked Monday if the USOC would support American athletes peacefully protesting during the national anthem this fall and winter at pre-Games competition.

“I think the athletes that you see protesting are protesting because they love their country, not because they don’t,” Blackmun said at a pre-Winter Games media summit. “We fully support the right of our athletes and everybody else to express themselves. The Olympic Games themselves, there is a prohibition on all forms of demonstrations, political or otherwise. And that applies no matter what side of the issue you’re taking, no matter where you’re from. … But we certainly recognize the importance of athletes being able to express themselves.”

Blackmun was correct to reference the Olympic Charter, which states that “no kind of demonstration … is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”

Blackmun mentioned Tommie Smith and John Carlos‘ raised-fist salute at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, which got them kicked out of the Games.

The USOC has since honored Smith and Carlos. They visited the White House last year with the Rio Olympic team.

“That was a seminal moment not only for the Olympic Movement, but for the U.S. Olympic team,” Blackmun said of the 1968 podium gesture. “Our stance on this has been fairly clear. We certainly recognize the rights of the athletes to express themselves.”

Olympic hopefuls were peppered with questions about possible protests at the media summit.

“One of the proudest parts of being an American is the ability to have freedom of speech,” four-time Olympian Julia Mancuso said. “I really look up to athletes who take a stand for what they believe in. I really believe as athletes that compete for Team USA, when it comes to the Olympics, I like to think it’s a special event. Not like the NFL or pro sports teams that compete every weekend. For us, it’s every four years. I’m proud for athletes that stand up for what they believe in if they really want to have a message to get out. But I like to think of us all as patriotic.”

Elana Meyers Taylor, a two-time Olympic bobsled medalist, is the daughter of a U.S. Marine who served in Kuwait and spent summers in the 1980s playing at Atlanta Falcons training camps.

She said any decisions on demonstrations or whether she attends a post-Olympics Team USA White House visit come secondary to her pursuit of making the Olympic team this winter.

“I can’t afford to focus on what I would do in that situation or how I would react,” Meyers Taylor said, adding that anything would be a “game-time decision.” “Maybe the social climate changes a little bit [before the Olympics]. … There’s a lot to consider.”

Aja Evans, a 2014 Olympic bobsled bronze medalist, the sister of former NFL defensive tackle Fred Evans, did not say that she would follow the football players’ lead.

“I honor and commend anyone that does that,” Evans said. “My way of showing my stance is to continue to try to be a positive influence for my city, for my country. I’m representing Team USA the best way I can.”

NCAA hockey players Troy Terry and Jordan Greenway, both prospective Olympians with the NHL not participating, said they didn’t envision taking a knee during the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

“I’ve always stood for the national anthem,” Greenway said. “I always will.”

Olympic freestyle skiing medalists Maddie Bowman and Gus Kenworthy have said they plan to skip the traditional Team USA post-Olympic White House visit due to the current presidential administration. Figure skater Ashley Wagner, too, said she would not go if she had to choose today.

Kenworthy said he was shocked that President Donald Trump believed that athletes kneeling during the national anthem disrespected the flag.

“Those people [servicemen and women] are fighting for the freedom to express their beliefs,” Kenworthy said. “I feel proud to be from a country where we have the right to be able to kind of say what we feel, speak up for what we believe in. I feel that people kneeling before a game is actually quite admirable.”

Kenworthy didn’t rule out a personal demonstration at the Olympics, should he qualify again, but knows he could be stripped of a medal for doing so.

“I’m not saying that I would want to be dictated by fear, and if I was to get a medal and be too scared that it would be taken away from me,” he said. “I think that there’s a way to do things in a way that’s not going to sabotage yourself. You can stand up for something and not throw yourself under the bus.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar details passing on 1968 Olympics in new book

U.S. Olympic men’s hockey player from 2006 has shot at PyeongChang

Getty Images
Leave a comment

PARK CITY, Utah — Though no active NHL players will be in PyeongChang, veteran NHL forward and free agent Brian Gionta could very well play for his second U.S. Olympic team in February.

A USA Hockey official confirmed Monday that the 2006 Olympian Gionta “has a very decent opportunity” to be part of the 2018 Olympic team.

That came in response to a Buffalo radio report that Gionta said it’s looking good for him to play for Team USA.

Gionta, 38, played 15 NHL seasons through last year but is currently unsigned as the NHL preseason continues. The U.S. Olympic team of 25 players named around Jan. 1 is likely to include very few, if any, players with Gionta’s experience.

Gionta was seen at the Rochester (N.Y.) AHL club’s practice Monday (but not taking part), according to media in that area. Gionta could play for an AHL club and be eligible for PyeongChang. USA Hockey wants prospective Olympians to be active in the AHL, NCAA or a European league.

Gionta’s agent has not responded to a request for comment on his Olympic prospects on Monday. Earlier in the summer, Gionta’s agent said that the skater was considering the Olympics.

Gionta led the 2006 U.S. Olympic team with four goals. The Americans lost in the quarterfinals to Finland, their worst Olympic result over the last four Winter Games.

That came during Gionta’s most productive NHL season — 48 goals (sixth in the league) and 41 assists for the New Jersey Devils.

Another Olympian — Ryan Malone from 2010 — embarked on a comeback this preseason and could pursue the Olympics. He has been in camp with the Minnesota Wild. If he doesn’t make the Wild, Malone could play on an AHL contract and be eligible for the Olympics.

USA Hockey confirmed that other players in the potential Olympic pool — at some 100 players at the moment — include Nathan Gerbe. Gerbe, a 30-year-old forward, played 394 NHL games between the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes from 2008-16 before joining the Swiss League.

Another is goalie Ryan Zapolski, who ranks third in the KHL in goals-against average this season.

John-Michael Liles, a 2006 Olympic defenseman and unsigned NHL veteran, is not interested in continuing his career in a non-NHL league to be considered for the Olympics, USA Hockey said.

U.S. general manager Jim Johannson said this summer that he was interested in some players who “have a rich history in the NHL and with USA Hockey that we think could potentially really help this roster.” Johannson wouldn’t name names then.

Johansson said a “long list” of potential players for the final 25-man roster must be submitted in September.

A U.S. team of primarily European-based players will take part in a tournament in November in Germany. That roster is expected to be named in October.

The U.S. staff will also look at NCAA and AHL players ahead of naming the PyeongChang team.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Olympic hockey schedule released