After IOC joins talks, no decision yet on NHL players in 2018 Olympics

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The four top stakeholders in the discussion over whether NHL players will participate in the Winter Olympics in South Korea next year met without resolution Friday, with one warning that time is running short to make a decision.

Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee, for the first time joined International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fasel, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL Players’ Association Executive Director Don Fehr at a meeting in New York. With league owners reluctant to put next season on hiatus for nearly three weeks against the wishes of their own players, it’s clear that hurdles remain with 12 months to go.

Fasel said the group may need to get back together soon and set a deadline.

“I have a coordination commission in March in Korea,” Fasel told reporters at NHL offices in New York. “We need to know about the accommodation. We need to know about the transportation. The sooner we know, the better we can prepare the conditions for the NHL players and the NHL.”

Bettman and NHL team owners appear willing to skip the Pyeongchang Games in 2018 and possibly resume Olympic participation in China four years later, assuming the IOC would allow that to happen. They don’t want to shut their season down without tangible benefits, and the 14-hour time difference and relatively small market in South Korea are not enticing.

“The focus from the clubs’ standpoint is what does this disruption to our season mean?” Bettman said. “Clubs are very concerned about the competitiveness of our season, the health and wellbeing of our players, whether or not there’s fatigue. From our standpoint, I think the clubs are very much focused on disruption to the NHL season.”

Players, it seems universally, want to participate in a sixth straight Olympics.

“There’s a shared interest in developing our game with international play,” Fehr said in a telephone interview. “We have a difference of opinion with the owners about where the Olympics fit in, particularly in South Korea.”

Fehr said Bach’s presence was a positive sign.

“It was good that he came and showed interest,” Fehr told The Associated Press. “We had a frank discussion without any agreements.”

While the IOC got involved in the talks, Bach made it clear the other three parties will have to come up with an agreement.

“We all want see the best players at the Olympic Winter Games Pyeongchang 2018, and we know the players feel the same,” Bach said. “Therefore, we hope even more that the international federation and the NHL will reach a solution to make the Olympic dreams of the players come true.”

The IIHF has come up with the money needed to cover travel and insurance costs for players, Fasel said, suggesting other issues are more important.

The Olympics has become part of the NHL labor situation. The league recently asked if the union would eliminate its opt-out option in 2019 and extend the labor pact three years through the 2024-2025 season in exchange for participating in the 2018 Olympics. The union refused.

More than 400 miles away from the meeting, John Tavares was paying attention in Detroit as he and the rest of the New York Islanders prepared for a game against the Red Wings. Tavares, a union representative, said the topic seems to be a bargaining chip between the league and players.

“It can be used as a sensitive issue,” he said. “You can make the argument on the negative impact it can make during the regular season, but then globally, the positive impact it can make. There’s a lot of talk about China and preseason games and the growth there when the Olympics go there. We’ll see what happens. There’s a lot of moving parts.”

Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom said the Olympics is a unique event and is eager to return to a third Games.

“This is an event, huge in the whole world. I don’t see why we have to give something up now. I think just play for your country in a big event all over the world,” he said.

MORE: 2018 Olympic hockey groups set



Sonja Henie record at stake; figure skating worlds pairs preview

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When Aljona Savchenko won her first gold medal at her fifth Olympics with her third different partner in PyeongChang, she said she “wrote history.”

She can write some more this week.

Savchenko, who at 34 became the oldest female figure skating champion in Winter Olympic history, and partner Bruno Massot are the only pairs medalists from PyeongChang who are back for the world championships in Milan.

The Germans headline the field for the short program Wednesday and free skate Friday.

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Savchenko can tie Norwegian Sonja Henie for the female record of 11 world championships medals. She can grab a share of second on the all-time pairs list with a sixth world title, four shy of Soviet Irina Rodnina‘s record.

Savchenko, who won four crowns with now-retired Robin Szolkowy, goes for her first world title with Massot. They’re clear favorites.

Olympic silver medalists Sui Wenjing and Han Cong withdrew from worlds due to Sui’s foot injury. Olympic bronze medalists Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford retired.

It’s arguably a surprise that Savchenko and Massot chose to compete in Milan. They’re the first Olympic pairs champions to compete at a post-Olympic worlds since 1992.

Their top challengers are Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, who outscored Savchenko and Massot in the Olympic short program but dropped off the podium in the free skate with a fall on their throw.

U.S. champions Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim, 15th at the Olympics, made the top 10 in all of their four world championships appearances with a best finish of seventh. The last U.S. pairs medal came in 2002, the nation’s longest drought in any figure skating discipline.

The Knierims were the only U.S. pair in PyeongChang, but in Milan they’re joined by Deanna Stellato and Nathan Bartholomay.

Stellato earned singles silver at the 2000 World Junior Championships, then retired at age 17 due to hip injuries. She came back at age 32 in 2016 in pairs and, with the Sochi Olympian Bartholomay, took bronze at this year’s nationals.

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MORE: Best figure skating moments from PyeongChang

Mirai Nagasu enters worlds motivated by Olympic finish, future undecided

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A sense of validation coursed through Mirai Nagasu. Probably in PyeongChang, when she became the first U.S. woman to land a triple Axel at the Olympics. Definitely two weeks ago, when she attended the Academy Awards.

“It felt like I had really made it,” she said in an interview with NBC Sports Research. “The Oscars was open bar, so I had a little champagne there.”

The 24-year-old had earned at least that much, but somewhere in the back of her mind on March 4 had to be Milan, where she would be in two weeks for the world championships.

“It’s hard to [train] programs when you want to go on vacation and sip a mimosa,” Nagasu said, “but something about alcohol and training doesn’t mix well.”

Most of the other big-name U.S. Olympic figure skaters — including Adam Rippon and Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani — withdrew from worlds, along with many international medalists, after the Olympics. For some, there were simply too many off-ice opportunities to fit in training. Others, exhaustion. Or retirement.

None of the above for Nagasu.

“Part of the reason I want to go to worlds [is] because I know I’m capable of performing better than I did in the long,” she said.

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Nagasu wasn’t referring to her memorable long program from the Olympic team event, where she helped the U.S. secure a bronze medal with that triple Axel.

Rather, she meant the individual free skate.

A fatigued Nagasu popped her planned triple Axel for zero points and singled a triple Lutz. She finished 10th overall, part of the worst U.S. women’s results in Winter Olympic history (but not completely unexpected given the pre-Olympic world rankings).

Nagasu knew that she was a dark-horse bronze-medal pick after her personal-best free skate in the team event. She scored nearly 18 fewer points in the individual long program.

So Nagasu decided to compete at worlds after making the U.S. team outright for the annual event for the first time since 2010.

She hopes to land the triple Axel in both programs Wednesday and Friday. That might be necessary to challenge for the podium. Most of the top women from the Olympics are in this week’s field, except silver medalist Yevgenia Medvedeva of Russia and Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto, sixth in PyeongChang.

It could be the last competition of Nagasu’s career. She has not decided if she will compete in the fall.

“Some days I want to throw my skates in the trash, and other days I’m like, I still love this and I want to kill myself doing programs every day,” she said. “Right now I want to do my best at worlds, and that’s what I’m focused on. … I can’t even really think about competing next season.”

NBC Sports figure skating researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.

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MORE: Best figure skating moments from PyeongChang