One year out: PyeongChang Olympic storylines

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PyeongChang has been waiting to host the Olympics for more than 15 years. In 365 days, the cauldron will be lit at the South Korean ski resort in the Taebaek Mountains.

It took South Korea three tries to win the IOC vote to host its first Winter Olympics, after holding the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul.

The first PyeongChang Winter Olympic bid was launched around the year 2000 for a 2003 IOC vote to determine the 2010 Olympic host city. Vancouver beat PyeongChang by three votes. For 2014, Sochi topped PyeongChang by four votes.

Finally, the South Koreans won a landslide in 2011 for the 2018 Winter Games, securing 63 of the 95 votes to trounce Munich and Annecy, France.

The PyeongChang region is home to about 50,000 people, making the host less like recent cities such as Torino and Vancouver and closer to the villages of previous eras, like Albertville and Lillehammer. Nearby Gangneung, which will host many arena events, has a population of more than 200,000.

Here’s what you need to know as the Olympics begin an Asian swing (Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022 follow PyeongChang):

New Events: The Winter Olympics will have more than 100 medal events for the first time, increasing from 98 in 2014 to 102. New to the program are men’s and women’s big air snowboarding and mass start speed skating, an Alpine skiing team event and mixed doubles curling.

The big air medalists could very well be established stars in slopestyle snowboarding, which made its debut in Sochi. Likewise, mass-start speed skating favors established skaters in middle-to-long distances.

The Alpine skiing team event, where racers from each country go head-to-head in parallel slaloms, is already contested at the world championships.

Russian Debate: There have been calls to ban Russia entirely from international competition after a December report commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency said there was evidence that Russian doping samples in Sochi were tampered with. A number of implicated Russian athletes were suspended in December, including Sochi medalists, but so far there has been no blanket ban and no medals stripped.

If Russia sends no team to PyeongChang, or a depleted team such as its Rio track and field contingent of one, it could drastically alter the results. Russia topped the medal standings in Sochi and finished third at the last Winter Olympics in East Asia at Nagano 1998.

NHL Participation: The NHL says it hasn’t decided if it will take a break in its 2017-18 season to participate in the Olympics for a sixth straight time. This mirrors the situation four years ago, when the NHL didn’t announce it would send players to Sochi until seven months before the Winter Games.

If the NHL does not participate, expect some players to push ownership to allow them to go anyway. Russian star Alexander Ovechkin has already stated his intention, and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis has given him the OK.

PyeongChangnot Pyongyang: As one Maasai tribe member learned, PyeongChang should not be confused with the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. In fact, the “c” in “PyeongChang” was upped to help avoid confusion. The DMZ, or North Korean border, is actually in the province in which PyeongChang County is located. PyeongChang is about 60 miles south of the border and 80 miles east of Seoul.

North Korea boycotted the 1988 Seoul Olympics. It might not qualify any athletes for PyeongChang.

PYEONGCHANG 2018
Storylines | 18 US Stars | 18 Global Stars | Strange Olympic Hopefuls | Key events
Oldest US Olympian? | Youngest US Olympian? | Venue Photo Gallery | North Korea

Mark McMorris hospitalized after snowboarding accident

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Olympic bronze medalist Mark McMorris suffered several injuries including a fractured jaw, fractured left arm, ruptured spleen, stable pelvic fracture, rib fractures and a collapsed left lung during a backcountry snowboarding trip Saturday, according to Canada Snowboard.

McMorris underwent surgery to control bleeding from the spleen on Saturday. He underwent another surgery to repair the jaw and arm fractures Sunday and was resting in Vancouver General Hospital on Monday morning.

“While both the mandible and humerus fractures were complicated injuries, the surgeries went very well, and both fractures are now stabilized to heal in excellent position,” Canada Snowboard team physician Dr. Rodney J. French said, according to the press release. “It is too early to speculate on a timeline for Mark’s recovery.”

McMorris, 23, won bronze in the first Olympic snowboard slopestyle event in Sochi, competing 12 days after breaking a rib.

McMorris has been considered a threat for two gold medals in PyeongChang, with the addition of big air. He earned Winter X Games medals in both slopestyle and big air in 2015, 2016 and 2017, including double gold in 2015.

He has already come back in this Olympic cycle from breaking his right femur in an Air and Style big air run in Los Angeles on Feb. 21, 2016 (video here). His rehab has been extensively documented by Canadian media.

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MORE: McMorris, after horrible injury, ups risk for 2 golds in PyeongChang

Several women’s players spurn worlds inquiry from USA Hockey

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As sports organizations and notable hockey figures express support of the U.S. women’s team, several players say they rejected overtures from USA Hockey to serve as replacements for the upcoming world championships.

Two players told The Associated Press on Friday that USA Hockey reached out to them to gauge their interest for the worlds, which begin next week in Plymouth, Michigan.

Brittany Ott, a goaltender for the Boston Pride of the National Women’s Hockey League, and Annie Pankowski, a junior forward at the University of Wisconsin, said the email from USA Hockey was not an invitation but rather an inquiry about their availability.

“I responded to that email and I said I’m not willing,” Pankowski said.

A third player, goalie Lauren Dahm, told the AP on Saturday she also turned down an invitation. Dahm plays for the Canadian Women’s Hockey League Boston Blades.

The U.S. team has said it plans to boycott the worlds over a wage dispute with USA Hockey, which confirmed Thursday it would begin reaching out to potential replacement players. Several players posted messages on social media saying they support the national team and would decline or have declined any outreach from USA Hockey.

“From a personal standpoint I have never been invited to a USA Hockey series or camp or anything like that and I would honestly love to be invited to something like that,” Ott said by phone. “However at the current time, this is a fight that I believe in and I’m definitely going to stand up and help fight as much as I can.”

Many players posted a version of a Jerry Rice quote on Twitter on Friday: “Today I will do what others won’t so tomorrow I can do what others can’t. I said no to USAH & will not play in the 2017WC.” Not all players who tweeted that message were asked by USA Hockey if they could play.

On Saturday, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith joined the chorus of support for the players, saying on Twitter the organization stands behind their pursuit of fairness and equality.

“These women understand inequality when they see it and are expressing their right to be treated fairly as athletes and workers,” Smith tweeted. “Of course, they have the NFLPA’s support in daring to withhold their services until a fair agreement is reached.”

Philadelphia Flyers coach Dave Hakstol posted his support on Twitter, calling players competitors and role models.

On Friday, the NHL Players’ Association and Major League Baseball players posted messages of support. The NHLPA posted on Twitter that it supports players and panned USA Hockey’s bid to stock the team with replacements, adding that the decision “would only serve to make relations, now and in the future, much worse.”

The MLBPA encouraged all female hockey players to stand united behind their national team colleagues.

Players are seeking a four-year contract that includes payments outside the six-month Olympic period. The sides met for 10-plus hours Monday, but players have called USA Hockey’s counterproposal “disappointing.”

USA Hockey said Thursday its priority was to have all the players selected for the national team on the ice March 31 when the tournament begins. But the organization added that it informed players’ representatives it would begin reaching out to potential replacements with the tournament coming up.

Star national team forward Hilary Knight said last week she wished USA Hockey luck putting together a suitable team of replacements to defend the gold medal because the player pool was united in the dispute. Ott and Pankowski said they had not heard from any players expressing a willingness to play in worlds.

“It’s a very unified front,” Ott said. “It’s a tight-knit community that we have in women’s hockey here. This is definitely a big opportunity for us to make a big change and have a big impact on our sport and have it grow. We’re all standing together.”

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