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Chris Fogt wasn’t deployed overseas, so he’s back bobsledding

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Capt. Chris Fogt would have rather been deployed to Kuwait with most of his battalion, but, stationed in the U.S. for the near future, decided to revive his other career.

Bobsledding.

Fogt, who pushed sleds at the last two Olympics, earning a bronze medal in Sochi, recently competed for the first time in nearly three years. His goal is to make it to one more Winter Games in PyeongChang, but, really, it was his second option.

Fogt is part of a 450-soldier battalion, about 350 of which are now in Kuwait.

Fogt was chosen several months ago to be the rear detachment manager, meaning he would not ship overseas with the rest of his battalion. He would stay in the U.S., where he has a wife and two young children.

“I would have liked to,” go to Kuwait, he said, “but things just didn’t line up for me.”

So Fogt decided to re-enter a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency drug-testing pool last year, making him eligible for top-level competition next season, including the Olympics.

Fogt already has his Olympic medal. He has a 2-year-old boy and a 4-month-old daughter. So why spread one’s time even thinner with a comeback and no guarantee to make the Olympic team?

“Winning a bronze medal is awesome, but it’s still not gold,” said Fogt, a former Utah Valley University sprinter recruited to bobsled in 2007. “Having another shot at that is definitely something that keeps me going. I’ve had some success, but I want to have the ultimate success, which is being Olympic champion.”

Fogt’s four-man bobsled bronze medal in Sochi felt like a triumph.

Standing on that podium, he remembered his first Olympics in 2010, when friends stationed in Afghanistan, South Korea and Iraq told him they couldn’t wait to watch his race.

Fogt’s four-man crew at the Vancouver Games, piloted by fellow soldier John Napier, crashed in the second of four runs, ending Fogt’s Olympics prematurely. All seven of Fogt’s siblings were in Whistler, B.C., to watch. An American sled did win gold that weekend, but it was the other four-man team piloted Steven Holcomb ending a 62-year U.S. gold drought in the event.

“The next day, I got a couple of emails [from friends], being like, hey man, sorry, but basically it was kind of quiet, I don’t hear from a lot of people,” Fogt said. “I felt like, crap, here’s my friend, he bobsleds, he’s awesome. Nevermind, he’s in last place. He sucks.”

After the Vancouver Games, Fogt spent a year deployed in Baghdad, training Iraqi intelligence agencies how to use technology to locate and track terrorists. Fogt, whose father served in the Reserves from 1970-2003, had joined the U.S. Army in 2005.

Fogt returned to the U.S. and to bobsled competition in fall 2011. By the 2013-14 Olympic season, he had earned a place in the top U.S. four-man sled piloted by Holcomb.

They were the top crew on the World Cup circuit that winter, but nevertheless underdogs at the Olympics due to the overwhelming home-track advantage held by Russian Aleksandr Zubkov‘s crew. Experience on a track is crucial in bobsled, and Zubkov had up to 10 times as many practice runs at the Sochi venue than Holcomb.

Holcomb’s crew finished third in the four-run Olympic race, .39 behind Zubkov and .30 behind the silver medalists from Latvia.

The medal brought Fogt to tears in post-race interviews on the final day of the Winter Games. Wife Rachel, five months pregnant, wasn’t in Sochi due to travel concerns, but called while Fogt spoke with media to share in the joy. She had watched the race live starting at 2:30 a.m. back in Utah.

Fogt knew then that he would return to the Army after Sochi. He planned to spend two years on active duty and, if it was possible, return to bobsled. Fogt hoped to be shipped overseas, but it never happened, which re-opened the bobsled door. He is currently in Fort Hood, Texas.

Fogt will spend most of his time in Colorado, Utah and, he hopes, Europe with the U.S. bobsled team later this year. None of the current national-team push athletes have Olympic experience, though fellow Sochi medalist Steven Langton is joining Fogt in a comeback.

Still, the newcomers have shown promise. Holcomb ranks in the top three of World Cup two- and four-man standings with his new crew. Displacing one of them will be a challenge, but the U.S. could qualify as man as three sleds for PyeongChang, creating nine Olympic spots for push athletes.

Fogt has spoken with his former driver about his return.

“[Holcomb] has been very honest, his team’s doing pretty good right now,” Fogt said, “but if I come out and get back to where I was [in 2014], then hopefully I’ll have a shot to get back on his sled.”

Fogt has twice met former U.S. President Barack Obama as part of Team USA White House visits after the Olympics. He has the recordings of both brief interactions on his phone.

“He’s commander-in-chief, so ultimately in my chain of command, about 20 steps up, he’s actually my boss,” Fogt joked. “It actually meant a lot to hear him say, thanks for your service, thanks for what you’re doing.”

Obama did more than that, giving Fogt and other military personnel on Team USA special coins. Fogt sometimes carries his with him, and it does hold power. Via the longtime military tradition of “challenge coins,” Fogt can produce the coin in a soldier group setting, where soldiers must buy drinks for the person with the highest-ranking coin.

“You can’t really trump the President of the United States coin,” Fogt joked.

Fogt’s patriotism also factors into his return to bobsled. He remembers Sochi, standing on that podium and watching the American flag being raised. But the Russian flag was higher, and the Russian anthem played.

Fogt is aware of the reports of Russian cheating leading up to and during the Sochi Olympics, allegations that specifically implicate Zubkov.

“I feel like now there will be a lot more of the scrutiny leading up to these Olympics,” Fogt said. “I think they’ll be much more careful with the samples and doing the testing now. Hopefully, a fair race.”

Fogt, now 33 years old, expects this to be his last Olympic run. He plans to return full-time to the Army next year. He said it was weird to train with his battalion every morning from 6:30-7:30, knowing they would be leaving for Kuwait. And he wouldn’t.

“You don’t ever want to be in harm’s way, per se, but you want to be there with the soldiers that you’ve been training with,” Fogt said. “There’s no other feeling like that, that you’ll get in a unit. You’ll rarely face adversity like you do in a hostile war zone.”

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MORE: 18 U.S. Olympic hopefuls to watch for PyeongChang 2018

World Figure Skating Championships pairs preview

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Volosozhar and Trankov couldn’t do it. Neither did Shen and Zhao. Nor Gordeeva and Grinkov.

Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford can win a third straight pairs world title next week, a feat not seen since Irina Rodnina and Alexander Zaitsev of the Soviet Union won six in a row from 1973 through 1978.

But they don’t feel like favorites.

“We’re coming in a little more under the radar,” Radford said.

They lost their two most recent international competitions — third at the Grand Prix Final in December; second at the Four Continents Championships in February.

Duhamel and Radford are seeded fifth by best international scores this season going into the world championships in Helsinki (broadcast schedule here).

“Sometimes it feels like worlds last year was so long ago,” Radford said.

Last year in Boston, Duhamel and Radford had the performance of their seven-year partnership in the world championships free skate. They tallied a personal-best 153.81 points, more than seven points clear of their previous best.

It was easily enough to overtake Chinese short-program leaders Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, who were relegated to silver behind the Canadians for a second straight year.

This season, Duhamel and Radford haven’t come within 13 points of their 2016 World Championships total. Duhamel went through “an unforeseeable circumstance” in her personal life in November that she chooses not to reveal.

They implemented the throw triple Axel, but Duhamel fell three times in a four-event stretch this fall. They lost by nearly 13 points at December’s Grand Prix Final, which ended with a Duhamel backstage meltdown.

“We never fell like that at home [in practice],” Duhamel said on the IceTalk podcast. “It started to shake us up a little bit.”

They replaced the throw triple Axel in their program. Without it in February, both skaters had trouble with jumps at Four Continents at the 2018 Olympic venue and finished nearly 13 points behind Sui and Han.

“We kind of went back to square one, to the drawing board after Four Continents, reassessing what’s gone on this season, why are we underperforming, why are we not succeeding in competition the way we are training,” Duhamel said.

They made program changes, notably on their throw and jump entrances and overhauling the footwork in their short program.

Duhamel adopted a rescue dog from South Korea. Radford, who had surgery over the summer to remove a cyst from his ankle bone, leaned on a sports psychologist.

“I personally feel a lot more relaxed and seemless,” Radford said. “That feeling has come a little bit later this season.”

Five pairs could take gold in Helsinki in perhaps the most wide-open event.

Germans Aliona Savchenko and (French-born) Bruno Massot won both of their fall Grand Prix events but missed the Grand Prix Final after she tore an ankle ligament. They returned to take silver at the European Championships in January with the best score of their two-year partnership.

Young Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov stepped up to win the Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual competition, and then the European Championships. But free-skate struggles have dogged them this season.

Another Russian pair, Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, are perhaps the biggest wild card. They missed the fall season due to Stolbova’s left leg injury, but then beat Tarasova and Morozov in their season debut at the Russian Championships. Stolbova fell on their throw triple flip in both programs at the European Championships in January, and they finished fourth.

Then there are Sui and Han, looking to break through for a first senior world title in their sixth try (though Sui is just 21 years old, and Han 24). They missed the fall season after Sui underwent right ankle and left foot surgeries last spring. They returned at Four Continents and posted personal-best free skate and total scores, ranking only behind Tarasova and Morozov for the season.

U.S. pairs Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim and Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier have both missed significant time due to injury in the last two years. They are behind the top pairs from Canada, China and Russia.

The U.S. hasn’t put a pair in the world championships top five since 2006, and that doesn’t figure to change next week.

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MORE: Ashley Wagner knows pressure’s on her at worlds

NBC Sports researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.

Ashley Caldwell will win or lose Olympic aerials gold with triples

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PARK CITY, Utah (AP) — As a teenager, Ashley Caldwell never had problems hanging with the boys when it came to doing the biggest flips off the aerials ramp. Now in her 20s, she sees no reason for that to change.

Caldwell will make or miss her third U.S. Olympic team, then potentially win or lose the gold medal in South Korea, by doing triple flips off the kicker while most of the women are doing doubles. It’s an all-or-nothing proposition that sets the bar high, and sends a certain message, regardless of whether she finishes first or last.

“It’s not just about trying to be there by myself,” Caldwell says. “It’s about maybe inspiring some younger girls to say, `I should be able to push to whatever I’m capable of doing, not necessarily what people say my gender is capable of doing.”‘

Caldwell never shirked from joining the teenage boys when they started moving to the bigger kickers and adding an extra flip to the doubles they did as kids.

Triples are the price of admission for the men, and while not unheard of among the women, the list of athletes who will try them is short: Jacqui Cooper, Alla Tsuper and Xu Mengtao are among the few who have tried them over the years. They’re also among the best to ever fly off a ramp.

At the Sochi Olympics, Lydia Lassila of Australia became the first woman to land a quadruple-twisting triple flip on snow in training. The next night, she brought it to the medals round, and though she touched her hand to the ground on the landing, she won a bronze medal anyway and stole the headlines.

“That’s who I’m inspired by,” Caldwell said that night. “She’s trying to push the sport so that girls are jumping like the boys, and she’s doing it, and it’s really impressive.”

At freestyle world championships earlier this month, Caldwell sent her message when she became the first woman to cleanly land that same triple-flipping, quadruple-twisting jump in competition (video here).

“It was the first time I had every coach come up to me and shake my hand before the score even came up,” said Todd Ossian, who works with Caldwell as head coach of the U.S. aerials team.

And yet, Caldwell was oh-so-close to not being able to even try that winning jump.

Aerials competitions go through a series of qualifying and elimination rounds that include only one jump each. Consistency is rewarded, and most women train a variety of double flips to make it through the rounds, then bring out their most intricate jump – more often than not, also a double – for when the medals are awarded.

Caldwell doesn’t go that route. She tries triples every time she steps onto the hill.

It adds extra – some might say unnecessary – risk to the early rounds. When the field was being cut from 12 to nine at world championships, for instance, Caldwell didn’t land her triple flip. She was able to squeak into the top nine and advance only because her degree of difficulty for the triple was so high.

“I’m OK sacrificing some good competition results to increase my consistency on the triple,” says Caldwell, giving a nod to the reality that training days on snow are precious and she needs to use them to focus on the jumps she’ll be performing when the contests start.

The recently ended season tested the limits of how much Caldwell was willing to sacrifice. In meet after meet, from Moscow to Minsk to an Olympic test event in South Korea, difficulties with the triple kept her far away from the podium. In the World Cup standings, Caldwell finished 10th.

To her, that’s more a badge of honor than a sign of failure. In a sport that oddly transforms daredevils into conformists, and rewards consistency over risk-taking, Caldwell plans to keep pushing anyway.

In doing triples, her mission is as much about winning as bringing others along for the ride.

“I want the crowd to feel like they know who won,” Caldwell said. “I want it to be impressive. I just want people to say, `That’s sweet. That’s what’s deserved.’ If a lot of girls are doing triples up there and I fall, there would still be a lot of girls who would do well. I’m cool with that. If I mess up, that’s OK. But I want the sport to look good.”

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VIDEO: Top U.S. aerials skier crashes hard at World Cup