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Six months out: 18 U.S. Olympic hopefuls to watch for PyeongChang

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The U.S. may be better equipped than ever to, for the first time, top the medal standings at a Winter Olympics held outside North America.

Three primary reasons. First, that the Winter Games are being held far away from traditional European powers Germany and Norway. Second, that rival Russia is dealing with a doping scandal that could limit (or eliminate) the participation of some of its stars in PyeongChang. Third, a continued American stronghold on new freestyle events on the Olympic program.

If the U.S. is to win the most medals in PyeongChang, these 18 are among the likeliest athletes to contribute:

Mikaela Shiffrin, Alpine Skiing: Became the youngest Olympic slalom champion in Sochi. Won the 2017 World Cup overall title, the prize given to the world’s best all-around skier. Should contend for at least two medals in PyeongChang.

Lindsey Vonn, Alpine Skiing: 2010 Olympic downhill champion and winningest female Alpine skier missed the Sochi Winter Games due to knee surgery. Returned to the top of the podium again last season after more knee and arm fractures.

Lowell Bailey, Biathlon: At 35 years old, became the first American to earn an Olympic or world title in biathlon in February. Bailey, who qualified for his fourth Olympic team, nearly quit the sport a year ago to become a cattle farmer.

Elana Meyers Taylor, Bobsled: Bronze in 2010 and silver in 2014. Now the world champion, looking to win the first U.S. Olympic women’s bobsled title since the sport’s debut in 2002.

Jessie Diggins, Cross-Country Skiing: Led the U.S. to its best-ever world championships showing in February (three medals for the team). Looking to become the first U.S. Olympic women’s cross-country skiing medalist and second overall after Bill Koch in 1976.

John Shuster, Curling: In 2016, skipped the U.S. to its first men’s or women’s Olympic or world championships medal since 2007. Was fourth at 2017 Worlds. Shuster skipped the U.S. to 2-7 records at both the 2010 and 2014 Olympics.

Nathan Chen, Figure Skating: Won the U.S. title at age 17 by becoming the first skater to land seven quadruple jumps in a competition. Beat Sochi gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu at the PyeongChang Olympic venue in February.

Ashley Wagner, Figure Skating: In 2016, snapped a 10-year U.S. women’s medal drought by taking silver at the world championships. One of the biggest threats to a possible Russian podium sweep.

Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani, Figure Skating: Siblings are the new top U.S. couple in ice dance with Sochi gold medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White deciding not to defend their title. Two straight U.S. titles, two straight world championships medals.

Maddie Bowman, Freestyle Skiing: Sochi ski halfpipe champion has earned medals in all eight of her X Games appearances (Aspen and Europe) dating to 2012 despite knee surgeries in 2014 and 2015.

Gus Kenworthy, Freestyle Skiing: Sochi ski slopestyle silver medalist earned X Games medals in halfpipe and slopestyle in 2016 and could make the PyeongChang team in both disciplines.

Amanda Kessel, Hockey: After silver in Sochi, came back from life-altering post-concussion effects to become the highest-paid player in the new National Women’s Hockey League and rejoin the national team.

Erin Hamlin, Luge: In Sochi, became the first U.S. Olympic singles medalist with a bronze. Won medals in all three events at the world championships in January and said she hopes to make her fourth Olympics the last competition of her career.

J.R. Celski, Short Track Speed Skating: Took a year off after winning his third Olympic medal in Sochi. Last season, earned his first individual World Cup medal since 2013.

Jamie Anderson, Snowboarding: Sochi slopestyle gold medalist could go for two medals in PyeongChang with the addition of big air to the Olympic program. Pushed by two potential U.S. Olympic rookies — Hailey Langland and Julia Marino.

Chloe Kim, Snowboarding: Too young for Sochi at age 13, has since won two X Games titles and became the first woman to score a perfect, 100-point run and to land back-to-back 1080s. The daughter of South Korean immigrants.

Shaun White, Snowboarding: Changed coaches and dropped an event (slopestyle) since finishing fourth in Sochi. Now focused wholly on halfpipe and no longer playing guitar in a band. Two wins and a runner-up to finish his season after placing 11th at the Winter X Games.

Heather Bergsma, Speed Skating: Part of a disappointing, medal-less U.S. speed skating effort in Sochi. Has been on a tear since, breaking world records in the 1000m and 1500m and winning world titles in the 500m, 1000m and 1500m. Married to Dutch Olympic 10,000m champion Jorrit Bergsma.

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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

Atlanta hosts 2020 Olympic marathon trials; full history of trials cities

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Atlanta will host the U.S. Olympic marathon trials for the first time on Feb. 29, 2020, joining a long list of cities to stage the event.

The top three male and female finishers will make the Tokyo team. The early favorites include Rio bronze medalist Galen Rupp, Boston Marathon winner Des Linden and world championships bronze medalist Amy Cragg. New York City Marathon winner Shalane Flanagan cast doubt on whether she would go for a fifth Olympics in 2020.

The U.S. Olympic marathon team wasn’t chosen by race results until 1908.

Arthur Blake was the first U.S. Olympic marathoner at the first modern Games in Athens in 1896. How was he chosen for the team? From Bill Mallon of the OlyMADMen and USA Track and Field in 2004:

“At an indoor meet in February in Boston, Art Blake won his [1,000-yard] distance race easily and joked, ‘Oh, I am too good for Boston. I ought to go over and run the marathon in Athens.’ The remark was overheard by Arthur Burnham, a wealthy stockbroker who agreed to partly finance the trip for a group of Boston Athletic Association athletes.”

Blake dropped out of the 1896 Olympic marathon after 14 miles. Greek Spyridon Louis famously won.

Various men competed for the U.S. in the Olympic marathon in 1900, 1904 and 1906 before marathons began being used as qualifiers. The trials host list from Mallon and USATF:

1908: Boston, St. Louis
1912: Boston, Los Angeles, St. Louis, New York (modified to about 12 miles)
1920: Boston, Brooklyn, Detroit, New York
1924: Boston
1928: Boston, Chesapeake Bay, New York to Long Beach AAU Championship race
1932: Boston, Baltimore
1936: Boston, AAU Championship in Washington
1940: Boston, Yonkers (N.Y.)
1948: Boston, Yonkers
1952: Boston, Yonkers
1956: Boston, Yonkers
1960: Boston, Yonkers
1964: Culver City (Calif.), Yonkers
1968: Alamosa (Colo.)
1972: Eugene (Ore.)
1976: Eugene
1980: Niagara Falls (N.Y.)
1984: Buffalo (N.Y.), Olympia (Wash.)
1988: Jersey City (N.J.), Pittsburgh
1992: Columbus (Ohio), Houston
1996: Charlotte, Columbia (S.C.)
2000: Pittsburgh, Columbia
2004: Birmingham, St. Louis
2008: New York, Boston
2012: Houston
2016: Los Angeles
2020: Atlanta

The Olympic women’s marathon debuted in 1984. Separate host cities were used for men’s and women’s trials from 1984 through 2008.

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Kayla Harrison sets MMA debut fight after post-Olympic depression

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Double Olympic judo champion Kayla Harrison will make her MMA debut on June 21 at a Professional Fighters League (PFL) event in Chicago.

The fight, against an opponent Harrison chose not to publicly reveal Monday, will be 20 months since Harrison first announced she joined the promotion and would maybe fight.

“I’ve been waiting for a long time to fight,” Harrison, 27, said on the MMA Hour on Monday. “First, it was more me. I just wanted to get my feet wet, get in there, see if I liked getting punched in the face. Now that I’ve established that I do, we’ve sort of been waiting for the PFL to get their stuff together. So, their stuff is together.”

Harrison said her first two planned opponents for the 145-pound fight (27 pounds fewer than her Olympic weight) pulled out for reasons unknown to her.

“I don’t care who I fight,” said Harrison, the only U.S. Olympic judo champion, who hopes to fight three times this year. “It’s tough because I’m 0-0 in MMA. So it’s not like I’m going to fight someone who’s 10-0. But I think it’s difficult when you have two Olympic gold medals behind your name. Like people are kind of like, are you really an amateur?”

Harrison also said Monday that she was “very depressed” after the Rio Olympics, knowing she was done with judo, not setting a morning alarm or working out and “laying in bed all day” watching TV.

“I was a little bit lost in my life,” she said. “That high is so high that when you come off of that, it’s like your low. You don’t know what to do with yourself.”

Her coaches, Jimmy Pedro and Jim Pedro Sr., were against Harrison filling that void with MMA.

“Even if I was a millionaire or independently wealthy and I had no worries and I didn’t have to work, I would still be doing what I’m doing,” Harrison said. “I think at the beginning I was kind of like skittish about it. It’s tough, too, because everyone is always like, well look at Ronda [Rousey], you always have the comparisons. It’s so different from the judo world, but I’m kind of loving it. I’m kind of starting to become my own person in MMA, if that makes sense. In judo, I always had certain expectations. Everyone is sort of like, this is Kayla. This is the golden girl. This is the poster child, and so I always felt like that’s who I had to be. But in MMA, no one really knows me. Nobody cares about judo.”

In October 2016, Harrison announced she joined MMA promotion World Series of Fighting (now PFL) as a commentator, brand ambassador and potentially a fighter. But she wasn’t 100 percent committed to competing at the time.

“All signs point to a yes, but everything has to work out,” Harrison said then.

Then in June 2017, Harrison said she would fight starting in 2018. The debut was pushed from February to June.

Harrison had been asked time and again for years about her interest in pursuing MMA. That’s in part because of former training partner Rousey’s overwhelming success after she switched from Olympic judo to MMA.

Harrison took boxing and jiu-jitsu lessons as far back as 2013, which should boost her MMA potential. Since Rio, she’s trained in New Jersey, Las Vegas and now Florida.

Harrison previously said that to compete in MMA she will require a weight cut from her Olympic judo class of 172 pounds.

Rousey competed at 135 pounds, the heaviest women’s weight class in UFC at the time. UFC added a 145-pound division last year. Harrison said in 2016 that if she fought, it would probably be at 145 pounds.

PFL, which had no women’s weight class when Harrison signed up, planned to develop a women’s program as Harrison readied for a potential debut. Harrison said Sunday that PFL’s plan is to have a full women’s division in 2019.

“I want to be the best, undisputed,” Harrison said. “I want everyone to say, oh, who’s the best MMA fighter in the world? Oh, that’s Kayla Harrison.”

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