Getty Images

Olympic sliding season begins with high U.S. expectations

Leave a comment

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. (AP) — The scene following just about every World Cup women’s bobsled race last season looked something like this: Elana Meyers Taylor and Jamie Greubel Poser on the podium, both Americans celebrating yet another medal as they waved a bouquet of flowers into the frosty air.

They’re hoping to reprise that a few times this winter — all the way to the PyeongChang Olympics.

The World Cup sliding season starts Thursday for bobsled and skeleton, and racing on the home ice of Mount Van Hoevenberg for the opener should give Greubel Poser and Meyers Taylor an edge over the rest of the field as the Olympic campaign officially begins. It’s not like they need a lot of help: In the nine major races last season, the two driving stars combined for seven wins.

“I have great equipment, amazing pushers, I know what I’m doing and I know what I’ve done,” Greubel Poser said. “I’m ready to do it.”

There are always some surprise names that pop up in an Olympic year, but there’s also little doubt that the three women’s bobsled pilots who reached the podium at the Sochi Games in 2014 are the huge favorites to get there again in February in South Korea. Canada’s Kaillie Humphries is the two-time reigning gold medalist, Meyers Taylor got silver in 2014 and Greubel Poser took bronze.

Greubel Poser, Humphries and Meyers Taylor finished 1-2-3 in the World Cup overall standings last season, and at the world championships, it was Meyers Taylor winning gold, Humphries getting silver and Greubel Poser taking bronze. And odds are, it’ll be those three again — in some order — in PyeongChang.

“The depth of this team is unbelievable,” U.S. coach Brian Shimer said.

Women’s skeleton and two-man bobsled is also on Thursday’s schedule in Lake Placid, with men’s skeleton and another two-man bobsled race set for Friday. There are two two-man races this weekend, and two four-man races in Park City, Utah, when the circuit heads next weekend.

While the World Cups matter, this season it’s about finding what works — including finding which push athletes from a deep U.S. pool will be best served to help Meyers Taylor and Greubel Poser in the season’s ultimate race. Olympic bronze medalist Aja Evans is back, Kehri Jones pushed Meyers Taylor to gold at worlds last season and hurdler-turned-bobsledder Lolo Jones returns to resume her medal quest as well.

So realistically, the World Cup season is an Olympic preseason of sorts.

“Pretty much. This year they kind of have to be because we have to test these brakemen,” Meyers Taylor said. “As much as I wanted to go out and crush every World Cup, at the end of the day we’re going to have to try some things.”

Greubel Poser will have Evans in her sled Thursday, while Meyers Taylor will get pushed by Lauren Gibbs and the USA-3 sled driven by Brittany Reinbolt will have Briauna Jones in the back seat.

It was an offseason of tumult for the U.S. bobsled program. Shimer’s home in Naples, Fla., got clobbered by Hurricane Irma, setting back his preparations for the season. There already have been some injury issues.

And of course, the biggest blow was the death of longtime USA-1 driver Steven Holcomb, who would have been Olympics-bound again this winter.

His death leaves not just a hole in the men’s roster but on the entire team.

It’s the women like Meyers Taylor and Greubel Poser who could ensure that the U.S. stays on track. Both are going through their second Olympic cycle as drivers, have dealt with plenty of disappointments along with plenty of victories and now know the biggest season in their careers has arrived.

“Leading up to Sochi my success was more of a pleasant surprise,” Greubel Poser said. “Now I have higher expectations and goals. I want to win.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Steven Holcomb, from those who knew him best

Emma Coburn, Sam Kendricks win USATF Athlete of the Year awards

Emma Coburn, Sam Kendricks
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Emma Coburn and Sam Kendricks followed Rio Olympic bronze medals with their first world titles in August. And now, they both won USATF Athlete of the Year honors.

Coburn, 27, took the female award named after Jackie Joyner-Kersee after becoming the first American woman to bag 3000m steeplechase gold at the Olympics or worlds.

Coburn led an emotional U.S. one-two with Courtney Frerichs in London on Aug. 11 (video here). She broke the American record (by five seconds) and the world championships record by winning in 9:02.58.

Kendricks, 25, captured the Jesse Owens Award after an undefeated season that included the first Olympic or world pole vault title by an American man in 10 years.

The first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve won all 17 of his competitions in 2017, clearing six meters for the first time. No American had eclipsed that barrier since 2008.

Coburn and Kendricks won the USATF honors over the likes of fellow world champions Justin Gatlin and Tori Bowie (100m), Christian Taylor (triple jump), Phyllis Francis (400m), Kori Carter (400m hurdles) and Brittney Reese (long jump). Plus Shalane Flanagan and Galen Rupp, who each won World Marathon Majors this fall.

Rio gold medalists Michelle Carter (shot put) and Matthew Centrowitz (1500m) won the awards last year.

Coburn is the first steeplechaser to take home a USATF Athlete of the Year award. They’ve been handed out since 1981.

Kendricks joined 2000 Olympic champion Stacy Dragila as the only pole vaulters to earn the honor.

More from USATF on the awards here.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

VIDEO: NFL team celebrates TD by racing sprint relay

Jana Novotna, Wimbledon champ and Olympic medalist, dies at 49

AP
Leave a comment

PRAGUE (AP) — Jana Novotna, who won the hearts of the tennis world when she sobbed on the shoulder of a member of the British royal family after a heartbreaking loss in the Wimbledon final, has died at the age of 49.

The WTA announced Novotna’s death on Monday, saying she died Sunday in her native Czech Republic following a long battle with cancer.

Novotna died “peacefully, surrounded by her family,” the women’s tennis body said.

Her family confirmed her death to the Czech Republic’s CTK news agency. No details were given.

Martina Navratilova, the tennis great who was also born in what was then Czechoslovakia, tweeted: “The tennis world is so sad about the passing of Jana Novotna. I am gutted and beyond words. Jana was a true friend and an amazing woman.”

Novotna won her only Grand Slam singles title at Wimbledon in 1998, eventually triumphing after two losses in the final at the All England Lawn Tennis Club in 1993 and 1997.

She added three Olympic tennis medals — singles bronze at Altanta 1996 (knocking out top seed Monica Seles) and doubles silver in 1988 and 1996 with Helena Sukova.

She also lost in the 1991 Australian Open final.

While she finally captured the Grand Slam singles title she longed for in 1998, she won over the Wimbledon crowd five years earlier after wasting a big lead in the decisive set in a tough three-set loss to Steffi Graf.

Unable to hide her disappointment, Novotna cried on the shoulder of Britain’s Duchess of Kent at the prize giving ceremony and was gently comforted by the royal, who told her: “I know you will win it one day, don’t worry.”

Novotna ultimately had her moment five years later when she beat Nathalie Tauziat in straight sets to win Wimbledon. At the time, she was the oldest first-time winner of a Grand Slam singles title at age 29.

There wear tears again from Novotna, this time of joy, and the Duchess of Kent was present again to congratulate her.

“She was a true champion in all senses of the word, and her 1998 triumph will live long in the memory,” Wimbledon organizers the All England Club said in tribute to Novotna. “The thoughts of all those at Wimbledon are with her family and friends.”

Fellow Czech and four-time Grand Slam champion Hana Mandlikova, who coached Novotna for her Wimbledon win, said: “It’s hard to find words. Jana was a great girl and I’m happy that she won Wimbledon after all. It’s so sad when someone so young dies.”

During a 14-year professional career, Novotna won 24 singles titles and reached a career-high No. 2 in the singles rankings in 1997. She was a prolific and top-ranked doubles player, collecting 16 slam titles in doubles and mixed doubles.

She also won the Fed Cup with her country in 1988. Novotna was inducted into tennis’ Hall of Fame in 2005.

Even after retiring in 1999, Novotna was desperate to stay involved in tennis and became a commentator and coach.

“I’m dependent on tennis,” she said in an interview two years ago. “A day without it would be terrible.”

Members of the current Czech Fed Cup team said Novotna “supported us in the stands any time she could be there. We’ll miss her.”

“Jana was an inspiration both on and off court to anyone who had the opportunity to know her,” WTA chief executive Steve Simon said. “Her star will always shine brightly in the history of the WTA.”