Nigeria women's bobsled

Nigeria women’s bobsled team nears historic Olympic berth

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Nigeria is the most successful African nation by Summer Olympic medals yet to compete at the Winter Olympics.

That is almost certainly about to change.

Nigerian bobsled driver Seun Adigun fulfilled Olympic eligibility requirements at a lower-level race in Calgary on Wednesday.

Adigun, who competed in the 2012 Olympic 100m hurdles heats, is not qualified for the Winter Olympics — yet.

Olympic bobsled qualification is a little complicated, but it’s extremely likely that Adigun will mathematically clinch an Olympic berth as early as Dec. 2.

Nigeria owns 25 Summer Olympic medals, making it the third-most successful Summer Olympic nation yet to compete in a Winter Games (Cuba, Indonesia), according to Olympic historians known as the OlyMADMen.

A total of 55 Africans among 13 nations have competed in the Winter Games, but none in an Olympic bobsled race. Most were in skiing.

The best finish was 13th by South African pairs figure skaters Gwyn Jones and Marcelle Matthews in 1960, the first Winter Olympics with African competitors.

Only one African has competed in any Olympic sliding sport — South African Tyler Botha was 21st out of 27 racers in the 2006 men’s skeleton event.

Adigun, 30, was born in Illinois to Nigerian parents. She sprinted for the University of Houston before making the 2012 Olympics.

“I kind of had Olympic fever again,” Adigun told CBS News last year. “So, this was 2014, and the [Sochi] Winter Olympics was on, and I knew quite a few track and field athletes who had transitioned into the winter sports. So I figured, you know, I think I can try this.”

Adigun began bobsledding in 2015 as a push athlete for the U.S. before switching to driving for Nigeria before last season.

“All I knew of it was the movie ‘Cool Runnings,'” Adigun told a Houston TV talk show in August.

Her chances of qualifying for the 2018 U.S. Olympic team were limited due to a deep pool of push athletes, most former track and field collegians. But developing nations can qualify for Olympic bobsled, as the 1993 Disney film showed Adigun.

Since no other African nations have women’s bobsled teams, a pathway was open to qualify for Nigeria via the International Bobsled Federation’s continental representation spot.

If Adigun makes the Olympics, her brakewoman will likely be another former NCAA sprinter that she recruited to bobsled. Ngozi Onwumere and Akuoma Omeoga were also born in the U.S. to Nigerian parents.

They began training in a wooden sled they named “The Maeflower” in Houston before competing on ice together.

The story is similar to the Jamaican men’s bobsled team from 30 years ago.

Jamaica, coincidentally, also hopes to qualify its first Olympic women’s bobsled team this winter with an American-born driver (2014 U.S. Olympic driver Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian).

“These [Jamaican] men did something very special, and to be able to have everyone who is hearing our story put us on the same line of legacy that these men have created, that’s really honorable,” Adigun told CBS News.

In her five lower-level races so far, Adigun was either the last or next-to-last finisher. An Olympic medal is not realistic.

“Success would be for me to successfully navigate the track as a very novice driver,” Adigun told the BBC last winter.

The Nigerian bobsledders are sponsored by Visa and Under Armour. Adigun has appeared in a Toyota ad, too. They previously had a crowdfunding page, hitting their goal of $75,000.

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New generation of male figure skaters owns spotlight at worlds; preview

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Nobody in the men’s field at figure skating worlds owns an Olympic or world title for the first time since 1985. This could lead to the best U.S. men’s results in years.

Yuzuru HanyuJavier Fernandez and Patrick Chan combined to win every gold medal since 2011, but all of them ended their seasons at the Olympics.

This week in Milan, the four leading men, who just competed in their first Olympics, are all 20 years or younger. And that includes two Americans.

Nathan Chen can become the first world singles champion from the U.S. since Evan Lysacek in 2009. Chen and Vincent Zhou could be the first U.S. men to finish in the top five together since Lysacek and Johnny Weir in 2005. Chen, Zhou and Max Aaron could make up the best U.S. trio at a worlds in more than 20 years.

Start with Chen. The 18-year-old said he planned to compete this week regardless of what happened at the Olympics, but after his struggles in the team event and individual short programs, the quad master nailed his free skate, came home to California and said he took maybe one day off of training before this event.

Chen is one of three men in the gold-medal hunt, along with Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno of Japan and world bronze medalist Jin Boyang of China. While Chen largely struggled at the 2017 Worlds and in PyeongChang, Uno and Jin each made the podium at both events. And each can come close to or equal Chen in quad numbers.

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Zhou, 17, has a chance to become the youngest man to earn a world medal since Hanyu in 2012. Or the first man to win the world junior title one season and make the world senior podium the next since Yevgeny Plushenko in 1997-98.

Zhou is riding momentum. He struggled in the fall and entered nationals in January ranked fifth among Americans for the season. He placed third to make the Olympic team and then landed three clean quads in his Olympic free skate to jump from 12th to sixth.

“I did better there than a lot of people thought I would,” Zhou told NBC Sports research last week. “I knew I was capable of that all season.

“I want to reach my ultimate goal of being Olympic champion, and my best chance is in 2022 … because by 2026 I will probably be old and creaky with four prosthetic limbs.”

Aaron made it to Milan after Olympian Adam Rippon gave up his spot, and the top two alternates (Jason Brown and Ross Miner) both declined. Still, Aaron, the 2013 U.S. champion, is seeded seventh in the men’s field based on top scores this season.

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

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Carolina Kostner the sentimental favorite at figure skating worlds

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Olympic champion Alina Zagitova is without question the favorite at this week’s world figure skating championships, especially after the sprightly Russian’s training partner and rival Yevgenia Medvedeva withdrew because of injury.

She won’t be the sentimental favorite, though.

That would be Carolina Kostner, the ageless Italian star who could be competing at worlds for the last time on home soil. The 2012 champion and six-time world medalist seemed to indicate that retirement could be looming after she finished fifth at the PyeongChang Games, where she was chosen to carry the Italian flag at the Closing Ceremony.

Kostner will have a huge home crowd behind her when the event begins Wednesday in Milan.

“Decisions like that should never be taken in a hot moment. It will come naturally,” said Kostner, who no longer can compete with the sport’s high-fliers when it comes to technical marks, but whose elegant artistry and presentation often make up the difference.

“She is an example of perseverance, of a long-lasting athlete,” Medvedeva said. “I have trouble imagining how someone can stay in that shape for a very long time. When you see people like Carolina, you understand that if she can do something, then that something is possible. If you love what you do, you put all of yourself into it, like Carolina Kostner.”

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When asked about retirement, Kostner brought up her cousin, Isolde Kostner, who won three Olympic Alpine skiing medals before deciding to step away from competition.

“She stopped skiing shortly before the (2006) Olympics in Italy,” Caroline Kostner said. “Many did not understand why she wouldn’t pull through because it was her home country, and she said, ‘You will feel strongly when it is time to stop.’ And I haven’t felt it yet.”

The biggest story at the world championships in an Olympic year tends to be who is missing rather than who shows up. The grind of competing for an entire season builds toward the quadrennial event, and athletes who medal or intend to retire rarely press on to worlds. Then there are the injuries, which accumulate during the year.

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