Short Track Speedskating

U.S. Olympic team full of surprises, stars; what’s left for PyeongChang

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Nearly half of the U.S. Olympic team was named last week. After several surprises, a few more big names look to clinch their spots in the coming days.

NBC’s coverage of the PyeongChang Winter Games begins in exactly one month on Feb. 8.

Here’s a look at where the U.S. Olympic team stands:

It will end up including more than 200 athletes. One week ago, there were 44 qualified athletes.

Now, there are 127 qualified athletes (full list here), including the entire figure skating and speed skating teams, plus the bulk of the hockey teams.

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Key storylines from qualifiers so far:

Nathan Chen (figure skating): The only undefeated male singles skater this season won by a whopping 40 points at nationals with seven quadruple jumps between two programs. The 19-year-old will go up against Japanese stars Yuzuru Hanyu and Shoma Uno as the medal favorites in PyeongChang.

Bradie Tennell (figure skating): Largely an unknown a few months ago, Tennell leaned on consistent jumping to win her first U.S. title, one year after placing ninth at nationals. She is unquestionably the best U.S. woman, but an individual Olympic medal will be a tall ask. She ranks 14th in the world this season.

Adam Rippon and Mirai Nagasu (figure skating): These two veterans told incredible comeback stories to make the team. Rippon, at 28, is the oldest U.S. Olympic rookie singles skater since 1936. The only man to win two world junior titles waited eight years to make it to the Games. He barely qualified, being placed on the team over runner-up Ross Miner after placing fourth at nationals.

Nagasu won her first national title at age 14 in 2008. Then she finished fourth at the 2010 Olympics. She was third at the 2014 Nationals but left off that Olympic team for fourth-place Ashley Wagner. Nagasu wiped away the tears and added a new jump this season, becoming the second American after Tonya Harding to land a triple Axel in international competition. That move helped her get second at nationals and return to the Olympics.

Mikaela Shiffrin (Alpine skiing): Shiffrin became the youngest Olympic slalom champion in Sochi at age 18. She’s since blossomed into the world’s best all-around skier, including winning six of the last seven World Cup races. Shiffrin is now favored for three gold medals in PyeongChang, which would match the record for an Alpine skier at one Winter Games.

New-look hockey teams: The U.S. men’s hockey team includes no NHL players for the first time since 1994. That means a roster mixed with collegians, minor-leaguers and guys playing for European-league teams. The captain is Brian Gionta, the leading goal scorer on the 2006 Olympic team who is currently without a club team.

The U.S. women return 10 Olympians, but there are many changes from the team that lost to Canada in an overtime Olympic final four years ago. The new coach is 1990s NHL goalie Robb Stauber. All three goalies are rookie Olympians. The final two cuts were veterans from Sochi and several world championship teams.

Breaking barriers: Ghana-born 17-year-old Maame Biney is the first African-American woman to make an Olympic short track speed skating teamErin Jackson, a former roller derby skater, became the first African-American woman to make a long-track speed skating Olympic team, four months after picking up the sport full-timeJordan Greenway, a Boston College junior, is the first African-American hockey player to make the Olympic team.

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Athletes who surprisingly missed the Olympic team:

Ashley Wagner (figure skating): The three-time U.S. champion and 2016 World silver medalist finished fourth at the national championships last week. She was left off the three-woman Olympic team by a selection committee that didn’t feel she had strong enough results the past year to merit bumping one of the top three finishers from nationals.

Jason Brown (figure skating): The only man with Olympic experience at this year’s nationals had a disastrous free skate. Brown fell from third to sixth and out of the PyeongChang picture. The bubbly Brown was a sensation four years ago with his “Riverdance” free skate and was hoping to perform to the “Hamilton” soundtrack in South Korea.

Alex Carpenter (hockey): The last forward cut from the U.S. women’s hockey team. Carpenter, the daughter of longtime NHL forward Bobby Carpenter, led the U.S. with four goals in Sochi and scored the 2016 World Championship final game-winning goal in overtime against Canada. She played in the last four world championships.

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Remaining qualifying storylines:

Shaun White (snowboarding): The rest of the Olympic snowboarding team will be determined at qualifiers the next two weekends. White, the 2006 and 2010 halfpipe gold medalist, finished fourth in Sochi. Rededicated, he’s in strong position to automatically qualify at one of the last two qualifiers, despite needing 62 face stitches after a preseason crash. Even if he struggles, there is a safety net. The last spot on the team is chosen by a committee, and White certainly has a strong resume to state his case.

Lindsey Vonn (Alpine skiing): There’s no doubt the 33-year-old is going to PyeongChang. She can officially clinch her spot as early as this weekend with her first World Cup races since a holiday break. Known for crashing and winning, Vonn has done both this season and remains a favorite to become the oldest female Olympic Alpine medalist.

Gus Kenworthy (freestyle skiing): The world’s best freeskier hopes to make the Olympic team in both halfpipe and slopestyle (should be four men in each event). But it’s not an easy task. In slopestyle, Kenworthy is going up against two Olympic medalists (Joss Christensen and Nick Goepper), the world champion (McRae Williams) and another Sochi Olympian in Bobby Brown.

In halfpipe, Sochi gold medalist David WiseTorin Yater-Wallace and Alex Ferreira already have wins in qualifiers, and Winter X Games champ Aaron Blunck is also ahead of Kenworthy in the early qualifying standings.

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They made the U.S. Olympic team, but did not compete

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The U.S. sent 230 athletes to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, but the record book lists 222 competitors.

Eight members of that U.S. Olympic team — the largest by any nation in Winter Games history — did not compete for various reasons.

Some were injured before their event. Others went sin team sports (one controversially). One more lost an internal competition for a starting spot before the Opening Ceremony.

As the U.S. team of more than 200 athletes for PyeongChang begins to take shape, a look at what happened to those eight from Sochi:

Erik Fisher, Alpine Skiing
Fisher went to both the 2010 and 2014 Olympics but didn’t compete at either Games.

The world’s best Alpine nations often bring more downhill skiers than they have starting spots (four) in the Olympics. Then they use training runs before the medal race to determine who gets the last spot or two behind their top medal favorites.

In 2010, Fisher went to the Olympics with a broken right hand and lost out on the last downhill spot to Steven Nyman.

In 2014, Fisher went to the Olympics with a left knee injury and again lost out to Nyman in training runs.

“I was knocked out in the qualifying run, and the coaches used the last discretion spot for Steven Nyman,” was posted on Fisher’s social media the day of the Sochi Opening Ceremony. “Once again I had to fight thru an injury to try and make the final 4 spots and could not quite do it. I tweaked my knee a few weeks back and had to get a cortisone shot to help fight the pain. Tomorrow I will be getting an MRI to see the damage in left knee. I gave it my all and I’m proud of what I accomplished. It was so amazing to see the support of Family, Friends and the Community. I can’t possibly thank you enough! Nyman is a very good friend of mine and I hope he kills it!”

Fisher last raced in April 2014. The U.S. Alpine team for PyeongChang will be named next month, possibly with skiers who will have to earn starts in training runs.

Allison Pottinger, Curling
After four-person teams win the U.S. Olympic Curling Trials, they typically have a week or two for adding a fifth member as an alternate.

Pottinger qualified for the 2010 Olympics outright and played for Debbie McCormick‘s team in Vancouver. Four years later, Pottinger skipped her own team, made it to the Olympic Trials finals and lost to Erika Brown‘s team. Twelve hours after that, Brown asked Pottinger to be her alternate.

Over the last three Olympics, three of the six alternates for U.S. curling teams ended up playing. Alternates can replace any member of the team before any game and be subbed back out for later games. They can also enter mid-game as injury replacements.

Their duties are scouting other teams and “matching rocks,” throwing competition stones after the completion of play in preparation for the next day’s games to gauge their variance.

During games, alternates typically sit with coaches on a bench about 20 feet from the ice sheet.

While men’s alternate Craig Brown (Erika’s younger brother) did see game action in Sochi, Pottinger did not as Brown’s team went 1-8 and finished last out of 10 teams.

“I thought about it going in, and I kind of set myself with the mindset that I wasn’t going to play,” Pottinger said. “You don’t get your hopes up. I know that sounds bad. I know those girls [on Brown’s team] well enough that they want to play every game. They won to get there [to the Olympics] as a team.”

At least Pottinger had her Olympic competition experience in 2010. She regretted that the alternate on her Vancouver Olympic team — Tracy Sachtjen — didn’t get into a game (that team also finished in last place).

“It wasn’t until literally two ends into the last game where I kind of thought to myself, wait a second [about Sachtjen],” said Pottinger, a 44-year-old who didn’t compete at this year’s trials. “Tracy was our alternate the whole season. We went in [to the Olympic season] as five. So I think that was probably even harder [than 2014].”

The alternates on the U.S. curling teams for PyeongChang are Joe Polo and Cory Christensen.

Jimmy Howard and Brianne McLaughlin, Hockey
Olympic ice hockey rosters expanded to three goalies for the men in 1998 and the women in 2010. Going into Sochi, Howard and McLaughlin looked like the Nos. 3 on the depth chart.

And with only three group games followed by the playoffs, the likelihood is always high that at least one goalie per team will not play in the Olympics.

McLaughlin was the U.S. No. 3 in both 2010 and 2014.

Months before the 2010 Olympics, U.S. coach Mark Johnson chatted one-on-one with McLaughlin, who was the only one of his three goalies who had no previous world championship experience.

“I was told right off the bat, congrats on making the team, but this is not Brianne McLaughlin’s time,” McLaughlin said. “That was my rookie season. I had never been on the national team before. For me it was, just, this is awesome.”

Johnson allowed McLaughlin to dress for a group-play game against lowly China as the backup to Molly Schaus, who was getting a start in place of No. 1 Jessie Vetter.

As McLaughlin walked out of the locker room, she realized she forgot something. Her contacts.

“I was like, oh, whatever, I’m not going to play anyway,” she said. “Ten minutes left in the game [with the U.S. up 10-0] he kicks my butt to get in there.”

The box score lists McLaughlin giving up one goal on two shots.

“I got made fun of for getting scored on for four years,” she said.

McLaughlin hoped to contribute more in Sochi, but she suffered a groin injury about two months before the Olympics that kept her out for weeks. Vetter and Schaus were again the top two goalies, and this time McLaughlin didn’t play.

She spent the epic Sochi women’s overtime final with Canada from a center-ice seat in the stands. She joined the team in the locker room between periods and even ran down late in the third to dress for the medal ceremony.

“I was standing next to the bench with the other [backup] goalie thinking I was going to run out there to get a gold medal,” she said.

Then Canada scored twice in the final 3 minutes, 26 seconds, to tie it and won in overtime. McLaughlin received a second straight silver medal and retired from the national team a year later.

The U.S. men’s and women’s hockey teams — with three goalies each — will be named Jan. 1.

Heidi Kloser, Moguls
The most publicized of the eight U.S. Olympic team members who did not compete in Sochi.

Kloser tore her right ACL and fractured her femur in training before qualifying on the eve of Opening Ceremony. The news really spread after her father’s Facebook post:

We just got down from the Olympic Village ER where Heidi was taken to after a bad fall in her training run prior to tonight’s Olympic qualifier … Heidi’s doing ok, but there’s moments when the reality of it all hits home, she’s a tough one, but this is a tough one to swallow for all of us! When she was in the ambulance, she asked Emily and me if she was still an Olympian…. We said of course she is!

Teammate Hannah Kearney, the 2010 Olympic moguls champion, said that she was also asked by Kloser whether she was an Olympian.

“I actually made the huge mistake of trying to joke with her too soon after it happened. I didn’t realize how serious she was about that

,” Kearney said of their conversation hours after Kloser’s injury. “I’m like, well, Heidi, I don’t know. You haven’t competed at the Olympics. And she immediately broke down in tears. I was like, OK, that is not the right thing to say to someone who just had their dreams dashed. I only said that because, my God, of course she earned her spot there.”

The next day, Kloser marched in the Parade of Nations — on crutches after being pushed into Fisht Stadium in a wheelchair.

She needed another knee surgery a year later and has mostly competed on the lower-level Nor-Am Cup circuit since. Kloser is not expected to make the PyeongChang Olympic team.

“If I hadn’t been told that I was an Olympian, I would have put my ski boots on, no matter how bad it hurt, and I would have gone through that start gate,” Kloser said in 2014.

Kyle Carr, Short Track Speed Skating
Carr made the Sochi Olympic team not in any individual races, but only as part of the five-man pool for the 5000m relay.

The relay includes four skaters per country. There is a qualifying round and a final, and skaters can be subbed out between. But they don’t have to be, so Carr flew to Russia without a guarantee of competing. Unlike his four U.S. teammates, who each made it in at least one individual event.

Carr was not chosen for the preliminary round but was told he would be inserted for the final, her mother reportedly said in an NBC affiliate interview.

That didn’t happen. A U.S. coach (or coaches) kept the same foursome for the final.

The U.S. won silver in the relay. The gold and bronze nations didn’t use subs, either, but both the U.S. men’s and women’s medal-winning relays used everyone in 2010.

“I walked out and just sobbed, and thought, ‘I hope that coach feels really good about himself. Really good about himself,’” Carr’s mom reportedly told the NBC affiliate at the relay final. “Because that was how many years of a dream that he just ripped out from Kyle’s feet — after telling him for the last how many days that he was skating the final?”

Carr reportedly retired after competing in the relay at the world championships one month later.

This year, another U.S. man made the Olympic team as a relay-only skater, Ryan Pivirotto.

Maggie Voisin, Ski Slopestyle
Voisin was due to become the youngest U.S. athlete to compete at a Winter Olympics since 1972, two months after turning 15.

But she fractured her right fibula in practice on the day of the Opening Ceremony.

The injury didn’t feel serious at first, but reality set after she got an X-Ray for the first time in her life and saw a crack. Voisin had not been told the diagnosis, but she crutched out of the room, sat next to her physical therapist and cried.

Voisin emailed her parents, but as Team USA marched into the Opening Ceremony that night, she didn’t know if they had gotten word. So she thew away her crutches and footed it.

“I wasn’t ready for them to see that,” Voisin said. “I felt like I was letting not just myself down, but my family, which had traveled that entire way to go there.”

Voisin, with a new set of crutches, stuck around for the ski slopestyle event four days later.

She watched from the bottom, her Sochi 2014 bib tied around her waist, as the women who finished directly behind her at the X Games three weeks earlier made up the medal podium. Voisin later framed the bib.

A fire was lit. She wanted to prove — not just at the next Olympics, but the following season — that she was an Olympian.

Her first contest back was in December 2014. Voisin tore her left ACL and meniscus. Another 13 months out of competition. She returned to Montana, continued home school and attended a prom.

Voisin returned for the 2015-16 season. Fourth at X Games. Second at a World Cup at the PyeongChang Olympic venue.

She was the top American in the first two Olympic qualifiers this year, including a victory. And with X Games champ Kelly Sildaru out for the season with a left knee injury, the gold medal is up for grabs.

“I’m going into PyeongChang with that much more motivation,” Voisin said. “I remember sitting in that hospital [in Russia], thinking, I’m going to do whatever it takes to get back to the Olympics.”

Arielle Gold, Snowboard Halfpipe
Gold dislocated her right shoulder in a practice crash the day of qualifying in Sochi. It was popped back in, but she was unable to compete, saying it was the worst pain she ever felt, according to the Denver Post.

The slushy halfpipe conditions were a topic throughout the Games. Gold believed that played a part in her fall, which came hitting a bump near the pipe’s flat bottom.

“The weather was so warm that the snow wasn’t holding up well,” she said earlier this season. “It got dangerous. You couldn’t see where any bumps were. That’s exactly what happened to me.”

Gold posted video of the crash from the non-televised practice a few days later.

“I actually wanted to watch it,” she said. “I was just getting a lot of messages on social media from friends and family back home about what happened. … I figured that it gave people a little context.”

Gold, the 2013 World champion, made it back to the bottom of the course to watch the final, where two of her American teammates won medals.

“That was the hardest part … feeling like I could be right up there in the mix,” she said. “It wasn’t as much about the medal or the result, but being able to compete.”

Gold tries not to think about Sochi too much, not automatically connect it to her potential PyeongChang story, but she cherishes memories.

Watching the U.S.-Russia men’s hockey game that went to a shootout. Being at the Olympics with brother Taylor, who was eliminated in the men’s halfpipe semifinals. She saved her team gear and an Olympic ring that all U.S. Olympians receive.

Gold is in decent position to make the PyeongChang Olympic team through two of four qualifiers, but she may have to hold off reigning X Games champion Elena Hight and 2006 Olympic champion Hannah Teter.

“Sometimes when I look back on Sochi, a lot of it was, I was a little bit starstruck and didn’t realize I was there. It didn’t seem real,” said Gold, who was 17 years old then. “I hope this time around, if I qualify, I can make the most of the experience.”

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MORE: List of athletes qualified for U.S. Olympic team

Maame Biney, J.R. Celski join U.S. Olympic short track team

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Maame Biney will become the second African-born athlete to compete for the U.S. at the Winter Olympics and the first black woman on a speed skating team.

J.R. Celski, a three-time medalist, is going to a third Winter Games.

Biney, Celski and Aaron Tran qualified in short track at the Olympic Trials in Kearns, Utah, after the 500m on Saturday.

The team is now at five skaters — John-Henry Krueger and Lana Gehring qualified on the first night Friday.

Three more skaters will qualify Sunday after 1000m races — two men and one woman.

One of Katherine Reutter-Adamek and Jessica Kooreman, the top U.S. women at the last two Olympics, is guaranteed to miss the PyeongChang team.

Neither could keep up with the 17-year-old Biney, who moved to the D.C. area from Ghana with her father at age 5, on Saturday. More on Biney’s personal story here.

Biney swept the 500m finals, taking leads from the start and holding off more experienced women. She actually fell — while celebrating after crossing the finish line in the last race.

Afterward, NBC Sports’ Andrea Joyce told Biney that eight-time Olympic medalist Apolo Ohno believes Biney doesn’t know how good she is.

“People have been telling me that forever, and I think right now I’m kind of seeing it, but I feel like I have a long ways to go, but thanks Apolo,” said Biney, who won a junior world championships bronze medal last season.

Celski did not win the men’s 500m, where he is the world-record holder. Krueger did, with Tran in second.

But the fact that Krueger finished in the top two in Friday’s 1500m and the 500m means that Celski gets on the team via his second-place finish in the 1500m.

Celski won two bronze medals at the 2010 Olympics and another relay silver in Sochi.

He took a full season off after Sochi — undergoing hip surgery — and overcame further knee and back injuries the last two years to return to the World Cup podium this season.

Celski is the only American to earn an individual World Cup medal this season (a bronze) in 24 total races.

Celski won’t be able to race the 500m in PyeongChang if Thomas Hong makes the Olympic team on Sunday.

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U.S. Olympic Short Track Trials

Day Time (ET) Events Network
Friday 6:45-8 p.m. 1500m rounds STREAM LINK
8:30-10 p.m. 1500m finals NBCSN | STREAM LINK
Saturday 12-1:45 p.m. 500m rounds STREAM LINK
2:30-4 p.m. 500m finals NBC | STREAM LINK
Sunday 10:15 a.m.-12:15 p.m. 1000m rounds STREAM LINK
1-3 p.m. 1000m finals NBC | STREAM LINK