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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U.S. Olympic speed skating team finalized after trials

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WEST ALLIS, Wis. (AP) — All Joey Mantia needed to do to qualify for the mass start in the Olympics was to finish at the U.S. speed skating trials.

He took it a little easy to begin the race Sunday before adrenaline kicked in.

The fifth-place finish on Sunday clinched Mantia’s spot in the mass start at the Winter Games, where the reigning world champion has bigger goals in mind.

“I really wanted to let those guys race it out and then I got a little hungry with a half-lap to go. I thought, ‘Maybe I can win this,’” Mantia said.

Brian Hansen took the event with a time of 7:48.24 on Sunday, the final day of the trials.

Mantia and Hansen had already qualified in other events. U.S. Speed Skating added Emery Lehman as a specialist in team pursuit to complete the seven-member men’s squad.

  • Jonathan Garcia — 500m
  • Kimani Griffin — 500m
  • Mitchell Whitmore — 500m, 1000m
  • Shani Davis — 1000m, 1500m
  • Joey Mantia — 1000m, 1500m, mass start
  • Brian Hansen — 1500m, mass start
  • Emery Lehman — team pursuit specialist

Lehman, a 2014 Olympian, will have to interrupt his junior year at Marquette, about a 10-minute drive from the Pettit National Ice Center near Milwaukee.

“I have to email my adviser, withdraw from classes,” Lehman said.

Mantia and Hansen finished one-two in the overall rankings to secure the two entries in the mass start, which makes its Olympic debut in PyeongChang.

“I think we can put together a solid plan. I think he’s on board for working for me, as the designated winner for the Games, but we’ve got to see how it plays out and who’s feeling the best when we get there,” Mantia said. “But I’m very confident having a strong teammate like Hansen.”

The mass start is speed skating’s version of NASCAR. Foregoing the traditional time-trial format, all entries were on the oval at the same time for the 16-lap, 6400m free-for-all that included four sprint laps.

“You never know what’s going to happen in that race,” Hansen said.

Asked if the goal was to help Mantia, Hansen added “We’ve got three weeks. I don’t know what exactly the strategy is going to be yet.”

With 24 entries on Sunday, the men’s race was a little more hectic than the eight-entry women’s race in which Heather Bergsma finished second and Mia Manganello third.

That gave each skater, who had already qualified in other events, enough points to finish atop the rankings to clinch the U.S. berths.

Consider the combinations of Mantia and Hansen, and Bergsma and Manganello, as two-person squads at the Games.

“I think that’s the best way that we can get a country medal at the Olympics, is working as a unit,” Manganello said, “and I think with [Bergsma] and I, I think we’ve got a great opportunity to do so.”

Maria Lamb won the women’s race at 9:15.17, but could not pass Bergsma or Manganello in overall points in order to qualify. The women’s roster for the Olympics is complete with six skaters.

  • Heather Bergsma — 500m, 1000m, 1500m, mass start
  • Brittany Bowe — 500m, 1000m, 1500m
  • Erin Jackson — 500m
  • Jerica Tandiman — 1000m
  • Mia Manganello — 1500m, mass start
  • Carlijn Schoutens — 3000m, 5000m

The mass start wrapped up what U.S. Speedskating high performance director Guy Thibault considered a successful trials.

They drew sellout crowds for all six days in the return to Pettit for the first time since 1998.

Once considered the American mecca for the sport, Pettit had been overtaken by the Utah Olympic Oval in recent years as the home for top speedskaters.

“I’ve never seen the Pettit Center so busy,” Thibault said. “That was actually pretty amazing.”

Now it’s on to PyeongChang, where the U.S. hopes to erase the painful memories of getting shutout four years ago in Sochi.

It was the first time that Americans failed to earn a medal in speed skating since 1984.

“As far as selection goes, I think we ended up with the best team,” Thibault said.

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Former professional cyclist makes Olympic speed skating team

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WEST ALLIS, Wis. (AP) — Mia Manganello made her first Olympic team with a third-place finish in the 1500m at the U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials, capping a comeback following a five-year break from the sport.

Manganello qualified with a time of 1:59.28 on Saturday night.

Brittany Bowe upset world champion and world-record holder Heather Bergsma for the win — 1:55.93 to 1:56.13.

All three made the Olympic team in the 1500m. Bowe and Bergsma previously qualified for the Olympics in the 500m and 1000m.

Manganello smiled as she circled the ice after crossing the finish line in time to qualify. She returned to speed skating in 2016 after focusing on professional cycling for five years.

“It’s everything I thought it would feel like. It’s a moment that I’ve been dreaming about, at least this year for sure every day,” she said. “I can’t believe it’s actually true.”

A former inline skater who switched to ice at age 13, Manganello needed a break after failing to advance out of the 2010 Olympic Trials. She spent five years racing professionally in cycling before returning to speed skating in 2016.

Manganello skated in the last pair on Saturday, two groups after favorites Bowe and Bergsma squared off. She felt an Olympic berth was within reach.

“I was pretty much tearing up when going to the line, knowing that if I just went out and skated the best I could (to) my potential that I would make it,” Manganello said with an ear-to-ear grin. “Luckily that day came that I finally could be an Olympian.”

In the men’s 1500m, Brian Hansen qualified for his third Olympic team with a second-place finish behind Joey Mantia, who already made the team in the 1000m.

Shani Davis, who earned 1500m silver in 2006 and 2010, also joined Mantia on the team in the 1000m and 1500m with a third-place finish.

“I think that I have the tools to be a real threat for sure in the 1000m,” Davis said. “The 1500m is kind of questionable, but anything can happen in the Olympics.”

Jonathan Garcia and Kimani Griffin, who did not race Saturday, earned trips to the Games in the 500m by virtue of qualification rules, with Mantia and Davis eligible at multiple distances.

Garcia and Griffin finished second and third, respectively, in the 500m on Friday.

On the women’s side, Jerica Tandiman clinched a spot on the team, with Bowe and Bergsma able to double up in other distances. Tandiman finished fourth in the 1000m but made the team because third-place Manganello doesn’t have a fast enough qualifying time from this season.

The Olympic Trials wrap up with mass-start races Sunday.

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