Alex Ovechkin

Alex Ovechkin on Olympic torch-NHL opener journey: ‘We just have to find a plane’

Leave a comment

Alex Ovechkin is ready to rack up airline miles. Hopefully, he can sleep on a plane.

Ovechkin confirmed Tuesday the news that he will travel to Greece to start the Sochi Olympic torch relay Sept. 29, two days before the Washington Capitals’ season begins in Chicago. He does not intend to miss any games.

“We just have to find a plane,” Ovechkin said, according to The Associated Press.

A flight from Washington, D.C., to Athens is 10 hours, 47 minutes, according to flightmath.com. Athens is 160 miles west of Olympia, where the torch relay starts.

Ovechkin said his agent is working with the organizers of the Sochi Games to figure out the logistics. He joked he could “take some medicine” to sleep while flies back and forth across the Atlantic. It helps that the Capitals aren’t scheduled to practice on Sept. 29, but he’ll want to be back in time join his teammates on the ice the next day for their final skate before traveling to Chicago.

“It’s a huge honor for me,” Ovechkin said, according to the AP. “I’m very proud the Russian federation asked me to do that. … It’s only a once in your life opportunity to carry the torch and represent your country.”

Ovechkin is considered one of Russia’s biggest stars heading into the Olympics. The Russian hockey team’s task is clear, to win the nation’s first Olympic hockey title. The Soviet Union won every title from 1964 to 1988, except 1980, and the Unified Team won in 1992. But “Russia” has never finished better than second, as it did in 1998.

One of the stars of the 1998 team, Pavel Bure, recently declared Russia an ‘indisputable’ favorite next year. Canadians, Americans, Swedes, Finns and Czechs may not agree with that statement.

Also, tight travel is nothing new for Olympic hockey. Recall American Jack Johnson, who was determined to participate in the 2010 Olympic opening ceremony even though the hockey competition didn’t start for another four days and the NHL was not yet on its break.

The Los Angeles Times and NHL.com were among the outlets to report the details of his journey:

Johnson, then a member of the Kings, finished a Thursday shootout loss to the Edmonton Oilers the day before the cauldron was lit in Vancouver. At 6 a.m. on Friday morning, he took a two-hour charter flight to Bellingham, Wash., then hired a driver to take him across the border for Friday night’s ceremony.

After the Friday ceremony, he drove back to Washington and took another charter flight home to make it to Kings practice at 10 a.m. Saturday.

U.S., Russia reveal Olympic hockey jerseys

French Open: Karolina Pliskova, top player sans Slam, again exits early

Karolina Pliskova
Getty Images
Leave a comment

No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova exited yet another Grand Slam in the early stages, falling to 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia in the second round at Roland Garros on Thursday.

Ostapenko, whose only match wins at the French Open before this week came in her title run three years ago, bounced the big-serving Czech 6-4, 6-2.

Pliskova put fewer than half of her first serves in play, while Ostapenko fired 27 winners to 19 unforced errors. Pliskova was on the ropes in her first round, too, needing three sets to get past an Egyptian qualifier.

“Maybe same level as the match before, but of course [Ostapenko] is much better player,” Pliskova said. “Not much to say about this match.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Later Thursday, top-ranked Novak Djokovic had a second straight win ceding just five games, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 over Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis. Djokovic undefeated in 2020 save his U.S. Open default for smacking a ball that inadvertently struck a linesperson, next gets Colombian lucky loser Daniel Elahi Galán.

Nobody else in Djokovic’s half of the draw at the start of the tournament made a French Open semifinal before.

Pliskova is the highest-ranked player of either gender (No. 4) without a Grand Slam title, yet hasn’t made it past the fourth round at a major since the 2019 Australian Open.

She’s played six Slams as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, one shy of Caroline Wozniacki‘s total before she broke through at the 2018 Australian Open and two shy of Simona Halep‘s total before she won the 2018 French Open.

Ostapenko, meanwhile, is having a very different career.

She won the 2017 Roland Garros title, two days after turning 20, while ranked 47th. She hasn’t gotten past the third round of a major since 2018 Wimbledon, including first-round French Open exits the last two years, and is back down to No. 43 in the WTA rankings.

“It’s hard to compare with 2017. As I said, it was like three years ago, and I was much younger, and also I was fearless. Nobody knew me,” Ostapenko said. “The world doesn’t stop with winning only one Grand Slam. Of course I want to achieve more, and I want to be back in top five, top 10.”

She dropped just nine games in four sets this week.

Ostapenko gets 87th-ranked Spaniard Paula Badosa in third round. Badosa dispatched 2018 French Open runner-up Sloane Stephens 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.

MORE: Serena Williams ‘struggling to walk’

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Figure skating’s Grand Prix fields look very different this season

Nathan Chen
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Before Nathan Chen is expected to go for a historic fifth straight U.S. figure skating title in January, he will, in a first, compete against most of his top countrymen later this month.

Fields for the Grand Prix Series, figure skating’s autumn international circuit, were published Thursday. As expected, every top skater entered will compete in his or her home country, or nearest to where he or she trains, and in one of the six events.

Traditionally, skaters compete in two of the six events and are scattered among competitions in the U.S., Canada, France, Russia, China and Japan based on world rankings.

But the International Skating Union restricted travel this season due to the coronavirus pandemic. Skaters are limited to compete locally. And the Grand Prix Final at the conclusion of the Grand Prix Series has been postponed from its scheduled December setting in Beijing.

That means that Chen vies for a record-tying fourth straight Skate America crown in Las Vegas in three weeks against a field mostly made up of countrymen, including Olympic teammate Vincent Zhou and U.S. bronze medalist Tomoki Hiwatashi.

In all, there are eight U.S. men entered in Skate America, 11 women (including past national champions Bradie Tennell and Gracie Gold), six pairs and nine ice dance couples (including U.S. champions Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue), plus some skaters from other nations who train in the U.S.

Traditionally, a country has no more than three entries per discipline at a Grand Prix event.

GRAND PRIX FIELDS: Men | Women | Pairs | Ice Dance

Sochi Olympian Jason Brown, who trains in Toronto, is entered in Skate Canada the week after Skate America.

Two-time U.S. women’s champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough for the Grand Prix Series until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

All of the reigning Olympic champions are absent from the series.

Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan previously announced he wouldn’t compete due to virus-related travel risks. Russian Alina Zagitova extended her indefinite break from competition dating to last autumn, rather choosing to participate in a skating-themed TV series.

Ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada retired. The German pairs’ team of Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot last competed in the 2018 Olympic season.

Instead, the headliners include Chen, the two-time world champion undefeated since placing fifth in PyeongChang. And a deep crop of Russian teenage women, all of course entered in the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow in November.

MORE: Brian Orser reacts to Yevgenia Medvedeva’s coaching switch

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!