Steve Holcomb

Bobsled, skeleton World Cup season preview

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This will be the most scrutinized U.S. bobsled and skeleton season ever given Steve Holcomb is the defending Olympic champion, Elana MeyersNoelle Pikus-Pace and Katie Uhlaender are gold-medal threats and a certain hurdler is trying to make her first Winter Olympic team.

The U.S. Olympic Team will be determined largely on World Cup season results through Jan. 19. The top pilots and sliders based on FIBT Rankings will go to Sochi, as well as discretionary selections made after Jan. 19.

The U.S. is expected to qualify the maximum quota of three bobsleds in every event (two-man, four-man, two-woman), but skeleton will be tougher. The U.S. would have qualified two of the maximum three skeleton sliders if based solely on 2012-13 rankings.

Here’s the World Cup/Olympic schedule:

Calgary, Alberta — Nov. 29-30
Park City, Utah — Dec. 6-7
Lake Placid, N.Y. — Dec. 13-15
Winterberg, Germany — Jan. 3-5
St. Moritz, Switzerland — Jan. 10-12
Igls, Austria — Jan. 17-19
Koenigssee, Germany — Jan. 24-26
Olympics — Feb. 13-23

Here are three storylines going into the Olympic season:

1. Can Steve Holcomb repeat?

Holcomb drove the Night Train to an Olympic title in 2010, ending a 62-year gold-medal drought for U.S. men’s bobsled. Winning in Sochi will be harder.

“There’s a number of new drivers that weren’t around in Vancouver [in 2010] or weren’t competitive,” Holcomb said. “You’re going to have three very fast Russian teams, where in Vancouver there was only one. You’ve got two Canadians that are really fast. You’ve got a Latvian, who was brand new in Vancouver, that wasn’t really that good. And he’s good now.”

And then there’s the venue. Experience on a track is key for a pilot, which is why Holcomb’s best results have come on North American ice. He swept the two- and four-man World Championships in Lake Placid in 2012. He was fourth and third in the two- and four-man World Championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, in 2013.

Holcomb, 33, hasn’t won a World Cup or World Championship race on a European track in nearly four years. He was 11th in the two-man and 12th in the four-man at the 2012-13 season finale at the Sochi Olympic track in February.

But the Park City native points to his 13 years of piloting as reason to believe he can pick up the nuances of foreign tracks quickly.

“I’m a lot more comfortable,” he said. “These foreign tracks are a lot more familiar.”

Compare Holcomb’s World Cup results against all German sleds, Russian Aleksandr Zubkov, Canadian Lyndon Rush and Latvian Oskars Melbardis for a gauge on his Olympic medal prospects.

source: Getty Images2. Challenges for U.S. women’s bobsledders

The most dominant bobsled pilot in the world is Canadian Kaillie Humphries. She’s won eight of the last 11 World Cup races dating to the 2011-12 season and is the reigning world and Olympic champion.

That’s what 2010 Olympic bronze medalist Elana Meyers is looking up at going into her first Olympics as a pilot. Meyers, a former college softball player, was a push athlete at the 2010 Olympics.

Her transition to driving has been as smooth as the ice she slides on. Meyers won silver behind Humphries at the World Championships in January. She also took silver at the Sochi event in February, beating Humphries but coming in behind 2006 Olympic champion Sandra Kiriasis of Germany.

Meyers teamed with push athlete Katie Eberling at worlds, but Aja Evans, a Big Ten shot put champion, was her partner in Sochi and appears set to reprise the role this season.

Which brings up the question of Lolo Jones, the two-time Olympic hurdler in her second full season as a bobsled push athlete. Jones appears to be third in the American push athlete order, behind Evans and Eberling, at the start of the season.

Jones was the fourth U.S. push athlete at the World Championships, sitting out the individual event in favor of 2010 Olympian Emily Azevedo but coming on for the mixed relay.

Watch how Meyers fares against Humphries leading up to the Olympics, and for which push athletes are used in World Cup races for a sense of the Olympic picture.

3. Puzzling skeleton picture

Start with the men. Latvian Martins Dukurs has won 19 of the last 21 World Cup races, but he is neither the reigning Olympic nor world champion.

The Olympic champion, beer-guzzling Canadian Jon Montgomery, is in doubt to even make his Olympic team. The world champion, Russian Aleksandr Tretiakov, hasn’t won a World Cup event in nearly three years.

The top Americans are 2010 Olympian John Daly and Matt Antoine. Daly, who stars in the YouTube series “Your Daly Nitro” with bobsledder Steve Langton, finished fifth at the World Championships in February.

Women’s skeleton is even more head-scratching. Don’t worry about 2010 Olympic champion, Amy Williams. The Brit is now a rally driver.

The reigning world champion is another Brit, Shelley Rudman. But Rudman was seventh in the World Cup standings last season, finishing above fifth once in nine races one year after winning the World Cup title.

The reigning World Cup champ is German Marion Thees, but she was eighth at the World Championships and fourth at the Sochi season finale.

And then there are the Americans. Katie Uhlaender, 29, won the 2012 World Championship before attempting to make the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team in weightlifting. She returned to skeleton and was the only woman with a combined four first- or second-place World Cup finishes last year.

Noelle Pikus-Pace, 30, is back from retirement and child birth. She was arguably the best slider last season, making the podium five times in six World Cup races (skipping the other three) and winning silver at worlds, six years after her world championship.

Even if early World Cup results provide clear rankings, it will be tough to confidently predict Olympic champions.

Olympic sprinter retires, would likely consider bobsledding if asked

Copenhagen withdraws as 2021 World Gymnastics Championships host, cites pandemic

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Copenhagen withdrew as host of the 2021 World Gymnastics Championships, citing financial strain as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Gymnastics worlds are usually not held in Olympic years, but the October 2021 edition remained scheduled when the Tokyo Games were postponed to summer 2021.

Denmark’s gymnastics federation board made the decision to not host worlds due in part to uncertainty about the global development of the coronavirus pandemic. That combined with financial losses already associated with the pandemic led to the bowing out.

The International Gymnastics Federation executive committee will “consider all consequences” from Copenhagen withdrawing, including launching a new bid process.

The 2022 Worlds are set for Liverpool, Great Britain, and 2023 in Antwerp, Belgium. Denmark will look into bidding to host in 2025.

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Allyson Felix, Noah Lyles headline Inspiration Games; TV, stream info

Allyson Felix, Noah Lyles
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In Allyson Felix‘s 17 years on the senior international level, she has never experienced anything like what Thursday will bring.

Felix, a nine-time Olympic medalist, will line up at a track in California to race 150 meters. Her opponents will be on the other side of the country — Bahamian Shaunae Miller-Uibo in Florida — and the other side of the Atlantic Ocean — Swiss Mujinga Kambundji in Zurich.

The Inspiration Games air live on Thursday from 2-3:30 p.m. ET on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app. The meet is a repurposed version of a Diamond League stop in Zurich, Switzerland.

“I’ve just been training and training and training, so anything to break it up. … this seemed like something great. I just loved the concept,” said Felix, who memorably raced alone in at the Rio Olympics in a re-run of the 4x100m first round. “I’m not really sure what to expect. I think [it’s] the first time that we’ve all done anything like this. I’m just approaching it to have fun and hopefully give people something to watch and to be entertained by. I think we all miss sports so much.”

Meet organizers had to get creative with the coronavirus pandemic limiting athlete travel and group events. The Impossible Games was first to go on June 11 — in an Oslo stadium with few spectators and even fewer athletes (and others competing in different countries).

The Inspiration Games takes virtual competition to another level. Felix, Miller-Uibo and Kambundji are all slated to sprint at the same time in different locations. As are world champion Noah Lyles, Frenchman Christophe Lemaitre and the Netherlands’ Churandy Martina in a later 200m.

It marks the first meet since the coronavirus pandemic for Felix, bidding to make her fifth Olympic team and first as a mom. The pandemic and restrictions in California forced her to train on streets.

“Everything is still pretty much locked down,” she said. “You can’t get onto a track without jumping a fence.”

Felix admitted she’s “definitely not sharp” going into her first race since February.

“Once we knew for sure that the Olympic Games would be postponed, we really had to think about being at our best a year from now,” said Felix, a 34-year-old bidding to break Michael Johnson‘s record as the oldest Olympic 400m medalist. “In my situation and where I’m at in my career, I had to make some adjustments, just with the level of impact on my body so that I could still be able to continue to train, but to save something and to have that one last time to be at my best next year. I definitely think things have shifted now.”

Lyles raced last Saturday at a small meet in Florida, outsprinting Justin Gatlin in a 100m heat (9.93 seconds to 9.99 with a hefty four meter/second tailwind).

The regular Diamond League calendar is scheduled to resume in August.

Here are the Inspiration Games entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

1:35 p.m. ET — Men’s Pole Vault
1:35 — Women’s Pole Vault
2:05 — Men’s Triple Jump
2:10 — Women’s 150m
2:27 — Men’s 100 Yards
2:41 — Women’s 300m Hurdles
3:06 — Men’s 200m
3:20 — Women’s 3x100m Relay

Here are five events to watch:

Women’s Pole Vault — 1:35 p.m.
Greek Katerina Stefanidi, a Stanford grad, and American Sandi Morris renew their rivalry. Stefanidi will be in California. Morris will be in Florida. Swede Angelica Bengtsson rounds out the field. Stefanidi relegated Morris to silver at the 2016 Olympics and 2017 Worlds. But Morris snapped’ Stefanidi’s streak of eight straight wins in their head-to-head back in 2018 and has bettered Stefanidi in four of their last six meetings.

Men’s Triple Jump — 2:05 p.m.
Double Olympic champion Christian Taylor takes on longtime rival Pedro Pablo Pichardo, a Cuban-born Portuguese, and American Omar Craddock. Taylor bettered Pichardo in five of their last six meetings. In more than 30 meets together, Taylor has lost to Craddock just once (when Taylor has competed in full).

Women’s 150m — 2:10 p.m.
Felix and Miller-Uibo go head to head for the first time since the 2017 World Championships. Their most memorable duel came at the Rio Olympics, where a diving Miller-Uibo edged Felix by .07 for 400m gold. While Miller-Uibo and Felix primarily compete over a full lap, the 150m is closer to Kambundji’s wheelhouse. The Swiss earned 200m bronze at the 2019 World Championships, taking advantage of a depleted field.

Men’s 100 Yards — 2:27 p.m.
Triple Olympic medalist Andre De Grasse of Canada, Olympic 110m hurdles champion Omar McLeod of Jamaica and French veteran Jimmy Vicaut all train in Florida and will presumably be racing at the same venue on Thursday. The 100 yards is scantly contested in top-level meets. Nobody has broken nine seconds in a 100-yard (91.44-meter) race, according to World Athletics. But Usain Bolt‘s estimated 100-yard time en route to his 2009 world record in the 100m was 8.87 seconds.

Men’s 200m — 3:06 p.m.
Lyles has lost an outdoor 200m just once in this Olympic cycle and wouldn’t normally be pestered by Lemaitre or Martina, but these are unusual times and this an unusual competition. Lemaitre is the Olympic bronze medalist but was sixth at last year’s French Championships. Martina, 36, and, like Lemaitre, hasn’t broken 20 seconds in more than three years.

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