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

Sun Yang defends failure to take drug test

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MONTREUX, Switzerland (AP) — Chinese Olympic champion swimmer Sun Yang defended his failure to take a doping test by testifying at a rare public hearing Friday that inspectors drawing blood and urine samples failed to have the proper identification papers.

Courtroom translation problems in both English and Chinese marred the landmark hearing at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, frustrating Sun’s lawyers during his opening statement and cross-examination. Sun’s mother later took the stand in sometimes-combative testimony in the afternoon, admonishing lawyers, “I haven’t finished yet.”

One lawyer said he could not tell if Sun was being evasive or if it was simply a misunderstood interpretation.

The case stems from the three-time Olympic champion’s refusal to cooperate with three anti-doping officials during a random test at his home in China in September 2018.

“During inspection, I realized they don’t have any authorized papers to prove their identification,” Sun testified.

A WADA expert disputed Sun’s account, saying the inspectors’ credentials were in order.

A tribunal appointed by swimming world body FINA gave Sun only a caution in January, but the World Anti-Doping Agency appealed the case to CAS.

Its judges are not expected to give a verdict from Friday’s 12-hour hearing until next year, and if the ruling goes against him, Sun could be banned from the Tokyo Olympics.

The 6-foot, 7-inch Sun became a star in China as its first man to win an Olympic title in swimming. He won the 400m and 1500m at the 2012 London Games. He added gold in the 200m in Rio.

The 27-year-old Sun also has 11 world championships and is a polarizing figure in the sport.

Annoyed by official secrecy surrounding Sun’s three-month ban for a positive test in 2014, Australian rival Mack Horton in Rio called him a drug cheat.

Sun provoked more anger among rivals by winning two world titles in July while the CAS appeal was pending. Horton and Brit Duncan Scott refused to stand on the podium with him in Gwangju, South Korea.

The translation problems at Friday’s hearing began almost from the start, and it was unclear at times how much of the testimony and questions were understood, with both judges and lawyers expressing frustration.

At one point, Sun’s London-based lawyer, Ian Meakin, apologized for asking his client leading questions, saying: “The translation was so bad.”

Richard Young, a lawyer for WADA, said the translation was so bad that “you couldn’t tell if he was monumentally evasive or couldn’t understand the questions.”

When the hearing resumed after a break, juding panel president Franco Frattini also apologized “for the poor quality of the interpretation.”

The court noted that Sun’s team selected the translators, who were replaced at a lunch break by a WADA staff member. Lawyers were told an accurate transcript of the morning sessions would later be provided to all parties.

Sun detailed how he and his entourage had doubted the qualifications of the officials conducting the doping test at his home that escalated into a confrontation.

“How are you able to trust them?” said Sun, whose personal doctor had been summoned to the scene in the middle of the night.

A security guard instructed by Sun’s mother used a hammer to smash a box containing a vial of his blood during a late-night dispute after the swimmer questioned the collection team’s credentials.

Sun said he was not respected by the officials, including a chaperone he said asked to take his photograph.

“This is really ridiculous,” Sun said in translated comments.

Although Sun and his entourage were criticized for their conduct, the first tribunal panel said the sample mission was void and invalid because anti-doping protocol was not followed. Technically, Sun was judged to be not properly notified of needing to give samples.

WADA has asked for a ban of between two and eight years, believing Sun voluntarily refused to submit to give samples.

“That is pretty sensational,” Young, the WADA lawyer, said of the hammer-smashing incident. “But he was nailed on a tampering violation before any of that happened.”

If WADA’s appeal is upheld, Sun risks a longer sanction that could bar him from the Tokyo Games because it would be his second offense. He served a three-month ban imposed by Chinese authorities in 2014 after testing positive for a banned stimulant.

That initial ban was quickly addressed by Sun and his legal team on Friday. He said it was a prescribed medication for a heart issue because he sometimes fainted after training.

Lawyers for WADA repeatedly asked Sun if he had learned in his long career of the serious consequences for refusing to give a sample. He repeatedly answered that the lead anti-doping official had not warned him specifically.

Sun’s anti-doping history was detailed, with 180 samples given at competitions and during training from 2012-18. A total of 60 were organized by the Sweden-based firm IDTM, which sent the collection team to Sun’s home.

CAS judge Philippe Sands pressed Sun whether IDTM staff had shown different kinds of documents of authorization on the 59 previous occasions he gave samples without problems.

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Yevgenia Medvedeva leads as Russians dominate Rostelecom Cup

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As Yevgenia Medvedeva met coach Brian Orser after her Rostelecom Cup short program, she exhaled with one word: Finally.

The world’s dominant skater in the last Olympic cycle returned to her former home of Moscow and performed her highest-scoring short program since the PyeongChang Olympics, tallying 76.93 points for the lead.

“I am happy with my skate, because it finally worked out the way it should,” Medvedeva said, according to the International Skating Union.

Russia also topped the men’s and pairs’ short programs and the rhythm dance. The last time one nation swept all four disciplines at a Grand Prix was Russia at this competition in 2005. Rostelecom Cup concludes with all of the free skates on Saturday. A full TV and live stream schedule is here.

Medvedeva, who must win after Saturday’s free skate for any chance at December’s six-skater Grand Prix Final, topped a short program at a top-level senior international competition for the first time in two years.

Since that last time, she struggled with a broken bone in her foot. She saw then-training partner Alina Zagitova surpass her as the world’s best female skater for Olympic gold (and, this season, other, younger Russian teens). She dealt with growing pains from the transition to a new coach and new environment, with Orser’s group in Toronto.

One short program does not mean the Medvedeva is all the way back, even with all clean jumping passes highlighted by a triple flip-triple toe loop. However, Medvedeva was night and day better than at Skate Canada three weeks ago, when she stumbled out of a double Axel and then fell and slid into the boards on a triple Lutz. Medvedeva replaced the Lutz for a triple loop on Friday.

It might not be possible for her to win on Saturday, though, given second-place Alexandra Trusova has the ability to land four quadruple jumps. (Quads aren’t allowed in women’s short programs, but they are in free skates).

Trusova, a 15-year-old ranked No. 1 in the world, outscored Medvedeva by 19.89 points in the free at Skate Canada three weeks ago. American Mariah Bell is in third, looking for her second straight Grand Prix medal.

Rostelecom Cup Short Programs
Women
1. Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 76.93
2. Alexandra Trusova (RUS) — 74.21
3. Mariah Bell (USA) — 67.11
4. Alexia Pagani (SUI) — 65.12
5. Ekaterina Ryabova (AZE) — 64.01
6. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 63.09
7. Yuna Shiraiwa (JPN) — 60.57
8. Nicole Schott (GER) — 57.29
9. Chen Hongyi (CHN) — 57.17
10. Yuhana Yokoi (JPN) — 56.51
11. Stanislava Konstantinova (RUS) — 54.36
12. Emmi Peltonen (FIN) — 52.46

Men
1. Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 92.81
2. Dmitri Aliev (RUS) — 90.64
3. Makar Ignatov (RUS) — 87.54
4. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 87.29
5. Deniss Vasiljevs (LAT) — 87.08
6. Nam Nguyen (CAN) — 87.01
7. Kazuki Tomono (JPN) — 80.98
8. Michal Brezina (CZE) — 80.27
9. Morisi Kvitelashvili (GEO) — 75.87
10. Alex Krasnozhon (USA) — 75.46
11. Daniel Samohin (ISR) — 56.94
12. Vladimir Litvintsev (AZE) — 54.42

Pairs
1. Aleksandra Boikova/Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 80.14
2. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 76.81
3. Ksenia Stolbova/Andrei Novoselov (RUS) — 68.74
4. Minerva Fabienne Hase/Nolan Seegert (GER) — 67.74
5. Evelyn Walsh/Trennt Michaud (CAN) — 62.76
6. Miriam Ziegler/Severin Kiefer (AUT) — 61.84
7. Rebecca Ghilardi/Filippo Ambrosini (ITA) — 55.08
8. Audrey Lu/Misha Mitrofanov (USA) — 54.03

Ice Dance
1. Victoria Sinitsina/Nikita Katsalapov (RUS) — 86.09
2. Piper Gilles/Paul Poirier (CAN) — 82.56
3. Sara Hurtado/Kirill Khaliavin (ESP) — 72.01
4. Natalia Kaliszek/Maksym Spodyriev (POL) — 69.97
5. Allison Reed/Saulius Ambrulevicius (LTU) — 59.79
6. Anastasia Shpilevaya/Grigory Smirnov (RUS) — 67.04
7. Anastasia Skoptcova/Kirill Aleshin (RUS) — 66.52
8. Marjorie Lajoie/Zachary Lagha (CAN) — 64.70
9. Adelina Galyavieva/Louis Thauron (FRA) — 63.22
10. Jasmine Tessari/Francesco Fioretti (ITA) — 62.68

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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