Trevor Marsicano a comeback story at U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials

Trevor Marsicano
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Trevor Marsicano, once bullied as a boy to the point of depression and overdose, became the teenage star of speed skating five years ago.

He won four medals at the March 2009 World Single Distance Championships and, at 19, was the youngest gold medalist in the event’s history dating to 1996.

Marsicano briefly held the world record in the 1000m — over two-time Olympic champion Shani Davis — for about 20 minutes.

He was no Michael Phelps, but, still, a teen capable of multiple Olympic medals before precociousness became trendy (see Missy FranklinGabby Douglas and Mikaela Shiffrin).

“I got to see what it’s like at the top,” Marsicano said, “and I got to see what it’s like being at the bottom again.”

Marsicano, now 23, enters this weekend’s U.S. Olympic Trials hoping to make his second Olympic team. His qualification is by no means assured. A back injury persists that first flared in the season leading into the 2010 Olympics and since threatened to knock him out of the sport.

In 2010, the speed skating events at the Vancouver Games took place on the same oval as his breakthrough at the 2009 World Championships, but the results were far different.

Marsicano finished no higher than 10th in three individual races that he won medals in a year earlier.

He earned a silver medal as part of the U.S. men’s team pursuit, but even that didn’t go as planned. Marsicano competed in the first round and benched himself before coaches could choose the medal-round roster.

“I decided this just isn’t my day,” Marsicano said after watching teammates Chad HedrickBrian Hansen and Jonathan Kuck shock the Netherlands in the semifinals to clinch a medal.

U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials preview

Worse days would follow. Marsicano reinjured his back before the 2011-12 season, tried to skate through it but eventually underwent an MRI. He had a tear in his L4 and L5 discs and sat out the remainder of the World Cup schedule.

He started but couldn’t finish the 2012-13 season. The back pain was too much, and he thought about leaving the sport last summer.

“I don’t know permanently, but at least a small amount of time just because I was tired of living with the pain,” said Marsicano, who still wakes up and is in too much discomfort to train on some days. “Not to sound cheap, but if I’m not going to be making all that much [money], and I’m going to have to work a part-time job in order to speed skate, is it worth living this life? If I’m 40 years old and have to get this replacement [surgery] and that replacement, can I afford it?”

Marsicano began playing hockey at age 4 but gave it up for speed skating during a troubled youth that saw him bullied in Ballston Spa, N.Y.

His sister said his forehead was “bashed against tables” in eighth grade. Scratches were visible from kids putting their hands around his neck. School administrators urged him to stay home, his mother said. He overdosed on depression medication and said he didn’t want to live anymore.

He began home-schooling and dropped hockey to focus on speed skating. He rose quickly but suffered a setback in 2004 when another skater’s blade sliced his leg to the femur in a short track race. He was told half of his body’s blood volume spilled out.

Marsicano got back up and, at 16, was the youngest competitor at the 2006 U.S. Olympic short track trials.

He switched to long track, left his family to live and train in Salt Lake City, Utah, and then Milwaukee before the 2010 Olympics. He slept in the basement of another skater’s home. Now, he and girlfriend Jilleanne Rookard, also an Olympic speed skater, live with a host family in Waukesha, Wis.

Marsicano beat Shani Davis in a World Cup 1500m race in Salt Lake City on Feb. 18, 2011. He hasn’t finished better than sixth in off-and-on World Cup appearances since and re-experienced feelings of depression in the year after the 2010 Olympics.

He’s about one second slower this season than he was at his best in 2008-09 in the 1000m and 1500m. In speed skating, that’s the difference between medals and fighting to make the U.S. Olympic Team.

“I look at it two different ways,” Marsicano said. “If I look at it like I could have won all these medals, of course it drives me nuts. The other perspective, I’m in pain when I skate, but I’m also in pain walking up and down the stairs. On and off the ice, it’s very hard to deal with and come to grips with.”

There is optimism. His best times this season are his fastest since 2009. Marsicano believes he still possesses the ability to race like he did five years ago.

“You may not win today, but you did win at one point,” he said. “That’s something to be happy and proud of.”

Canada names women’s Olympic hockey team

Mikaela Shiffrin finishes World Cup with one more win, two more records and a revelation

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Mikaela Shiffrin finished a season defined by records with two more.

Shiffrin won the World Cup Finals giant slalom on the final day of the campaign, breaking her ties for the most career women’s giant slalom wins and most career podiums across all women’s World Cup races.

Shiffrin earned her record-extending 88th career World Cup victory, prevailing by six hundredths over Thea Louise Stjernesund of Norway combining times from two runs in Andorra on Sunday.

An encore of Shiffrin’s record-breaking 87th World Cup win airs on NBC next Sunday from 12-1 p.m. ET.

ALPINE SKIING WORLD CUP: Full Results

She won her 21st career GS, breaking her tie for the most all-time on the women’s World Cup with Vreni Schneider, a Swiss star of the 1980s and ’90s.

She made her 138th career World Cup podium across all events, breaking her tie for the most all-time on the women’s World Cup with Lindsey Vonn. Shiffrin earned her 138th podium in her 249th start, meaning she has finished in the top three in 55 percent of her World Cup races dating to her debut at age 15 in 2011.

Earlier this season, Shiffrin passed Vonn and then Ingemar Stenmark, a Swede of the 1970s and ’80s, for the most career Alpine skiing World Cup victories. She won 14 times from November through March, her second-best season after her record 17-win campaign of 2018-19.

In those years in between, Shiffrin endured the most difficult times of her life, was supplanted as the world’s top slalom skier and questioned her skiing like never before.

On Saturday afternoon, Shiffrin was asked what made the difference this fall and winter. There were multiple factors. She detailed one important one.

“I had a lot of problems with my memory,” she said in a press conference. “Not this season, so much, but last season and the season before that. I couldn’t remember courses. And when I was kind of going through this, I couldn’t keep mental energy for the second runs.”

Pre-race course inspection and the ability to retain that knowledge for a minute-long run over an hour later is integral to success in ski racing. Shiffrin is so meticulous and methodical in her training, historically prioritizing it over racing in her junior days, that inspection would seem to fit into her all-world preparation.

She didn’t understand how she lost that ability until she began working with a new sports psychologist last summer.

“That was a little bit like less focus on sports psychology and more focus on, like, psychology psychology and a little bit more grief counseling style,” she said. “Explaining what was actually going on in my brain, like chemical changes in the brain because of trauma. Not just grief, but actually the traumatic experience itself of knowing what happened to my dad, seeing him in the hospital, touching him after he was dead. Those are things that you can’t get out of your head. It had an impact. Clearly, it still does.”

Shiffrin had a “weird a-ha moment” after her first course inspection this season in November in Finland.

“I didn’t take that long to inspect, and I remembered the whole course,” she said. “Oh my gosh, I was like coming out of a cloud that I had been in for over two years.”

What followed was a win, of course, and a season that approached Shiffrin’s unrivaled 2018-19. Fourteen wins in 31 World Cup starts, her busiest season ever, and bagging the season titles in the overall, slalom and GS in runaways.

“After last season, I didn’t feel like I could get to a level with my skiing again where it was actually contending for the slalom globe,” she said. “And GS, I actually had a little bit more hope for, but then at the beginning of the season, I kind of counted myself out.

“I feel like my highest level of skiing has been higher than the previous couple of seasons, maybe higher than my whole career. My average level of skiing has been also higher than previous seasons, and my lowest level of skiing has also been higher.”

There are other reasons for the revival of dominance, though Shiffrin was also the world’s best skier last season (Olympics aside). She went out of her way on Saturday afternoon to credit her head coach of seven years, Mike Day, who left the team during the world championships after he was told he would not be retained for next season.

“He is as much a part of the success this entire season as he’s ever been,” said Shiffrin, who parted with Day to bring aboard Karin Harjo, the first woman to be her head coach as a pro.

Shiffrin’s greatest success this season began around the time she watched a a mid-December chairlift interview between retired Liechtenstein skier Tina Weirather and Italian Sofia Goggia, the world’s top downhiller. Goggia spoke about her disdain for mediocrity.

“Ever since then, pretty much every time I put on my skis, I’m like, ‘OK, don’t be mediocre today,’” Shiffrin said in January.

During the highest highs of this season, Shiffrin felt like she did in 2018-19.

“It is mind-boggling to me to be in a position again where I got to feel that kind of momentum through a season because after that [2018-19] season, I was like, this is never going to happen again, and my best days of my career are really behind me, which it was kind of sad to feel that at this point four years ago,” said Shiffrin, who turned 28 years old last week. “This season, if anything, it just proved that, take 17 wins [from 2018-19] aside or the records or all those things, it’s still possible to feel that kind of momentum.”

After one last victory Sunday, Shiffrin sat in the winner’s chair with another crystal globe and took questions from an interviewer. It was her boyfriend, Norwegian Alpine skier Aleksander Aamodt Kilde.

“Excited to come back and do it again next year,” she replied to one question.

“Yeah,” he wittily replied. “You will.”

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Russia ban runs through Olympic gymnastics team qualifying deadline

Russia Gymnastics
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Russia’s ban from international sport extended long enough that, as rules stand, its gymnasts cannot qualify to defend Olympic men’s and women’s team titles at the 2024 Paris Games, even if they are reinstated to compete elsewhere before the Games start.

Should the ban be lifted in time, they can still qualify for the Paris Games to compete in individual events.

Gymnasts from Russia, and other European nations not already qualified, need to compete at next month’s European Championships to stay on the path toward Olympic qualification in the men’s and women’s team events.

Earlier this month, the European Gymnastics Federation was asked by what date must bans on Russian athletes be lifted for them to be eligible to compete at the European Championships.

“According to our rules, changes can be made until the draw,” the federation’s head of media wrote in a March 8 email.

The draw for the European Championships was held Tuesday. Russian gymnasts, who are still banned from international competition for the war in Ukraine, were not included in the draw.

The 2024 Olympic team event fields will be filled by the top finishers at this fall’s world championships, plus the medalists from last year’s worlds. Teams can only qualify for worlds via continental championships, such as the European Championships, or the previous year’s world championships.

The International Gymnastics Federation, whose Olympic qualifying rules were published by the IOC last April, was asked if there is any other way that gymnasts from Russia could qualify for the Olympic team events. It responded by forwarding a March 3 press release that stated that Russia and Belarus gymnasts remain banned “until further notice.”

Russia’s gymnastics federation has not responded to a Monday morning request for comment.

Last December, the IOC said it planned to explore a possibility that Russian and Belarusian athletes could enter Asian competitions if and when they are reinstated. There have been no further updates on that front. The Asian Gymnastics Championships are in June.

In Tokyo, Russian women, competing as the Russian Olympic Committee rather than Russia due to the nation’s doping violations, won the team title over the heavily favored U.S. after Simone Biles withdrew after her opening vault with the twisties. It marked the first Olympic women’s team title for Russian gymnasts since the Soviet Union broke up.

At last year’s worlds, the U.S. won the women’s team title in the absence of the banned Russians.

Russian men won the Tokyo Olympic team title by 103 thousandths of a point over Japan, their first gold in the event since the 1996 Atlanta Games.

China won last year’s world men’s team title over Japan and Great Britain.

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