Heather Richardson

Strange DQ as Heather Richardson, Shani Davis qualify for Sochi (video)

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Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe can make plans for Sochi. Shani Davis is looking good, too.

The three biggest stars of US Speedskating headlined the second day of the U.S. Olympic Trials in Kearns, Utah, on Saturday.

Richardson and Bowe went one-two in the 500m. That put Richardson on her second U.S. Olympic Team and all but assured Bowe’s first Olympic berth. Sugar Todd and Lauren Cholewinski took third and fourth and are likely going to Sochi, too.

Davis, a four-time Olympic medalist over the 1000m and 1500m, took fourth in the men’s 500m, an event where the U.S. can enter a maximum of four skaters in the Olympics.

Winner Mitchell Whitmore clinched his second Olympic berth. He’ll likely be joined on the Sochi roster by second-through-fourth finishers Tucker Fredricks, Brian Hansen and Davis.

Jonathan Garcia initially posted a fast enough two-run time to place fourth, knocking out Davis, but did not wear a time-recording ankle transponder in his second 500m, where he clocked 34.85, which would have been a personal best by .29 of a second.

“I know that I was good enough to be on the team,” Garcia said, according to The Associated Press. “That’s something nobody can take away from me.”

That time was wiped out. Garcia reskated and was slower, finishing sixth.

“It’s really unfortunate,” Davis said, according to the AP. “I remember the special feeling I had when I went [to the Olympics] the first time. I was really pulling for Garcia to pull through and take the spot, even if it knocked me off the team. He’s a friend of mine. I want the best skaters to go. If someone is clearly faster than me, I want them to go. It’s just unfortunate that rule worked to his disadvantage.”

Davis is technically not assured of making the U.S. Olympic Team in the 500m yet. He could also drop the event altogether given he’s more focused on the 1000m and 1500m.

A maximum of 10 men and 10 women can make the U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Team, but the U.S. has more than 10 Olympic spots combined across all distances.

If stars like Richardson, Bowe and Davis qualify in multiple events at trials through Wednesday, it will help the U.S. stay at or under the 10 men and 10 women maximum and ensure the second, third and fourth finishers from Saturday go to Sochi.

The U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials continue with 1000m races Sunday (NBC, 3 p.m.).

U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials preview, schedule

Richardson, 24, won the women’s 500m with a two-race total of 1:14.19, which was 1.32 faster than second-place Bowe. Cholewinski (1:16.18) and Todd (1:16.42) beat out three-time Olympian Elli Ochowicz (1:16.54) to likely make their second and first Olympic teams, respectively.

“It’s really special this time because of all of us inliners here, together,” Richardson said on NBC. “I grew up skating with Brittany and Lauren. To qualify for the Olympics together is really a special moment.”

Todd would not be the first “Sugar” to compete in the Olympics. Hungary’s István Sugár ran the men’s 4x100m track and field relay at the 1928 Amsterdam Games, according to sports-reference.com. There’s also the great boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, who won gold at the 1976 Montreal Games.

Richardson and Bowe are expected to make the Olympic team in the 500m, 1000m and 1500m. Paired together, Richardson was .51 faster than Bowe in their opening race Saturday, all but sealing her title.

Richardson, 24, has been the fastest U.S. woman in the 500m each of the last five seasons. She’s the reigning World Sprint Champion (combining 500m and 1000m results) and has made three of eight World Cup 500m podiums this season.

Richardson grew up cherishing Cheerwine and skating inline in High Point, N.C., before switching to ice in 2007. She posted the best individual finish of any U.S. female speed skater at the 2010 Olympics, sixth in the 500m.

She was thought to be the biggest and perhaps only hope to end a U.S. female speed skating Olympic medal drought dating to 2002. Then Bowe came along.

Bowe, 25, spent the 2010 Olympics playing basketball in Boca Raton, Fla., a senior starting guard for Florida Atlantic. She also joined the inline invasion and could share the Sochi podium with Richardson.

“Heather’s definitely one of my inspirations to come over and try to pursue my Olympic dream,” Bowe said on NBC.

The clear favorite for Olympic 500m gold, however, is South Korea’s reigning Olympic, world and World Cup champion Lee Sang-hwa, who broke her own world record three times this season.

Bowe and Richardson are expected to go head to head again at trials in the 1000m (Sunday) and the 1500m (Tuesday), two distances Bowe is better in than the 500m.

Whitmore, 24, is going back to the Olympics after winning with a two-race time of 1:09.12 on Saturday. Fredricks was second at 1:09.44 followed by Hansen (1:09.85) and Davis (1:10.21).

Whitmore placed 37th out of 38 finishers in the 2010 Olympic 500m. His chances in Sochi are looking up now that he owns the American record in the 500m and has finished no lower than 15th over eight World Cup races this season.

Fredricks, 29, made his third Olympic team. His international results have been hit or miss. His best Olympic finish is 12th, but nobody was faster at the opening World Cup event in Calgary, Alberta, in November.

Hansen and Davis are better in the 1000m and 1500m, which they are slated to skate Sunday and Tuesday.

If Davis does not skate the Olympic 500m, he would go into defending his 1000m gold medal without any prior Olympic competition on the Sochi oval. In 2006 and 2010, he warmed up for the Olympic 1000m by skating the 5000m and/or the 500m.

The Olympic men’s 500m could be wide open given eight different men won World Cup races this season.

Comeback story of Olympic trials

Kuwaiti sheikh steps aside from IOC after indictment

AP
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GENEVA (AP) — Facing a criminal trial in Switzerland, Olympic powerbroker Sheikh Ahmad al Fahad al Sabah temporarily stepped aside from his IOC work on Monday.

The Kuwaiti sheikh denies wrongdoing but said in a statement he did not want “these politically motivated allegations to distract attention” from the Olympic movement’s work.

“Sheikh Ahmad has every confidence and trust in the Swiss courts and IOC Ethics Commission’s impartial due processes,” the statement from his personal office in Kuwait said. “He fully intends to continue serving the IOC again at the earliest opportunity.”

The sheikh has been indicted for forgery in Geneva and faces a prison sentence of up to 10 years, city daily Le Temps reported. The investigation arose from a dispute with another royal family member, who is a former prime minister of Kuwait.

Sheikh Ahmad has been an International Olympic Committee member for 26 years, a close ally of president Thomas Bach, and leads the global and Asian groups of national Olympic bodies. He also chairs an IOC panel which will give $500 million to Olympic bodies and athletes before the 2020 Tokyo Games.

He is due to be re-elected unopposed in Tokyo next week as president of the global Olympic group known as ANOC.

The IOC said in a statement its ethics panel can intervene for misconduct “even if it is not related to sport.”

The Olympic ethics panel had confirmed last year it was studying separate allegations against Sheikh Ahmad relating to bribery in international soccer elections.

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Who qualifies for figure skating’s Grand Prix Final?

Yevgenia Medvedeva
NBC Sports Gold
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A look at the qualifying scenarios for December’s Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual international figure skating event, with the sixth and last qualifier happening this week at Internationaux de France, headlined by Nathan Chen and streaming live on NBC Sports Gold … 

Men
1. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 30 points (qualified)
2. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 30 points (qualified)
3. Michal Brezina (CZE) — 26 points (qualified)
4. Sergey Voronov (RUS) — 24 points (qualified)
5. Cha Jun-Hwan (KOR) — 22 points (bubble)
6. Keegan Messing (CAN) — 20 points (bubble)

Competing this week: Nathan Chen (USA) — 15 points, Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 9 points, Jin Boyang (CHN) and Dmitry Aliyev (RUS) — 7 points, Jason Brown (USA) — 5 points.

Outlook: Chen qualifies with a fifth or better this week. If he wins as expected, it would mean the favorites swept the six men’s Grand Prix Final qualifiers (Hanyu, Uno and Chen with two wins each). That trio last faced off at the Olympics, where Hanyu repeated as champion, Uno took silver and Chen rebounded from a 17th-place short program with the top free skate to place fifth overall. Hanyu, though, is uncertain for the Final after injuring his right ankle in practice before his free skate at Rostelecom Cup on Saturday. Samarin is the only man in this week’s field who would get into the Final by placing second to Chen.

Women
1. Alina Zagitova (RUS) — 30 points (qualified)
2. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 28 points (qualified)
3. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS) — 26 points (qualified)
4. Kaori Sakamoto (JPN) — 24 points (bubble)
5. Sofia Samodurova (RUS) — 24 points (bubble)
6. Mako Yamashita (JPN) — 17 points (bubble)

Competing this week: Rika Kihira (JPN) — 15 points, Stanislava Konstantinova (RUS) — 13 points, Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 11 points, Mai Mihara (JPN), Bradie Tennell (USA) and Alexia Paganini (SUI) — 9 points, Laurine Lecavelier (FRA) — 7 points.

Outlook: It’s a near-lock that the Grand Prix Final will be an all-Russian and Japanese affair. The biggest question across all disciplines this week is whether the Olympic silver medalist and two-time world champion Medvedeva can earn one of the three available spots. She is definitely in with a win. If she’s second, it likely comes down to a tiebreak among at least Medvedeva, Sakamoto and Samodurova, looking at who had the most total points between their two Grand Prix starts. If she’s third, she’s almost definitely out of the Final. The U.S. champion Tennell is one of six women who qualify automatically with a win this week.

Pairs
1. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 30 points (qualified)
2. Natalya Zabiyako/Alexander Enbert (RUS) — 30 points (qualified)
3. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 26 points (qualified)
4. Nicole Della Monica/Matteo Guarise (ITA) — 26 points (qualified)
5. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 22 points (bubble)
6. Alisa Efimova/Alexander Korovin (RUS) — 20 points (bubble)

Competing this week: Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres (FRA) — 15 points, Aleksandra Boikova/Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 9 points, Ryom Tae-Ok/Kim Ju-Sik (PRK), Tarah Kayne/Danny O’Shea (USA) and Minerva Fabienne Hase/Nolan Seegert (GER) — 7 points.

Outlook: With none of the Olympic medalists competing this fall, the fourth- and fifth-place finishers from PyeongChang have been the most impressive thus far — Tarasova and Morozov and James and Cipres. The French make it to the Final by finishing fifth this week. For either the North Koreans or the Americans to make the Final, they almost definitely have to win. That’s a very tall order against the French in Grenoble.

Ice Dance
1. Madison Hubbell/Zach Donohue (USA) — 30 points (qualified)
2. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 30 points (qualified)
3. Charlene Guignard/Marco Fabbri (ITA) — 26 points (qualified)
4. Tiffany Zahorski/Jonathan Guerreiro (RUS) — 24 points (bubble)
5. Sara Hurtado/Kirill Khaliavin (ESP) — 22 points (bubble)
6. Lorraine McNamara/Quinn Carpenter (USA) — 20 points (bubble)

Competing this week: Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker (USA) — 15 points, Victoria Sinitsina/Nikita Katsalapov (RUS) — 13 points, Piper Gilles/Paul Poirier (CAN) and Rachel Parsons/Michael Parsons (USA) — 11 points, Marie-Jade Lauriault/Romain Le Gac (FRA) — 9 points, Olivia Smart/Adrián Díaz (ESP) — 7 points, Allison Reed/Saulius Ambrulevičius (LTU) — 5 points.

Outlook: This week’s favorites have no chance at the Final. That’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who missed their first Grand Prix due to Cizeron’s back injury. The anticipated showdown between the three-time world champions and Olympic silver medalists from France and world silver medalists Hubbell and Donohue must wait until the world championships in March. Their absence could open the door for multiple U.S. dance couples to qualify for the Final for a fifth straight year, despite the absence this fall of Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani (indefinite break) and Madison Chock and Evan Bates (injury). Hawayek and Baker are into the Final with a fourth or better this week.

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