Shani Davis

Davis, Richardson win 1000m at speed skating trials; redemption for Garcia

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Shani Davis left no doubt in the 1000m Sunday, one day after a strange disqualification allowed him to qualify for the Olympics in the 500m.

Jonathan Garcia, whose personal best skate was wiped out because he didn’t wear ankle transponders Saturday, is also likely headed to the Sochi Olympics in the 1000m.

Davis won the 1000m at the U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials, clinching a berth in Sochi, where he could become the first American man to win a single Winter Olympic event three straight times. Davis took gold in the 1000m at the 2006 and 2010 Games.

Garcia was fourth in the 1000m, an event where the U.S. can send a maximum of four skaters to Sochi. His place on the U.S. Olympic Team is not yet assured, but he’s in a qualifying position. The full Olympic speed skating team is expected to be announced later this week.

Heather Richardson picked up her second win in as many days at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns, Utah, capturing the women’s 1000m ahead of Brittany Bowe. They also went one-two in the 500m on Saturday.

The U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials continue, after a day off, with the men’s and women’s 1500m on Tuesday. Davis, Richardson and Bowe are favorites in that distance, too.

Davis won the 1000m in 1 minute, 7.52 seconds. Brian Hansen was second in 1:07.53, followed by Joey Mantia (1:07.88) and Garcia (1:07.95).

Davis has won three of four World Cup 1000m races this season after taking third at the Sochi Olympic venue at the World Single Distance Championships on March 22. He and snowboarders Shaun White and Seth Wescott are vying to be the first American man to win a single Olympic event three times.

“I don’t allow it to weigh on me,” Davis said on NBC. “I simply want to go there, do my best. If I’m the best man that given day, I’ll be more than happy to take home a gold medal and add to my collection. If not, I tried my best, and that’s the best I can do.

“I think I’m skating pretty good. I think the best is still yet to come.”

On Saturday, Davis was fourth in the 500m but would have been outside of Olympic qualifying position if not for Garcia’s disqualification for not wearing ankle timing transponders.

Garcia, who would have originally been fourth, finished sixth in the 500m after his reskate. The U.S. can send a maximum of four men in the 500m and 1000m to the Olympics.

Garcia wore transponders Sunday, evidenced when he waved them in the air after he realized he finished fourth after the final pair crossed.

“I don’t think it’s set in yet,” said Garcia, who joked about his disqualification on NBC. “I didn’t really let it get to me. I was really surprised. Usually, stuff like that shakes me pretty well. But I didn’t really think about. In my mind, I truly believe that I made that [500m] team. I skated fast enough to be on the team. I left here yesterday feeling accomplished. I made it on my own speed. Not having my transponders yesterday didn’t affect my time.”

Hansen, a 2010 Olympian who was third in the 500m on Saturday, could also win a medal in Sochi. He took bronze behind Davis in the first two World Cup races this season.

Mantia, a former inline world champion, is also in the mix but may be better in the 1500m. He shaved .76 off his personal best in the 1000m on Sunday.

In the women’s race, Richardson (1:13.22) and Bowe (1:13.92) were followed by Sugar Todd and Kelly Gunther.

Richardson could take Olympic gold in this event given she’s won three of four World Cup races this year. Bowe took the fourth in a world-record time.

The U.S. has not won a women’s speed skating medal at the Olympics since 2002.

“I think it’s very likely to change,” Richardson said of the drought on NBC. “I think this is the piece to put the whole puzzle together in Sochi.”

Todd, who also qualified third in the 500m on Saturday, skated a personal best 1:15.72.

For fourth, Gunther edged three-time Olympian Elli Ochowicz with a personal best 1:16.43. Ochowicz was .08 slower, finishing fifth for the second straight day in two events where the U.S. can send a maximum of four women to Sochi.

Gunther agonizingly missed the 2010 Olympic team due to another skater’s reskate. One month after the Vancouver Games, she suffered a double compound fracture of a bone just below her left ankle in a skating crash at the Utah Olympic Oval. The cut was so deep, and there was so much blood, that there was concern she could lose her foot.

“I couldn’t even believe it,” Gunther said on NBC. “After everything I’ve been through, fighting back. My dream has always been to go to the Olympics.”

Shiffrin edged in Lienz slalom by record breaker

World Cup Alpine season opener gets green light

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After checking the snow on the Rettenbach glacier in Soelden, Austria, FIS officials announced Thursday that the traditional World Cup season opener is set to go ahead as planned Oct. 26-27 with men’s and women’s giant slalom races.

Current conditions at Soelden show a solid 30 inches of snow at the summit. The race finishes at an altitude of 2,670 meters (8,760 feet), far above the currently snowless village.

The first races of the season are never guaranteed to have enough snow, though last year’s men’s race at Soelden had the opposite problem, being canceled when a storm blew through with heavy snowfall and high winds. 

France’s Tessa Worley won the women’s race last year ahead of Italy’s Frederica Brignone and U.S. skier Mikaela Shiffrin, who would go on to dominate the rest of the World Cup season.

The Soelden weekend is followed by three dormant weeks until the season resumes Nov. 23-24 in Levi, Finland. The World Cup circuits then switch to North America. The men will run speed events Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Lake Louise, Alberta, then head to Beaver Creek, Colo., for more speed events and a giant slalom Dec. 6-8. The women run slalom and giant slalom Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Killington, Vt., and head to Lake Louise the next weekend.

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Olympic marathon and race walk move from Tokyo to Sapporo draws some pushback

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In the wake of a dropout-plagued set of world championship endurance races in Qatar, moving the 2020 Olympic marathons and race walks from Tokyo to the cooler venue of Sapporo is a quick fix for one problem, pending the potential for untimely heat waves.

But the move has drawn some opposition for a variety of reasons.

First, many organizers and politicians appear to have been caught by surprise. Tokyo’s governor, Yuriko Koike, was “taken aback” and Sapporo’s mayor, Katsuhiro Akimoto, learned about the move from the media, Kyodo News reported. Koike even sarcastically suggested that the races could move all the way northward to islands disputed by Russia and Japan.

South African sports scientist Ross Tucker suggested that running in heat and humidity poses an interesting challenge for athletes, some of whom may be able to catch up with faster runners by preparing for the conditions.

British marathoner Mara Yamauchi made a similar point, saying the move was unfair to those who already were preparing for the heat, humidity and other conditions.

Belgian marathoner Koen Naert said he will make the best of the change but complained that some of his preparation and every runner’s logistical planning would no longer apply.

The angriest athlete may be Canadian walker Evan Dunfee, who placed fourth in the 2016 Olympic 50km race and nearly claimed bronze as a Canadian appeal was upheld but then rejected. He says runners and walkers can beat the conditions if they prepare, which many athletes did not do for the world championships in Qatar.

“So why do we cater to the ill prepared?” Dunfee asked on Twitter.

The move also takes athletes out of the main Olympic city and takes away the traditional, tough less frequent in modern years, finish in the Olympic stadium.

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