Steve Holcomb

Steve Holcomb’s bobsled win streak ends in Winterberg

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It took eight races to beat Steve Holcomb this season.

The Olympic four-man champion finished seventh in a two-man event in Winterberg, Germany, on Friday, snapping a seven-race winning streak overall to start the World Cup season.

“I knew coming into this race that it was going to be a challenge,” Holcomb said, according to the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation. “I drive by feel, not by visual cues. I’ve always struggled here, but understanding that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. Knowing that it’s going to be difficult adds pressure, especially since I’ve been undefeated this season.”

Swiss Beat Hefti won by a comfortable .46 of a second in a two-run time of 1 minute, 52.68 seconds. Another American, Cory Butner, took third, .01 behind second place Aleksander Zubkov of Russia.

“It’s hard not to wonder where you lost that and how you could have made up some time,” said Butner, who won his first World Cup medal in Europe. “We have the best equipment, best coaches and techs, and everything is coming together just like it’s supposed to.”

The bobsled World Cup continues with a four-man competition Saturday at 4 a.m. ET on Universal Sports.

Holcomb not winning wasn’t a major shock because his seven-race streak came entirely in North America — Calgary, Alberta, Park City, Utah, and Lake Placid, N.Y. Winterberg is the first of four straight weekends of racing on European tracks, where Holcomb has had far less success.

Holcomb  has not won a World Cup or World Championships two- or four-man race outside of North America since Dec. 13, 2009, also in Winterberg.

Both Holcomb and Nick Cunningham, who was 12th on Friday, crashed in four-man training in Winterberg earlier this week. Holcomb was in the Night Train 2. Cunningham was in the Night Train 1, the sled that won the 2010 Olympic gold medal. Cunningham started driving the Night Train 1 in December and crashed in his fourth run in the sled.

Don't mistake my crash yesterday as weakness. On the contrary, it shows the commitment, courage, and determination my…

Posted by Steven Holcomb on Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Winterberg Two-Man
1. Beat Hefti/Alex Baumann (SUI) 1:52.68
2. Aleksander Zubkov/Alexey Voeveda (RUS) 1:53.14
3. Cory Butner/Chuck Berkeley (USA) 1:53.15
7. Steve Holcomb/Steve Langton (USA) 1:53.45
12. Nick Cunningham/Justin Olsen (USA) 1:53.72

Lolo Jones on USA-1 in Winterberg

French Open: Karolina Pliskova, top player sans Slam, again exits early

Karolina Pliskova
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No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova exited yet another Grand Slam in the early stages, falling to 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia in the second round at Roland Garros on Thursday.

Ostapenko, whose only match wins at the French Open before this week came in her title run three years ago, bounced the big-serving Czech 6-4, 6-2.

Pliskova put fewer than half of her first serves in play, while Ostapenko fired 27 winners to 19 unforced errors. Pliskova was on the ropes in her first round, too, needing three sets to get past an Egyptian qualifier.

“Maybe same level as the match before, but of course [Ostapenko] is much better player,” Pliskova said. “Not much to say about this match.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Later Thursday, top-ranked Novak Djokovic had a second straight win ceding just five games, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 over Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis. Djokovic undefeated in 2020 save his U.S. Open default for smacking a ball that inadvertently struck a linesperson, next gets Colombian lucky loser Daniel Elahi Galán.

Nobody else in Djokovic’s half of the draw at the start of the tournament made a French Open semifinal before.

Pliskova is the highest-ranked player of either gender (No. 4) without a Grand Slam title, yet hasn’t made it past the fourth round at a major since the 2019 Australian Open.

She’s played six Slams as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, one shy of Caroline Wozniacki‘s total before she broke through at the 2018 Australian Open and two shy of Simona Halep‘s total before she won the 2018 French Open.

Ostapenko, meanwhile, is having a very different career.

She won the 2017 Roland Garros title, two days after turning 20, while ranked 47th. She hasn’t gotten past the third round of a major since 2018 Wimbledon, including first-round French Open exits the last two years, and is back down to No. 43 in the WTA rankings.

“It’s hard to compare with 2017. As I said, it was like three years ago, and I was much younger, and also I was fearless. Nobody knew me,” Ostapenko said. “The world doesn’t stop with winning only one Grand Slam. Of course I want to achieve more, and I want to be back in top five, top 10.”

She dropped just nine games in four sets this week.

Ostapenko gets 87th-ranked Spaniard Paula Badosa in third round. Badosa dispatched 2018 French Open runner-up Sloane Stephens 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.

MORE: Serena Williams ‘struggling to walk’

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Figure skating’s Grand Prix fields look very different this season

Nathan Chen
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Before Nathan Chen is expected to go for a historic fifth straight U.S. figure skating title in January, he will, in a first, compete against most of his top countrymen later this month.

Fields for the Grand Prix Series, figure skating’s autumn international circuit, were published Thursday. As expected, every top skater entered will compete in his or her home country, or nearest to where he or she trains, and in one of the six events.

Traditionally, skaters compete in two of the six events and are scattered among competitions in the U.S., Canada, France, Russia, China and Japan based on world rankings.

But the International Skating Union restricted travel this season due to the coronavirus pandemic. Skaters are limited to compete locally. And the Grand Prix Final at the conclusion of the Grand Prix Series has been postponed from its scheduled December setting in Beijing.

That means that Chen vies for a record-tying fourth straight Skate America crown in Las Vegas in three weeks against a field mostly made up of countrymen, including Olympic teammate Vincent Zhou and U.S. bronze medalist Tomoki Hiwatashi.

In all, there are eight U.S. men entered in Skate America, 11 women (including past national champions Bradie Tennell and Gracie Gold), six pairs and nine ice dance couples (including U.S. champions Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue), plus some skaters from other nations who train in the U.S.

Traditionally, a country has no more than three entries per discipline at a Grand Prix event.

GRAND PRIX FIELDS: Men | Women | Pairs | Ice Dance

Sochi Olympian Jason Brown, who trains in Toronto, is entered in Skate Canada the week after Skate America.

Two-time U.S. women’s champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough for the Grand Prix Series until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

All of the reigning Olympic champions are absent from the series.

Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan previously announced he wouldn’t compete due to virus-related travel risks. Russian Alina Zagitova extended her indefinite break from competition dating to last autumn, rather choosing to participate in a skating-themed TV series.

Ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada retired. The German pairs’ team of Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot last competed in the 2018 Olympic season.

Instead, the headliners include Chen, the two-time world champion undefeated since placing fifth in PyeongChang. And a deep crop of Russian teenage women, all of course entered in the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow in November.

MORE: Brian Orser reacts to Yevgenia Medvedeva’s coaching switch

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