Apolo Ohno breaks down international short track contenders

Viktor Ahn
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Short track speed skating at the Sochi Olympics will be a far different competition than four years ago.

It will be missing the most decorated men’s Olympic skater of all time with the retirement of Apolo Ohno and likely to be without the most decorated woman, China’s Wang Meng, following Thursday’s news.

Ohno will cover short track for NBC Olympics in Sochi and spoke with NBC Olympics’ Willie Cornblatt about the international threats for medals in Sochi.

Ohno has particular knowledge of Russian star Viktor Ahn, the former Ahn Hyun-Soo of South Korea. Ahn won triple gold for South Korea at the 2006 Olympics, missing a sweep by losing to Ohno in the 500m, was injured and didn’t make the 2010 team and switched affiliation to Russia for Sochi.

Here’s what Ohno had to say about Ahn:

So Ahn and I have been skating with each other since 2002, we went all the way through until he actually got injured pre-Vancouver, and he probably would’ve been on that team.  In my eyes, Viktor Ahn, as he’s now called, is the most beautiful short track skating athlete in the world in terms of his technique and the way he skates.  He’s so good in fact– we have a 3000m in World Cups, we don’t have that race in the Olympic level, so it’s a 27 lap race, it’s very slow in the beginning.  I used to follow this kid just to watch him skate.  Think about this, I’m trying to beat this kid, I’m watching him skate thinking, ‘this kid skates amazing.’  I always said in my head that if he ever figures out how to beat me and my weaknesses, it’s going to be very hard to get that back from him, and we traded back and forth multiple times.

As far as a redemption story, I think it’s phenomenal.  The kid went through a lot in terms of injury, through his own federation, and he made a huge gamble going to Russia and competing for an alternate country.  For me, personally,  I would never consider that, but I do appreciate where he’s coming from, it shows his passion and love for what he’s doing in the sport.  He may not be as good as he used to be, he may not have the same technique as he used to have, but what I like now about Viktor Ahn is he’s skating for himself, he’s not being pushed or pressured by the coaches, he’s skating because he really, really wants to win and he really loves the sport, and that, to me, shows the epitome of why athletes are so cool.

Read more of the Q&A on NBC Olympics here.

Teri McKeever fired by Cal as women’s swimming coach after investigation

Teri McKeever
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Teri McKeever, the first woman to serve as a U.S. Olympic swimming head coach, was fired by the University of California at Berkeley after an investigation into alleged verbal and emotional abuse of swimmers that she denied.

McKeever was put on paid administrative leave from her job as head women’s swimming coach in May after an Orange County Register report that 20 current or former Cal swimmers said McKeever verbally and emotionally bullied her swimmers.

Cal athletics director Jim Knowlton wrote in a letter to the Cal team and staff that a resulting independent law firm report detailed “verbally abusive conduct that is antithetical to our most important values.”

“I strongly believe this is in the best interests of our student-athletes, our swimming program and Cal Athletics as a whole,” Knowlton said of McKeever’s firing in a press release. “The report details numerous violations of university policies that prohibit race, national origin and disability discrimination.”

The Orange County Register first published what it says is the full independent report here.

“I deny and unequivocally refute all conclusions that I abused or bullied any athlete and deny any suggestion I discriminated against any athlete on the basis of race, disability or sexual orientation,” McKeever said in a statement Tuesday confirming her firing and expressing disappointment in how the investigation was conducted. “While I am disappointed in the way my CAL Career will conclude, I wish to thank and celebrate the many student-athletes and staff that made my time in Berkeley a true blessing and gift.”

McKeever’s lawyer wrote that McKeever “will be filing suit to expose the manner in which gender has affected not only the evaluation of her coaching but harmed and continues to harm both female and male athletes.”

McKeever led Cal women’s swimming and diving for nearly 30 years, winning four NCAA team titles and coaching Olympic champions including Missy FranklinNatalie Coughlin and Dana Vollmer.

In 2004, she became the first woman to be on a U.S. Olympic swim team coaching staff, as an assistant. In 2012, she became the first woman to be head coach of a U.S. Olympic swim team. She was an assistant again for the Tokyo Games.

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Diana Taurasi returns to U.S. national basketball team

Diana Taurasi
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Diana Taurasi is set to return to the U.S. national basketball team next week for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics, signaling a possible bid for a record-breaking sixth Olympic appearance in 2024 at age 42.

Taurasi is on the 15-player roster for next week’s training camp in Minnesota announced Tuesday.

Brittney Griner is not on the list but is expected to return to competitive basketball later this year with her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury (also Taurasi’s longtime team, though she is currently a free agent), after being detained in Russia for 10 months in 2022.

Taurasi said as far back as the 2016 Rio Games that her Olympic career was likely over, but returned to the national team after Dawn Staley succeeded Geno Auriemma as head coach in 2017.

In Tokyo, Taurasi and longtime backcourt partner Sue Bird became the first basketball players to win five Olympic gold medals. Bird has since retired.

After beating Japan in the final, Taurasi said “see you in Paris,” smiling, as she left an NBC interview. That’s now looking less like a joke and more like a prediction.

Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve succeeded Staley as head coach last year. In early fall, she guided the U.S. to arguably the best FIBA World Cup performance ever, despite not having stalwarts Bird, Griner, Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles.

Taurasi was not in contention for the team after suffering a WNBA season-ending quad injury in the summer. Taurasi, who is 38-0 in Olympic games and started every game at the last four Olympics, wasn’t on a U.S. team for an Olympics or worlds for the first time since 2002.

Next year, Taurasi can become the oldest Olympic basketball player in history and the first to play in six Games, according to Olympedia.org. Spain’s Rudy Fernandez could also play in a sixth Olympics in 2024.

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