Steve Holcomb

What to watch on Day 15 of Sochi Olympics

1 Comment

Here’s a look at the compelling events, athletes and storylines of the Sochi Olympics on Saturday, Feb. 22. A complete list of every Saturday event can be found here.

WHAT TO WAKE UP EARLY FOR …

Alpine skiing, men’s slalom, 7:45 a.m. ET/11:15 a.m. ETCLICK HERE TO WATCH FIRST RUN | SECOND RUN

The final Alpine skiing event includes three Americans — giant slalom champion Ted Ligety, David Chodounsky and Nolan Kasper — but it would be a surprise to see any of them win a medal.

The favorites are led by Austrian Marcel Hirscher, who is the reigning world champion and leading the World Cup standings for a third straight season.

Germany’s Felix Neureuther could pose a threat, skiing after being involved in a car accident on his way out of Munich this week. So could rising Norwegian Henrik Kristoffersen, 19, who won the last World Cup slalom in Schladming, Austria, on Jan. 28.

Hirscher was fourth in the Olympic giant slalom, Neureuther eighth and Kristoffersen 10th.

Speed skating, men’s and women’s team pursuit, 8:30 a.m. ET CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

The U.S. has been shut out of speed skating medals for the third time in Olympic history and is done at the Adler Arena.

The Dutch, though, are favored to cap their dominance in the final two events.

Sven Kramer leads the men’s team seeking to better disappointing bronze medals in 2006 and 2010. They blew out France and Canada by a combined 20 seconds in the quarterfinals and semifinals Friday. The Dutch men get South Korea in the gold-medal final.

The women have semifinals and finals left to go. The Netherlands beat the U.S. in a quarterfinal and will get Japan in the semis. Russia and Poland are in the other semifinal.

If the Netherlands women wins their semifinal (or win the bronze-medal matchup), Ireen Wuest will finish the Olympics with five medals, matching the Winter Olympic single-Games record. Wuest would be the only athlete at the Sochi Olympics to win five medals.

The Netherlands could win eight of the 12 speed skating events in Sochi and 23 of 36 total medals awarded.

WHAT YOU CAN’T MISS DURING THE DAY …

Biathlon, men’s 4×7.5km relay, 9:30 a.m. ET CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

Ole Einar Bjoerndalen will go for one more record in the final biathlon event. He’s part of the Norwegian team in the running for gold.

If Norway wins, Bjoerndalen will capture his ninth career gold medal, breaking the tie for most career golds with retired Norwegian cross-country skier Bjorn Daehlie. Bjoerndalen already broke Daehlie’s total medals record, notching Nos. 12 and 13 here.

This will be Bjoerndalen’s record 27th and final career Winter Olympic event. France, Russia, Austria and the Czech Republic should also contend.

Men’s hockey bronze-medal game, U.S.-Finland, 10 a.m. ETCLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

The U.S. must regroup after a 1-0 loss to Canada if it wants to win its first men’s hockey medal outside of North America since 1972.

It was the U.S. that knocked Finland out of the 2010 Olympics in the semifinals, so there should be plenty of motivation. What was iffy as of Friday night was the status of Finland goaltender Tuukka Rask, who missed a semifinal loss to Sweden with the flu.

Finland is hoping to win its sixth men’s hockey medal over the last eight Olympics. The Finns have never won an Olympic hockey gold.

The U.S. has not won an Olympic men’s hockey bronze medal since 1936.

Four-man bobsled, runs 1 and 2, 11:30 a.m. ET CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

American Steven Holcomb will begin defense of his Olympic title with the first two of four total runs. The final two runs will be Sunday.

Holcomb, who won bronze in the two-man Monday, has been dealing with a calf injury this week, slowly ramping up his fitness in training runs. He was fourth and sixth in the final two of six training runs Friday.

The fastest sleds in training have been driven by Russian Aleksander Zubkov, the two-man champion, Latvian Oskars Melbardis, Britain’s John Jackson and Germany’s Max Arndt and Francesco Friedrich.

Germany, long a bobsled powerhouse, has yet to win a bobsled medal at these Olympics.

Follow @NZaccardi

Rafael Nadal can tie Roger Federer’s Slam record with 13th French Open

Leave a comment

For all of the many qualities contributing to Rafael Nadal’s unprecedented superiority at the French Open — the bullwhip of a high-bouncing lefty forehand, the reflex returns, the cover-every-corner athleticism, the endless energy and grit — there’s one element that stands above all the rest.

According to the opponent Nadal beat in the last two finals in Paris, anyway.

“You go into the match knowing that even your best tennis, even if you play it over three, four hours, might not be enough. I mean, if you do it, you maybe have a little chance, but you have to go to your limit on every single rally, every single point,” Dominic Thiem, who won the U.S. Open less than two weeks ago, told The Associated Press.

“That makes it not easy to go into the match,” Thiem said. “And that’s the mental part, I guess.”

When main-draw competition begins Sunday at Roland Garros, Thiem and every other player in the men’s bracket will be pursuing Nadal as the 34-year-old from Spain pursues history.

If Nadal manages to claim a 13th French Open championship — extending his own record for the most singles trophies won by anyone at any major tennis tournament — he would, more significantly, also collect his 20th Grand Slam title overall, tying Roger Federer’s record for a man.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Nadal’s tally elsewhere: four U.S. Opens, two Wimbledons, one Australian Open.

He spoke Friday in Paris about what “probably are the most difficult conditions for me ever in Roland Garros” — a lack of matches in 2020; a new brand of tennis balls (“super slow, heavy”); cooler weather and plenty of rain in the forecast.

“But you know what?” Nadal said. “I am here to fight and to play with the highest intensity possible.”

Asked recently about the possibility of catching the 39-year-old Federer, out for the rest of the season after a pair of operations on his right knee, Nadal expressed a sentiment he’s uttered before.

Climbing the Grand Slam list, Nadal said, is “not an obsession at all.”

“I know that you put a lot of attention on all of this,” he replied when the topic was raised last week at the Italian Open, Nadal’s first tournament since February because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Of course I would love to finish my career with 25, but (that’s) something that probably will not happen. I’m going to keep fighting to produce chances, and then when I finish my career, let’s see, no?” he said. “I just want to keep enjoying tennis. And that’s it. If I am playing well, I know I normally have my chances. If not, going to be impossible. That’s it.”

There is, of course, another great of the game playing during this era and, like Nadal, gaining on Federer.

That would be No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic, who had won five of seven major titles to raise his total to 17 before being disqualified at the U.S. Open for accidentally hitting a line judge with a ball while walking to a changeover.

In this oddest of years, the Grand Slam season will drawing to a close in France; the clay-court major was postponed from May until now because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Roland Garros is the last Slam, the last opportunity of this season. So we all know who the main favorite is there: Obviously, it’s Nadal. And everything that he has achieved there, losing maybe a couple matches in his entire career on that court … is probably the most impressive record that anybody has on any court,” Djokovic said. “So, yeah, of course you would put him right there in front as a favorite to win it.”

For the record: Nadal has won 93 of 95 matches in the French Open and his last 21 in a row.

So what makes him so dominant there?

“He’s an unbelievably great tennis player. Probably on clay, a little bit better than on the other surfaces,” Thiem said. “He’s left-handed, which makes it very uncomfortable. And then his forehand, the topspin on the clay, it’s cruel to play.”

Thiem takes notes and hopes to emulate aspects of Nadal’s game.

So do others.

In Rome, for example, two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep and one of her coaches, Artemon Apostu-Efremov, caught one of Nadal’s training sessions.

“We were watching the way he hits the ball, the acceleration, the energy he has on the court and the way he practices 100%. It’s always an inspiration,” Apostu-Efremov said.

“This dedication on the court and focus on court,” he said, “it’s something that, for sure, could be transferred to Simona.”

Nadal wound up losing his third match in Italy, which is neither ideal form nor the sort of prep work he is accustomed to ahead of Roland Garros.

Still, Nadal at the French Open is unlike anyone else, anywhere else.

“Regardless of how he feels, I’m sure he’ll find a way,” said Stefanos Tsitsipas, a 2019 Australian Open semifinalist seeded No. 5 in Paris. “He always finds a way, every single year. Clay is his surface. I’m sure he’s going to do well.”

MORE: How Jay-Z, Beyonce helped Naomi Osaka come out of her shell

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Skate America will not have fans

Skate America
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Skate America, the top annual international figure skating competition held in the U.S., will not have spectators in Las Vegas from Oct. 23-25.

U.S. Figure Skating said the restriction was “due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in strict accordance with the Nevada Gaming Control Board guidelines.”

Skate America is the first top-level event of the season, kicking off the six-stop Grand Prix Series leading up to December’s Grand Prix Final, which is scheduled this season for Beijing.

The series has already been modified to restrict fields to skaters from the host country or to the event closest to their training location.

Grand Prix fields have not been announced, though two-time world champion Nathan Chen said last month he hoped to go for a fourth straight Skate America title.

Chen trains in California. Most, if not all, top U.S. skaters train in the U.S. or Canada, which means they will compete in Skate America or Skate Canada if they participate in the Grand Prix Series at all.

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

Skaters are limited to one Grand Prix start this season. In past seasons, they’ve typically competed twice.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Swimmer Iris Cummings is last living U.S. Olympian from Berlin 1936