Olympic figure skating stars discuss Pyeongchang plans

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SOCHI, Russia – With figure skating complete at the 2014 Olympic Games, the biggest stars of the sport are unsure of what’s next – or if they’ll be in Pyeongchang four years from now.

“I don’t know how to explain what I’m going to do,” said Olympic champion Adelina Sotnikova through an interpreter. “We can’t predict the future. We want to take it one step at a time, so we’re not thinking about the Olympics.”

Sotnikova’s controversial upset win over South Korea’s Yuna Kim created a media storm. The day after she bubbled with excitement at a press conference, she was less definitive about the future of her career in an interview with NBCOlympics.com.

“I don’t know [if I’ll go to Pyeonchang],” the 17-year-old added. “Maybe. I would like to start to prepare for the next Olympic Games in one or two years. Right now I’m just happy because I won this gold medal for my country.”

Ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White were unable to say what their future plans were, including if they would compete at the World Championships next month in Japan. The same went for their rivals and training partners, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who won the Olympic silver behind the Americans.

Yet Gracie Gold, the 18-year-old Chicago native who works with legendary coach Frank Carroll, was more forthcoming with her plans – and expectations.

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“I want to finish off this season with a really strong World Championships,” Gold said after the gala exhibition. “I would like to win gold there and I think it’s a real possibility. We’ll sit down after and see what we can accomplish in the next four years.”

The reigning U.S. champion was fourth at the Olympics in singles after helping Team USA to bronze in the inaugural team event.

“Everyone has their dreams,” said Gold. “I don’t write my dreams down; they just live inside of me. My immediate goal is a medal, if not the gold in Pyeongchang. So much can change in four years, so I’ll just have to stick around.”

Gold, as well as teammates Ashley Wagner (22) and Polina Edmunds (15) have said they’ll stick around to try and qualify for Pyeongchang, as well.

Japan’s Mao Asada, who placed sixth after a disappointing short program put her in 16th, said she wasn’t sure if she’d make a third Olympic appearance.

“This time, my heart is very tired,” the 23-year-old, who won silver in Vancouver, told NBCOlympics.com. “My first Olympics I just wanted the gold medal, but this one was for me.”

Russia boasts a strong ladies crop – all under 18. In addition to Sotnikova, 15-year-old Yulia Lipnitskaya helped the team win gold earlier in the Games before placing fifth in the individual competition. Yelena Radiyonova, who turned 15 last month, was unable to compete in Sochi because of age restrictions.

“We have a very strong team for the next four years,” said Russian ice dancer Nikita Katsalapov, who won bronze with partner Yelena Ilinykh.

Bronze medalist Carolina Kostner, in her third Olympics, cautioned over-planning – or looking too far ahead.

“I think the best thing to do is to take it step by step,” said the 27-year-old Italian. “All you can do is try and improve on the little things season by season and that helps you make the big step.”

The bronze medalist in the men’s event, 20-year-old Denis Ten, was more sure of where he would be in four years’ time.

“I’m going to keep skating and expect that I’ll only get better and better. This isn’t my limit, I don’t think,” said Ten, who is also coached by Frank Carroll. “My dream is to go to Pyeongchang. It seems like four years are so far away but time will fly. At this moment I have nothing to say, but as the Olympics get closer, I’m sure I’ll have thoughts.”

“It starts now,” said Virtue, the Canadian ice dancer. “There’s always room for adaptation, but making a plan for Korea and then heading in that direction is the way to go.”

Her teammate, men’s silver medalist Patrick Chan, agreed.

“I wouldn’t suggest anyone looking four years ahead,” said the three-time world champion, who lost the gold to Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu. “How many times have people planned so far ahead and things didn’t turn out right? When you start thinking about the future you start doubting and wondering and stressing. You should approach it year by year.”

Shelby Houlihan shatters American 5000m record

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Shelby Houlihan chopped 10.52 seconds off her own American 5000m record, clocking 14:23.92 at a Bowerman Track Club intrasquad meet in Portland, Ore., on Friday night.

Houlihan, who was 11th in the Rio Olympic 5000m, has in this Olympic cycle improved to become one of the greatest female distance runners in U.S. history.

She first broke Shannon Rowbury‘s American record in the 5000m by 4.47 seconds in 2018. In 2019, she broke Rowbury’s American record in the 1500m by 1.3 seconds in finishing fourth at the world championships in 3:54.99.

On Friday, Houlihan and second-place Karissa Schweizer both went under the American record. Schweizer, 24 and three years younger than Houlihan, clocked 14:26.34, staying with Houlihan until the winner’s 61-second final lap.

“I knew Karissa was going to try to come up on me and take the lead. She does that every time,” Houlihan told USATF.tv. “I had decided I was not going to let that happen.”

Houlihan improved from 41st to 12th on the world’s all-time 5000m list, 12.77 seconds behind Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba‘s world record.

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Can T.J. Oshie, other established Olympic hockey stars hold on for 2022?

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T.J. Oshie will be 35 years old during the next Winter Olympics. Jonathan Quick will be 36. Now that the NHL is one key step closer to returning to the Winter Games, the question surfaces: which 2014 Olympians will have a difficult time returning to rosters in 2022?

Oshie was the last of the 14 forwards chosen for the U.S. Olympic team for Sochi, beating out Bobby Ryan and Brandon Saad, in part for his shootout prowess.

In group play against Russia, Oshie was memorably tapped by U.S. head coach Dan Bylsma six times in a shootout, including all five in the sudden-death rounds. Oshie beat Sergei Bobrovsky four times, including the game winner.

“After I went out for my third attempt, I figured I was going to keep going,” Oshie said, according to USA Hockey. “Each time I would look up to see what [Bylsma] had to say, and he would just give me a nod every time. I kind of started laughing toward shot five and six because it was getting kind of ridiculous.”

Oshie became known as “T.J. Sochi” on social media. President Barack Obama congratulated him on Twitter. The U.S. eventually lost to Canada in the semifinals and Finland in the bronze-medal game.

When the NHL chose not to send its players to the PyeongChang Winter Games, it may have spelled the end of Oshie’s Olympic career.

Consider that the oldest forward on the 2014 U.S. Olympic team was 29, six years younger than Oshie will be come 2022. A recent Olympic roster prediction from The Hockey Writers put Oshie in the “Just Missed Out” list.

NBC Sports NHL analyst Pierre McGuire has Oshie among the finalists for the last forward spots in his early U.S. roster prediction.

“I wouldn’t discount T.J. Oshie because shootout is still part of it,” McGuire said. “He still has his shootout moves, even though he’s not getting any younger.”

Quick, the unused third goalie in 2010, played 305 out of 365 minutes in net for the U.S. in Sochi. He was coming off a Stanley Cup in 2012 and en route to another one in 2014.

Since, he was sidelined by a knee injury that required surgery. He remains the Los Angeles Kings’ No. 1 goalie, which almost automatically puts an American in the Olympic roster discussion these days.

“Somebody like Jonathan definitely merits consideration just because of his achievement level over time, but I think he’d be the first person to tell you injuries have definitely affected him,” McGuire said of Quick, looking to become the second-oldest U.S. goalie to play in the Olympics after Tom Barrasso in 2002. “It’s not going to be easy for him.”

The U.S. could bypass Quick for three Olympic rookies in 2022. Connor Hellebuyck, John Gibson and Ben Bishop have superior save percentages and goals-against averages and more games played than Quick since the start of the 2018-19 season.

A wild card is Spencer Knight, the 19-year-old No. 1 from the world junior championships who last year became the highest-drafted goalie since 2010 (No. 13 to the Florida Panthers). Knight would break defenseman Bryan Berard‘s record as the youngest U.S. Olympic hockey player in the NHL era.

The Canadian roster has traditionally been deeper than the U.S. The talent is overwhelming at center, led by Sidney CrosbyConnor McDavidPatrice Bergeron and Nathan MacKinnon. The Canadians must get creative if the likes of veterans Jonathan Toews and John Tavares will join them in Beijing.

Toews, then 21, was the best forward at the 2010 Vancouver Games and Canada’s only one on the all-tournament team. While Toews’ last NHL All-Star selection was in 2017, his last two seasons have been his best in terms of points per game since 2011.

“The one thing that Canada is very good at, they do it extremely well, they select players that fit roles,” McGuire said, noting Mike Richards shifting to the wing during the 2010 Olympics. “When you look at the overwhelming depth that Canada has, that’s going to be the thing that’s going that’s going to be very interesting to watch to see how it plays out at center.”

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