Heather Richardson

U.S. speed skaters excel at first post-Olympic World Cup

Leave a comment

U.S. speed skaters quickly corrected whatever went wrong at the Olympics.

Heather Richardson and Brian Hansen won races on the final day of World Cup competition in Inzell, Germany, on Sunday. Brittany Bowe added a second-place finish, giving the U.S. eight podium finishes in Inzell after zero medals at the Sochi Olympics.

The Netherlands, which won 23 of 36 speed skating medals in Sochi, had 14 podium finishes in Inzell. It was the only nation better than the U.S. in three days of races.

The two most common explanations for the U.S. struggles in Sochi were a) a new skin suit billed as the fastest in the world that was thrown out after early struggles and b) the fact that most skaters trained at altitude (and a pre-Olympic training camp at altitude in Collalbo, Italy) and the Olympics were held at sea level.

However, U.S. skaters didn’t perform much different in Sochi after they switched to their old suits that brought them so much success in the World Cup season before the Olympics. They were still in the old suits in Inzell.

Inzell is about a half-mile high in elevation, but the U.S. performed well at a World Cup in Berlin in January that wasn’t much above sea level. Plus, some skaters, such as Hansen in Milwaukee, don’t train at elevation.

So what the heck happened in Sochi?

“I think we’re all asking ourselves that same question,” Hansen told Dutch media outlet NOS after his win Sunday. “We all know we were better than we performed in Sochi.

“Was it the skin suit? Was it Collalbo? Was it a coincidence? We don’t know.”

Richardson, who finished eighth and seventh in the 500m and 1000m in Sochi, won both 500m races and the 1000m in Inzell this weekend. She and Bowe went one-two in the 1000m on Sunday.

Bowe, who was eighth and 14th in the 1000m and 1500m at the Olympics, also took third in the 1500m on Friday.

Hansen, who finished ninth and seventh in the 1000m and 1500m at the Olympics, took third in the 1000m on Saturday and won the 1500m in Inzell on Sunday.

“I’m pretty pumped,” Hansen said, holding a piece of paper with the phrase “Happy birthday mom” written in marker. “A little bit bittersweet knowing it was right after the Olympics. I’d rather have this than nothing at all.”

Four-time Olympic medalist Shani Davis, who was eighth in the 1000m and 11th in the 1500m at the Olympics, won the 1000m on Saturday and finished fourth behind Hansen in the 1500m on Sunday.

“There’s a lot of mixed feelings,” Davis told NOS on Saturday. “I’m still really depressed about my past results, but I’m happy that I can still race the 1000m at the highest level.

“It lets me know in my heart that it wasn’t me [in Sochi]. This was Shani that should have been two weeks ago.”

The speed skating World Cup concludes in Heerenveen, Netherlands, next weekend.

Inzell Men’s 500m 2
1. Jan Smeekens (NED) 34.91
2. Nico Ihle (GER) 34.97
3. Michel Mulder (NED) 35.00
10. Tucker Fredricks (USA) 35.21
15. Mitchell Whitmore (USA) 35.36

Women’s 1000m
1. Heather Richardson (USA) 1:14.87
2. Brittany Bowe (USA) 1:15.26
3. Olga Fatkulina (RUS) 1:15.34
18. Sugar Todd (USA) 1:18.03

Men’s 1500m
1. Brian Hansen (USA) 1:44.58
2. Denny Morrison (CAN) 1:45.28
3. Koen Verweij (NED) 1:45.68
4. Shani Davis (USA) 1:45.72

Women’s mass start
1. Claudia Pechstein (GER)
2. Janneke Ensing (NED)
3. Irene Schouten (NED)
7. Maria Lamb (USA)

German wins World Cup slalom 3 weeks after car crash

Simone Biles returns to the gym, going from mental drain to physical pain

Getty Images
Leave a comment

For Simone Biles, this was supposed to be the stretch run of a legendary career.

Instead, she returned to her gym on May 18 with long-term thoughts of waiting 14 months until the Tokyo Olympics. And the immediate aches of a world-class gymnast who just missed nearly two months of regular training.

“After that amount of time off, it kind of sucks because your body hurts and then you get really sore,” Biles said in a pre-recorded ESPNW interview that aired Thursday. “So you just have to get back into the swing of things. But it felt nice to see my coaches, my teammates, and just to be back on the equipment and in the environment.”

In that same Texas gym three months ago, Biles had a far different outlook. One that would have put fear into any gymnast who still harbored ambition of ending her near-seven-year win streak.

“I never felt more ready this early in the season,” she said. “I was so ready for the Olympics to be this year.”

Biles repeated in interviews the last two months that the Olympic postponement to 2021 was devastating. Thoughts zig-zagged: How do I go on another year, at age 23, in a sport recently dominated by (but not limited to) teenagers?

“I’m getting pretty old,” she said in the interview published Thursday. “Will I be at the top of my game?”

Biles proved the last two years — after a year off — that she can win — and comfortably — while not at her best. She grabbed the 2018 World all-around title by a record margin — with two falls. Last year, she became the most decorated gymnast in world championships history. In Tokyo, she can become the first woman to repeat as Olympic all-around champion, and the only one older than 20, in more than 50 years.

This for a gymnast whose early goal was to earn a college scholarship. Biles did, to UCLA, but had to give it up by turning professional.

“So I’ve exceeded that,” Biles said. “And then I wanted to go to world championships and Olympics, and I’ve been to five worlds and one Olympic Games. So, I’d be more than happy [to walk away].”

After gymnastics, Biles has another goal — to be a voice for foster kids. She was in foster care multiple times before being adopted at age 6 by grandparents Ron and Nellie.

Those plans, along with so much else for Biles and so many others, have been pushed back a full year.

“I was already being mentally drained and almost, not done with the sport, but just going into the gym and feeling tired and being like, OK, I’m going to get my stuff [done], get out,” she said. “We have this one end goal, and now that it’s postponed another [year], it’s just like, how are we going to deal with that? We’re already being drained, and so it’s to keep the fire in the sport within yourself alive.”

MORE: Top U.S. gymnasts disagree with Tokyo Olympic age rule

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

2022 Pan Pacific Championships canceled as swimming calendar shifts

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, a quadrennial major international meet, will not be held in 2022 “out of respect for the recent changes to the international sporting calendar,” according to a press release.

The Pan Pacs’ charter nations — the U.S., Australia, Canada and Japan — agreed to the move. The 2026 event will be held in Canada, which was supposed to be the 2022 host.

The decision came after the 2021 World Championships were moved to May 2022, following the Tokyo Olympics moving from 2020 to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The quadrennial multi-sport Commonwealth Games — which includes Australia and Canada, but not the U.S. or Japan — are scheduled for July 27-Aug. 7, 2022.

“Organizing a third major championships in that window presented several challenges,” according to the Pan Pacs release.

Pan Pacs mark the third-biggest major international meet for U.S. swimmers, held in non-Olympic, non-world championships years.

MORE: Caeleb Dressel co-hosts a podcast. It’s not about swimming.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!