US Speedskating report on Sochi to be finalized shortly

Speedskating
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A number of issues contributed to U.S. speed skaters’ poor results in Sochi, including pre-Olympic travel, the new skin suit and a new skate sharpening system, the US Speedskating executive director told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“Certainly, there’s no silver bullet,” US Speedskating executive director Ted Morris told the newspaper. “There were several factors that led to our lack of performance in Sochi. The good news is that in identifying them we can put together a really good plan for Korea [2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang].”

U.S. speed skaters were expected to rack up medals in Sochi, led by Olympic and world medalists Shani Davis and Heather Richardson. Americans won zero medals with a top individual finish of seventh place.

The U.S. has historically won more medals in speed skating than any other Winter Olympic sport and finished off the podium altogether for the first time since the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Games.

Immediate blame was placed on an Under Armour racing suit billed as the fastest in the world, different from the suits that U.S. skaters wore during a successful World Cup season leading into the Olympics. Skaters reverted to the old suits during the Olympics, but results didn’t get any better.

A new skate sharpening system was also introduced, but that did not receive nearly the same attention.

“That backfired on us, without a doubt,” Morris told the newspaper. “Our athletes did not feel comfortable with the suits or the polish.

“Obviously, as we plan for the future if we have ‘secret weapons’ we want our athletes competing in them before the Olympics.”

Also scrutinized was the decision to hold a pre-Olympic training camp in Collalbo, Italy, outdoors and up in the mountains. The Sochi Olympic speed skating venue was indoors and near sea level.

“Collalbo probably was not the right place to go based on the weather conditions,” Morris told the newspaper. “It was helpful for us from a team-building aspect. … But with the cold weather and the fluctuation in the ice conditions it was not the ideal place to be able to peak from an on-ice standpoint.”

US Speedskating, the U.S. Olympic Committee and outside experts spent weeks since Sochi dissecting what went wrong. A report is expected to be finalized within a few days, Morris told the newspaper.

“It became fairly clear that a majority of our athletes for whatever reasons just did not peak at the Olympics,” Morris said. “We saw that in testing of their physical strength, including at the Olympics, and we saw it from a performance standpoint on the ice.”

Travel might have been too excessive. Not only did the team gather in Collalbo, but some skaters also traveled to Japan for the World Sprint Championships in January and the team also went to Munich for U.S. Olympic Team processing just before the Games.

U.S. skaters won a combined 11 medals at two World Cup stops after the Olympics to close the 2013-14 season.

The four-time Olympic medalist Davis will be 35 years old come 2018. The top U.S. women, Richardson and Brittany Bowe, will be 28 and 29.

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In a tie, Wendy Holdener puts to rest a remarkable stat in Alpine skiing

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Swiss Wendy Holdener ended one of the most remarkable victory droughts in sports by tying for the win with Swede Anna Swenn Larsson in a World Cup slalom in Killington, Vermont, on Sunday.

Holdener, after 15 second-place finishes and 15 third-place finishes in her career, stood on the top step of a World Cup slalom podium for the first time. She shared it with Swenn Larsson, who had six World Cup slalom podiums before Sunday and also earned her first win.

They beat Austrian Katharina Truppe by .22 of a second combining times from two runs.

ALPINE SKIING: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

Holdener, 29, previously won three World Cups in other disciplines, plus two world championships in the combined and Olympic and world titles in the team event.

“To be tied first when I came into the finish was such a relief,” Holdener said while shoulder to shoulder with Swenn Larsson. “On the end, it’s perfect, because now we can share our first win together.”

Mikaela Shiffrin had the best first-run time but lost her lead midway through the second run and finished fifth. Shiffrin, who won the first two slaloms this season last weekend, was bidding for a 50th World Cup slalom victory and a sixth win in six slaloms in Killington.

“I fought. I think some spots I got a little bit off my timing, but I was pushing, and that’s slalom,” she said before turning her attention to Holdener and Swenn Larsson. “It’s a pretty special day, actually.”

The women’s Alpine skiing World Cup moves next weekend to Lake Louise, Alberta, with two downhills and a super-G.

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Injured Ilia Malinin wins Grand Prix Finland, qualifies for Grand Prix Final

Ilia Malinin
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Ilia Malinin, competing “a little bit injured” this week, still won Grand Prix Finland and goes into the Grand Prix Final in two weeks as the world’s top-ranked male singles skater.

Malinin, who was second after Friday’s short program, landed four clean quadruple jumps in Saturday’s free skate to overtake Frenchman Kevin Aymoz.

Malinin, who landed a quad flip in competition for the first time, according to SkatingScores.com, also attempted a quad Axel to open his program, but spun out of the landing and put his hand down on the ice.

Malinin also won his previous two starts this season in come-from-behind fashion. The 17-year-old world junior champion became the first skater to land a clean, fully rotated quad Axel in September, then did it again in October at Skate America, where he posted the world’s top overall score this season.

Next, Malinin can become the second-youngest man to win the Grand Prix Final after Russian Yevgeny Plushenko. His biggest competition is likely to be world champion Shoma Uno of Japan, who like Malinin won both of his Grand Prix starts this fall. Malinin and Uno have not gone head-to-head this season.

Grand Prix Finland highlights air on NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

FIGURE SKATING: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Earlier, Japan’s Mai Mihara overtook world silver medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium to become the only woman to win both of her Grand Prix starts this season. Mihara prevailed by .23 of a point. The top three women this season by best total score are Japanese, led by a junior skater, 14-year-old Mao Shimada, who isn’t Olympic age-eligible until 2030.

Mihara and Hendrickx qualified for the Grand Prix Final, joining world champion Kaori Sakamoto and Rinka Watanabe, both of Japan, South Korean Yelim Kim and American Isabeau Levito, the world junior champion.

Italians Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini won both pairs’ programs and qualified for their first Grand Prix Final.

Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara and Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier headline the Final. Both pairs won each of their Grand Prix starts earlier this fall. The Japanese have the world’s two best scores this season. The Americans are reigning world champions.

At least one Russian or Chinese pair made every Grand Prix Final podium — usually pairs from both countries — but neither nation competed in pairs this Grand Prix season. All Russian skaters are banned due to the war in Ukraine. China’s lone entry on the Grand Prix across all disciplines was an ice dance couple.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier improved on their world-leading score for this season in winning the ice dance by 17.03 points over Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. Both couples qualified for the Grand Prix Final in the absence of all three Olympic medalists this fall.

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