Noelle Pikus-Pace

Noelle Pikus-Pace: I already miss skeleton, but happily retired

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NEW YORK — Noelle Pikus-Pace misses jumping head first onto a sled and speeding 90 mph down an icy chute.

She won skeleton silver at the Sochi Olympics eight months ago. Her home track in Park City, Utah, hasn’t opened for the winter season yet. Pikus-Pace plans to travel to the track at Utah Olympic Park in a couple of weeks.

“We’ll see if I get on my sled or not,” she said, breaking into a laugh. “I don’t know.”

Pikus-Pace first retired after the 2010 Olympics, but a year and a half later she found herself at that same Park City track. Her husband, Janson, challenged her to take one last run. She obliged, and it sparked a comeback.

Pikus-Pace, 31, insists she is happily retired after her emotional performance in Russia, returning from a fourth-place finish at Vancouver 2010, that retirement, having her second child and just about climbing to the top of her sport.

“It will be hard to just turn and walk away from it, but I think everybody needs to know when it’s time to move on, and I feel like I’ve done what I needed to do,” Pikus-Pace said Wednesday night at the Women’s Sports Foundation awards on Wall Street, where she received the Wilma Rudolph Courage award.

She’s watched her Olympic runs plenty of times in the last eight months.

“I get those emotions every time I see it,” she said. “It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve seen it.”

Pikus-Pace slid into a new career — motivational speaking. She shared her message of perseverance to events and groups such as Time Out for Women in Sacramento, Calif., the Utah Technology Council and Monroe Middle School in Wheaton, Ill.

source:  She was approached to write a book the day after she returned from Sochi, spent copious amounts of airline time writing it, turned in a draft in April and saw it released last month. “Focused: Keeping Your Life on Track, One Choice at a Time,” is 137 pages.

Now, she’s doing more personal book signings, where people tell her she inspired them to overcome struggles in their lives. Pikus-Pace recently did a double take driving around a mountain near her home.

“It was a big picture of my face on this billboard,” she said. “It was to market my book. I didn’t even know they were promoting it that way.”

The book was high on her post-Olympic bucket list. Also on it?

* See the Aurora Borealis in Alaska
* Develop fluent Spanish
* Learn sign language
* Run a half-marathon
* Learn to play the guitar
* Help her kids, Traycen and Lacee, reach their dreams
* Have more kids

“[Having kids] is not very aerodynamic for our sport,” she said, “so I can’t really come back.”

Traycen, 3, is in preschool. Lacee, 6, is in first grade and playing the piano. You may remember Lacee taking skeleton runs last season. Pikus-Pace joked she would prefer Lacee choose a different sport.

“Tennis, golf,” she said. “Something more lucrative and in the sun.”

J.R. Celski not on U.S. short track team for World Cup

At U.S. Open swim meet, teens make a splash with Olympic trials on horizon

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While Olympic and world champions Katie LedeckySimone Manuel and Chase Kalisz notched expected victories at the U.S. Open on Thursday, a trio of teenagers lowered personal bests to further establish their Tokyo Olympic hopes.

At the top domestic meet of the winter, Alex WalshCarson Foster and Kieran Smith each earned runner-up finishes, but their performances stood out in the big picture: looking at June’s Olympic trials, where the top two per individual event make the team.

Walsh, a rising Nashville high school senior, took 2.23 seconds off her 200m individual medley best. She clocked 2:09.01, overtaken by .17 by Melanie Margalis, the Rio Olympic and 2019 World Championships fourth-place finisher.

Full meet results are here.

Walsh moved from fifth-fastest in the U.S. this year to No. 2 behind Margalis, passing Olympic and world championships veterans Ella EastinKathleen Baker and Madisyn Cox. Of those swimmers, only Eastin was also in Thursday’s final.

Walsh joined her younger sister, Gretchen, in Olympic qualifying position based on 2019 times. Gretchen, 16, ranks fourth in the U.S. in the 100m free this year. The top six in that event at trials are in line to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool.

The Walshes could become the third set of sisters to make the same U.S. Olympic swim team, and the second to do it in pool swimming after Dana and Tara Kirk in 2004.

Foster, 18, continued his ascent Thursday in taking second to Kalisz in the men’s 200m IM. The world junior champion lowered his personal best in the prelims and the final, getting down to 1:57.59. Foster passed Ryan Lochte, who is nearly twice his age, in Thursday’s final and in the 2019 U.S. rankings. Only Kalisz and Michael Andrew have been faster among Americans this year.

Foster is trying to become the youngest U.S. Olympic male swimmer since 2000, when a 15-year-old Michael Phelps made his Olympic debut. Foster, who has been breaking Phelps national age-group records since he was 10, committed to the University of Texas in March 2018, two years before he graduates high school in Ohio.

Then there’s Kieran Smith, now a prime candidate to fill a huge void in the 400m freestyle. Zane Grothe is the only American ranked in the top 20 in the world this year.

Smith, a 19-year-old from the University of Florida, took 2.29 seconds off his lifetime best on Thursday to jump from outside the top 10 to No. 2 in the U.S. on the year. Smith was already ranked No. 2 in the country in the 200m free.

Two more runners-up in the 50m freestyles — Erika Brown to Manuel and Zach Apple to Brazilian Bruno Fratus — lowered personal bests to move to No. 3 in each U.S. ranking list this year.

The U.S. Open continues Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. ET with live coverage on NBCSN and streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

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Nathan Chen distances Yuzuru Hanyu in Grand Prix Final short program

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A brilliant Nathan Chen outscored a flawed Yuzuru Hanyu for a fourth straight head-to-head program, taking a 12.95-point lead at the Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy, on Thursday.

Chen, the two-time reigning world champion, tallied 110.38 points going into Saturday’s free skate. He landed a quadruple Lutz, triple Axel and quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination.

It’s the highest short program score in the world this season, leading the American to say “wow” in the kiss-and-cry area. His coach, the often-gruff Rafael Arutyunyan, banged his knee against his pupil’s.

Hanyu, the two-time reigning Olympic champion, hit a quadruple Salchow and triple Axel but then stepped out of a quad toe landing. He therefore failed to include a required jumping combination and ended up in second place.

“I wanted to do a great performance and do a good competition against [Chen], but that didn’t happen this time,” Hanyu, who was without longtime coach Brian Orser, or any other coach, said through a translator. Hanyu said Orser was busy last week, so he chose to use his lone accreditation on another coach who had travel delays.

Hanyu is not out of title contention. His world-leading free skate score this season is 16.61 points better than Chen’s best free skate from the fall Grand Prix Series.

Chen is undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics, but this is just his second head-to-head with Hanyu in that span. Chen defeated Hanyu at March’s world championships, where the Japanese megastar was likely affected by an ankle injury.

After Thursday’s program, Chen repeated what he said before the competition: he still feels like he’s chasing Hanyu.

“Yuzu is like the goat, he’s the greatest of all time, really,” Chen said. “So, to have this opportunity to be able to share the ice with a guy like that, someone that I’ve looked up to for a long time, someone that I’ve watched grow up through the junior ranks when I was like a baby, it’s really cool to be able see him now. It’s really cool to even just be able to see him person.”

The Grand Prix Final, the biggest annual event outside the world championships, continues Friday with the rhythm dance, women’s short and pairs’ free skate. A full TV and live stream schedule is here.

Earlier in pairs, Chinese Sui Wenjing and Han Cong took their first step toward a first Grand Prix Final title. The Olympic silver medalists tallied 77.50, leading Russians Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitriy Kozlovskiy by .85 going into Friday’s free skate.

Sui and Han were imperfect, with Sui putting her hand down on a throw triple flip landing. They are undefeated in this Beijing Olympic cycle and own the world’s top total score this season.

The U.S. failed to qualify a pair for the six-team Final for the 11th time in the last 12 years.

Grand Prix Final
Men’s Short Program
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 110.38
2. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 97.43
3. Kevin Aymoz (FRA) — 96.71
4. Dmitriy Aliyev (RUS) — 88.78
5. Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 81.32
6. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 80.67

Pairs’ Short Program
1. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 77.50
2. Aleksandra Boikova / Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 76.65
3. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 75.16
4. Anastasia Mishina/Aleksandr Galliamov (RUS) — 71.48
5. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 69.67
6. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN) — 67.08

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