Sochi 2014

Olympic Year in Review: Winter Sports

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OlympicTalk takes a look back at the year in Olympic sports this week. Today, we review winter sports.

Alpine Skiing

The year started with Lindsey Vonn ending her rushed bid to come back from right knee surgery to defend her 2010 Olympic downhill title in Sochi. The Winter Games were suddenly without one of their leading women, but others surged in her absence.

Mikaela Shiffrin, a Coloradoan like Vonn, was billed to become the youngest Olympic slalom champion ever. She delivered under that pressure, one month shy of her 19th birthday, and went on to win a second straight World Cup season title in the event. Shiffrin blurted out her dream of winning an unprecedented five Alpine gold medals in 2018, a remark supported by President Barack Obama. She began the 2014-15 World Cup season experiencing growing pains and is in the midst of her longest victory and podium drought since she burst on the scene two years ago.

Slovenia’s Tina Maze, who had the greatest season in skiing history in 2012-13, failed to follow it up in the World Cup season. But she found the magic at the Olympics, winning two gold medals. She’s dominating the World Cup tour again this season, which may be her last.

U.S. men’s stalwarts Ted Ligety and Bode Miller came through in Sochi, too. Ligety won his second Olympic gold medal but first in his signature event, the giant slalom. Miller shared a bronze in the super-G, running his U.S. Olympic skiing record tally to six career medals and making him, at 36, the oldest medalist in Olympic Alpine skiing history.

Both Ligety and Miller were beset by injuries early this season. The hottest U.S. skier is once again Vonn, who has two victories in four races this month since returning from a second knee surgery.

Video: Lindsey Vonn falls, is OK, one day after winning a cow

Figure Skating

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Meryl Davis and Charlie White upgraded their silver medal from 2010. (Getty Images)

No Winter Olympic sport sees more drama than figure skating, and it began well before the Olympics in 2014. Ashley Wagner, the most accomplished U.S. women’s skater since the 2010 Olympics, finished fourth at the U.S. Championships in January and was selected for the three-woman Olympic team over third-place finisher Mirai Nagasu.

Wagner stayed in the spotlight in the debut of the Olympic team competition, when she disagreed with the low scores given to her by judges, her facial expression inspiring a meme. The U.S. took bronze.

Russia prevailed in the team event, setting off a rush of 33 total medals and 13 golds across all sports, leading both medal tallies. The Russians bounced back from 2010, when they won 13 medals with three golds.

The pairs team of Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov prevailed as predicted, but what was unexpected was the performance of Adelina Sotnikova. The 17-year-old controversially outpointed South Korean Yuna Kim, in Kim’s farewell, to become the first women’s Olympic champion with zero prior World Championships medals.

Meryl Davis and Charlie White became the first U.S. Olympic ice dance champions, capping a nearly two-year undefeated run in what may have been their final competition.

Yuzuru Hanyu became Japan’s first men’s Olympic champion, emerging, with two falls, from a group of forgettable free skates. Four-time Olympic medalist Yevgeny Plushenko withdrew before the short program, citing a back injury, but hasn’t ruled out a run to 2018.

Video: Ashley Wagner denies Russian sweep at Grand Prix Final

Freestyle Skiing

In moguls, 2010 Olympic champions Hannah Kearney and Alexandre Bilodeau were both aiming to become the first freestyle skier to win multiple Olympic gold medals.

Kearney appeared a better shot going into Sochi, but she bobbled in the final and accepted a bronze medal with tears. Bilodeau, who in 2010 became the first Canadian to win gold on home soil, upset countryman Mikael Kingsbury two nights later to become the first back-to-back Olympic champion freestyle skier. He then retired to become an accountant.

Belarusians swept the aerials golds, and France swept the women’s ski cross podium, but the U.S. dominated in the new events of ski halfpipe and ski slopestyle, winning half of the 12 available medals.

Maddie Bowman and David Wise made the best of a criticized Sochi halfpipe to win golds. Devin Logan added slopestyle silver.

Men’s slopestyle provided the performance of the Games for the U.S. Olympic team. Joss Christensen, Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper made it an American medal sweep for the third time in any event in Winter Olympic history. Kenworthy brought home five stray puppies with his silver medal. Christensen basked in the glow of his gold in Sarajevo, where he was bitten by a dog and, fearing he might have rabies, required more than 30 shots.

Thanks in large part to freestyle skiers, the U.S. secured second place in the overall medal standings. Its 28 medals marked its highest total at a non-North American Winter Games.

Joss Christensen becomes ‘mountain man’ since Sochi

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Ole Einar Bjoerndalen didn’t retire after Sochi. He plans to compete through 2016. (Getty Images)

Nordic Skiing

The U.S. won zero medals across biathlon, cross-country skiing, Nordic combined and ski jumping.

In biathlon, Norway’s Ole Einar Bjoerndalen won two gold medals at age 40 to give him 13 for his career, the most of any Winter Olympian ever.

Belarus’ Darya Domracheva one-upped Bjoerndalen with three gold medals, all in individual events, something no other athlete did in Sochi.

In cross-country skiing, Norway’s biggest star, the enigmatic Petter Northug, left Sochi with zero medals. As did the U.S.’ hope to win its first cross-country medal in 38 years, Kikkan Randall.

The U.S. Nordic combined team, which won its first Olympic medals in 2010, four of them, was also shut out. All was not lost. Todd Lodwick, the U.S. flag bearer for the Opening Ceremony, became the first American to compete in six Winter Olympics. In November, Bill Demong ran the New York City Marathon in 2 hours, 33 minutes.

The indelible U.S. memory came in ski jumping, where 2013 World champion Sarah Hendrickson became the first woman to jump in Olympic competition. Women’s ski jumpers had fought for more than a decade to join men in the Olympics. Hendrickson, 20, had fought through five months of rehab after tearing her ACL, MCL and meniscus in a crash just to make the Olympic team.

Sliding Sports

Let’s start with skeleton. Noelle Pikus-Pace won silver in Sochi, but it felt like gold after a career filled with emotional marks — her leg shattered by a bobsled in 2005, having her first child, Lacee, in 2008, missing an Olympic medal in 2010 by one tenth of a second, retirement, her second child, Traycen, in 2011, a miscarriage in 2012 and unretirement.

In Sochi, Pikus-Pace memorably leaped over a wall after finishing her athletic career and embraced her family. She wrote a book shortly thereafter — “Focused” — and had another miscarriage.

Pikus-Pace let the tears flow at the Sanki Sliding Center. Her teammate, John Daly, fought them back the next night. Daly’s medal hopes evaporated with a slip at the start of his final run. His sled came out of a groove in the ice, and he plummeted to 15th. American Matthew Antoine won bronze instead. Daly, like Pikus-Pace, retired after the Olympics.

Germany swept the luge golds, amid an otherwise disappointing Olympics for the winter powerhouse nation. Erin Hamlin bagged bronze, the first U.S. Olympic singles luge medal.

In bobsled, Steven Holcomb added two bronze medals to his four-man gold from 2010 and began the following season with a new crew of push athletes. Canada’s Kaillie Humphries came back to beat U.S. training partner Elana Meyers Taylor for women’s gold. This season, Humphries and Meyers Taylor made history as the first women to drive four-man sleds in international competition.

Also in bobsled, Lauryn Williams and Lolo Jones became the ninth and 10th Americans to compete in both a Summer and Winter Games. Williams won silver pushing for Meyers Taylor, becoming the fifth athlete to win Summer and Winter medals. Williams all but retired but returned to the U.S. Bobsled team for part-time duty this year. Jones, still chasing that elusive medal, is focused on making her third Summer Olympic team in the 100m hurdles in 2016.

Video: Noelle Pikus-Pace gives inspiring Ted Talk

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Shaun White had a forgettable Olympics and hasn’t competed since. (Getty Images)

Snowboarding

Shaun White, the only Sochi Olympian with more than one million Twitter followers, came to Russia hoping to win two gold medals.

He left with no medals, pulling out of slopestyle the day before the competition and uncharacteristically erring in halfpipe, taking fourth behind new king Iouri Podladtchikov, the Russian-born Swiss.

White, who also plays guitar in a band, insists he’s looking toward a fourth Olympics in 2018, but he has not competed since Sochi.

Younger U.S. stars emerged, including the first slopestyle gold medalists Sage Kotsenburg and Jamie Anderson, whose infectious personalities set the tone on the first weekend of the Olympics.

Kaitlyn Farrington, a doubt to make the U.S. Olympic team, upset Kelly Clark and Torah Bright in the women’s halfpipe. Perhaps the most awe-inspiring snowboarder of 2014 was too young for the Sochi Olympics. Chloe Kim, born in 2000, sandwiched between Clark and Farrington at the Winter X Games.

In snowboard cross, two-time Olympic champion Seth Wescott failed to make the U.S. Olympic team, ceding the spotlight to bronze medalist Alex Deibold. Lindsey Jacobellis, who gave up a gold medal due to a fall on a celebratory move in 2006, was eliminated in the semifinals for a second straight Olympics.

Vic Wild became the only U.S.-born athlete to win multiple gold medals in Sochi. He did so in Alpine snowboarding representing the host nation, having married a Russian snowboarder (who won a bronze in parallel giant slalom).

Speed Skating

Dutch dominance enveloped the Adler Arena. The Netherlands won 23 of a possible 32 long-track speed skating medals in one of the greatest single-sport performances by one nation in Olympic history.

Ireen Wuest stood out the most, winning five medals, the most of any athlete at the Games. She crushed the field at the World Allround Championships a month later and earned global awards by year’s end.

In extreme contrast, the U.S. suffered, winning zero long track medals for the first time since 1984. Was it the scrutinized skin suits introduced in Sochi? Pre-Olympic training methods? A new skate-sharpening system? There was no consensus.

Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe bounced back to start the 2014-15 World Cup season, while two-time Olympic champion Shani Davis is more slowly working his way back from a deep disappointment.

Another traditional power flopped in short track. The South Korean men won zero medals, while South Korean-born Viktor Ahn totaled four, including three golds, for his new nation — Russia.

Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, Ireen Wuest lead Olympic award winners

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Canada went 50 years between men’s hockey golds from 1952 to 2002. Now, they’ve won three of the last four titles. (Getty Images)

Team Sports

Canada swept the four team sports titles in Sochi. The men’s and women’s curling and hockey teams combined to go 27-2.

The women provided the most excitement. Jennifer Jones skipped the first undefeated women’s rink in Olympic history. Marie-Philip Poulin broke the U.S. women’s hockey team’s hearts for a second straight Olympics, tying the gold-medal game with 55 seconds left and winning it in overtime.

The men’s hockey tournament will best be remembered for T.J. Oshie‘s shootout heroics in a U.S. group-stage win over Russia. Neither nation won a medal, though.

The climax of the Sochi Paralympics was the U.S.-Russia sled hockey final. The Americans won 1-0 on a goal from Josh Sweeney, a bilateral amputee injured by an improvised explosive device in October 2009 while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps in Afghanistan.

Olympic Year in Review: Summer Sports

Adam Jones, five-time MLB All-Star, becomes Olympic eligible

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Should the U.S. qualify for baseball’s Olympic return, a five-time MLB All-Star could be eligible for its roster in Tokyo. And he has interest.

Outfielder Adam Jones signed with the Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s domestic league, which, unlike MLB, will take an Olympic break next summer to allow players to take part in the first Olympic baseball tournament in 12 years.

Jones, 34, made no mention of Olympic eligibility in a social media post announcing the signing. His Instagram avatar is a photo of him in a Team USA jersey from the World Baseball Classic.

Jones’ agent later said that Jones does have interest in playing for the U.S. in Tokyo, should an American team qualify in the spring.

“To play over in Japan has always been a desire of Adam’s, and the timing worked out that the Olympics happens to be played in Tokyo the first year of his contract,” Jones’ agent wrote in an email. “It wasn’t one of the factors on his decision BUT more of a [sic] addition to the overall package to decide to go.”

Jones called being part of the U.S.’ 2017 WBC title, “probably the best experience of my life so far, especially with sports,” according to The Associated Press. He was one of five players to be on the U.S. team at each of the last two World Baseball Classics.

The U.S. still faces a difficult task to qualify for the Tokyo Games. It lost to Mexico last month in its first of up to three chances at qualifying tournaments, using a roster of mostly double-A and triple-A caliber players.

Major Leaguers are not expected to be made available for qualifying or for the Tokyo Games.

The next two qualifying tournaments will be in late March (an Americas qualifier in Arizona) and early April (a final, global qualifying event in Chinese Taipei). It remains to be seen how MLB clubs will go about releasing minor leaguers for a tournament that will take place during spring training.

Jones could become the third player with prior MLB All-Star experience to compete at the Olympics from any nation, joining Australian catcher Dave Nilsson and Canadian pitcher Jason Dickson.

Jones made five All-Star teams during an 11-year stint with the Baltimore Orioles from 2008-18 before playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season.

Many players competed at the Olympics before making an MLB All-Star team, including Stephen Strasburg and Jason Giambi.

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Russia boxers to boycott Olympics if sanctions not lifted

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Russian boxers will only take part in the Tokyo Olympics if doping sanctions forcing them to compete as neutral athletes are overturned, the general secretary of the Russian Boxing Federation told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Umar Kremlev said he has spoken with the Olympic boxing team and they “unanimously” rejected the conditions laid out by the World Anti-Doping Agency as punishment for manipulating doping data.

The WADA sanctions, announced on Monday, ban the use of the Russian team name, flag or anthem at a range of major sports competitions over the next four years, including next year’s Olympics.

“They said we won’t go without our flag and anthem,” Kremlev said. “We aren’t going for medals, but for that feeling that I brought the highest honor home for my country.”

Separately, the speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament said Russia could create an alternative to the Olympics.

“This ruling show the clear crisis in international sports institutions. I believe that Russia could host its own games at home,” Valentina Matvienko said in comments reported by the Interfax news agency.

There is a precedent. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Soviet Union refused to compete in the Olympics and hosted its own Spartakiads — named after the ancient rebel slave Spartacus — with a strong socialist slant. However, the Soviet Union began competing at the Olympics in 1952 and Russians generally take great pride in the country’s Olympic achievements since then.

If the sanctions aren’t overturned, Kremlev said Russian boxers would prefer to turn pro rather than compete at the Olympics.

“A world champion (in professional boxing) is better known than an Olympic champion,” Kremlev said, adding the Russian anthem would be played before pro title fights.

Kremlev said boxers are being asked to shoulder the blame for offenses committed in other sports. He said they would still stay at home even if Russia’s athletes in other sports decided to take part.

“If other sports are guilty and people have breached the WADA code, why are we punished?” he said. “We are for honest sport and against doping. We want our sport to be clean … If someone breaks the rules, we push them out.”

Russia is a major power in amateur and Olympic boxing. It hosted both men’s and women’s world championships this year, finishing at the top of the medals table at the women’s event and second in the men’s championships. The International Olympic Committee has taken direct charge of boxing at the Tokyo Olympics after criticizing chronic financial problems and infighting at the International Boxing Association.

Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov talked up Russia’s chances of overturning the WADA sanctions.

“I think that there is every basis to appeal the decision, because our experts have presented their position, and they have the same database as WADA does,” Kolobkov said in comments reported by state news agency TASS. “There is an answer to every question and the whole process is ahead of us.”

The official decision on whether to dispute the sanctions will be made on Dec. 19 by the Russian anti-doping agency’s supervisory board, but senior figures, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, have signaled their preference for taking the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

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