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

Weightlifting investigation finds doping cover-ups

Weightlifting
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DÜSSELDORF, Germany (AP) — An investigation into the International Weightlifting Federation has found doping cover-ups and millions of dollars in missing money, lead investigator Richard McLaren said Thursday.

McLaren said 40 positive doping tests were “hidden” in IWF records and that athletes whose cases were delayed or covered up went on to win medals at the world championships and other events. The cases will be referred to the World Anti-Doping Agency.

“We found systematic governance failures and corruption at the highest level of the IWF,” McLaren said.

The International Olympic Committee said it was studying the report “very carefully,” adding that “the content is deeply concerning.”

McLaren said former IWF president Tamas Ajan was “an autocratic leader” who kept the board in the dark about finances and left officials fearing reprisals if they spoke out. Ajan received cash payments on behalf of the IWF as doping fines from national federations or sponsors, the report said, but what happened to some of the money is unclear.

McLaren said $10.4 million was unaccounted for, based on his team’s analysis of cash going in and out of the IWF over several years. Ajan denies any wrongdoing.

The largest fine recorded in the report was $500,000 paid by Azerbaijan. It’s unclear how that payment was made. On one trip to Thailand for a competition and conference, Ajan collected more than $440,000 across 18 cash payments, according to the report.

“Everyone was kept in financial ignorance through the use of hidden bank accounts (and transfers),” McLaren said. “Some cash was accounted for, some was not.”

McLaren said that the investigation found information which law enforcement “might be interested in,” and that he would cooperate with any later investigations. That was echoed by Ajan’s successor at the IWF.

“The activities that have been revealed and the behavior that has occurred in the years past is absolutely unacceptable and possibly criminal,” IWF interim president Ursula Garza Papandrea said.

She added that the IWF will pass on information to law enforcement if it indicates there were “potential crimes.”

McLaren said Ajan “permitted the (federation) elections to be bought by vote brokers” as he kept the presidency and promoted favored officials. Large cash withdrawals were made ahead of federation congresses, McLaren said, adding that voters were bribed and had to take pictures of their ballots to show to brokers.

The 81-year-old Ajan stepped down in April, ending a 20-year reign as president and a total 44 years in federation posts. A month before that he also gave up his honorary membership of the International Olympic Committee.

In a statement to Hungarian state news agency MTI, Ajan said the IWF’s finances were managed in a “lawful” manner with oversight from the board.

“All my life, I’ve abided by the laws, the written and unwritten rules and customs of the sport,” he said.

Ajan accused McLaren’s team of not giving him enough information to respond to the allegations about his conduct.

Ajan was a full IOC member between 2000 and 2010, voting to select Olympic host cities. A previous complaint about IWF finances in 2010 was closed by the IOC.

McLaren’s investigation was sparked in January when German broadcaster ARD reported financial irregularities at the federation and apparent doping cover-ups.

The focus of the investigation was on the period from 2009 through 2019. McLaren said he heard allegations of misconduct dating back as far as the 1980s, but chose to prioritize more recent matters with stronger evidence.

The World Anti-Doping Agency said it welcomed McLaren’s findings.

“Once WADA has had the opportunity to review that evidence as well as the report in full, the Agency will consider the next appropriate steps to take,” it said in a statement.

Some allegations regarding doping misconduct around the 2019 world championships in Thailand and involving athletes from Moldova were passed to the International Testing Agency, which is still investigating.

McLaren, a Canadian law professor, was WADA’s lead investigator for Russian doping and has judged cases at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Weightlifting’s reputation under Ajan had already been hit by dozens of steroid doping cases revealed in retests of samples from the Olympics since 2008.

Since he left office in April, the IWF has begun moving its headquarters from Ajan’s home country of Hungary to the Swiss city of Lausanne, where the International Olympic Committee is based.

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Gwendolyn Berry gets apology from USOPC CEO after reprimand for podium gesture

Gwen Berry
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Olympic hammer thrower Gwendolyn Berry said USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland apologized to her Wednesday “for not understanding the severity of the impact her decisions had on me,” after Berry was put on probation last August for one year after raising her fist at the end of the national anthem at the 2019 Pan American Games.

“I am grateful to Gwen for her time and her honesty last night,” Hirshland said in a statement. “I heard her. I apologized for how my decisions made her feel and also did my best to explain why I made them. Gwen has a powerful voice in this national conversation, and I am sure that together we can use the platform of Olympic and Paralympic sport to address and fight against systematic inequality and racism in our country.”

Berry and fencer Race Imboden were sent August letters of reprimand by Hirshland, along with each receiving probation, after each made a podium gesture at Pan Ams in Peru.

This week, Berry tweeted that she wanted a public apology from Hirshland. That tweet came after Hirshland sent a letter to U.S. athletes on Monday night, condemning “systemic inequality that disproportionately impacts Black Americans in the United States.”

Then on Wednesday night, Berry said she had a “really productive” 40-minute phone call with Hirshland, USATF CEO Max Siegel and other USATF officials.

“I didn’t necessarily ask for [an apology] from [Hirshland],” Berry said Thursday. Berry said she lost two-thirds of her income after Pan Ams, that sponsors dropped her in connection to the raised fist fallout.

“We came to some good conclusions,” Berry said of the group call. “The most important thing were figuring out ways to move forward. [Hirshland] was aware of things that she did and how she made me feel about the situation, and I was happy that I was able to express to her my grievances and she was able to express to me how she felt as well about the situation.”

Berry said her probation, which is believed to still be in effect, wasn’t discussed. She made a point to say that USATF has always been on her side.

“The conversation was more for awareness purposes, and we’ll probably have more conversations this week,” said Berry.

Berry also plans to participate in a U.S. athlete town hall Friday.

“First and foremost, we should and we will discuss how people are just feeling and how people are holding up because athletes in general, because of the pandemic and because of everything that’s been going on, I know a lot of people are in distress, they’re sad, they’re confused,” she said. “I think that’ll be the main point of the discussion. Just to make sure everybody’s OK. Just to see how everybody’s holding on.”

On Aug. 10, Berry raised her fist at the end of the national anthem after winning the Pan American Games title.

The next morning, Berry said the gesture, which drew memories of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico City Games, wasn’t meant to be a big message, but it quickly became a national story.

“Just a testament to everything I’ve been through in the past year, and everything the country has been through this past year,” she said then. “A lot of things need to be done and said and changed. I’m not trying to start a political war or act like I’m miss-know-it-all or anything like that. I just know America can do better.”

Berry said then that the motivation behind her gesture included the challenges overcome of changing coaches and moving from Oxford, Miss., where her family resides, to Houston.

“Every individual person has their own views of things that are going on,” she said. “It’s in the Constitution, freedom of speech. I have a right to feel what I want to feel. It’s no disrespect at all to the country. I want to make that very clear. If anything, I’m doing it out of love and respect for people in the country.”

Berry also said that weekend, according to USA Today, that she was standing for “extreme injustice.”

“Somebody has to talk about the things that are too uncomfortable to talk about. Somebody has to stand for all of the injustices that are going on in America and a president who’s making it worse,” Berry said, according to that report. “It’s too important to not say something. Something has to be said. If nothing is said, nothing will be done, and nothing will be fixed, and nothing will be changed.”

NBC Olympics senior researcher Alex Azzi contributed to this report.

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