Jurgen Klinsmann, Olympic bronze medalist, focuses on U.S. Soccer qualifying for Rio

Jurgen Klinsmann
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Jurgen Klinsmann won a pair of international prizes in his German playing career that he would like to deliver to the U.S. Soccer program — a World Cup, of course, but also an Olympic medal.

Klinsmann, a member of the 1988 West German Olympic team that won bronze in Seoul (pictured to the right), said “the main task for 2015 definitely is the Olympic team,” according to reports citing audio distributed by U.S. Soccer.

Klinsmann coaches the U.S. Men’s National Team that’s eyeing the 2015 Gold Cup, but as U.S. Soccer’s technical director he realizes the importance of the Olympics.

The Olympic team will not be the World Cup-level senior national team, but instead at least primarily — if not wholly — members of the Under-23 team that does not currently have a full-time head coach.

The U.S. U23 team cruelly missed the 2012 Olympics, giving up a stoppage-time goal in CONCACAF qualifying to El Salvador when it was seconds away from advancing to a winner-goes-to-London match.

“We want to make sure what happened with London 2012 doesn’t happen again,” Klinsmann said.

The U.S. hasn’t won an Olympic men’s soccer medal since 1904, when only three teams competed at the St. Louis Games. Two of those three were U.S. teams.

Klinsmann’s “main task for 2015” comment is particularly interesting given the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament is not scheduled to happen in 2015, but instead in March 2016, according to this Olympic soccer qualifying procedure document.

Qualifying could be easier this time around. In 2012, CONCACAF had two berths for the Olympics. In 2016, it gets 2.5, meaning the third-place nation from the Olympic qualifying tournament will play a South American nation in a winner-goes-to-Rio match.

At the Seoul 1988 Olympics, Klinsmann was 24 years old when he scored a hat trick for West Germany to beat Zambia in the quarterfinals (highlights here). Zambia had shocked Italy 4-0 earlier in the tournament.

West Germany went on to lose to Brazil in the semifinals. Brazil’s roster included the great Romario, whose late equalizer helped force the Brazil-West Germany match to a penalty shootout. Klinsmann’s penalty kick struck the post (watch here). West Germany beat Italy in the bronze-medal match.

Two years later, Klinsmann and West Germany won the World Cup.

If the 1988 Olympics were played under today’s Olympic rules, Klinsmann might not have been on the team. The 1988 Olympics were the last Games before the 23-and-under rule was instituted.

If the U.S. qualifies for the Rio Olympics, its roster must be made up of players who will be no older than 23 in 2016 — with three exceptions for over-age players.

Nations have added stars with those exceptions — such as Ryan Giggs for Team Great Britain and Thiago Silva and Hulk for Brazil in 2012.

In 2008, the U.S. added three-time World Cup forward Brian McBride as an over-age player, two years after his retirement from the senior national team. That was before Klinsmann joined the program.

In 2016, the U.S. could put 2014 World Cup players John Brooks, Julian Green and DeAndre Yedlin on the Olympic roster without using over-age spots.

15 Olympic sports events to watch in 2015

Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara
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Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)
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There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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