KC Boutiette returns to World Cup speed skating for first time since 2006

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Four-time Olympian KC Boutiette, inspired to come out of retirement by a U.S. Olympic legend, will skate in an international race for the first time since the 2006 Olympics on Saturday.

Boutiette, 44, pioneered the inline invasion to speed skating in the 1990s, making his Olympic debut at the Lillehammer 1994 Winter Games, perhaps the greatest Olympics ever and certainly the most memorable in speed skating. His best Olympic finish was fifth.

Boutiette will return to compete this weekend to that same site, made famous by triumphs from Bonnie BlairDan Jansen and Johann Olav Koss 21 years ago.

He is the oldest member of the US Speedskating team at a World Cup competition at the hallowed Viking Ship in Hamar, Norway. He is entered in the 5000m on Saturday and the 1500m and mass start on Sunday.

“I’m not anywhere near what I used to be,” Boutiette, two decades removed from skating with his tongue pierced and bleached blond hair, said in a phone interview. “It’s like I’m starting over. It’s almost like my first year of skating again.”

It began in five-time 1980 Olympic speed skating champion Eric Heiden‘s house in Park City, Utah, in August 2013.

“We were talking about skating and the [Olympic] team and all this stuff and kind of joked around about me skating again,” Boutiette said. “A little bug in my head that he put there. I saw my wife after that, and said well, I might give skating a try.”

A few months later, Boutiette competed at the 2014 U.S. Olympic trials in at the 2002 Olympic oval in Kearns, Utah, just for fun.

“I couldn’t even skate five laps on my own last year,” he said of his physical shape several weeks before trials.

He was pretty distinguishable, the only skater there wearing the 2006 U.S. Olympic speed skating skinsuit.

“I fit in it, believe it or not,” Boutiette said. “Squeezing a sausage into a casing a little bit.”

His times were more ordinary — 13th in the 1500m and 18th in the 500m and 1000m, nowhere near making the Sochi Olympic team.

Boutiette continued, buoyed by the news that a mass start event could be added for the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics. It’s already on the World Cup program, differentiated from regular races where only two skaters are on the ice at once. Mass start mirrors short track speed skating (but with many more skaters and on the much larger long-track oval) and plays into Boutiette’s experience in marathon skating in the Netherlands.

“The tactics and things like that, that I’m pretty good at,” said Boutiette, whose unretirement made headlines in the Netherlands in the fall. “Speed, endurance, a little bit of everything. It kind of plays into my forte.”

Boutiette earned a spot on the U.S. team for this winter’s World Cups at the U.S. Championships three weeks ago, where the lack of depth gave him a chance.

Only four men entered the longest distances of 5000m and 10,000m. Boutiette finished second in the 5000m and third in the 10,000m, averaging about 30 seconds slower than when he shattered the American records in the events at the 2002 and 1998 Olympics, respectively.

“My back is totally blown out,” Boutiette said. “It’s hard for me to skate five minutes at a time. The 10K [which required 14 minutes, 24.04 seconds] is just brutal.”

Boutiette said he’s trained with four-time Olympic medalist Shani Davis, the best U.S. speed skater for the last several years.

“He kicked my ass not too long ago,” Boutiette joked. “I thought I’d be able to help him out. I led every other set, then the last set, I couldn’t do it. He put the hammer down. That kid works hard.”

So Boutiette is back in Hamar, some 21 years after his first Olympics. He remembers being in the Viking Ship to catch every memorable moment of those Winter Games — Blair’s two golds, Jansen’s long-awaited victory and the Norwegian Koss bringing the house down with three world records.

“I made sure I was on the ice, actually, when [Koss] was skating the 1500m,” Boutiette said. “Listening to the crowd.”

Boutiette hasn’t committed to trying to make the 2018 Olympic team. As it stands, his last Olympic race was not the way he wanted to end his international career.

Boutiette was looking for his first Olympic medal in Torino in 2006, with the addition of the team pursuit. He was the veteran on a trio of former U.S. inliners, including Chad Hedrick and Charles Leveille.

The U.S. led for most of its quarterfinal matchup with Italy but fell behind with Boutiette setting its pace in the latter stages. When Boutiette shuffled to the back of the U.S. train, he lagged, flailing his arms in a desperate attempt to regain contact with Hedrick and Leveille.

He couldn’t.

In team pursuit, the clock stops when the third skater for a team crosses the finish line after eight laps and 3200m.

If Boutiette had crossed with Hedrick and Leveille, it would have been very close. Instead, Italy won by .47 of a second, eliminating the U.S. one step shy of the medal rounds.

“K.C., as soon as the race was over, was crying, came up to me and said he gave it his all, that the tough thing for him was, he was going to have to live with, was knowing he fell behind with two laps to go,” Hedrick reportedly said in Torino.

Boutiette, then 35, left the 2006 Olympics with a comment reflecting his place in the sport that could be repeated in Hamar this weekend.

“I’m not a young buck anymore,” he said.

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Copenhagen withdraws as 2021 World Gymnastics Championships host, cites pandemic

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Copenhagen withdrew as host of the 2021 World Gymnastics Championships, citing financial strain as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Gymnastics worlds are usually not held in Olympic years, but the October 2021 edition remained scheduled when the Tokyo Games were postponed to summer 2021.

Denmark’s gymnastics federation board made the decision to not host worlds due in part to uncertainty about the global development of the coronavirus pandemic. That combined with financial losses already associated with the pandemic led to the bowing out.

The International Gymnastics Federation executive committee will “consider all consequences” from Copenhagen withdrawing, including launching a new bid process.

The 2022 Worlds are set for Liverpool, Great Britain, and 2023 in Antwerp, Belgium. Denmark will look into bidding to host in 2025.

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Allyson Felix, Noah Lyles headline Inspiration Games; TV, stream info

Allyson Felix, Noah Lyles
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In Allyson Felix‘s 17 years on the senior international level, she has never experienced anything like what Thursday will bring.

Felix, a nine-time Olympic medalist, will line up at a track in California to race 150 meters. Her opponents will be on the other side of the country — Bahamian Shaunae Miller-Uibo in Florida — and the other side of the Atlantic Ocean — Swiss Mujinga Kambundji in Zurich.

The Inspiration Games air live on Thursday from 2-3:30 p.m. ET on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app. The meet is a repurposed version of a Diamond League stop in Zurich, Switzerland.

“I’ve just been training and training and training, so anything to break it up. … this seemed like something great. I just loved the concept,” said Felix, who memorably raced alone in at the Rio Olympics in a re-run of the 4x100m first round. “I’m not really sure what to expect. I think [it’s] the first time that we’ve all done anything like this. I’m just approaching it to have fun and hopefully give people something to watch and to be entertained by. I think we all miss sports so much.”

Meet organizers had to get creative with the coronavirus pandemic limiting athlete travel and group events. The Impossible Games was first to go on June 11 — in an Oslo stadium with few spectators and even fewer athletes (and others competing in different countries).

The Inspiration Games takes virtual competition to another level. Felix, Miller-Uibo and Kambundji are all slated to sprint at the same time in different locations. As are world champion Noah Lyles, Frenchman Christophe Lemaitre and the Netherlands’ Churandy Martina in a later 200m.

It marks the first meet since the coronavirus pandemic for Felix, bidding to make her fifth Olympic team and first as a mom. The pandemic and restrictions in California forced her to train on streets.

“Everything is still pretty much locked down,” she said. “You can’t get onto a track without jumping a fence.”

Felix admitted she’s “definitely not sharp” going into her first race since February.

“Once we knew for sure that the Olympic Games would be postponed, we really had to think about being at our best a year from now,” said Felix, a 34-year-old bidding to break Michael Johnson‘s record as the oldest Olympic 400m medalist. “In my situation and where I’m at in my career, I had to make some adjustments, just with the level of impact on my body so that I could still be able to continue to train, but to save something and to have that one last time to be at my best next year. I definitely think things have shifted now.”

Lyles raced last Saturday at a small meet in Florida, outsprinting Justin Gatlin in a 100m heat (9.93 seconds to 9.99 with a hefty four meter/second tailwind).

The regular Diamond League calendar is scheduled to resume in August.

Here are the Inspiration Games entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

1:35 p.m. ET — Men’s Pole Vault
1:35 — Women’s Pole Vault
2:05 — Men’s Triple Jump
2:10 — Women’s 150m
2:27 — Men’s 100 Yards
2:41 — Women’s 300m Hurdles
3:06 — Men’s 200m
3:20 — Women’s 3x100m Relay

Here are five events to watch:

Women’s Pole Vault — 1:35 p.m.
Greek Katerina Stefanidi, a Stanford grad, and American Sandi Morris renew their rivalry. Stefanidi will be in California. Morris will be in Florida. Swede Angelica Bengtsson rounds out the field. Stefanidi relegated Morris to silver at the 2016 Olympics and 2017 Worlds. But Morris snapped’ Stefanidi’s streak of eight straight wins in their head-to-head back in 2018 and has bettered Stefanidi in four of their last six meetings.

Men’s Triple Jump — 2:05 p.m.
Double Olympic champion Christian Taylor takes on longtime rival Pedro Pablo Pichardo, a Cuban-born Portuguese, and American Omar Craddock. Taylor bettered Pichardo in five of their last six meetings. In more than 30 meets together, Taylor has lost to Craddock just once (when Taylor has competed in full).

Women’s 150m — 2:10 p.m.
Felix and Miller-Uibo go head to head for the first time since the 2017 World Championships. Their most memorable duel came at the Rio Olympics, where a diving Miller-Uibo edged Felix by .07 for 400m gold. While Miller-Uibo and Felix primarily compete over a full lap, the 150m is closer to Kambundji’s wheelhouse. The Swiss earned 200m bronze at the 2019 World Championships, taking advantage of a depleted field.

Men’s 100 Yards — 2:27 p.m.
Triple Olympic medalist Andre De Grasse of Canada, Olympic 110m hurdles champion Omar McLeod of Jamaica and French veteran Jimmy Vicaut all train in Florida and will presumably be racing at the same venue on Thursday. The 100 yards is scantly contested in top-level meets. Nobody has broken nine seconds in a 100-yard (91.44-meter) race, according to World Athletics. But Usain Bolt‘s estimated 100-yard time en route to his 2009 world record in the 100m was 8.87 seconds.

Men’s 200m — 3:06 p.m.
Lyles has lost an outdoor 200m just once in this Olympic cycle and wouldn’t normally be pestered by Lemaitre or Martina, but these are unusual times and this an unusual competition. Lemaitre is the Olympic bronze medalist but was sixth at last year’s French Championships. Martina, 36, and, like Lemaitre, hasn’t broken 20 seconds in more than three years.

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