Katie Uhlaender

Katie Uhlaender, skeleton World champion, becomes track cyclist

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Katie Uhlaender, a three-time Winter Olympian and 2012 World champion in skeleton, plans to compete at the U.S. Championships in track cycling in August.

Uhlaender, who entered the 2012 U.S. Olympic weightlifting trials but didn’t make that team, began serious track cycling training in January. She plans to make her competitive debut in the sport at Nationals in Carson, Calif., in three months.

“The whole thing seems sort of crazy,” Uhlaender, a 30-year-old who slid at the last three Winter Olympics with three different hairstyle colors, said in a phone interview Friday.

On Feb. 14, 2014, Uhlaender finished fourth in skeleton at the Sochi Olympics, missing her first Olympic medal by .04 of a second in combined time over four runs. She competed with hip and ankle injuries that would require surgery and following a preseason concussion.

After Sochi, Uhlaender underwent surgery on her left hip, which had bothered her since 2010. She planned to return to skeleton last fall, but then came the left ankle surgery in September to shore up a problem area since 2005.

Uhlaender announced she would miss the 2014-15 skeleton season and rehabbed at a U.S. Olympic training center in Colorado Springs, Colo., where she started doing stationary bike work. A professional cyclist there noticed Uhlaender’s wattage statistics and suggested she give the sport a try.

Uhlaender, though, had decided to move to Texas, without a job lined up, and share a bed separated by a pillow named Berry with her best friend. She learned a velodrome was nearby, so Uhlaender decided to continue cycling.

“The worst that could happen is I fail,” Uhlaender said. “I thought, I’m kind of chubby from two surgeries and not [skeleton] training. I feel like it would be more of an insult to deny the opportunity. I’m established as a skeleton athlete. For me to go ride a bike when I can’t slide anyways, this is perfect cross training until my ankle’s ready.”

Uhlaender rides on a borrowed green 1992 Cannondale bike nicknamed Dumpster that she renamed Oscar, in honor of the “Sesame Street” character Oscar the Grouch of the same color.

“It’s refreshing to do something when I can’t go sledding 90 miles per hour head first,” she said.

USA Cycling invited Uhlaender to take part in a camp in Colorado Springs in April, she said..

“They thought I had really great potential,” Uhlaender said.

Track cycling, where riders compete on 250-meter wooden ovals banked up to 45 degrees with one gear and no brakes, includes several disciplines.

Uhlaender is focused on one of them — the team sprint. The women’s team sprint, which debuted at the Olympics in 2012, includes two cyclists from one nation racing two laps in about 33 seconds. One rider peels off after the first lap, with the second rider’s time crossing the finish after two laps as the nation’s overall result.

“For the first 125 meters, I was competitive,” Uhlaender said of her performance at the USA Cycling camp. “The issue is I’m going from doing a five-second sprint [on the ice at the start of a skeleton race, running and then jumping onto the sled] to a 19-second sprint [the time it takes to do one lap in the velodrome].”

Uhlaender, boosted by her skeleton and weightlifting careers, believes she has the strength to contend as that first-lap rider with more seasoning, to become competitive with national-level cyclists for 19 seconds.

“I don’t think there’s many women more powerful than me,” said Uhlaender, who clean and jerked 216 pounds at the 2012 U.S. Olympic weightlifting trials in the 127-pound weight class and failed in all three attempts to snatch between 175 and 180 pounds.

Uhlaender said she was seeking a partner to compete with at the U.S. Championships in August.

It’s very possible the U.S. will not qualify a berth in the team sprint at the Rio 2016 Olympics. It did not qualify for the London 2012 Games, which included 10 nations. It is currently ranked No. 18 in the world by the International Cycling Union. Nine nations will qualify for Rio 2016 based on the rankings next Feb. 29.

After Uhlaender finished fourth in Sochi, she saw Dan Jansen, the speed skater who missed Olympic medals in 1984, 1988 and 1992 before winning gold in world-record fashion in his final Olympic race in 1994. Jansen told Uhlaender his story of enduring defeat and tragedy (his sister died of leukemia the day of his first race at the 1988 Olympics).

Uhlaender asked Jansen how he persevered for so long.

“He said, don’t think about it as four years or the overwhelming goal at the end,” Uhlaender said. “Just focus on each day and each step.”

Uhlaender plans to continue skeleton. Even if she impresses at the U.S. Championships in August and continues competing in track cycling in the fall, she wants to also compete on the 2015-16 World Cup skeleton tour this fall and winter.

She plans to retire from skeleton after the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games, which could be her fourth Olympics.

Watch: Noelle Pikus-Pace shares skeleton stories in emotional TEDx Talk

Rafael Nadal can tie Roger Federer’s Slam record with 13th French Open

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For all of the many qualities contributing to Rafael Nadal’s unprecedented superiority at the French Open — the bullwhip of a high-bouncing lefty forehand, the reflex returns, the cover-every-corner athleticism, the endless energy and grit — there’s one element that stands above all the rest.

According to the opponent Nadal beat in the last two finals in Paris, anyway.

“You go into the match knowing that even your best tennis, even if you play it over three, four hours, might not be enough. I mean, if you do it, you maybe have a little chance, but you have to go to your limit on every single rally, every single point,” Dominic Thiem, who won the U.S. Open less than two weeks ago, told The Associated Press.

“That makes it not easy to go into the match,” Thiem said. “And that’s the mental part, I guess.”

When main-draw competition begins Sunday at Roland Garros, Thiem and every other player in the men’s bracket will be pursuing Nadal as the 34-year-old from Spain pursues history.

If Nadal manages to claim a 13th French Open championship — extending his own record for the most singles trophies won by anyone at any major tennis tournament — he would, more significantly, also collect his 20th Grand Slam title overall, tying Roger Federer’s record for a man.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Nadal’s tally elsewhere: four U.S. Opens, two Wimbledons, one Australian Open.

He spoke Friday in Paris about what “probably are the most difficult conditions for me ever in Roland Garros” — a lack of matches in 2020; a new brand of tennis balls (“super slow, heavy”); cooler weather and plenty of rain in the forecast.

“But you know what?” Nadal said. “I am here to fight and to play with the highest intensity possible.”

Asked recently about the possibility of catching the 39-year-old Federer, out for the rest of the season after a pair of operations on his right knee, Nadal expressed a sentiment he’s uttered before.

Climbing the Grand Slam list, Nadal said, is “not an obsession at all.”

“I know that you put a lot of attention on all of this,” he replied when the topic was raised last week at the Italian Open, Nadal’s first tournament since February because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Of course I would love to finish my career with 25, but (that’s) something that probably will not happen. I’m going to keep fighting to produce chances, and then when I finish my career, let’s see, no?” he said. “I just want to keep enjoying tennis. And that’s it. If I am playing well, I know I normally have my chances. If not, going to be impossible. That’s it.”

There is, of course, another great of the game playing during this era and, like Nadal, gaining on Federer.

That would be No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic, who had won five of seven major titles to raise his total to 17 before being disqualified at the U.S. Open for accidentally hitting a line judge with a ball while walking to a changeover.

In this oddest of years, the Grand Slam season will drawing to a close in France; the clay-court major was postponed from May until now because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Roland Garros is the last Slam, the last opportunity of this season. So we all know who the main favorite is there: Obviously, it’s Nadal. And everything that he has achieved there, losing maybe a couple matches in his entire career on that court … is probably the most impressive record that anybody has on any court,” Djokovic said. “So, yeah, of course you would put him right there in front as a favorite to win it.”

For the record: Nadal has won 93 of 95 matches in the French Open and his last 21 in a row.

So what makes him so dominant there?

“He’s an unbelievably great tennis player. Probably on clay, a little bit better than on the other surfaces,” Thiem said. “He’s left-handed, which makes it very uncomfortable. And then his forehand, the topspin on the clay, it’s cruel to play.”

Thiem takes notes and hopes to emulate aspects of Nadal’s game.

So do others.

In Rome, for example, two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep and one of her coaches, Artemon Apostu-Efremov, caught one of Nadal’s training sessions.

“We were watching the way he hits the ball, the acceleration, the energy he has on the court and the way he practices 100%. It’s always an inspiration,” Apostu-Efremov said.

“This dedication on the court and focus on court,” he said, “it’s something that, for sure, could be transferred to Simona.”

Nadal wound up losing his third match in Italy, which is neither ideal form nor the sort of prep work he is accustomed to ahead of Roland Garros.

Still, Nadal at the French Open is unlike anyone else, anywhere else.

“Regardless of how he feels, I’m sure he’ll find a way,” said Stefanos Tsitsipas, a 2019 Australian Open semifinalist seeded No. 5 in Paris. “He always finds a way, every single year. Clay is his surface. I’m sure he’s going to do well.”

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Skate America will not have fans

Skate America
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Skate America, the top annual international figure skating competition held in the U.S., will not have spectators in Las Vegas from Oct. 23-25.

U.S. Figure Skating said the restriction was “due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in strict accordance with the Nevada Gaming Control Board guidelines.”

Skate America is the first top-level event of the season, kicking off the six-stop Grand Prix Series leading up to December’s Grand Prix Final, which is scheduled this season for Beijing.

The series has already been modified to restrict fields to skaters from the host country or to the event closest to their training location.

Grand Prix fields have not been announced, though two-time world champion Nathan Chen said last month he hoped to go for a fourth straight Skate America title.

Chen trains in California. Most, if not all, top U.S. skaters train in the U.S. or Canada, which means they will compete in Skate America or Skate Canada if they participate in the Grand Prix Series at all.

Two-time U.S. women’s champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough to compete on the Grand Prix until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

Skaters are limited to one Grand Prix start this season. In past seasons, they’ve typically competed twice.

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