Ron Clarke

Ron Clarke, Olympic medalist, Melbourne 1956 cauldron lighter, dies at 78

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Ron Clarke, an Australian who set 17 middle-distance running world records, captured an Olympic bronze medal and lit the Melbourne 1956 Olympic cauldron, died at age 78 of kidney failure on Wednesday.

Clarke was 19 years old when selected to light the Olympic cauldron at the Opening Ceremony of the first Olympics hosted by Australia in 1956 (video here).

“No one ever told me why I was selected to carry the torch, but I presume it was because I’d broken so many junior world records and more importantly, I suppose, it was because I wasn’t competing in the Games themselves,” Clarke said, according to the Sydney Sun-Herald. “I was a bit disappointed about not being chosen for the team and as I’ve said many times, I would have given one thousand chances to run with the torch as to compete in the Olympics.”

Clarke’s right arm was burned and there were holes made in his shirt due to flame particles dropping from the torch he carried, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

“It was terrific being out there,” Clarke said, according to the newspaper. “I did not feel the burns at all until afterwards.”

Clarke later competed in the 1964 and 1968 Olympics, earning 10,000m bronze in the Tokyo 1964 Games. At Mexico City 1968, Clarke collapsed at the 10,000m finish, placing sixth, and nearly died from altitude sickness, according to the Associated Press.

“There was, instead, the awful sight of the great Australian distance runner, Ron Clarke, gray as dust, an oxygen mask pressed to his face as he lay unconscious by the track for 10 minutes after the 10,000 meters on the first day of competition,” Sports Illustrated wrote. “Everybody knew Mexico City was 7,349 feet high and that there was this crazy thing called ‘oxygen debt.'”

He set world records in distances ranging from two miles to the one-hour race, according to OlympStats.com and is one of the greatest athletes never to win an Olympic gold medal.

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Sam Girard, Olympic short track champion, surprisingly retires at age 22

Sam Girard
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Sam Girard, who avoided a three-skater pileup to win the PyeongChang Olympic 1000m, retired from short track speed skating at age 22, saying he lost the desire to compete.

“I leave my sport satisfied with what I have accomplished,” Girard said in a press release. “This decision was very well thought through. I am at peace with the choice that I’ve made and am ready to move onto the next step.”

Girard and girlfriend and fellow Olympic skater Kasandra Bradette announced their careers end together in a tearful French-language press conference in Quebec on Friday.

Girard detailed the decision in a letter, the sacrifices made to pursue skating. Notably, moving from his hometown of Ferland-et-Boilleau, population 600, to Montreal in 2012. His hobbies had been of the outdoor variety, but he now had to drive an hour and a half from the training center just to go fishing.

In PyeongChang, Girard led for most of the 1000m final, which meant he avoided chaos behind him on the penultimate lap of the nine-lap race. Hungarian Liu Shaolin Sandor‘s inside pass took out South Koreans Lim Hyo-Jun and Seo Yi-Ra, leaving just Girard and American John-Henry Krueger.

Girard maintained his lead, crossing .214 in front of Krueger to claim the title. He also finished fourth in the 500m and 1500m and earned bronze in the relay.

“My first Olympics, won a gold medal, can’t ask for more,” he said afterward.

Though Girard was already accomplished — earning individual silver medals at the 2016 and 2017 Worlds — he came to PyeongChang as the heir apparent to Charles Hamelin, a roommate on the World Cup circuit whom Girard likened to a big brother. Girard earned another world silver medal this past season.

Hamelin, after taking individual gold in 2010 and 2014, left PyeongChang without an individual medal in what many expected to be his last Olympics. However, he went back on a retirement vow and continued to skate through the 2018-19 season.

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Maia, Alex Shibutani extend break from ice dance competition

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Brother-sister ice dance duo Maia and Alex Shibutani will not compete next season, the Olympic bronze medalists announced via U.S. Figure Skating on Friday.

“We’re healthier and stronger than we were after the Olympics, and we’re continuing to push ourselves,” Maia Shibutani said in a press release.

“We’ve continued to skate a lot, and we feel like we’ve benefited from some time away to create in different environments and focus on experiences that can help us grow,” Alex said.

The “Shib Sibs” won the U.S. title in 2016 and 2017. They won their first world medal in 2011 (bronze) before reaching the world podium again in 2016 and 2017 with silver and bronze, respectively.

They most recently competed at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, where they earned bronze both individually and in the team event.

Maia and Alex Shibutani are now the second ice dance medalists from PyeongChang to announce they’ll sit out at least part of next season. Gold medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada will tour instead this fall and are not expected to return to competition.

The siblings haven’t stayed away from the ice entirely in their break from the sport, though — they’ve also been touring and performing in shows.

The Shibutanis became the second set of siblings to earn Olympic ice dance medals after France’s Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay in 1992.

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