Lindsey Vonn
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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 began with Lindsey Vonn chasing a record while coming back from two major knee surgeries. It will end with Vonn chasing another record as the healthiest elite U.S. Alpiner.

The 2010 Olympic downhill champion won 10 World Cup races in 2015 (so far), including breaking Annemarie Moser-Pröll‘s record of 62 women’s World Cup wins on Jan. 19. Vonn returned to her pre-2013 World Championships crash form, dominating the speed disciplines of downhill and super-G.

However, Vonn won zero races at the biggest event of the year, the World Championships near her Colorado home in February.

At Worlds, the most memorable U.S. story was Bode Miller, who at 37 may have competed for the final time, crashing in the super-G. Miller, though, has said there is a “good likelihood” he returns to racing, but a run for a sixth Olympics in 2018 is “really unlikely.”

Mikaela Shiffrin, who in 2014 became the youngest Olympic slalom champion, repeated as World champion in the slalom and three-peated as World Cup champion. However, Shiffrin suffered a torn MCL in a Dec. 12 crash and is unlikely to race again until next fall.

Ted Ligety three-peated as World champion in his best event, the giant slalom, but was kept from a third straight World Cup season title in March by Austrian rival Marcel Hirscher. Ligety looked to continue his competition with Hirscher this season, but hip and back injuries in the fall put him well behind as the winter begins.

Julia Mancuso, who earned medals at the last three Olympics, finished no better than sixth in any race in 2015. She was slowed by a hip injury last winter, cutting her season short, and underwent surgery in November, ruling her out this season.

That leaves Vonn as the major story heading into 2016. She has reached 71 World Cup victories, inching closer to the overall wins record of 86 held by retired Swede Ingemar Stenmark. If she continues on her recent healthy pace, Vonn would break the record in the 2017-18 Olympic season.

A more pressing matter is the World Cup overall title, the biggest prize this season with no Olympic or Worlds. Vonn seemed a heavy favorite for her fifth crown following Shiffrin’s injury (with past champions Anna Fenninger and Tina Maze already out), but that changed this past weekend.

MORE: Lindsey Vonn cedes World Cup standings lead

Yuzuru Hanyu
The ice is showered with gifts after Yuzuru Hanyu skates. (Getty Images)

Figure Skating

The singles skating power still lies with the Russian women and Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu.

This time last year, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva was en route to one of the most dominating seasons of all time, a World title and talk of adding a quadruple jump in March. While Tuktamysheva has struggled this fall, a new Russian teen ascended to win the Grand Prix Final two weeks ago — 16-year-old Yevgenia Medvedeva.

The Olympic champion Hanyu was upset for the World title by Spain’s Javier Fernandez in March. Hanyu rebounded to become untouchable this fall, breaking records for highest short program, free skate and total scores under the decade-old judging system in his last two competitions.

Medvedeva and Hanyu appear easy favorites heading into the World Championships in Boston in three months. Conversely, the pairs and ice dance pictures are less clear with injuries and breaks for past Olympic and World champions, including Meryl Davis and Charlie White.

U.S. singles skaters failed to reach the podium in 2015 at a global championship for a ninth straight year for the women and a fifth straight year for the men. But they were oh-so close.

Jason Brown was fourth and Gracie Gold and Ashley Wagner were fourth and fifth, the best efforts by Americans since Evan Lysacek took 2010 Olympic gold and Kimmie Meissner captured the 2006 World title.

Brown, 21, who last year became the youngest U.S. men’s champion since 2004, withdrew before his last competition in November with a back injury. He may be challenged at the U.S. Championships in January by Nathan Chen, a 16-year-old who won the Junior Grand Prix Final.

Gold and Wagner both qualified for the six-skater Grand Prix Final earlier this month, but neither reached the podium against skaters they will likely have to beat to earn medals at Worlds. They’ll go head-to-head at the U.S. Championships in January.

MORE: Ashley Wagner questioned her career at Grand Prix Final

Freestyle Skiing

Hannah Kearney, the most decorated U.S. freestyle skier of all time, tied the World Cup moguls wins record in her final competition before retirement in March.

Then, Canada’s Mikael Kingsbury capped his year by breaking the men’s moguls wins record on Dec. 12. Kearney and 1992 U.S. Olympic champion Donna Weinbrecht notched 46 victories. Kingsbury is at 29.

In aerials, first-grade classmates Kiley McKinnon and Mac Bohonnon recorded the first U.S. sweep of World Cup season titles since 1995.

In ski halfpipe, Olympic champions David Wise and Maddie Bowman continued to star. Bowman took her fourth straigth Winter X Games title in January. Wise’s bid for an X Games four-peat was denied, but he came back to win the Dew Tour Mountain Championships this month.

In slopestyle, Olympic bronze medalist Nick Goepper won X Games, while silver medalist Gus Kenworthy prevailed at Dew Tour, two months after coming out.

MORE: Big air ski/snowboard event set for Fenway Park

Nordic Skiing

The top recent U.S. stars in cross-country skiing, Nordic combined and ski jumping are not competing this season.

In cross-country, four-time Olympian Kikkan Randall is taking the campaign off to have a baby. In Nordic combined, 2010 Olympic champion Billy Demong retired following the 2014-15 season. And in ski jumping, 2013 World champion Sarah Hendrickson is out after undergoing another right knee surgery in August.

Outside of competition, U.S. skiers caused a buzz in February with their “Uptown Funk” music video.

MORE: U.S. Olympian wins Red Bull 400 up ski jumping hill

Luge
U.S. lugers Erin Hamlin (center), Emily Sweeney and Summer Britcher swept a World Cup race Dec. 5. (AP)

Sliding Sports

The year after the Olympics proved eventful for U.S. bobsledders, lugers and skeleton sliders.

In bobsled, Elana Meyers Taylor became the first U.S. woman to pilot a World Championship-winning sled in February, while Olympic champion Kaillie Humphries continued to break the gender barrier by competing in the four-man at Worlds.

Meyers Taylor was sidelined in December by long-term concussion effects. Humphries has been in a dispute this fall with the Canadian federation regarding competing in four-man bobsled. And U.S. Olympic driver Jazmine Fenlator announced she planned to compete for Jamaica moving forward in hopes of piloting the first Jamaican Olympic women’s bobsled in 2018.

In luge, the U.S. emerged as a world power this fall. Olympians Erin HamlinSummer Britcher and Chris Mazdzer all won World Cup races in the first half of the season. However, all of those victories came on North American ice, and the rest of the season, plus the World Championships, will take place in Europe.

Finally, in skeleton, three-time Olympian Katie Uhlaender took a run at track cycling in the summer before returning to the ice following 2014 hip and ankle surgeries.

MORE: Former NFL wide receiver makes U.S. bobsled team

Snowboarding

Shaun White finished fourth at the Winter X Games in January in his first competition since also taking fourth at the Sochi Olympics. Then, in his second competition since Sochi, he beat the riders who trumped him in Sochi and at X Games at the Dew Tour Mountain Championships in December.

While White is back atop the men’s pipe, the women’s picture changed drastically in 2015. Olympic champion Kaitlyn Farrington announced her retirement in January due to a congenital spine condition. One week later, Chloe Kim became the youngest Winter X Games champion by winning the women’s halfpipe at age 14.

Olympic slopestyle champions Sage Kotsenburg and Jamie Anderson were both beaten at X Games and missed Dew Tour.

Meanwhile, Lindsey Jacobellis continued a run of dominance dating to 2003 by sweeping X Games and the World Championships in snowboard cross. Jacobellis has won 13 gold medals in 18 career appearances at the Olympics, Worlds and X Games, yet she is missing an Olympic title.

In June, it was announced that ski and snowboard big air would be added to the Olympics in 2018, with snowboard parallel slalom being cut after it debuted in Sochi.

MORE: Shaun White talks Olympic skateboard, Air & Style, more

Brittany Bowe, Heather Richardson-Bergsma
Brittany Bowe (left) and Heather Richardson-Bergsma dominated women’s speed skating in 2015. (Getty Images)

Speed Skating

U.S. long-track skaters rebounded in a big way after going medal-less at the Sochi Olympics. Americans won more gold medals in Olympic events than any other nation — including host Netherlands — at the World Single Distance Championships in February.

Shani Davis re-emerged after questioning his future in the sport in 2014 to win the World 1000m title. Davis, though, went winless in World Cup competition in a calendar year for the first time in his career dating to 2005.

Heather Richardson-Bergsma and Brittany Bowe traded World titles in the winter and world records this fall, while the Netherlands’ Ireen Wüst, who won the most medals of any athlete at the Sochi Olympics, failed to make her nation’s World Cup team this fall.

In short track, three-time U.S. Olympic medalist J.R. Celski returned after a one-season break, though U.S. skaters earned zero World Cup medals in a calendar year for the first time since the tour started in 1997. Americans also missed the podium at the World Championships in March.

MORE: Dan Jansen explains recent flurry of world records

Team Sports

Canadian men dominated the World Hockey Championship in May, going 10-0 and outscoring opponents by a combined 51-goal margin. Sidney Crosby captained the team to its first gold since 2007, crushing Alex Ovechkin and Russia 6-1 in the final.

The U.S. women nearly collapsed against Canada in its gold-medal game, as it did in Sochi, but this time held on after squandering a 5-2 lead for a 7-5 victory at Worlds.

In curling, Sweden’s men and Switzerland’s women took World titles, while mixed doubles was added to the Olympic program for 2018.

And in sledge hockey, the U.S. men won their first World title on home ice, blanking Canada in the May final to follow up on a Sochi Paralympic title.

Olympic Year in Review: Winter Sports | Summer Sports | Photos | Social Media

Naomi Osaka, Coco Gauff set Australian Open duel

Naomi Osaka, Coco Gauff
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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Plenty was going badly for Coco Gauff in the second round of the Australian Open.

The double-faults kept coming Wednesday, nine in all. The deficits, too: First, she dropped the opening set against 74th-ranked Sorana Cirstea.

Then, after forcing a third, Gauff fell behind by a break, ceding 14 of 16 points with a series of mistakes. Later, after getting even at 3-all, Gauff was a mere two points from a loss.

None of that mattered. As she keeps showing, over and over, Gauff is not a typical 15-year-old. Not a typical tennis player, either.

And by getting past Cirstea 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 in a little more than two hours thanks to a more aggressive approach in the late going, she now has set up yet another Grand Slam showdown against Naomi Osaka.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

“I kind of felt the momentum changing,” Gauff said about turning things around against Cirstea. “I knew I had to keep pressing.”

Less than five months after their memorable meeting at the U.S. Open — Osaka won that one in straight sets, then consoled a crying Gauff on court and encouraged her to address the spectators — the two will face each other again. Like that time, Osaka is the major’s reigning champion and Gauff is making her debut at the tournament.

“I think I’ll be less nervous this time,” said Gauff, who eliminated seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams in the first round Monday. “I think I’m more confident this time around.”

As for what sticks with her about the post-match comforting Osaka offered in New York, Gauff said: “If I had a child or something, that’s something I would want my child to see. It just shows what being a competitor really is. You might hate the person on the court, but off the court you love them — not really, like, ‘hate,’ but you want to win. Sometimes when we’re on the court, we say things we don’t mean because we have that mentality. When it’s all said and done, we still look at each other with respect.”

Other winners included Serena Williams — 6-2, 6-3 against Tamara Zidansek in a match that finished with the Rod Laver Arena retractable roof closed because of rain — No. 1 Ash Barty, 2018 Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki and two-time major champion Petra Kvitova, the runner-up to Osaka in Australia a year ago.

In the last featured match of the night, No. 10 Madison Keys defeated Arantxa Rus 7-6 (7-3), 6-2.

Defending men’s champion Novak Djokovic required all of 95 minutes to breeze past Japanese wild-card entry Tatsuma Ito 6-1, 6-4, 6-2, while Roger Federer swept Filip Krajinovic 6-1, 6-4, 6-1.

Gauff was not at her very best on a windy afternoon against Cirstea but managed to figure her way out of trouble repeatedly. Gauff demonstrated plenty of grit, yes, and also enthusiasm, pumping herself up by shaking a fist and yelling, “Come on!” after most of her successful points down the stretch.

All the while, Gauff was supported by a Melbourne Arena crowd that chanted, “Let’s go, Coco! Let’s go!”

Her father, Corey, was animated in the stands, too, except when he was squeezing his eyes shut at critical moments.

There were several of those for his precocious daughter, who was ranked only 313th last year when she became the youngest player in history to qualify for Wimbledon, then wound up beating Williams there en route to the fourth round.

It is a measure of her came-so-soon stardom that Gauff was playing at Melbourne Park’s third-largest stadium Wednesday, even though this was a matchup between a pair of players ranked outside the top 60 and with one career Grand Slam quarterfinal between them, more than a decade ago (Cirstea made it that far at the 2009 French Open).

Indeed, every Grand Slam singles match — “every” being a relative term, of course, because this was No. 9 — of the 67th-ranked Gauff’s nascent career has been placed on a show court.

This was the first main draw match at a major for Gauff in which she held a better ranking than her opponent.

Didn’t seem that way at the outset: Gauff dropped the first set. After forcing things to a third, she trailed 3-0. After making it 3-3, Gauff needed to get through one more gut-check: Twice, she was two points from departing.

But the American teenager broke in the next-to-last game, then held to win.

How did Gauff get through this test?

“Just my will to win,” she said. “My parents, they always told me I can come back, no matter what the score is.”

Osaka worked through some frustrations Wednesday by grabbing her racket with both hands and chucking it to the ground, tossing away a tennis ball and kicking the racket along the court, to boot.

Then she plopped herself down on her sideline seat and draped a towel over her head. Soon, she was gathering herself and defeating Zheng Saisai 6-2, 6-4.

“I mean, my racket just magically flew out of my hand. I couldn’t control it,” Osaka said with a mischievous smile. “I think that’s how I dealt with my frustration. It was a bit childish. I just want to play one match without throwing my racket or kicking it. That’s all I want.”

Perhaps because her news conference took place while Gauff and Cirstea were still playing, Osaka deflected a question seeking some sort of lookahead to the third round, saying simply she would go watch the end of that match.

MORE: Another top U.S. tennis player cools on Olympics

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John Isner leaning toward skipping Olympics again

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John Isner, the highest-ranked U.S. male singles tennis player, is considering skipping the Olympics for a second straight time.

“I haven’t put a ton of thought into it, but as of right now, I think I’m leaning towards not playing,” the 19th-ranked player said at the Australian Open on Tuesday. “It’s about scheduling. I know the Olympics, it’s a fantastic honor. There’s no doubt about that. … Right now, at this stage in my career, it’s not a huge priority for me. So that’s probably the main reason I won’t be going. I certainly love playing in the summer in America, and I’m going to focus on that.”

The Tokyo Games take place the same week as a lower-level ATP Tour event in Atlanta that Isner, a former University of Georgia star, has won five times.

Other notable male players already said they will pass on Tokyo, including Sam Querrey, the top American in Olympic qualifying standings.

Austrian Dominic Thiem, a two-time French Open finalist, is prioritizing an ATP event in Kitzbühel the week of the Olympics. The U.S. doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan are not planning to play the Olympics in their final season before retirement, their manager said in November.

“The Olympics is very tough on the schedule … especially with Davis Cup,” Isner said in 2016, according to USA Today. “I think the fact that they have no [ATP ranking] points [at the Olympics], to be honest, was a pretty big factor as well. Obviously the Olympics is not about the money, but no points I think hindered me a bit.”

Isner, who turns 35 on April 26, is likely giving up his last chance to play Olympic singles. In his only Olympic participation, he reached the quarterfinals of the 2012 London Games, plus lost an opening-round doubles match there with Andy Roddick.

The top four U.S. men qualify for Tokyo, assuming they are among the top 60 overall qualifiers (maximum four per country) after this spring’s French Open.

Taylor FritzReilly Opelka, Steve Johnson and Tommy Paul are the U.S. men currently in Olympic qualifying position if excluding Querrey and Isner.

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