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

A 1983 world champion will become the oldest Olympic table tennis player ever

Ni Xia Lian
European Table Tennis Union
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Ni Xia Lian, a 55-year-old, Chinese-born table tennis player for Luxembourg, is set to become the oldest Olympian ever in her sport.

Ni earned Luxembourg a quota spot at the 2020 Tokyo Games by bagging bronze at the European Championships on Wednesday. Ni will fill that spot and compete at her fifth Games next summer, according to Luxembourg’s table tennis federation.

Ni’s first senior medal at a global competition came with China at the world team championships in 1983.

Ni moved to Luxembourg in the 1990s, running a hotel with her husband. She kept competing, with a five-year break between 2002 and 2007, and set a record in 2017 for the longest table-tennis match at 1 hour 33 minutes.

She would already be the oldest Olympic table tennis player if not for He Zhiwen, who was born in China and competed for Spain with the nickname Juanito at the 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympics. He retired after Rio at age 54, according to the International Table Tennis Federation.

Ni will be 57 next summer, older than any previous female Olympians outside of archery, equestrian, shooting and art competitions, according to the OlyMADMen. Her best Olympic finish was ninth in Sydney in 2000.

Chinese-born players represent many countries in table tennis, including European Games gold and silver medalists, Fu Yu of Portugal and Han Ying of Germany.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

MORE: Most experienced Olympian in history retires at age 72

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Phil Dalhausser, tempted by retirement, partner switch, forges to final Olympics

Phil Dalhausser, Nick Lucena
AVP
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At one point last summer, Nick Lucena made an unusual move for an Olympic beach volleyball player. He suggested to his partner, 2008 Olympic gold medalist Phil Dalhausser, the best American for the last decade, that Dalhausser might be happier playing with somebody else.

“I thought, man, Phil’s not enjoying this, he wants to retire,” said Lucena, who at the time was sidelined by a minor injury. “The last thing I want to do is slow you down. I was like, if he’s going out, it’s not going to be on my account.”

Lucena even offered a replacement: the up-and-coming Taylor Crabb, who at 27 is 12 years younger than both Lucena and Dalhausser, Floridians who paired at the Rio Olympics (lost in the quarterfinals), for the last four years and to start their careers from 2003-05.

“Taylor is a special player,” Lucena said. “Them together, I thought they’d be a special team.”

Dalhausser agreed to an extent. Crabb is the best defender in the world, he said. But Dalhausser, the bald, 6-foot-9 blocker known as the “Thin Beast,” waved off Lucena’s humility.

“If I were to rate a defender one through 10, Taylor being a 10, say Nick is a nine,” Dalhausser said earlier this month. “But we’re buddies. We get along. We’ve been friends for 20 years. That just adds a point value to him, so now he’s a 10.”

Crabb, based in California, sensed from afar that Dalhausser might be interested in a change last year. So, he called him.

“I’d be crazy not to ask Phil or for us to talk,” said Crabb, in his third season with three-time Olympian Jake Gibb. “We had talked a little bit, but at the end of the day … “

Crabb cut his answer short in a Midtown Manhattan hotel breakfast booth as Lucena walked by.

Even though they didn’t split, Lucena worried that Dalhausser’s heart was not in the sport anymore. Dalhausser isn’t one to show emotion on the sand, but it was clear that 15 years traveling the world took its toll. He’s married now with 4- and 6-year-olds, but he spends more time every summer with Lucena, a fellow 39-year-old father of two.

“I just wasn’t happy, and I wasn’t going to become happy with making a change in volleyball or whatever,” Dalhausser said. “It had to come from inside.”

An epiphany came last offseason. Dalhausser dived into self-help books: Jack Canfield‘s “The Success Principles,” Eckhart Tolle, Tony Robbins.

“One day, I was walking around the kitchen, thinking aloud, what the hell is my purpose?” he said. “I said, I guess it’s volleyball. My wife [former beach volleyball pro Jennifer Corral] was sitting right there and said, you’re an effing idiot if you don’t think it’s volleyball.

“Since then, I was like, all right, I guess I’m going to make a run.”

An Olympic run. Dalhausser and Lucena are about to start a crucial stretch of international tournaments in Tokyo 2020 qualifying. It begins this weekend at the world championships in Hamburg, Germany.

MORE: Beach Volleyball Worlds TV/Stream Schedule

A maximum of two U.S. pairs can qualify for the Games. Dalhausser and Lucena are outside the world top 25, but, more importantly, third among Americans about halfway through qualifying. They’ve only played four events; most have played at least six. Each team’s 12 best finishes in the two-year qualifying window count when the Olympic field is determined next summer.

“Results wise haven’t been great up to this point,” said Dalhausser, who won at least one international event each of the previous 13 seasons, but none since Olympic qualifying began last June. “I feel like we’re going to hit our stride here, the more we play consistently and get into a rhythm. I think we’ll be fine. I’m not really worried about it.”

Come next summer, Dalhausser and Lucena will both be older than all but one previous Olympic beach volleyball player. Dalhausser said this is his last Olympic cycle and that he will not play internationally after the 2020 season, but could continue on the domestic AVP tour.

“You see these grays here?” Dalhausser said, pointing to his chin stubble. “Obviously, when I was 28 in Beijing [the 2008 Olympics with Todd Rogers], that was probably my peak as far as vertical goes. But I’m not so sure I’m that far under it.”

Still, injuries are creeping up. They withdrew from a recent event in Poland, citing Dalhausser’s ab injury that has limited his jump serving.

While Dalhausser and Lucena were arguably medal favorites going into Rio, there is no debate about the new No. 1 going into worlds.

“Hands down,” Dalhausser said. “Norway.”

Anders Mol, 21, and Christian Sørum, 23, have won eight of their last 11 international events together. Norway has never put a men’s or women’s team into an Olympic beach volleyball quarterfinal. But the Beachvolley Vikings, who honed their skills at a Hogwarts-like academy called Top Volley Norge in a village named Sand, are unlike any team Dalhausser has ever seen.

“They just don’t have any holes in their game,” Dalhausser said.

It was about this time five years ago when Dalhausser was part of the world’s hottest team. He and Sean Rosenthal won three Grand Slams in a four-event stretch in the summer of 2014. But Dalhausser suffered an oblique injury at about this time in the last Olympic cycle, and they plateaued. Lucena emailed Dalhausser about his availability, and they reunited a year before the Rio Games.

Dalhausser actually wanted to retire after he and Lucena lost to eventual gold medalists Alison and Bruno in the Olympic quarterfinals. He spoke with his alma mater, the University of Central Florida. Had the school started a beach volleyball program, he would have left for a job there.

Even up until this past January, Lucena said he was trying to talk Dalhausser into playing this summer’s world championships. Finally, Dalhausser was asked by his agent and USA Volleyball for a 2019 season schedule. He submitted one with 15 events, mostly international ones, and shared it with Lucena.

“It kind of told me, oh damn, we’re going to try to make a run, which I was not ready for, but I was kind of excited,” Lucena said. “I still felt like I had a lot left in the tank. Maybe not a lot, but enough to make a push.”

Lucena said he’s seen a change in Dalhausser’s demeanor. They won for the first time in seven events together this season at the AVP New York City Open earlier this month, rallying past Crabb and Gibb in a three-set semifinal. Lucena, known more for his defense, earned the AVP’s Hammer Award, given to the top offensive player of the tournament.

“A wise man once said,” Dalhausser deadpanned, sitting next to Lucena at the event, “a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while.”

Lucena and Dalhausser came up together in the early 2000s, playing for a few hundred dollars a tournament and holding part-time jobs, including as substitute teachers. When Dalhausser left to pair with Rogers, Lucena spent nearly a decade with the motivation to become a strong enough player to get Dalhausser back as a partner.

It didn’t surprise NBC Sports analyst Kevin Wong that Lucena would willingly let Dalhausser leave for another partner in the middle of their last Olympic cycle.

“Those guys are lifelong friends,” Wong said. “Nick’s that guy who can see the bigger picture, life outside of volleyball. The crazy thing was last year on tour, Phil never told me this, but there were two or three different people saying, hey, we think Phil’s going to retire after this year. His motivation, his energy were pretty low and so the question was, is this like a little lull, recharging the battery before one last Olympic push? Or is this the swan song?”

Now Dalhausser seems firm in pushing ahead for one more year.

“It was tempting [to switch partners], but, again, at the end of the day, family then volleyball,” Dalhausser said, noting that sticking with the Tallahassee-based Lucena allows him to spend more time at home in the Orlando area. Most elite beach volleyball players live in California, including Crabb.

“I guess I can be like, hey, Taylor, you want to make a run? It’s not too late,” Dalhausser said. “But my gut’s not telling me that’s the right thing.”

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