Usain Bolt
AP

Olympic Year in Review: Summer Sports

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OlympicTalk takes a look back at the year in Olympic sports this week. Today, we review summer sports.

Rio Olympic medal contenders emerged in 2015, with World Championships in most Summer Games sports, including track and field, swimming and gymnastics.

The first half of 2016 will be about determining who makes the Olympic team, but first let’s look back on who stamped their names as Rio medal favorites this past year.

Track and Field

Usain Bolt swept the 100m, 200m and 4x100m at the World Championships in August, like he usually does, but he overcame the greatest doubt about his abilities since he burst onto the scene in 2008.

Injuries, slow times in spring races and the rise of 2004 Olympic 100m champion Justin Gatlin led many to believe Bolt would be beaten to the finish line at a global championship for the first time since 2007, but the Jamaican legend outleaned Gatlin by .01 in the 100m and crossed in more comfortable fashion in the 200m and relay. But can he do it again in his (planned) Olympic farewell in Rio?

Bolt did not author the most impressive performance at Worlds, however. That title may belong to Ashton Eaton, who broke his world record in his first decathlon in nearly two years. In Rio, Eaton will look to become the third man to win multiple decathlon gold medals.

Allyson Felix moved up to challenge herself in the 400m at the World Championships and notched her maiden title in the one-lap event to go along with a decade’s worth of 200m accolades. Felix, now the most decorated U.S. athlete at the World Championships with 13 medals, hopes to race the 200m and the 400m at the Rio Games, but that may rely on scheduling.

Other highlights included Ethiopian Genzebe Dibaba breaking the 1500m world record (not at Worlds), Christian Taylor notching the second-farthest triple jump in history and Aries Merritt earning 110m hurdles bronze four days before a kidney transplant.

The U.S. track and field team bagged 18 medals at Worlds in Beijing, its fewest at an Olympics or Worlds since 2003, with fewer gold medals than Jamaica and Kenya.

MORE TRACK AND FIELD: Top ten performances at World Championships

Swimming

Michael Phelps returned from a suspension following his DUI arrest and life-altering therapy to publicly commit to a run for his fifth Olympics, get engaged and expect his first child and produce the fastest times in the world this year in his three primary events — 100m and 200m butterfly and 200m individual medley.

Phelps was not at the World Championships in August as part of his punishment, which meant more headlines for Katie Ledecky. The 18-year-old swept the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles and added a fifth gold in the 4x200m free relay.

Missy Franklin, who earned six golds at the 2013 Worlds, earned two individual medals in August, a silver and a bronze. Franklin completed her NCAA career and turned professional in the spring, moving from California back to Colorado. She’ll gear up for Rio as an underdog, notably behind Ledecky in the 200m free and Australian Emily Seebohm in the backstrokes.

Then there’s Ryan Lochte, who raced his smallest slate of events at a major international meet in 11 years yet still came away from Worlds with a fourth straight 200m IM crown. Lochte is the oldest of U.S. swimming’s Big Four at 31 but hopes a coaching change in 2013 keeps him fresh for a fourth Olympics.

Internationally, Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu cemented her status as the world’s best all-around female swimmer by sweeping the individual medleys at a second straight Worlds.

The U.S. goes into the Olympic year facing its greatest threat to dominance in the sport since the heyday of its rivalry with Australia. Americans earned 18 medals in Olympic events at Worlds, their fewest at an Olympics or Worlds in 50 years.

MORE SWIMMING: Early look at U.S. Olympic men’s team | Women’s

Simone Biles
AP

Gymnastics

American Simone Biles and Japan’s Kohei Uchimura completed sweeps of every World all-around title since the last Olympics, meaning it’s possible Rio will be the crowning Games for the two greatest gymnasts in history.

Biles, an 18-year-old Texan, broke U.S. records for career Worlds medals (14 overall, 10 golds) and easily topped returning Olympic champion Gabby Douglas in the all-around.

Douglas and Olympic floor exercise champion Aly Raisman performed well this year in their first competitions since 2012, setting up to become the first U.S. women to make multiple Olympic gymnastics teams since 2000. That will be decided after the Olympic trials in July.

Like Biles, Uchimura proved peerless with a sixth straight World all-around title. No other man or woman has eclipsed three. He also led Japan to knock off China in the team event at a Worlds or Olympics for the first time since 2004.

The U.S. men qualified for Rio in fifth place at Worlds, doing so without injured Olympians Sam MikulakJohn Orozco and Jacob Dalton.

MORE GYMNASTICS: Takeaways from World Championships

Basketball

The Olympic men’s and women’s fields are mostly complete after continental qualifiers. The U.S. men and women had already earned berths via 2014 World titles. In 2015, Olympic silver medalist Spain joined the men’s field, while World silver and bronze medalists Serbia and France advanced to last-chance qualifiers in July.

Mike Krzyzewski will lead the U.S. men’s team for the final time in Rio, to be succeeded by Gregg Popovich. The roster will of course be loaded but also complicated by decisions such as whether Kobe Bryant, at age 37, merits a place on the team after his NBA retirement.

Geno Auriemma had said London would be his final Games, but he, too, is returning to coach in Rio. His squad could include a bevy of his former UConn players, such as Maya MooreTina Charles and Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird in their fourth Olympics, plus perhaps one of his current players, senior National Player of the Year Breanna Stewart.

MORE BASKETBALL: Nine nations qualified for Olympic men’s tourney

Beach Volleyball

Three-time Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings overcame two shoulder dislocations this season to team with Olympic silver medalist April Ross and reach the final of the World Series of Beach Volleyball in August.

There, they fell to Olympic favorites Larissa and Talita of Brazil, though Walsh Jennings had limited use of that right shoulder and ended up undergoing a fifth surgery on it in September.

Brazil also rules the men’s field, with Alison and Bruno sweeping the World Championships, World Series of Beach Volleyball and World Tour Finals this summer.

Beijing Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser split with partner Sean Rosenthal and returned to playing with Nick Lucena, with whom he paired in his first tournaments 12 years ago. Dalhausser and Lucena finished the season making the World Series of Beach Volleyball and World Tour Finals championship matches against Alison and Bruno.

MORE BEACH VOLLEYBALL: Walsh Jennings, Ross forge ahead after memorable phone call

American Women

2015 marked the year of the dominant female athlete, from the aforementioned Ledecky and Biles to Carli Lloyd and the U.S. Women’s World Cup team to Ronda Rousey (a 2008 Olympic judo bronze medalist) and Serena Williams.

Many more American women established themselves as gold-medal favorites with unbeaten runs in 2015.

Triathlete Gwen Jorgensen extended an unprecedented winning streak to 13 top-level international races since May 2014, bagging her second straight World title. She’s positioned to become the first U.S. Olympic champion in a sport that debuted at Sydney 2000.

Wrestlers Adeline Gray and Helen Maroulis earned World titles in a 100-minute span Sept. 11 and go into 2016 hoping to become the first U.S. women to earn Olympic gold in the sport. Gray and Maroulis, former roommates, both lost in the 2012 Olympic trials finals and went to London anyway to serve as training partners for the women who did make the team.

Boxer Claressa Shields didn’t have a World Championships to crush in 2015, but she moved her record to 66-1 by winning the Olympic trials in November. Shields hasn’t lost since she won 2012 Olympic gold at age 17.

The U.S. became the first nation to hold the Olympic, World, World League and World Cup women’s water polo titles simultaneously after capturing its first World title in six years.

In rowing, the U.S. women’s eight took a 10th straight global title at the World Championships on Sept. 6 with a boat that included just one woman with Olympic experience.

Summer and Winter Paralympic medalist Tatyana McFadden swept the Boston, Chicago, London and New York City marathon wheelchair races for a third straight year.

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

Takeaways from the abbreviated 2019-20 season in ski and snowboard sports

Chris Corning
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Most ski sports don’t hold world championships in even-numbered years, but the coronavirus pandemic brought World Cup campaigns to an early conclusion two years ahead of the Beijing Olympics.

With the seasons over, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team is collecting goggles to provide to health-care workers.

Here’s what we learned in various sports:

ALPINE: Mikaela Shiffrin has company 

The U.S. ski star was on pace to win her fourth straight World Cup season trophy before her father’s sudden passing in early February. She planned to return in March with an outside chance at keeping her title, but the remaining races of the season were canceled. Italy’s Federica Brignone took the trophy, with Shiffrin second.

While Shiffrin held a substantial lead in the World Cup before her hiatus, she wasn’t as unbeatable as she was in the 2018-19 season, when she won a staggering 17 times. That’s an impossible bar to clear, but Shiffrin’s rivals made up enough ground to make future World Cup season titles and the career win record seem less certain than they seemed a year ago.

In Shiffrin’s final slalom race, a discipline in which she has rarely lost in recent years, she placed third behind Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova and Sweden’s Anna Swenn Larsson. Ten days before that, she was second to Vlhova, whose progress impressed Shiffrin. That marked that first time since 2014 that she lost two straight slaloms in the same season. (She was second in the 2016-17 season finale and second again in the 2017-18 season opener, then won 12 of the next 13 slaloms.)

Shiffrin’s ability to get on the podium in any race, no matter the discipline, will make her the World Cup favorite for years to come. But the big prize won’t be as easy as she has made it seem in recent years, and at 66 career victories, she’ll need time to catch Lindsey Vonn‘s women’s record of 82 wins and Ingemar Stenmark‘s overall record of 86.

CROSS-COUNTRY: Diggins, Bjornsen stay in world’s elite 

Jessie Diggins will forever be remembered for winning the 2018 Olympic team sprint with Kikkan Randall as NBC’s Chad Salmela screamed “HERE COMES DIGGINS,” but she also has a strong World Cup resume that she continues to build.

Diggins finished sixth in the season standings for the second straight year, a drop from her second-place finish in 2018 but still comfortably in the top 10. She was joined there by Sadie Maubet Bjornsen, who eighth-place season put her in the top 10 for the second time.

Bjornsen led the three-stage season opener in Ruka, Finland, after taking third in the sprint and finished fourth overall, one place ahead of Diggins, who took third in the pursuit. Diggins added four more podium finishes before the end of the season.

NORDIC COMBINED: Norway takes control 

Jarl Magnus Riiber won his second straight World Cup title at age 22, with fellow Norwegian Joergen Graabak taking a career-high second. Two more Norwegians were in the top six Jens Luraas Oftebro (fourth) and Espen Bjoernstad (sixth). 

In women’s Nordic combined, which is on track to become an Olympic event, U.S. athlete Tara Geraghty-Moats was a close second to Russia’s Stefaniya Nadymova.

READ: Geraghty-Moats has eyes on 2026

SKI JUMPING: U.S. women shut out 

A decade after leading the charge to get women’s ski jumping in the Olympics and eight years after teenager Sarah Hendrickson won the World Cup, the U.S. women went a whole season without an athlete picking up World Cup points. Hendrickson postponed her retirement but competed only on the Continental Cup this season.

U.S. women also won two of the first three ski jumping world championships Lindsey Van in 2009 and Hendrickson in 2013.

In men’s jumping, Austria’s Stefan Kraft edged out Germany’s Karl Geiger to reclaim the World Cup title he last held in 2017. Geiger’s previous career best was 10th in 2019. Japan’s Ryoyu Kobayashi, last year’s champion, took third.

FREESTYLE SKIING: Blunck keeps flying

U.S. halfpipe skier Aaron Blunck followed up his second straight world championship in 2019 with his first World Cup season title. Blunck won both events in the U.S. — December’s competition at Copper Mountain and February’s event at Mammoth Mountain. 

Colby Stevenson (slopestyle) and Alexander Hall (big air) were second in their events. Hall won twice, landing a switch left double 1800 to win in the Atlanta Braves’ SunTrust Park. Stevenson also won at the X Games in Aspen.

In women’s competition, 18-year-old Marin Hamill was second in slopestyle, and Jaelin Kauf finished in the top three for the third straight year.

French skier Perrine Laffont had a dominant season in women’s moguls, winning all six regular moguls events and two of four dual moguls, to take her second straight World Cup title.

SNOWBOARDING: Corning wins in Atlanta and in World Cup

Atlanta’s SunTrust Park hosted a World Cup big air competition, with Chris Corning and Japan’s Reira Iwabuchi winning. Corning also won in Cardrona, New Zealand, and took his second big air season title to go along with slopestyle titles in 2016, 2018 and 2019.

Dusty Henricksen was third in World Cup slopestyle on the strength of a win at Mammoth Mountain, followed by fellow U.S. teen Justus Henkes.

U.S. women’s snowboarders Jamie Anderson and Julia Marino won the only World Cup slopestyle events each one entered. Anderson also won the X Games slopestyle.

Olympic and world halfpipe champion Chloe Kim sat out the season after breaking an ankle in March 2019 and enrolling at Princeton.

BIATHLON: Never count out Dunklee 

Susan Dunklee hasn’t had great success on the World Cup circuit since taking a world championship silver medal in 2017, when she finished a career-best 10th in the World Cup, but she once again took world championship silver in the sprint at Antholz.

Norway’s Johannes Thingnes Boe won the men’s World Cup title despite missing two weeks after the birth of his first child, edging Frenchman Martin Fourcade by two points to spoil the seven-time World Cup champion’s final season.

Boe won his second straight World Cup title, as did Italy’s Dorothea Weirer in the women’s competition.

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Simon Ammann ramps up for one more run at Olympic ski jumping

Simon Ammann
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Simon Ammann, the Swiss ski jumper who gained fame for his resemblance to Harry Potter in 2002 and went to win all four Olympic ski jumps on North American soil this century, has walked back talk of retirement and now says he wants to continue through the 2022 Olympics.

Ammann won the normal hill and large hill in Salt Lake City in 2002. European ski jumpers don’t necessarily get attention from U.S. talk shows, but the 20-year-old Ammann had two things that set him apart. First, his wins were tremendous upsets. Second, he looked like Harry Potter.

He wound up appearing on “The Late Show with David Letterman,” which makes him a wild-card connection in the Kevin Bacon game the peripatetic actor was the other guest on the show that night, and Ammann happily posed with Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick after the show.

Eight years later, Ammann duplicated the feat in Vancouver. This time, he left behind the Harry Potter glasses behind, though he made an enthusiastic walk through the mixed zone wearing comically oversized sunglasses that made him look like the Buggles’ Trevor Horn in the “Video Killed the Radio Star” video, the first music video on MTV.

In 2010, his victories weren’t quite as unexpected. He won the World Cup season title that year, sandwiched between two second-place finishes.

In 2002, on the other hand, he took off from the Olympic hill at Park City having never won a World Cup event. His two wins in the Olympics were his first two in any international competition in the FIS database.

Ammann has also had success in major competition in Asia. He took gold and silver in the 2007 world championships in Sapporo, Japan, the first two of his four career world championship medals. He also won a World Cup event in Sapporo in 2010.

In recent years, though, Ammann hasn’t been competitive on the World Cup circuit. He has been on the podium only once since 2015. Since taking his last major-event medal in 2011, his best result in the world championships was seventh place in 2013.

But he’s already shown he can, like Harry Potter, conjure a surprising performance.

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