Ronnie Berlack, Bryce Astle
USSA

U.S. Ski Team forms foundation in memory of Astle, Berlack

Leave a comment

The group of young skiers on that tragic day saw only this: A slope that wasn’t roped off and blanketed in fresh snow.

What they didn’t know was the region had a level-three warning for avalanches that morning, meaning there was “considerable risk.” U.S. Ski Team prospects Bryce Astle and Ronnie Berlack were killed in a slide on Jan. 5, 2015, in Soelden, Austria, while some of their teammates escaped.

As a tribute and a way to better educate skiers, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) formed the Bryce and Ronnie Athlete Safety and Security (BRASS) Foundation. The mission will be to develop a how-to guide to not only keep skiers out of harm’s way on the slopes, but to tackle other issues such as what to do in case of a terrorist attack at an airport and travel from city to city given that the racers are on the road so much.

The board members include the parents of Berlack and Astle, along with a sports psychologist, a retired FBI agent, avalanche specialists and security experts.

“This whole thing was driven out of a tragedy and the thought of, ‘How can we make sure it doesn’t happen again?'” said George “Jory” Macomber, a longtime educator who will chair the committee.

On that day in 2015, Berlack, Astle and the rest of the group spotted an inviting slope after a big snowfall. They didn’t realize it hadn’t been controlled for avalanche mitigation. They were caught in the massive snow slide.

“We have learned through our investigation and interviews with the group of athletes and coaches on the Soelden trip that the group was unprepared for the risk encountered on that fateful day,” USSA President and CEO Tiger Shaw said in a statement. “Ronnie and Bryce were talented and experienced world-class skiers who would not have taken unnecessary risks.”

The USSA will provide the initial seed money to launch the foundation, which will rely on fundraising to support its objective over time. Macomber said the committee has general goals for now, but will narrow the focus once members begin meeting.

“It’s really about everything outside the netting and the course: Training situations, free skiing, travel, lodging, driving,” Macomber said. “This is the next logical step to improving our safety for athletes and coaches.”

At the forefront will be avalanche safety. But the committee also wants to address such topics as what to do in case of an attack like the one at the Brussels Airport and subway in March.

“As we collectively mourn the loss of Bryce and Ronnie, we recognize the importance of safety training and planning at all levels of athlete development,” Shaw said. “This is why we are launching a nationwide effort in their memory to promote comprehensive, meaningful and continuous safety and security planning.

“USSA is committed to raising awareness within our own programs, as well as helping clubs, coaches, and athletes better understand the risks inherent in skiing. Through this effort, the USSA and the foundation will seek to reduce the possibility of tragedies occurring like the one which took Ronnie and Bryce from us.”

This is how much Astle and Berlack mean to this team: They were named to the U.S. squad last November as family and friends gathered in Copper Mountain, Colo., to remember the talented skiers.

The parents of Astle and Berlack will be a driving force on the committee.

“It is our hope that through time, (Ronnie) continues to inspire athletes to reach for their limitless potential, and to be safe doing it,” Cindy and Steve Berlack said in a statement.

MORE: Lindsey Vonn details ‘excruciating pain’ in season-ending crash

Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal rekindle record bids at French Open

Leave a comment

Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal will play on the same day at the French Open through the quarterfinals, assuming each advances that far and the weather doesn’t wreak havoc. Each time they walk on the crushed red clay, the legends move closer to tying all-time records.

Williams, in her 10th bid since returning from childbirth to tie Margaret Court‘s 24 Grand Slam singles titles, battled and then rolled past 102nd-ranked countrywoman Kristie Ahn 7-6 (2), 6-0.

“I just need to play with more confidence, like I’m Serena,” she said of the difference between a 74-minute first set and a 27-minute second set. “I love the clay, and I started playing like it, opening the court and moving and sliding.”

Nadal, in his second major since moving within one of Roger Federer‘s male record 20 Slam titles, swept 83rd-ranked Belarusian Egor Gerasimov 6-4, 6-4, 6-2.

“Six months without playing a single tennis match is not easy,” said Nadal, who skipped the U.S. Open and then lost his third match at his comeback tournament in Rome. “I had to stop playing tennis for more than two months, so situation is difficult.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Their pursuits are very different.

Williams is already the greatest player in history by many measures, especially considering most of Court’s crowns came before the Open Era and some at the Australian Open without the world’s best players.

Williams has lost all four of her major finals since her life-threatening childbirth. But she is not the favorite in Paris, despite the absence of 2019 champion Ash Barty of Australia and recent U.S. Open winner Naomi Osaka. Williams hasn’t made the quarterfinals at Roland Garros in four years and just went 16 months between competitive matches on clay.

She’s also battling an Achilles injury that affected her during a U.S. Open semifinal run three weeks ago. She’s spent most of her preparation time in France rehabbing.

“A ton of prayer,” she said, noting coming early to a post-match press conference to maximize her subsequent time handling the Achilles. “I’m doing so much for it.”

None of Williams’ potential first three opponents have ever beaten her. Next up: Bulgarian and fellow mom Tsvetana Pironkova, a rematch of their three-set U.S. Open quarterfinal three weeks ago.

Like Williams, Nadal next plays on Wednesday. He gets Mackenzie McDonald, one of six American men to so far reach round two, the most since 1998.

For more than a decade, followers have debated the greatest male player in history between Nadal and Federer (and now Novak Djokovic). But not until winning the 2019 U.S. Open did Nadal move within one Slam of Federer’s total.

Now, Nadal can tie Federer and pass the Swiss if he wins the next two French Opens (and Federer doesn’t win the next Australian Open).

Nadal is going for his 13th crown in Paris, as usual downplaying his favorite status. This time, he’s noting the cool, slow, autumnal conditions and a new brand of tennis ball that is disadvantageous.

“Conditions here probably are the most difficult conditions for me ever in Roland Garros,” Nadal said last week. “The conditions are a little bit extreme to play an outdoor tournament.”

Federer is not playing after two knee operations. Nadal, who at 34 is five years younger than Federer, has the opportunity in the coming matches and months to tip the scales in his favor. And help deny Djokovic, who is 33 with 17 Slams.

Nadal is not one to engage in that GOAT debate. Turns out, neither is Williams.

“You can’t compare two people that are equally great,” she said of Nadal and Federer. “I don’t understand why people want to pit who’s this, who’s that? They both have spectacular careers that 99 percent of people can only dream of and they both deserve.”

Earlier Monday, newly crowned U.S. Open champion Dominic Thiem rolled 2014 U.S. Open winner Marin Cilic 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.

Thiem, the 2018 and 2019 French Open runner-up, next gets American Jack Sock, a former top-10 player now ranked No. 310.

Sock took out countryman Reilly Opelka 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 for his first main draw win at the French Open in four years.

MORE: Halep, Comaneci and the genesis of a Romanian friendship

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

World silver medalist opts out of figure skating Grand Prix

Elizabet Tursynbaeva
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Elizabet Tursynbayeva, the 2019 World silver medalist, said she will not compete in figure skating’s upcoming Grand Prix Series, according to Kazakhstan’s Olympic Committee.

Tursynbayeva noted in stating her decision that world ranking points will not be awarded in the series, which starts with Skate America from Oct. 23-25.

Fields for the six Grand Prix events, held on consecutive weekends through November, have not been released.

Skaters will be restricted to one Grand Prix start — halved from the usual two — and to the event in their home nations or closest to their training locations.

Tursynbayeva trains in Russia, one of six nations to host Grand Prix events.

Previously, Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu announced he would not compete on the Grand Prix due to coronavirus pandemic-related travel risks.

Russian Olympic gold medalist Alina Zagitova, who announced an indefinite break from competition last December, is also not expected to compete. She is hosting a Russian skating-themed TV show but has not announced her future competition plans.

Tursynbayeva took silver behind Zagitova at the most recent world championships in 2019, a surprise given her 12th-place finish at the PyeongChang Olympics. Tursynbayeva withdrew before her 2019 Grand Prix events, reportedly after suffering an injury.

Last season’s top skaters were all first-year seniors — Russians Alena Kostornaya, Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova. The world championships were not held due to the pandemic.

Two-time U.S. champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough for the Grand Prix until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

MORE: Orser reacts to Medvedeva’s coaching switch

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!