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Steven Holcomb reacts to Russia bobsled doping report

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U.S. bobsledder Steven Holcomb isn’t ready to say he wants Sochi Olympic medals redistributed after Thursday’s report of Russian gold medalists doping.

Holcomb-driven sleds took bronze medals in the two- and four-man at the 2014 Winter Games. Those events were both won by sleds driven by Alexander Zubkov, one of four Russian gold medalists from Sochi reported Thursday as being part of a state-run doping program leading up to the Winter Games.

“It’s really hard to say,” Holcomb said Thursday night when asked if he thought he deserved to be upgraded to silver. “I know Zubkov. I would like to say that I’m actually friends with Zubkov. … He’s helped me out. I’ve helped him. … I’d like to think that he is an honorable guy.”

That said, Holcomb had heard and read previously about doping in bobsled.

“I’m definitely suspicious,” said Holcomb, who in 2010 piloted a four-man crew that ended a 62-year U.S. Olympic gold-medal drought in men’s bobsled. “I kid you not, I’ve had this conversation with Russian [bobsled] pushers, multiple times, about what constitutes cheating. And they said, well, you should be able to take anything, any sort of steroid, performance-enhancing drug, any time. Just not on race day.”

Those memories re-emerged when he read the report Thursday afternoon.

“It’s been hard to swallow,” he said. “I guess I kind of think it’s been a very good day, but at the same time it’s hard to know that you’ve been doing this for so long and working so hard and you end up being cheated in the end.”

Zubkov’s victories at the Olympics were partially attributed to his experience on the Sochi track. Being a Russian, he had the home advantage of many more training runs at the Sanki Sliding Center, reportedly as much as 10 times as many as Holcomb, going into the Winter Games.

Holcomb stuck to that contention Thursday, even though the use of performance-enhancing drugs could impact the all-important start times pushing the sled at the top of the track.

“You could see that he knew [driving] tricks about the track that you just couldn’t figure out,” Holcomb said.

Zubkov called Thursday’s report “baseless libel” on Russian TV, according to The Associated Press.

Holcomb, who is still driving, and Zubkov, who retired after the Sochi Olympics, have not spoken since the Winter Games. Holcomb would reach out to Zubkov but doesn’t have his contact information.

“I would like to ask him, ‘Hey, what’s up? Talk to me,'” Holcomb said. “Not to admit you’re guilty or not guilty, but just talk to me. Like I said, I’ve known the guy for a long time. For six months a year, we spend four or five hours a day together [in the World Cup season]. It’s a lot of time. It becomes a brotherhood, a family.”

Holcomb instead spent Thursday evening talking to a doping-control officer in Lake Placid, N.Y., where he is doing offseason training.

Holcomb was undergoing a random, out-of-competition drug test while watching the below NBC Nightly News report on the doping news, for which he was interviewed.

“It sounds crazy, but it actually happened,” said Holcomb, who was not allowed the use of a cell phone while being drug tested and thus couldn’t document the twist of fate. “If I could take a picture, I would have.”

MORE: Holcomb competed at Olympics with torn Achilles

Brian Orser reveals Hanyu’s, Medvedeva’s, and Brown’s Grand Prix plans

Yuzuru Hanyu
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Over the past decade, the Toronto club where Brian Orser coached South Korea’s Yuna Kim to the 2010 Olympic title has become such an attraction for top figure skaters from around the globe that it could add a word to a name that already is a mouthful.

You could call it the Toronto International Cricket Skating and Curling Club.

But its reach now is limited by the deadly virus pandemic that has effectively frozen out the elite athletes from Japan, Russia, South Korea and Poland who train at the Cricket Club.

That situation won’t change quickly, even with the International Skating Union having announced Monday its plans to proceed with a live format for the international Grand Prix Series. This fall, it will become a series of six essentially domestic competitions scheduled to begin with Skate America Oct. 23-25 in Las Vegas.

If they take place.

“As soon as the skaters can come back, it will be full steam ahead… to where, we don’t know,” Orser said via telephone Wednesday.

Two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu remains in Japan. Two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva is in Russia, four-time national champion Cha Jun-Hwan in South Korea, and two-time national champion Yekaterina Kurakova in Poland.

“We would like for them all to come back, but with the Canadian travel restrictions in place until at least Aug. 21, we can’t guarantee approval to get them in, and they would have a 14-day quarantine here if they do get in,” Tracy Wilson, who coaches with Orser, said via telephone Wednesday. “Right now, they are all training at home, and that’s OK.

“The situation is different for each one. The Japanese federation may need Yuzu to do the Grand Prix in Japan, and at this point he would face quarantine entering Canada and returning to Japan.

“For Yevgenia, as soon as she does the Russian test skates (scheduled for early September), we will re-evaluate her situation.”

Orser said he has been doing three video coaching sessions a week with Medvedeva, with whom he is in his third season as coach. Medvedeva, who left Russia for Canada after winning a silver medal at the 2018 Olympics, also is currently getting help from coach Elena Buyanova at the CSKA rink in Moscow.

“She (Medvedeva) looks way ahead of where she was at this point last year,” Orser said.

MORE: Looking back at Yuna Kim’s 10-year gold medal anniversary

Orser also has been having live remote sessions with Cha and Kurakova, and they are also sending videos to him. The only skater he has not seen is Hanyu.

“That’s normal when he is back in Japan,” Orser said. “I wasn’t expecting anything.”

How long Hanyu stays in Japan may depend on travel restrictions being loosened in both his homeland and Canada.

“I would like to get them all back, and they need to come back,” Orser said. “But facing a double quarantine is not in anyone’s best interest.”

Only two of the Cricket Club’s international skaters, 2014 Olympian Jason Brown of suburban Chicago and Yi Zhu of Los Angeles (who represents China), have come back to Toronto after leaving in late winter.

It took Brown two tries to get back across the border because of issues with the paperwork necessary for Canada to consider it essential he be allowed to enter. Orser and Wilson want to be sure any skaters coming from Asia and Europe are admitted on the first try.

From April to July, until skaters could get back on the ice in their various homelands, Brown led Thursday off-ice fitness classes via Zoom, with Medvedeva, Cha and Kurakova taking part.

“It was such a fun way to stay connected and still ‘train’ together while we were oceans apart,” Brown said in a Wednesday text message.

Orser and Wilson will recommend that all the foreign skaters training at the Cricket Club try to compete at Skate Canada, scheduled the last weekend of October at a 9,500-seat arena in Ottawa. Wilson thought if the event cannot have spectators, it might be moved to a smaller facility, possibly in a different city.

“All plans are in the early stages,” Skate Canada spokesperson Emma Bowie said in an email.

Grand Prix assignments have not yet been made.

Whether Brown picks Skate Canada over Skate America – if he gets a choice – could depend on when (and if) the Canadian government shortens quarantine periods for travelers from the United States.

“I know that we are in such unprecedented and uncertain times, so I love seeing the ISU being creative and trying to find a way to hold skating events this year,” Brown wrote. “While a lot can happen before October, if it’s safe to do so, I’ll be ready and eager to take part in any events that I can.”

The ISU said it wants to have the Grand Prix Final in Beijing, whether it takes place on its original dates (Dec. 10-13) or early in 2021. The competition is to be used as a test event of the skating venue for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

There are no details yet on qualification for the final, which usually is determined by points for placements at the six “regular season” events of the series, held in the U.S., Canada, China, France, Russia and Japan. The top six in each of the sport’s four disciplines make the Final.

In the past, the highest-ranked skaters could compete in up to two Grand Prix events, but ISU Vice-President Alexander Lakernik of Russia said in a Tuesday email that everyone would be limited to one event this year.

Because the Final presumably would have much more of an international field than the six other events, staging it is infinitely more problematic because of travel involved.

“We want what’s best for the sport,” Wilson said. “We have to get these kids out there doing programs, to get them on TV. [Note: An NBC spokesman said the network would, as planned, provide coverage of the Grand Prix, with details forthcoming.] In terms of competition, we’re up for anything.

“For me, though, with all the restrictions, there is no way they will be able to run a fair qualification for the Grand Prix Final. You’ve got to reinvent yourself and make it something else – if you are able to have it at all.”

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

MORE: Nathan Chen is surprised, grateful and posing questions about figure skating’s restart

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Steven Nyman, top U.S. downhiller, faces another obstacle

Steven Nyman
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Steven Nyman, the active U.S. leader in World Cup downhill wins, tore his right Achilles in a training crash and had surgery earlier this week in Mt. Hood, Ore.

“I am moving forward,” was posted on Nyman’s social media. “I’ve been through this before and have full intention to comeback [sic] and compete through the next Olympics.”

Nyman raced in three Olympics and owns three World Cup downhill victories.

He turns 40 during the next Winter Games in Beijing in 2022, when he will be three and a half years older than any previous U.S. Olympic Alpine skier.

Nyman missed the PyeongChang Olympics after a pair of major injuries: blowing out his left knee in a January 2017 downhill race crash and tearing his right ACL in downhill training in January 2018. He also tore his left Achilles in 2011.

He raced the last two seasons with a best World Cup finish of fifth in Val Gardena, Italy, site of all of his World Cup wins in 2006, 2012 and 2014.

The U.S. men’s program is in the midst of its longest World Cup downhill victory and podium droughts this millennium — none since Travis Ganong‘s win in Garmish-Partenkirchen, Germany, on Jan. 27, 2017.

MORE: Alpine skiing World Cup plans earlier season start with fewer fans

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