17 Olympic sports events to watch in 2017

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There are no Olympics in odd-numbered years, but a large majority of major sports will hold world championships in 2017. Plus, there’s that key date of Sept. 13 that could impact the Olympic movement for many years to come.

A look at 17 Olympic sports events to watch in 2017:

1. World Luge Championships
Innsbruck, Austria, Jan. 26-29

Germany swept the gold medals in Olympic events again at the 2016 World Championships, but U.S. sliders continue to gain ground. Erin Hamlin won the first U.S. Olympic singles medal in Sochi and has since been part of a group of sliders to make World Cup podiums, including Emily Sweeney, Summer Britcher, Chris Mazdzer, Tucker West and the doubles team of Matt Mortensen and Jayson Terdiman.

2. Winter X Games
Aspen, Colo., Jan. 26-29

The world’s best winter action sports stars will jostle for Olympic favorite status at their biggest annual gathering. The event could include Chloe Kim, a 16-year-old who won the last two women’s snowboard halfpipe titles, and Shaun White, who was controversially missing from last year’s X Games for the second time this millennium. Other potential PyeongChang stars with X Games experience include freeskiers Maddie BowmanGus Kenworthy and Kelly Sildaru and snowboarders Jamie Anderson, Sage Kotsenburg and Mark McMorris.

3. World Alpine Skiing Championships
St. Moritz, Switzerland, Feb. 6-19

In 2015, the World Alpine Skiing Championships brought together the greatest collection of U.S. Alpine talent in history. Those skiers since went very separate ways. Mikaela Shiffrin is the only U.S. Olympic medalist with a World Cup podium finish this season, and she has seven of them (with six wins). Lindsey Vonn, Julia Mancuso and Ted Ligety have all missed substantial time in the last two years due to injuries. And Bode Miller will not be racing in St. Moritz, but he’s not quite done yet.

VIDEO: Vonn details most painful injury of career

4. World Biathlon Championships
Hochfilzen, Austria, Feb. 6-19

The recent Russian doping problems have impacted biathlon more than most sports, but the stars to watch remain the same. France’s Martin Fourcade was 2.8 seconds shy of sweeping the four individual events at 2016 Worlds. Motivated, he’s already won seven of the first eight World Cup events this season. Norway’s Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, owner of a record 13 Winter Olympic medals, continues to contend at age 42. He earned four medals at 2016 Worlds and ranks fourth in this season’s overall standings. He’s married to Belarus’ Darya Domracheva, a three-time 2014 Olympic champion who is competing in January for the first time since March 2015 after a break due to mononucleosis and childbirth.

5. World Single Distance Championships
Gangneung, South Korea, Feb. 9-12

The 2018 Olympic venue will host speed skating’s biggest competition of the year. The U.S. team memorably flopped in Sochi, but only the Netherlands has earned more medals at the last two world championships combined. Brittany Bowe and Heather Bergsma lead the U.S. charge, while Shani Davis gears up for one more Olympic run.

6. World Bobsled and Skeleton Championships
Koenigssee, Germany, Feb. 13-26

This event was originally awarded to Sochi, but the recent reports of Russian doping violations (and boycott threats) saw them stripped and handed to the world’s sliding sports power in Germany. The U.S. has medal threats in every event. The biggest story in the sport may be the rise of South Korea, which boasts World Cup winners in two-man bobsled and men’s skeleton, though the South Koreans aren’t focused on Koenigssee but PyeongChang.

MORE: Olympic skeleton champion suspended

7. World Nordic Skiing Championships
Lahti, Finland, Feb. 22-March 5

World champions will be crowned in cross-country skiing, ski jumping and Nordic combined. Eyes could be on Norwegian champion skiers who have dealt with different challenges since Sochi — Petter Northug (jail sentence), Marit Bjoergen (pregnancy) and Therese Johaug (suspension) — provided they make it to Lahti.

8. World Freestyle Skiing and Snowboard Championships
Sierra Nevada, Spain, March 7-19

This will award more medals in Winter Olympic sports events than any other global competition in 2017. Though some top snowboarders and freeskiers are usually absent, the aerials and moguls results in particular will be telling for PyeongChang medal predictions. In 2018, the U.S. could be in line to earn more Olympic medals in aerials than moguls for the first time since 1998.

9. World Short Track Championships
Rotterdam, Netherlands, March 10-12

Short track is a national sport in South Korea, so it will be among the hottest tickets at the PyeongChang Winter Games. The world championships will provide a glimpse into where the Olympic host nation’s athletes stand relative to the rest of the world. If Olympic medals were awarded based on current World Cup standings, five different South Koreans would make individual podiums across the six events.

10. World Figure Skating Championships
Helsinki, March 29-April 2

The competition will determine how many spots each nation earns in each discipline at the PyeongChang Olympics. The U.S. men and women will be under scrutiny to grab the maximum three Olympic berths. To do that, the two best American results per event must add up to no greater than 13 (if, say, Ashley Wagner finished sixth and Gracie Gold seventh). The U.S. entries for worlds will be named after the national championships in Kansas City from Jan. 19-22.

MORE: New U.S. skating star performed at 2010 U.S. Champs at age 10

11. World Women’s Hockey Championship Final
Plymouth, Mich., April 7

The U.S. and Canada have played in all 17 world championships gold-medal games, so let’s just jump ahead to the final day of the event. The rivalry story is a familiar one. Canada has dominated the Olympics (four straight titles). The U.S. has dominated worlds (six of the last seven titles). The winner in Plymouth becomes the PyeongChang 2018 favorite.

12. World Aquatics Championships
Budapest, July 14-30

These will be the first worlds or Olympics since 1998 with neither Michael Phelps (retired) nor Ryan Lochte (suspended). The headliners should be Olympic champions Katie Ledecky, Katinka Hosszu, Ryan Murphy, Adam Peaty and Kosuke Hagino.

13. World Beach Volleyball Championships
Vienna, Austria, July 28-Aug. 6

Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross were unable to take Olympic gold, but perhaps their first world title together will come in 2017. Both players have captured world crowns with their previous partners (Misty May-Treanor and Jennifer Kessy), but Walsh Jennings’ shoulder injury hampered them at the 2015 Worlds, where they were bounced in the round of 16.

14. World Track and Field Championships
London, Aug. 4-13

Usain Bolt has said he will retire after this season (but maybe compete in 2018), so worlds sets up to be his final global championship meet. It also shapes up to be a farewell of sorts for Mo Farah, who is expected to switch to the marathon, and possibly Ashton Eaton, who may retire in 2017 but definitely won’t compete in the 2020 Olympics.

MORE: Bolt says why he won’t unretire like Michael Phelps

15. 130th IOC Session
Lima, Peru, Sept. 13-17

IOC members are scheduled to vote to choose the 2024 Olympic host city on Sept. 13. The finalists are Budapest, Los Angeles and Paris, with LA seeking to end the longest U.S. break between hosting Olympics since 1960. The IOC president has not ruled out awarding the 2024 and 2028 Olympics this year, with LA and Paris both reported as strong 2024 candidates.

16. World Gymnastics Championships
Montreal, Oct. 2-8

A new queen of gymnastics should be crowned, as it appears Olympic all-around gold and silver medalists Simone Biles and Aly Raisman will not compete in 2017. It’s unknown when Final Five teammates Gabby Douglas and Laurie Hernandez will return, or if Douglas comes back at at all.

There is no team event at worlds this year, so the all-around crowns will be the most coveted. Biles won the last three world titles on the women’s side, while Japan’s Kohei Uchimura took the last six men’s titles. There’s no reason to believe Uchimura won’t go for No. 7.

17. U.S. Olympic Curling Trials
Omaha, Nov. 12-19

The first athletes named to U.S. Winter Olympic teams are typically curlers. The Olympic Trials for PyeongChang are again held early in the winter sports season. The U.S. is in position to qualify men’s, women’s and mixed doubles teams for PyeongChang at the world championships in March and April. Mixed doubles makes its Olympic debut in 2018.

VIDEO: PyeongChang 2018 Olympic venue tour

John McFall, Paralympic medalist, becomes first parastronaut in Europe

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The European Space Agency made history Wednesday by selecting an amputee who lost his leg in a motorcycle accident to be among its newest batch of astronauts — a leap toward its pioneering ambition to send someone with a physical disability into space.

John McFall, a 41-year-old Briton who lost his right leg when he was 19 and later won a Paralympic 100m bronze medal in 2008, called his selection at Europe’s answer to NASA “a real turning point and mark in history.”

“ESA has a commitment to send an astronaut with a physical disability into space … This is the first time that a space agency has endeavored to embark on a project like this. And it sends a really, really strong message to humanity,” he said.

The newly-minted parastronaut joins five career astronauts in the final selection unveiled during a Paris news conference — the conclusion of the agency’s first recruitment drive in over a decade aimed at bringing diversity to space travel.

McFall will follow a different path than his fellow astronauts because he will participate in a groundbreaking feasibility study exploring whether physical disability will impair space travel. It’s uncharted land, since no major Western space agency has ever put a parastronaut into space, according to the ESA.

Speaking with pride amid flashes of emotion, McFall said that he was uniquely suited to the mission because of the vigor of his mind and body.

“I’m very comfortable in my own skin. I lost my leg about twenty plus years ago, I’ve had the opportunity to be a Paralympic athlete and really explored myself emotionally … All those factors and hardships in life have given me confidence and strength — the ability to believe in myself that I can do anything I put my mind to,” he added.

“I never dreamt of being an astronaut. It was only when ESA announced that they were looking for a candidate with a physical disability to embark on this project that it really sparked my interest.”

The feasibility study, that will last two to three years, will examine the basic hurdles for a parastronaut including how a physical disability might impact mission training, and if modifications to spacesuits and aircraft are required, for example.

ESA’s Director of Human and Robotic Exploration David Parker said it was still a “long road” for McFall but described the fresh recruitment as a long-held ambition.

Parker said it started with a question. “Maybe there are people out there that are almost superhuman in that they’ve already overcome challenges. And could they become astronauts?”

Parker also says that he “thinks” it may be the first time the word “parastronaut” has been used, but “I do not claim ownership.”

“We’re saying that John (McFall) could be the first parastronaut, that means someone who has been selected by the regular astronaut selection process but happens to have a disability that would normally have ruled him out,” he said.

It will be at least five years before McFall goes into space as an astronaut — if he is successful.

Across the Atlantic, Houston is taking note. Dan Huot, a spokesman for NASA’s Johnson Space Center, home to the American agency’s astronaut corps, told the AP that “we at NASA are watching ESA’s para-astronaut selection process with great interest.”

Huot acknowledged that “NASA’s selection criteria currently remains the same” but said the agency is looking forward to working with the “new astronauts in the future” from partners such as the ESA.

NASA stressed that it has a safety-conscious process for vetting future astronauts who might be put in life-threatening situations.

“For maximum crew safety, NASA’s current requirements call for each crew member to be free of medical conditions that could either impair the person’s ability to participate in, or be aggravated by, spaceflight, as determined by NASA physicians,” Huot added.

NASA said future “assistive technology” might change the game for “some candidates” to meet their stringent safety requirements.

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Ilia Malinin in familiar position after Grand Prix Finland short program

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Ilia Malinin landed a quadruple Axel in his free skate to win his first two competitions this season. Less known was that the 17-year-old American had to come from behind to win each time.

An at least slightly injured Malinin looks up in the standings again after the short program of his third event, Grand Prix Finland. Malinin had erred landings on two of his three jumping passes in Friday’s short, where quad Axels are not allowed, then said he had a left foot problem, according to the International Skating Union.

“I’m a little bit injured, I’m playing it safe, protect it to make sure the injury doesn’t get worse,” he said, according to the ISU.

He tallied 85.57 points for second place, which is 3.39 fewer than leader Kevin Aymoz of France going into Saturday’s free skate.

Malinin, the world junior champion ranked No. 1 in the world in his first full senior season, merely needs to finish fourth or better (perhaps even fifth) to qualify for December’s Grand Prix Final, which pits the top six per discipline in the world in a preview of March’s world championships.

Grand Prix Finland concludes with all of the free skates on Saturday.

GRAND PRIX FINLAND: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Earlier Friday, world silver medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium led the women’s short with 74.88 points, edging Mai Mihara of Japan by 1.3. Hendrickx and Mihara are in position to qualify for the Grand Prix Final. World champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan, South Korea’s Yelim Kim and American Isabeau Levito already have spots in the Final.

The world’s top ice dance couple this season, Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, improved on their world-leading rhythm dance score by tallying 87.80 points. They lead Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker by 6.87, with both couples in position to qualify for the Grand Prix Final.

Italians Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini topped the pairs’ short program by 4.3 points over Americans Anastasiia Smirnova and Danil Siianytsia. The Italians rank fourth in the world this season behind three teams that aren’t in the Finland field but will be at the Grand Prix Final, including world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier of the U.S.

Smirnova and Silanytsia are competing in their lone Grand Prix this season after withdrawing before Skate America, making them ineligible for Grand Prix Final qualification. Their short program score ranks fourth among American pairs this season, putting them in contention for one of three spots on the team for worlds, to be decided after January’s national championships.

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