After IOC joins talks, no decision yet on NHL players in 2018 Olympics

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The four top stakeholders in the discussion over whether NHL players will participate in the Winter Olympics in South Korea next year met without resolution Friday, with one warning that time is running short to make a decision.

Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee, for the first time joined International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fasel, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL Players’ Association Executive Director Don Fehr at a meeting in New York. With league owners reluctant to put next season on hiatus for nearly three weeks against the wishes of their own players, it’s clear that hurdles remain with 12 months to go.

Fasel said the group may need to get back together soon and set a deadline.

“I have a coordination commission in March in Korea,” Fasel told reporters at NHL offices in New York. “We need to know about the accommodation. We need to know about the transportation. The sooner we know, the better we can prepare the conditions for the NHL players and the NHL.”

Bettman and NHL team owners appear willing to skip the Pyeongchang Games in 2018 and possibly resume Olympic participation in China four years later, assuming the IOC would allow that to happen. They don’t want to shut their season down without tangible benefits, and the 14-hour time difference and relatively small market in South Korea are not enticing.

“The focus from the clubs’ standpoint is what does this disruption to our season mean?” Bettman said. “Clubs are very concerned about the competitiveness of our season, the health and wellbeing of our players, whether or not there’s fatigue. From our standpoint, I think the clubs are very much focused on disruption to the NHL season.”

Players, it seems universally, want to participate in a sixth straight Olympics.

“There’s a shared interest in developing our game with international play,” Fehr said in a telephone interview. “We have a difference of opinion with the owners about where the Olympics fit in, particularly in South Korea.”

Fehr said Bach’s presence was a positive sign.

“It was good that he came and showed interest,” Fehr told The Associated Press. “We had a frank discussion without any agreements.”

While the IOC got involved in the talks, Bach made it clear the other three parties will have to come up with an agreement.

“We all want see the best players at the Olympic Winter Games Pyeongchang 2018, and we know the players feel the same,” Bach said. “Therefore, we hope even more that the international federation and the NHL will reach a solution to make the Olympic dreams of the players come true.”

The IIHF has come up with the money needed to cover travel and insurance costs for players, Fasel said, suggesting other issues are more important.

The Olympics has become part of the NHL labor situation. The league recently asked if the union would eliminate its opt-out option in 2019 and extend the labor pact three years through the 2024-2025 season in exchange for participating in the 2018 Olympics. The union refused.

More than 400 miles away from the meeting, John Tavares was paying attention in Detroit as he and the rest of the New York Islanders prepared for a game against the Red Wings. Tavares, a union representative, said the topic seems to be a bargaining chip between the league and players.

“It can be used as a sensitive issue,” he said. “You can make the argument on the negative impact it can make during the regular season, but then globally, the positive impact it can make. There’s a lot of talk about China and preseason games and the growth there when the Olympics go there. We’ll see what happens. There’s a lot of moving parts.”

Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom said the Olympics is a unique event and is eager to return to a third Games.

“This is an event, huge in the whole world. I don’t see why we have to give something up now. I think just play for your country in a big event all over the world,” he said.

MORE: 2018 Olympic hockey groups set

 

 

At U.S. Open swim meet, teens make a splash with Olympic trials on horizon

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While Olympic and world champions Katie LedeckySimone Manuel and Chase Kalisz notched expected victories at the U.S. Open on Thursday, a trio of teenagers lowered personal bests to further establish their Tokyo Olympic hopes.

At the top domestic meet of the winter, Alex WalshCarson Foster and Kieran Smith each earned runner-up finishes, but their performances stood out in the big picture: looking at June’s Olympic trials, where the top two per individual event make the team.

Walsh, a rising Nashville high school senior, took 2.23 seconds off her 200m individual medley best. She clocked 2:09.01, overtaken by .17 by Melanie Margalis, the Rio Olympic and 2019 World Championships fourth-place finisher.

Full meet results are here.

Walsh moved from fifth-fastest in the U.S. this year to No. 2 behind Margalis, passing Olympic and world championships veterans Ella EastinKathleen Baker and Madisyn Cox. Of those swimmers, only Eastin was also in Thursday’s final.

Walsh joined her younger sister, Gretchen, in Olympic qualifying position based on 2019 times. Gretchen, 16, ranks fourth in the U.S. in the 100m free this year. The top six in that event at trials are in line to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool.

The Walshes could become the third set of sisters to make the same U.S. Olympic swim team, and the second to do it in pool swimming after Dana and Tara Kirk in 2004.

Foster, 18, continued his ascent Thursday in taking second to Kalisz in the men’s 200m IM. The world junior champion lowered his personal best in the prelims and the final, getting down to 1:57.59. Foster passed Ryan Lochte, who is nearly twice his age, in Thursday’s final and in the 2019 U.S. rankings. Only Kalisz and Michael Andrew have been faster among Americans this year.

Foster is trying to become the youngest U.S. Olympic male swimmer since 2000, when a 15-year-old Michael Phelps made his Olympic debut. Foster, who has been breaking Phelps national age-group records since he was 10, committed to the University of Texas in March 2018, two years before he graduates high school in Ohio.

Then there’s Kieran Smith, now a prime candidate to fill a huge void in the 400m freestyle. Zane Grothe is the only American ranked in the top 20 in the world this year.

Smith, a 19-year-old from the University of Florida, took 2.29 seconds off his lifetime best on Thursday to jump from outside the top 10 to No. 2 in the U.S. on the year. Smith was already ranked No. 2 in the country in the 200m free.

Two more runners-up in the 50m freestyles — Erika Brown to Manuel and Zach Apple to Brazilian Bruno Fratus — lowered personal bests to move to No. 3 in each U.S. ranking list this year.

The U.S. Open continues Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. ET with live coverage on NBCSN and streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

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Nathan Chen distances Yuzuru Hanyu in Grand Prix Final short program

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A brilliant Nathan Chen outscored a flawed Yuzuru Hanyu for a fourth straight head-to-head program, taking a 12.95-point lead at the Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy, on Thursday.

Chen, the two-time reigning world champion, tallied 110.38 points going into Saturday’s free skate. He landed a quadruple Lutz, triple Axel and quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination.

It’s the highest short program score in the world this season, leading the American to say “wow” in the kiss-and-cry area. His coach, the often-gruff Rafael Arutyunyan, banged his knee against his pupil’s.

Hanyu, the two-time reigning Olympic champion, hit a quadruple Salchow and triple Axel but then stepped out of a quad toe landing. He therefore failed to include a required jumping combination and ended up in second place.

“I wanted to do a great performance and do a good competition against [Chen], but that didn’t happen this time,” Hanyu, who was without longtime coach Brian Orser, or any other coach, said through a translator. Hanyu said Orser was busy last week, so he chose to use his lone accreditation on another coach who had travel delays.

Hanyu is not out of title contention. His world-leading free skate score this season is 16.61 points better than Chen’s best free skate from the fall Grand Prix Series.

Chen is undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics, but this is just his second head-to-head with Hanyu in that span. Chen defeated Hanyu at March’s world championships, where the Japanese megastar was likely affected by an ankle injury.

After Thursday’s program, Chen repeated what he said before the competition: he still feels like he’s chasing Hanyu.

“Yuzu is like the goat, he’s the greatest of all time, really,” Chen said. “So, to have this opportunity to be able to share the ice with a guy like that, someone that I’ve looked up to for a long time, someone that I’ve watched grow up through the junior ranks when I was like a baby, it’s really cool to be able see him now. It’s really cool to even just be able to see him person.”

The Grand Prix Final, the biggest annual event outside the world championships, continues Friday with the rhythm dance, women’s short and pairs’ free skate. A full TV and live stream schedule is here.

Earlier in pairs, Chinese Sui Wenjing and Han Cong took their first step toward a first Grand Prix Final title. The Olympic silver medalists tallied 77.50, leading Russians Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitriy Kozlovskiy by .85 going into Friday’s free skate.

Sui and Han were imperfect, with Sui putting her hand down on a throw triple flip landing. They are undefeated in this Beijing Olympic cycle and own the world’s top total score this season.

The U.S. failed to qualify a pair for the six-team Final for the 11th time in the last 12 years.

Grand Prix Final
Men’s Short Program
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 110.38
2. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 97.43
3. Kevin Aymoz (FRA) — 96.71
4. Dmitriy Aliyev (RUS) — 88.78
5. Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 81.32
6. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 80.67

Pairs’ Short Program
1. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 77.50
2. Aleksandra Boikova / Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 76.65
3. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 75.16
4. Anastasia Mishina/Aleksandr Galliamov (RUS) — 71.48
5. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 69.67
6. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN) — 67.08

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