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Five Paralympic storylines, one year out from PyeongChang Winter Games

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Five storylines for the first Winter Paralympics in South Korea, one year out from the Opening Ceremony:

1. Can the U.S. top the medal standings?

The last time the U.S. earned the most medals at a Paralympics that it didn’t host was in 1992. It’s possible the U.S. returns to the top next year, but much will hinge on whether Russia is allowed to compete in PyeongChang (more on that below).

In 2014, Russia dominated with 80 medals, including 30 golds, more than three times as many total medals and golds as the second-place nation. In fact, Russia topped the medal table at each of the last three Winter Paralympics.

If Russia is banned from PyeongChang, the U.S. could be right in the mix. It finished third with 18 medals in Sochi, behind Russia and Ukraine (25), though Americans came home with just two gold medals.

2. Will Russia be allowed to compete?

Russia, due to its poor anti-doping record, has been banned from International Paralympic Committee-sanctioned competition since July, which included the Rio Paralympics in September.

The IPC outlined criteria for Russian reinstatement in November, but, as of mid-February, the criteria had not been met. An IPC taskforce unanimously voted to extend Russia’s ban indefinitely, with no date announced to check in on Russia’s status.

Russia’s biggest obstacles to reinstatement are allegations made in a World Anti-Doping Agency-commissioned, independent report into Russian doping that detailed widespread drug use and cover-ups by Russian athletes and officials.

IPC taskforce chair Andy Parkinson wrote that there was “little material progress to date (either by the [Russia Paralympic Committee], or by the relevant Russian authorities) regarding the fundamental requirement to adequately address the findings” of the report.

“Unless and until the problems that led to the [Russia Paralympic Committee] suspension are fully understood and addressed, the IPC Taskforce is of the view that there can be no meaningful change in culture, and that Russian Para athletes cannot return to IPC sanctioned competitions without jeopardizing the integrity of those competitions,” Parkinson wrote.

3. Snowboarding expands

Like the Olympics, the Paralympics continue to expand their program. In PyeongChang, the number of medal events rises from 72 in 2014 to 80, with the addition of eight more snowboarding events. Snowboarding made its Paralympic debut in Sochi with two snowboard cross events.

Next year, the Paralympic snowboard program will include five banked slalom events and five snowboard cross events, with athletes divided among three different classes. The snowboard cross format will switch to head-to-head.

4. U.S. sled hockey moves on in coach’s honor

In Sochi, Jeff Sauer coached the U.S. sled hockey team to a repeat gold medal, the start of a string of six straight international titles through last December.

Sauer died at age 73 on Feb. 2 of pancreatic cancer.

The team recently reconvened ahead of next month’s world championship at the 2018 Olympic venue in South Korea. The U.S. team is expected to include goalie Steve Cash, who blanked Russia in the Sochi Paralympic final, and key Sochi skaters including Declan Farmer and Josh Pauls.

5. U.S. medal hopefuls

In Sochi, the U.S. earned just two gold medals — the aforementioned hockey team and Evan Strong, who led a U.S. sweep in snowboard cross’ debut.

More Americans should top the podium in PyeongChang, if recent world championships are any indication. The biggest star may be Oksana Masters, who won four gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships last month.

Masters, who was born in Ukraine and adopted from an orphange as a young girl, competed in three different sports at the last three Paralympics (2012-rowing, 2014-Nordic skiing, 2016-cycling) and owns three medals, but no golds.

Alpine skier Andrew Kurka may be the top male hope, having bagged three medals at the recent world championships, including downhill gold.

In snowboaring, the U.S. earned three golds at last month’s world championships, shared by Brenna Huckaby and Mike Minor.

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MORE: One year out: PyeongChang Olympic storylines

Bolt’s London Olympic spikes stolen

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DERBY, England (AP) A signed pair of running shoes worn by eight-time Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt has been stolen from an address in Linton, Derbyshire.

The white, blue and red spikes were used by the Jamaican great in a 100 meters heat at the 2012 Games, Derbyshire Police said.

“The spikes are part of an extensive collection that I have built-up over the last 10 years,” the victim said. “There are only four or five pairs of spikes that have been signed from the London 2012 Olympics, they are absolutely irreplaceable.”

The victim did not want to be named.

A 35-year-old man has been charged in connection with the theft. The shoes have yet to be recovered.

Bolt, 31, who retired after the 2017 world championships in London, won the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay titles at the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympics, although he later lost the 2008 relay gold after a team-mate was disqualified for doping.

Anne Donovan, basketball Hall of Famer, gold medalist, dies at 56

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Anne Donovan, a Hall of Fame basketball player and Olympic gold medalist, has died of heart failure at age 56.

Donovan coached the Storm to a 2004 WNBA title.

“While it is extremely difficult to express how devastating it is to lose Anne, our family remains so very grateful to have been blessed with such a wonderful human being,” Donovan’s family said in a statement, according to reports. “Anne touched many lives as a daughter, sister, aunt, friend and coach.

Donovan, a 6-foot-8 center, made the 1980 U.S. Olympic team (as its youngest player after her freshman year at Old Dominion) that ended up missing the Moscow Games due to the U.S. boycott.

She then earned gold with the U.S. in 1984 and 1988, being the oldest player on the latter team at 26. She was inducted as a player into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995 and into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999.

Donovan later was an assistant coach for the 2004 Olympic champion team and head coach for the 2008 Beijing team that took gold. She also was the first female head coach of a WNBA champion team with the Storm in 2004.

“USA Basketball mourns the passing of Anne Donovan,” USA Basketball said in a statement. “She played for her first USA Basketball team in 1977 and during her Hall of Fame, 31-year USA career, she was a member of five U.S. Olympic teams and four USA World Championship teams as an athlete and coach, culminating in leading the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team to gold as our head coach in Beijing. She used to say she bled red, white and blue. As much as we remember her accomplishments in the game, we mourn a great friend who will be greatly missed.”