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Takeaways from World Short Track Speed Skating Championships

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Three thoughts off the weekend’s World Short Track Speed Skating Championships …

1. Elise Christie is one of the great athlete stories for PyeongChang

The Briton won the 1000m and 1500m and finished third in the 3000m last weekend to become the first European woman to bag the world overall title. It marked the peak of a decade-long ascent for the two-time Olympian who was a figure skater until age 15.

Christie had a nightmare Sochi Olympics. She was disqualified from the 500m final (colliding with another skater), disqualified from the 1000m semifinals (colliding with another skater) and disqualified from the 1500m opening round (finishing too far inside).

Christie was cyberbullied as well, reportedly by South Korean accounts upset that her collision in the 500m final wiped out Park Seung-Hi‘s shot at gold. Christie’s Twitter account was temporarily deactivated.

“It took me about two years to get over what happened in Sochi, not just the outcome but also the repercussions after what people had said,” Christie said on the BBC on Tuesday. “I lost a lot of self-confidence as a person, outside of sport, but obviously I’ve learned to live with who I am now.”

She rebounded at the world championships, winning one medal in March 2014, then two in 2015 and three in 2016, plus the overall bronze.

Christie won multiple races at World Cup stops in Shanghai and the 2018 Olympic venue of Gangneung, South Korea, in December (saying she was received warmly by South Koreans in Gangneung). But she suffered a concussion in January, knocking her out of February’s World Cups.

Christie said she lost vision in her left eye with numbness all down the left side of her face. She experienced headaches and wasn’t able to sleep properly.

Yet in Rotterdam, Christie was superb. In the 1000m in particular, passing two South Koreans with two laps left in her semifinal and then making passes on three of the last four laps to win the final.

“World champion overall has always been my dream goal,” Christie told the BBC. “The Olympic goal is obviously a dream, but this is more because you have to be consistent. You have to get everything right again and again and again.”

An Olympic gold in PyeongChang “would make everything from Sochi just disappear,” she said.

2. South Korean men rise up, women suffer misfortune

Of South Korea’s 53 Winter Olympic medals, 42 have come in short track speed skating. South Koreans have won twice as many Olympic short track golds than any other country.

So the world championships, one year before South Korea hosts its first Winter Olympics, were huge.

The South Korean men came through, unlike the Sochi Winter Games, where they went medal-less for the second time in Olympic history.

Seo Yi-Ra won South Korea’s first overall world title in four years, ending its longest stretch between men’s overall titles since the Koreans came to prominence 25 years ago. Sin Da-Woon, part of that desultory effort in Sochi, added the 1500m gold. South Korea earned at least one medal in all four individual men’s races in Rotterdam.

The South Korean women were not successful. Stunning considering Shim Suk-Hee and Choi Min-Jeong combined to win the last three overall world titles. Shim, a triple 2014 Olympic medalist who changed the last four digits of her phone number to 2018, salvaged the team’s effort by winning the final individual race, the 3000m, in Rotterdam.

Choi, 18, was bidding for her third straight overall title but came home with no medals. It was largely as a result of bad luck. She crashed in the 1500m final and the 500m semis, with other skaters at least partially to blame. In the 1000m, Choi was passed for the lead by Christie on the final lap and appeared to have silver wrapped up, but was disqualified.

The South Koreans can take solace in the fact that Russian Viktor Ahn, the former South Korean Ahn Hyun-Soo, struggled in Rotterdam. Ahn, who was .077 away from sweeping the Sochi Olympic golds, earned just one medal over the weekend, a bronze in the 3000m. Ahn was not a factor in the 1500m and 500m finals and was eliminated in the 1000m quarterfinals after taking last season off.

3. U.S. struggles

Only one U.S. skater qualified for a final — three-time Olympic medalist J.R. Celski, who was eighth in the 1500m. The U.S. went medal-less at a third straight worlds, its longest drought in at least 20 years. This comes after the U.S. earned no individual medals at the Olympics for the second time in the sport’s short Olympic history (since 1992).

The U.S. program has descended since Apolo Ohno‘s last Olympics in 2010. Its headlines since have centered on skate-tampering and coaching-abuse scandals.

But there is a bit of a silver lining heading into the Olympic season.

Celski, the biggest U.S. star, could still be finding his form after significant knee and hip injuries. Katherine Reutter, a 2010 Olympic medalist and 2011 World champion, showed promising signs making World Cup finals this season after a three-year retirement. But Reutter missed worlds after a concussion earlier in the winter.

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Tommy Ford ends U.S. men’s World Cup drought at Beaver Creek

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Tommy Ford earned his first World Cup win at age 30 and ended the U.S. men’s longest victory and podium droughts in two decades.

Ford won the giant slalom in Beaver Creek, Colo., on Sunday, the last North American race on tour this season. He prevailed by eight tenths of a second combining times over two runs.

“It doesn’t beat doing it here. I’ve been working hard,” Ford, in his 86th World Cup start dating to 2009, said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “No secret, just kept it simple and really trusted what I was doing.”

Norwegians Henrik Kristoffersen and Leif Kristian Nestvold-Haugen were second and third. American Ted Ligety, fourth after the opening run, finished 11th.

Full results are here.

Ford became the first U.S. man to win a World Cup since Travis Ganong took a downhill on Jan. 27, 2017. He also became the first U.S. male podium finisher since Ligety in January 2018. Both were the longest droughts for the program since the late 1990s.

Ford, a 2010 and 2018 Olympian who missed the 2014 Olympics due to a broken femur, had been working toward this moment.

He finished a World Cup career-high fourth at the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, on Oct. 27. Last season, the Oregon native and former Dartmouth student had a pair of fifths.

The men’s World Cup moves to Val d’Isere, France, next weekend for a giant slalom and slalom.

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Katie Ledecky wins race by 30 seconds, takes back No. 1 ranking

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In her last race of the year, Katie Ledecky ensured she would finish 2019 as the world’s fastest 1500m freestyler.

Ledecky clocked 15:35.98 at the U.S. Open in Atlanta, winning the longest event on the Olympic pool program by 29.97 seconds. Typical for Ledecky, who owns the nine fastest times in history. This one came in at No. 8. Full meet results are here.

Ledecky scratched the 1500m free final at the summer world championships due to illness. Italian Simona Quadarella went on to win that title in 15:40.89, which was the world’s fastest time this year until Saturday night.

“I didn’t have time on my mind at all today. I just wanted to have a consistent swim,” Ledecky, undefeated in 1500m free finals for nine years, said on NBCSN. “That’s probably the best mile that I’ve had in a while.”

The women’s 1500m freestyle debuts at the Olympics in Tokyo. Ledecky is expected to add that to her Rio Olympic individual lineup of 200m, 400m and 800m frees, assuming she is top two in each event at the June Olympic trials.

In other events Saturday, Erika Brown handed Simone Manuel a rare defeat in the 100m freestyle. Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, clocked 53.42 and lowered her personal best by .71 between prelims and the final. Brown moved from sixth to fourth in the U.S. rankings this year, upping her stock as a contender to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool via a top-six finish at trials.

Brown previously lowered her personal best in the 50m free on Thursday. She ranks third in the U.S. this year in that event.

Emily Escobedo dealt Lilly King a rare domestic defeat in the 200m breaststroke. Escobedo lowered her personal best by .87 and clocked 2:22.00, moving to seventh fastest in the world this year and remaining fourth among Americans.

In the men’s 200m breast, Olympic champion Dmitriy Balandin of Kazakhstan was beaten by Cody Miller, the Olympic 100m breast silver medalist. Both were slower than their best times this year.

The next significant swim meet is a Tyr Pro Series stop in Knoxville, Tenn., from Jan. 16-19.

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