Gary Bettman: No evidence Olympics has improved NHL in North America

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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said there’s no tangible, concrete evidence that Olympic participation since 1998 has benefited the NHL in North America.

“It hasn’t any impact,” Bettman said in a radio interview Wednesday. “We look at TV ratings, we look at attendance, we look at everything, and it’s been disruptive. Is it conceivable that in some places around the world, where they’re watching the Olympics, it might have a positive impact? I suppose, but I think back when we went to Nagano, Japan, [in 1998] the building that we played the event in, the day after the Olympics were over, they ripped out the ice.”

NHL officials have said there are no plans to participate in the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games unless the status quo changes, but they haven’t made a final decision. They don’t want to take a break during their season to send players to the Olympics for a sixth straight time.

Bettman repeated some of the league’s concerns on Wednesday.

“We don’t even get the opportunity to promote the fact that we’re at the Olympics,” he said. “We don’t get to use the [Olympic] rings. I’ve said to the IOC, you know, Coca-Cola is a sponsor, they get to promote their association and say proud sponsor of the Olympics. They won’t let us do that, and we would lend player contracts worth something like $3.5 billion for those 17 days. There’s no recognition of the value by the IOC and the IIHF that we bring to the Olympics.

“To do it when there’s no football, and there’s no baseball, it’s really just us and basketball, and to get really no benefit of it. I’m not talking about compensation. We can’t market or promote that we’re there. We’re just there. And the IOC and the IIHF seem to be of the opinion that we should just be there, and whatever it takes, it takes.”

Four years ago, the NHL didn’t announce until seven months before the Sochi Olympics that it was participating in those Winter Games. But the NHL and Olympic officials had a handshake agreement one year before Sochi, according to Sportsnet.

“I understand why the Olympics want us there,” Bettman said Wednesday. “In terms of hours of TV programming in the Winter Olympics. In terms of most number of tickets sold for a sport in the Winter Olympics, hockey dominates.”

Bettman has cited owner fatigue, even negativity after five Olympics. Plus the 14-hour time difference from New York to PyeongChang, making for some Olympic games take place during the early morning for U.S. viewers.

“The world has changed since we started going, having our own network, having our own website,” Bettman said. “All of the things that we do with our fans, social media, on a daily basis, poof, we disappear. Because the IOC doesn’t let us do anything.”

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MORE: If no NHL at Olympics, who goes to PyeongChang?

Mikaela Shiffrin barely denied in first bid to tie Alpine skiing World Cup wins record

Mikaela Shiffrin
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Mikaela Shiffrin was denied in her first bid to tie the Alpine skiing World Cup wins record by six hundredths of a second.

Shiffrin, trying to tie Ingemar Stenmark‘s 86 World Cup victories, led by 67 hundredths over German Lena Duerr after the first of two slalom runs in Spindleruv Mlyn, Czech Republic, on Sunday.

The last racer to go in the second run, Shiffrin’s lead over Duerr dwindled as she neared the finish line. It was down to 15 hundredths at the last intermediate split with 10 seconds left of the course.

Shiffrin crossed the finish line, saw that she ended up six hundredths behind, opened her mouth, rocked her head and put her hand to her helmet. It was the closest slalom defeat of her career, which has included a record 52 World Cup slalom victories.

“I felt like the first run I skied really well, and I actually skied quite well in the second as well,” Shiffrin told Austrian broadcaster ORF. “Six tenths is not actually so much time. … Lena has been strong all season, and she deserves to win.”

ALPINE SKIING: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

Duerr, 31, earned her second World Cup win, 10 years to the day after her first. Shiffrin won 82 World Cup races in that span.

“It took me a while,” Duerr said. “Crazy that today’s the day.”

Shiffrin’s next bid to tie Stenmark, the Swedish legend of the 1970s and ’80s, won’t be until March.

Next up are the world championships in France, starting Feb. 6, which are separate from the World Cup.

Shiffrin’s next planned World Cup races are either speed races in Kvitfjell, Norway, the first weekend of March or a giant slalom and slalom in Stenmark’s home nation at Åre, Sweden, from March 10-11 ahead of her 28th birthday on March 13.

“I don’t have any expectations going into it,” said Shiffrin, whose first World Cup win came in Åre in 2012. “It’s just like every race of the season, just trying to take it all in and enjoy my skiing, enjoy when the other athletes are skiing better, too, because there’s always some to learn from that.”

Shiffrin began last week tied with Lindsey Vonn for second place on the career wins list at 82. She then rattled off victories on Wednesday and Thursday in giant slaloms in Kronplatz, Italy, and Saturday in the first slalom in Spindleruv Mlyn, site of her World Cup debut in 2011 at age 15.

She has 11 wins in 23 starts this season, her best campaign since her record 17-win 2018-19 season.

She did break one record on Sunday — clinching her seventh World Cup slalom season title with two races left in the discipline.

She broke her tie with Vreni Schneider, a Swiss star of the 1980s and ’90s, for most women’s World Cup slalom season titles. Stenmark won eight and is tied with Vonn (downhill) for the most season titles in any discipline.

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Germany denied gold-medal sweep of world luge championships races

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Austrian Jonas Müller denied Germany’s bid to sweep all eight singles and doubles races at the world luge championships.

Müller, a 25-year-old who was not on Austria’s Olympic team, won the men’s event by .104 of a second over German Max Langenhan at worlds in Oberhof, Germany, combining times from two runs. Another Austrian, 2018 Olympic champion David Gleirscher, earned bronze.

Germany won the first seven of eight singles and doubles races on Friday and Saturday, including sprint events that aren’t on the Olympic program. Its last gold-medal sweep at worlds was in 2013, when there were four events on the program. Germany also swept the Olympic golds in 2014 and 2022.

Müller, the 2020 World silver medalist who dropped out of Austria’s top three men last season, said his sled broke in a crash at a World Cup two weeks ago in Sigulda, Latvia.

“I flew home the next day and unpacked the old sled again,” he said, according to the International Luge Federation. “As you can see, the old sled doesn’t seem so bad.”

While Germany has dominated women’s and doubles events, this marked the third consecutive worlds with a non-German men’s winner, its longest drought since the mid-1990s.

Johannes Ludwig retired after winning last year’s Olympics. Felix Loch, a two-time Olympic champion and record six-time world champion, placed fourth on Sunday.

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