As NHL stars react to Olympics, who will follow Alex Ovechkin’s lead?

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NHL stars expressed disappointment, of course, after the NHL announced it would not participate in the PyeongChang Olympics, but an important question remains largely unanswered.

Who will follow Alex Ovechkin‘s lead and declare they intend to defy the NHL and play in the Olympics anyway?

Capitals teammate and U.S. Olympic star T.J. Oshie would not answer that question Tuesday.

“When it comes down to it, I’ll make a decision about that, but as of right now, I’m staying positive, hoping we can figure something out,” Oshie said, according to ESPN.com.

Sidney Crosby won’t say, either. Nor will Connor McDavid.

Star Swedish defenseman Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators declined to answer the question Monday, according to Postmedia News in Canada, but still criticized the NHL.

“Crap, pretty much,” Karlsson said of the NHL decision, according to the report. “I don’t understand the decision. It’s very unfortunate for the game of hockey around the world that they’re going to do this to the sport. I think it’s going to hurt a lot if we don’t end up going.

“Whoever made that decision obviously has no idea what they’re doing.”

Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos is also taking a wait-and-see approach. Stamkos memorably missed the Sochi Olympics due to a fractured right tibia.

“Yeah, you can certainly have that attitude [of going to the Olympics anyway], but we don’t know exactly what the rules and regulations will be regarding that topic,” he said, according to ESPN.com. “Until you know that, you can make an informed decision at that time. Personally, there’s some time here to maybe let things settle down a little bit and reflect. Hopefully, something can change their mind.”

Blackhawks stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews both said they would not leave the NHL club midseason to play in the Olympics, according to Chicago media.

Likewise, Capitals goalie Braden Holtby said he will not push for a Canadian Olympic team spot if the NHL’s decision is final.

“I wouldn’t be able to go away from my team here,” Holtby said. “I couldn’t do it. That’s just personal. Everyone’s priorities are kind of different.”

Another star Russian forward, Vladimir Tarasenko of the St. Louis Blues, reportedly said he would think about the situation in the summer.

The Montreal Canadiens’ Carey Price, the No. 1 goalie for Canada’s gold-medal team in Sochi, wasn’t convinced the NHL’s decision was final.

“I think there’s maybe a little bit of tactics involved,” he said. “We’ll see. The Olympics aren’t here yet.”

Henrik Lundqvist, who backstopped Sweden to gold at the 2006 Torino Olympics, was one of the first stars to comment, doing so via Twitter:

“Disappointing news, NHL won’t be part of the Olympics 2018. A huge opportunity to market the game at the biggest stage is wasted,” he said. “But most of all, disappointing for all the players that can’t be part of the most special adventure in sports.”

The most tenured active Swede, four-time Olympian Henrik Zetterberg, said the NHL “probably wants something from” the NHL players, “as always,” likely referring to a bargaining chip.

Auston Matthews, who was in line to become the youngest U.S. Olympics men’s hockey player since 1992, dismissed a question about the NHL decision but said he would have wanted to go to PyeongChang.

Buffalo Sabres leading scorer Jack Eichel echoed the disappointment sentiment.

“Obviously, as a league, we’re trying to grow our game all over the world,” he said. “I think the Olympics is a good way to do it. … To be able to play the game in other continents, other places, and allow them to see how exciting and the type of game we play, I think it’s a good opportunity.”

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MORE: 2018 Olympic hockey groups set

Jenny Simpson, most decorated U.S. miler, shifts focus with new Puma sponsorship

Jenny Simpson
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Jenny Simpson, the most decorated U.S. female miler in history, plans to return to racing on Sunday with a new shoe sponsor, Puma.

Simpson, whose last race was the Cherry Blossom 10-mile road race in Washington, D.C., in September 2021, according to World Athletics, will run what she called “a little rust-buster” at the Army Ten-Miler in Washington, D.C.

“My intention is to turn my focus to the roads,” Simpson, 36, wrote in an email. “I have some great PUMA spikes that I love so the track isn’t off the table. But my emphasis will be road racing.”

Last year’s Cherry Blossom was her first race longer than 5,000 meters, according to World Athletics. What are the chances she eventually moves up to the marathon distance?

“This new chapter is an exploration,” she answered. “I’m going to let the races, training, and coaching guide the next steps as they come. I know I can physically do it, it’s a matter of whether I can be great at it and my team and I will only go there if we think we can be competitive. So, let’s say for chances… 51% :)”

Simpson made her first Olympic team in 2008 in the 3000m steeplechase, then in 2012 and 2016 in the 1500m, earning a bronze medal in Rio. She is the lone U.S. woman to win a world 1500m title (2011) or an Olympic 1500m medal.

From 2007 through 2019, Simpson finished in the top three in one of the 1500m, 5000m or 3000m steeplechase at all 13 annual USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. Last year, she was 10th in the Olympic Trials 1500m in a bid to become the oldest U.S. Olympic 1500m runner in history, according to Olympedia.org.

Simpson focused much of her time this year helping her Colorado community heal and rebuild from a late December fire. She did not enter the USATF Outdoors for the first time since 2006.

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Mikaela Shiffrin, checklist complete, carries lessons into new World Cup season

Mikaela Shiffrin
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Mikaela Shiffrin said she hit every possible statistical goal in the first 11 years of her Alpine skiing career. Keep that in mind as the storyline the next few seasons may turn to the World Cup wins record.

Shiffrin, who begins her 12th World Cup season in Soelden, Austria, in two weeks, is up to 74 victories on the circuit. The 27-year-old ranks third all-time behind Lindsey Vonn, who owns the women’s record of 82 wins, and Swede Ingemar Stenmark, who has the overall record of 86.

Shiffrin did rounds of interviews Thursday at the media day for her ski sponsor, Atomic. In one sitdown streamed by Atomic, she was asked, “Are you aiming for the record? … There’s just 12 left. Normally, winning 12 races, that’s a lot, but you already won 74, so it doesn’t sound that much anymore.”

“Just 12,” Shiffrin joked. “If you look at it like that, but that’s maybe oversimplification.” (Note greats including Americans Picabo Street and Julia Mancuso didn’t win 12 World Cups over a career.)

Then Shiffrin asked if the interviewer did in fact say 74 — “Yeah, you have 74,” the interviewer confirmed to Shiffrin, who sat between fellow stars Sofia Goggia of Italy and Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway.

“Even after 74 … one race feels like a lot,” Shiffrin continued. “Twelve [wins] still feels like a large mountain to climb, for sure, but it’s step by step or race by race. If I just focus on what’s coming in the next couple weeks and then keep going from there, then we’ll see.”

From 2017 to 2019, Shiffrin won 11, 12 and 17 times on the World Cup. Her last three seasons were abbreviated after her father’s death, the COVID-19 pandemic and back problems. She still won an average of five races each year.

In an earlier interview Thursday, Shiffrin expressed confidence about her preseason form. She followed February’s Beijing Olympics, where her best individual finish was ninth, by bagging her fourth World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in the sport, crowning the best all-around skier.

“Finishing off [at last March’s World Cup Finals] in Meribel, that final race of the season, I was thinking, I could use a moment to breathe,” she said. “There was also this part of me that’s like, I kind of didn’t want this to be the last race. I was a little bit antsy to actually get going on the next season already.”

Shiffrin took less of a break than a year ago, spending 10 days in Maui. She had “really productive” training camps in Colorado, Switzerland and Chile and arrived back in Europe on Wednesday for the run-up to the World Cup opener on Oct. 22.

As always, the priority is keeping her slalom and giant slalom technique top-notch. As long as that’s flowing, Shiffrin feels comfortable branching into the speed events, starting with super-Gs. She plans to race both the slalom and GS at February’s world championships, then possibly the super-G with the combined less of a priority. The downhill is “fairly doubtful,” but she has a few months to make a final decision.

Of course, Shiffrin raced everything at the Olympics in February. In interviews last winter, she couldn’t quite explain why the greatest technical skier in history did not finish any of her three technical runs at the Games.

Shiffrin gave a detailed, two-and-a-half-minute answer when asked Thursday if she went back during this offseason to analyze those races. Or if she is brushing them off as an anomaly.

“Statistically, it’s an anomaly, but there was a lot of culminating factors that could have been involved,” she said.

In basic terms, she got on her inside ski in the opening GS and fell within 13 seconds — “a technical flaw that had a much higher consequence than it’s ever had in any other race that I’ve ever done.” In slalom, she had too much intensity, or too much speed, in a section that required more precision and skidded out within six seconds — “I was not giving anything away, and then I gave everything away.”

“There was less margin for error in Beijing because of the snow conditions,” said Shiffrin, who like every other racer hadn’t previously raced on that slope of manufactured snow. “I don’t think I maybe considered that enough in the moment when I was skiing to kind of reel it in sometimes when it would have been necessary. But I also wasn’t skiing to reel it in or make it to the finish. I was skiing to like, blow the course apart. I was going for it.”

She hopes to take that mentality into this season. In the spring and summer, she devoted more time to developing equipment that works better on softer snow, which is becoming more commonplace at World Cup venues given warmer temperatures.

“If you have a checklist of goals you want to achieve before you retire, actually, my checklist is complete,” she said. “If I had one, it would be complete. Somehow, I feel like I still have something left to accomplish, or faster skiing to do, so that’s kind of why I’m here. Hopefully I can remember that when there’s points in the season that feel stressful or pressure. There’s nothing that has to be done.”

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