Getty Images

U.S. Olympic men’s hockey coaches include Olympians, Hall of Famer

Leave a comment

The U.S. men’s hockey team will have more Olympic experience behind the bench than on the ice in PyeongChang.

Tony Granato, a 1988 Olympian, was named head coach on Friday.

His staff will include a big-name assistant — Chris Chelios, a four-time Olympian and Hockey Hall of Famer. Other assistants are three-time Olympian Scott Young and Keith Allain, a U.S. assistant coach in 1992 and 2006, and Ron Rolston.

Granato, currently the University of Wisconsin head coach, will become the first non-NHL head coach of a U.S. Olympic team since Miracle on Ice leader Herb Brooks‘ second stint in 2002.

“When the first call came in, lots of things come racing through your mind,” Granato said at a press conference.

The NHL is not sending players to the Olympics for the first time since the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Games. U.S. general manager Jim Johannson said there will be no consideration for individual NHL players seeking to defy the league’s no-Olympics stance.

“No, we’re obviously going to honor our NHL partnership,” Johannson said. “We don’t anticipate any changes in that.”

Johannson said he recently spoke with at least 80 American players in European leagues, the AHL and the NCAA about possibly being in the player pool for the final 25-man roster. Recent NHL players could also be chosen.

Johannson said a “long list” of potential players must be submitted in September. A U.S. team of primarily European-based players will take part in a tournament in November in Germany.

“We’ll use that as kind of the basis to start to build out where we think we’re headed, roster-wise,” Johannson said. “Then we start to factor in the NCAA players available to us and the American Hockey League (AHL) players available to us.”

Granato, 53, scored one goal with seven assists at the 1988 Olympics, where the U.S. finished seventh without NHL participation. His younger sister, Cammi, captained the first U.S. Olympic women’s team to gold in 1998.

He went on to a 13-year NHL playing career, then coached the Colorado Avalanche on two occasions before returning to USA Hockey as an assistant under Dan Bylsma at the Sochi Olympics. The U.S. lost the bronze-medal game in Sochi.

Chelios, 55, is one of two U.S. men to play at four Olympics (Keith Tkachuk). The Hockey Hall of Famer and longtime Chicago Blackhawks defenseman suited up at the Winter Games in 1984, 1998, 2002 and 2006.

In 2006, a 44-year-old Chelios became the oldest Olympic ice hockey player since 1928. Since retiring in 2010, he has worked in the Detroit Red Wings front office and was a U.S. assistant coach at the 2016 World Junior Championships.

“[Chelios] is probably skating somewhere thinking we’re asking him to play as well,” Granato joked Friday. “He’s probably going to apply for the player/assistant coaching position.”

Chelios will not be the only 1990s superstar in PyeongChang.

Mike Richter and Martin Brodeur, each three-time Olympic goalies who were in opposing nets in the 2002 Olympic final, have roles with USA Hockey and Hockey Canada, respectively.

Richter is an assistant with the U.S. women’s team, while Brodeur is part of the Canadian men’s team’s management group. Canada’s head coach is former Vancouver Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Canada could turn to past Olympians in PyeongChang

Bernard Lagat reminded of Atlanta Games at U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials

Getty Images
Leave a comment

ATLANTA — As 45-year-old Bernard Lagat sat inside a hotel overlooking Centennial Olympic Park, he spoke one sentence that prefaced the start of his Olympic journey more than two decades ago.

“We are doing this in a special place,” he said of the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, which finish at the park on Saturday (12 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Lagat is an underdog, but has a chance to make a sixth Olympic team by placing in the top three. He can break his own record as the oldest U.S. Olympic runner in history.

Lagat was reminded this week of the Atlanta Olympics that got away.

In 1996, the Kenyan-born runner was coming off his freshman year at Jomo Kenyatta University Agriculture and Technology in Nairobi. He studied mathematics and computer science.

Lagat debuted at the Kenyan Olympic Trials. He remembered finishing seventh in the 1500m, having exhausted himself by clocking a 3:37 semifinal.

“They had fancy shoes, nice clothing,” he said of the pros. “Me, I was like hand-me-down spikes.”

Lagat’s coach at the time, Nganga Ngata, arranged for him to transfer to Washington State later that summer. But first, Lagat watched on TV the Olympic 1500m final — famous for then-world-record holder Noureddine Morceli and current world-record holder Hicham El Guerrouj making contact at the bell; El Guerrouj fell, Morceli won.

Days later, Lagat headed to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi. He was to fly to the United States for the first time, embarking on a journey that would lead to U.S. Olympic teams in 2008, 2012 and 2016 after he represented Kenya in 2000 and 2004.

Before a 21-year-old Lagat boarded his flight, he encountered a reception. The Kenyan Olympic team was arriving back from Atlanta after collecting eight medals, including in every men’s distance-running event.

“They had all these celebrations, traditional milk and the gourds,” Lagat said. “Oh, it was amazing. … That fire, seeing them coming home with medals, and I thought, I want to be like those guys.”

Lagat went on to earn eight combined Olympic and world championships medals between the 1500m and 5000m. Lagat qualified for one last Olympics on the track in 2016, going from sixth place at the bell to win the trials 5000m. He was fifth in Rio.

Then he turned to the marathon. Lagat has raced two of them. He clocked 2:17:20 in New York City in 2018, saying he was “running blind” with inexperience. He ran 2:12:10 at the 2019 Gold Coast Marathon in Australia, ranking him outside the 20 fastest Americans in this Olympic cycle.

Lagat went back to Kenya last month to train for the trials with the likes of world-record holder Eliud Kipchoge. Lagat soaked up so much that he likened it to a six-week school term.

At one point, Lagat was part of a 30km training run with Kipchoge. By the end he rounded a bend and saw the Olympic favorite just 60 seconds ahead.

“You think about Eliud being 60 seconds ahead of you in a 30K?” an incredulous Lagat said. “I thought, I’m done. Now I can buy my flight and go back to USA. I’m ready.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Galen Rupp, after tumult, finds familiarity before Olympic marathon trials

Chris Lillis, after missing Olympics, back atop aerials podium

Andrey Kulagin
Leave a comment

U.S. men’s aerials skiers had gone four years between World Cup victories. Now, they’ve won back-to-back events.

Chris Lillis prevailed in Kazakhstan on Friday, six days after Justin Schoenefeld ended the U.S.’ longest men’s victory drought since aerials became an Olympic medal sport in 1994.

Lillis, the 21-year-old brother of 2017 World champion Jon Lillis, landed a double full-full-full in the super final to score 121.27 points. Full results are here. He beat a field that included Schoenefeld (sixth place) and his older brother (14th) but lacked the world’s best from China and Russia.

“That was definitely one of the best jumps of my career,” Chris Lillis said. “Moving forward I’m feeling deadly.”

Chris has earned back-to-back World Cup podiums, his first top-three finishes since missing the PyeongChang Olympics with a torn ACL.

Also Friday, American Megan Nick finished second in the women’s event for her second runner-up this season. The last U.S. woman to win a World Cup was Kiley McKinnon on Jan. 6, 2018.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Olympic aerials champion retires to coach