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Gwen Jorgensen leaves triathlon for marathon

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Gwen Jorgensen is leaving triathlon as the Olympic champion to pursue a gold medal in the marathon.

“It’s a huge risk to switch sports right now, when I’m arguably at the top and could make more money than I’ve ever made in triathlon,” the 31-year-old said. “However, I am motivated by a new challenge. Triathlon picked me, and now I’m picking marathon.”

Jorgensen, who announced the news on social media, accomplished everything she wanted in triathlon — Olympic and world titles and the longest winning streak since the sport was added to the Games in 2000.

Her new goal is to win a World Marathon Major like Boston, Chicago or New York City and the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

Her last race before her recent pregnancy was actually her marathon debut in New York City on Nov. 6, 2016. The former University of Wisconsin runner was 14th in 2 hours, 41 minutes, 1 second, more than 16 minutes behind the winner.

Jorgensen was disappointed.

She was also unprepared. Her buildup was triathlon training. Her longest run before toeing the line in Staten Island was 16 miles. The weekend before New York, she won a three-day triathlon stage race totaling 64 miles of swimming, biking and running in the Bahamas.

Jorgensen announced in January that she would take the entire 2017 triathlon season off to have a child. Stanley Lemieux was born Aug. 16. Jorgensen will figure out her 2018 race schedule once she is able to train at least 100 miles per week (she’s barely able to crack 30 miles two months after giving birth).

Few athletes leave at the top of their sport, in their prime, to pursue a different sport.

Michael Jordan is the notable exception, retiring from the NBA at age 30 in 1993 to try baseball after winning three straight NBA titles.

Jorgensen was just as dominant in triathlon. She won a record 13 straight top-level events — going undefeated for nearly two years — en route to becoming the first U.S. Olympic triathlon champion in Rio.

Her original goal was to defend that title in Tokyo, but the last year brought changes. The New York City Marathon. A move to Portland, Ore. The pregnancy and her first child.

“My time away from triathlon allowed me to reflect and set new goals,” Jorgensen said. “My biggest passion has always been running out of swim/bike/run, and I also feel this isn’t the first big challenge I’ve had before.”

That’s true. Jorgensen didn’t know the difference between 1500m and a mile when she started running her junior year at Wisconsin after walking onto the Badgers swim team as a freshman. She became an NCAA All-American the following year.

She had never ridden a triathlon bike when USA Triathlon recruited her to the sport eight years ago, away from an Ernst & Young accounting job. She qualified for her first Olympics two years later.

“I’ve had a few different athletic pursuits that started out not so great and ended OK,” she said.

Jorgensen will miss the relationships she built in triathlon. Her coach, Jamie Turner of New Zealand. Her training group in Australia, the Wollongong Wizards.

But she is no longer motivated to continue in Olympic-distance triathlons. Other Olympians moved to Ironman triathlons, but Jorgensen always swore that off.

“The major reason I’m trying to do marathon is because I’ve accomplished what I wanted to accomplish in triathlon,” she said. “If I hadn’t gotten that gold [in Rio], it definitely would have been a failure. I remember going into the Olympics thinking if I get silver or bronze, it’s a failure.”

Jorgensen first mentioned to Turner that she had marathon ambitions about three years ago, but they were put aside until after Rio.

Now, after so many changes in the last year, come more. Jorgensen knows she must find a group training atmosphere to succeed, like what worked with Turner in Wollongong.

Other Olympic triathlon medalists have run marathons.

Swiss Nicola Spirig ran three between winning triathlon gold in 2012 (and giving birth to a boy in 2013) and silver in 2016. She clocked 2:37, 2:42 and 2:46.

Portugal’s Vanessa Fernandes shared triathlon’s longest top-level international winning streak before Jorgensen strung together 13 wins in a row. After an Olympic silver in 2008, Fernandes left triathlon for good in 2011 and clocked a 2:31 marathon in 2015.

Jorgensen knows that she must drop about 15 minutes from her 2016 New York City Marathon time to be competitive on the world level.

“Which seems ridiculous, but at the same time, I think I can do it,” she said. “It’s risky, and I think some people can look at it and probably think I’m being silly. Actually, I have some family members who think I should stay in the sport of triathlon. But, for me, I’m really motivated right now by trying something new and doing this running thing and seeing if I can do it.”

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Brian Orser reveals Hanyu’s, Medvedeva’s, and Brown’s Grand Prix plans

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Over the past decade, the Toronto club where Brian Orser coached South Korea’s Yuna Kim to the 2010 Olympic title has become such an attraction for top figure skaters from around the globe that it could add a word to a name that already is a mouthful.

You could call it the Toronto International Cricket Skating and Curling Club.

But its reach now is limited by the deadly virus pandemic that has effectively frozen out the elite athletes from Japan, Russia, South Korea and Poland who train at the Cricket Club.

That situation won’t change quickly, even with the International Skating Union having announced Monday its plans to proceed with a live format for the international Grand Prix Series. This fall, it will become a series of six essentially domestic competitions scheduled to begin with Skate America Oct. 23-25 in Las Vegas.

If they take place.

“As soon as the skaters can come back, it will be full steam ahead… to where, we don’t know,” Orser said via telephone Wednesday.

Two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu remains in Japan. Two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva is in Russia, four-time national champion Cha Jun-Hwan in South Korea, and two-time national champion Yekaterina Kurakova in Poland.

“We would like for them all to come back, but with the Canadian travel restrictions in place until at least Aug. 21, we can’t guarantee approval to get them in, and they would have a 14-day quarantine here if they do get in,” Tracy Wilson, who coaches with Orser, said via telephone Wednesday. “Right now, they are all training at home, and that’s OK.

“The situation is different for each one. The Japanese federation may need Yuzu to do the Grand Prix in Japan, and at this point he would face quarantine entering Canada and returning to Japan.

“For Yevgenia, as soon as she does the Russian test skates (scheduled for early September), we will re-evaluate her situation.”

Orser said he has been doing three video coaching sessions a week with Medvedeva, with whom he is in his third season as coach. Medvedeva, who left Russia for Canada after winning a silver medal at the 2018 Olympics, also is currently getting help from coach Elena Buyanova at the CSKA rink in Moscow.

“She (Medvedeva) looks way ahead of where she was at this point last year,” Orser said.

MORE: Looking back at Yuna Kim’s 10-year gold medal anniversary

Orser also has been having live remote sessions with Cha and Kurakova, and they are also sending videos to him. The only skater he has not seen is Hanyu.

“That’s normal when he is back in Japan,” Orser said. “I wasn’t expecting anything.”

How long Hanyu stays in Japan may depend on travel restrictions being loosened in both his homeland and Canada.

“I would like to get them all back, and they need to come back,” Orser said. “But facing a double quarantine is not in anyone’s best interest.”

Only two of the Cricket Club’s international skaters, 2014 Olympian Jason Brown of suburban Chicago and Yi Zhu of Los Angeles (who represents China), have come back to Toronto after leaving in late winter.

It took Brown two tries to get back across the border because of issues with the paperwork necessary for Canada to consider it essential he be allowed to enter. Orser and Wilson want to be sure any skaters coming from Asia and Europe are admitted on the first try.

From April to July, until skaters could get back on the ice in their various homelands, Brown led Thursday off-ice fitness classes via Zoom, with Medvedeva, Cha and Kurakova taking part.

“It was such a fun way to stay connected and still ‘train’ together while we were oceans apart,” Brown said in a Wednesday text message.

Orser and Wilson will recommend that all the foreign skaters training at the Cricket Club try to compete at Skate Canada, scheduled the last weekend of October at a 9,500-seat arena in Ottawa. Wilson thought if the event cannot have spectators, it might be moved to a smaller facility, possibly in a different city.

“All plans are in the early stages,” Skate Canada spokesperson Emma Bowie said in an email.

Grand Prix assignments have not yet been made.

Whether Brown picks Skate Canada over Skate America – if he gets a choice – could depend on when (and if) the Canadian government shortens quarantine periods for travelers from the United States.

“I know that we are in such unprecedented and uncertain times, so I love seeing the ISU being creative and trying to find a way to hold skating events this year,” Brown wrote. “While a lot can happen before October, if it’s safe to do so, I’ll be ready and eager to take part in any events that I can.”

The ISU said it wants to have the Grand Prix Final in Beijing, whether it takes place on its original dates (Dec. 10-13) or early in 2021. The competition is to be used as a test event of the skating venue for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

There are no details yet on qualification for the final, which usually is determined by points for placements at the six “regular season” events of the series, held in the U.S., Canada, China, France, Russia and Japan. The top six in each of the sport’s four disciplines make the Final.

In the past, the highest-ranked skaters could compete in up to two Grand Prix events, but ISU Vice-President Alexander Lakernik of Russia said in a Tuesday email that everyone would be limited to one event this year.

Because the Final presumably would have much more of an international field than the six other events, staging it is infinitely more problematic because of travel involved.

“We want what’s best for the sport,” Wilson said. “We have to get these kids out there doing programs, to get them on TV. [Note: An NBC spokesman said the network would, as planned, provide coverage of the Grand Prix, with details forthcoming.] In terms of competition, we’re up for anything.

“For me, though, with all the restrictions, there is no way they will be able to run a fair qualification for the Grand Prix Final. You’ve got to reinvent yourself and make it something else – if you are able to have it at all.”

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

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Steven Nyman, top U.S. downhiller, faces another obstacle

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Steven Nyman, the active U.S. leader in World Cup downhill wins, tore his right Achilles in a training crash and had surgery earlier this week in Mt. Hood, Ore.

“I am moving forward,” was posted on Nyman’s social media. “I’ve been through this before and have full intention to comeback [sic] and compete through the next Olympics.”

Nyman raced in three Olympics and owns three World Cup downhill victories.

He turns 40 during the next Winter Games in Beijing in 2022, when he will be three and a half years older than any previous U.S. Olympic Alpine skier.

Nyman missed the PyeongChang Olympics after a pair of major injuries: blowing out his left knee in a January 2017 downhill race crash and tearing his right ACL in downhill training in January 2018. He also tore his left Achilles in 2011.

He raced the last two seasons with a best World Cup finish of fifth in Val Gardena, Italy, site of all of his World Cup wins in 2006, 2012 and 2014.

The U.S. men’s program is in the midst of its longest World Cup downhill victory and podium droughts this millennium — none since Travis Ganong‘s win in Garmish-Partenkirchen, Germany, on Jan. 27, 2017.

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