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Olympic sliding season begins with high U.S. expectations

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LAKE PLACID, N.Y. (AP) — The scene following just about every World Cup women’s bobsled race last season looked something like this: Elana Meyers Taylor and Jamie Greubel Poser on the podium, both Americans celebrating yet another medal as they waved a bouquet of flowers into the frosty air.

They’re hoping to reprise that a few times this winter — all the way to the PyeongChang Olympics.

The World Cup sliding season starts Thursday for bobsled and skeleton, and racing on the home ice of Mount Van Hoevenberg for the opener should give Greubel Poser and Meyers Taylor an edge over the rest of the field as the Olympic campaign officially begins. It’s not like they need a lot of help: In the nine major races last season, the two driving stars combined for seven wins.

“I have great equipment, amazing pushers, I know what I’m doing and I know what I’ve done,” Greubel Poser said. “I’m ready to do it.”

There are always some surprise names that pop up in an Olympic year, but there’s also little doubt that the three women’s bobsled pilots who reached the podium at the Sochi Games in 2014 are the huge favorites to get there again in February in South Korea. Canada’s Kaillie Humphries is the two-time reigning gold medalist, Meyers Taylor got silver in 2014 and Greubel Poser took bronze.

Greubel Poser, Humphries and Meyers Taylor finished 1-2-3 in the World Cup overall standings last season, and at the world championships, it was Meyers Taylor winning gold, Humphries getting silver and Greubel Poser taking bronze. And odds are, it’ll be those three again — in some order — in PyeongChang.

“The depth of this team is unbelievable,” U.S. coach Brian Shimer said.

Women’s skeleton and two-man bobsled is also on Thursday’s schedule in Lake Placid, with men’s skeleton and another two-man bobsled race set for Friday. There are two two-man races this weekend, and two four-man races in Park City, Utah, when the circuit heads next weekend.

While the World Cups matter, this season it’s about finding what works — including finding which push athletes from a deep U.S. pool will be best served to help Meyers Taylor and Greubel Poser in the season’s ultimate race. Olympic bronze medalist Aja Evans is back, Kehri Jones pushed Meyers Taylor to gold at worlds last season and hurdler-turned-bobsledder Lolo Jones returns to resume her medal quest as well.

So realistically, the World Cup season is an Olympic preseason of sorts.

“Pretty much. This year they kind of have to be because we have to test these brakemen,” Meyers Taylor said. “As much as I wanted to go out and crush every World Cup, at the end of the day we’re going to have to try some things.”

Greubel Poser will have Evans in her sled Thursday, while Meyers Taylor will get pushed by Lauren Gibbs and the USA-3 sled driven by Brittany Reinbolt will have Briauna Jones in the back seat.

It was an offseason of tumult for the U.S. bobsled program. Shimer’s home in Naples, Fla., got clobbered by Hurricane Irma, setting back his preparations for the season. There already have been some injury issues.

And of course, the biggest blow was the death of longtime USA-1 driver Steven Holcomb, who would have been Olympics-bound again this winter.

His death leaves not just a hole in the men’s roster but on the entire team.

It’s the women like Meyers Taylor and Greubel Poser who could ensure that the U.S. stays on track. Both are going through their second Olympic cycle as drivers, have dealt with plenty of disappointments along with plenty of victories and now know the biggest season in their careers has arrived.

“Leading up to Sochi my success was more of a pleasant surprise,” Greubel Poser said. “Now I have higher expectations and goals. I want to win.”

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MORE: Steven Holcomb, from those who knew him best

Jordan Wilimovsky qualifies for Tokyo Olympics in open-water swimming

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Open-water swimmer Jordan Wilimovsky is the first male athlete on the 2020 U.S. Olympic team.

Wilimovsky, who placed fourth and fifth in two distance events at the 2016 Rio Games, joined fellow open-water swimmers Haley Anderson and Ashley Twichell in qualifying for Tokyo via the world championships in Gwangju, South Korea.

Wilimovsky, 25, placed fifth in the 10km event on Wednesday. Anderson and Twichell were second and sixth in the women’s 10km on Sunday. Top-10 finishers at worlds qualified for Tokyo.

German Florian Wellbrock won by two tenths of a second over French Olympic bronze medalist Marc-Antoine Olivier after 1 hour, 47 minutes in the water. Wilimovsky led with 600 meters left. Olympic 1500m freestyle champion Gregorio Paltrinieri also qualified for Tokyo in the open-water 10km by finishing sixth.

The other American, David Heron, was 25th, missing the Olympic team, but he can try again in the 1500m free in the pool at the Olympic trials next June.

Wilimovsky missed a medal in the Rio Olympic 1500m freestyle in the pool by 4.17 seconds, taking fourth. Three days later, he was fifth in the open-water 10km, 1.2 seconds out of bronze.

Wilimovsky, a Malibu native who redshirted at Northwestern to train for Rio, earned gold and silver in the 10km at the 2015 and 2017 World Championships.

A U.S. man has never earned an Olympic open-water medal. The event debuted at Beijing 2008.

MORE: World Diving Championships TV Schedule

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Ted Ligety scales back race schedule

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Two-time Olympic champion Ted Ligety is scaling back his race schedule as he enters the final portion of his decorated Alpine skiing career.

Ligety, a 34-year-old who has endured many injuries since his last World Cup win in 2015, said he will race strictly giant slaloms this year. The World Cup season starts in late October.

“So it’ll be a little bit easier schedule on my body,” Ligety said in a KPCW radio interview in his native Park City, Utah. “I’ll be able to be home a little bit more as well, and then we see. I mean, I would like to keep going as long as I feel like I can win races and feel healthy. That’s really the biggest part, and nowadays I have a 2-year-old son, and there’s more factors than there was when I was 25 years old.”

Ligety, nicknamed “Mr. GS” for his giant slalom prowess, has a 2014 Olympic gold medal and three world titles in that event.

He also owns an Olympic combined title from 2006 and world titles in the super-G and combined from 2013, but he hasn’t won a race in one of those disciplines since January 2014. And since then, he has undergone back and knee surgeries and dealt with hip problems.

“There’s a lot of hard miles on my body up to this point, but I’m still enjoying it,” said Ligety, whose 321 World Cup starts are the most among active Olympic medalists now that Lindsey Vonn and Aksel Lund Svindal have retired. “Right now, I feel really healthy and trying to get to a point where I feel I can win races. That’s the goal right now.”

Ligety, a four-time Olympian, has not publicly committed to a 2022 Olympic run.

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