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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

The Wrap from Day 1 of the World Championships

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NUR-SULTAN, Kazakhstan — Matt Lindland sees progress taking place within the United States Greco-Roman program.

He sees accountability and ownership. He sees a desire to compete with the global Greco powers and a willingness to pay the price to get there.

“There’s definitely been progress,” Lindland said. “We’ve got great guys. It’s about them. They want to be here. They want to do what it’s going to take to get to that next level, and you can see it. They’re frustrated when things don’t go their way, and they’re going to figure out how to fix those things. Yeah, we’re making the right progress. We’ve got the right guys, we’ve got the right attitude.”

But Lindland also sees hesitation at times, too. He sees too much analyzing and not enough reactionary aggression.

“I think our guys are second-guessing themselves, they’re questioning and they’re thinking,” he said. “They’re thinking about what’s going to happen instead of being in the moment and just being present and letting things fly. Really great athletes out there on America’s team and they’re super capable. When they start thinking and questioning what’s going to happen and wondering what the referee is going to call, they’ve just got to go out there and do what they’re all capable of doing.”

Both dynamics — the signs progress and the work-in-progress symbols — were on display Saturday on the opening day of the World Championships.

Max Nowry, Ryan Mango and Raymond Bunker notched opening-round wins Saturday. For perspective, only three Americans posted Greco victories at the World Championships in 2018.

On the flip side, though, each of the three ran into roadblocks when they couldn’t hold leads in their second bout, and Mango and Bunker got eliminated later in the day.

Nowry and John Stefanowicz, however, got pulled into the repechage and have a chance to wrestle Sunday for medals. Nowry got an extra opportunity when Kazakhstan’s Khorlan Zhakansha stunned 2018 World champ and No. 1 seed Eldaniz Azizli of Azerbaijan, 11-5, in the 55-kilogram semifinals.

Stefanowicz dropped a 7-0 decision in the Round of 16 at 82 kilograms against Georgia’s Lasha Gobadze. But the Georgian posted two more victories to set Stefanowicz up with another chance at a medal.

Read the rest of the article at Track Wrestling

Sky Brown, 11 years old, is third at world skateboarding championships ahead of Olympic debut

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Sky Brown, an 11-year-old who appears en route to becoming the youngest female Summer Olympian in 50 years, took third at the world skateboarding championships in Sao Paulo on Saturday. The sport debuts at the Olympics in Tokyo.

Brown posted her highest score of her four finals runs in the last round, 58.13 points, of the park event. It was not enough to overtake Japanese Misugu Okamoto and Sakura Yosozumi. The new world champion Okamoto is 13 years old. Yosozumi is 17.

Brown has been raised in Japan by a Japanese mother and a British father. The 2018 Dancing with the Stars: Juniors winner appeared in a Nike “Dream Crazier” ad with Simone BilesSerena Williams and Chloe Kim in February.

She has not clinched an Olympic spot yet but is well on her way as the qualifying season continues.

She turns 12 years old just before the Tokyo Olympics begin and would be the youngest Olympian since Romanian rowing coxswain Carlos Front at the 1992 Barcelona Games.

She would be the youngest female Olympian since Chinese ice dancer Liu Luyang in 1988 and the youngest female Summer Olympian since Puerto Rican swimmer Liana Vicens in 1968, according to the OlyMADMen.

The Tokyo Games feature four skateboarding events — men’s and women’s street and park.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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