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For Steven Holcomb: U.S. gets 3 medals in World Cup bobsled opener

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LAKE PLACID, N.Y. (AP) — Some of Steven Holcomb’s ashes are scattered at Mount Van Hoevenberg, the track where the longtime U.S. bobsled driver dominated like no other for about the last two decades. His initials are on the speedsuits that his teammates will wear this season. His words still echo in their heads.

He’s gone.

He’s clearly not forgotten.

For the first time in nearly two decades, the U.S. raced in a World Cup bobsled competition without Holcomb — the three-time Olympic medalist — on the roster.

They took three of the six available medals Thursday, a silver in women’s bobsled from Elana Meyers Taylor and Lauren Gibbs, silver in two-man from Nick Cunningham and Ryan Bailey and bronze from Codie Bascue and Carlo Valdes.

“We miss him every day,” said brakeman Steven Langton, who unretired a year ago with hopes of racing with Holcomb this season and was sixth with driver Justin Olsen in his first World Cup since 2014. “I miss him every day. We’re going to do the best job we can to honor him throughout the season.”

Holcomb died unexpectedly in his sleep in May at his dorm room inside the Olympic Training Center, where USA Bobsled and Skeleton has its offices and where many sliders live, lift and sleep when they’re in Lake Placid.

Holcomb won the two-man World Cup gold at Lake Placid a year ago, and Cunningham nearly followed suit Thursday.

He had to settle for second, one spot behind Germans Nico Walther and Christian Poser.

Walther and Poser, the husband of U.S. women’s bobsled pilot Jamie Greubel Poser, finished two runs in 1 minutes, 51.92 seconds. Cunningham and Bailey — a U.S. Olympian in track at the London Games — finished in 1:52.03. Full results are here.

“I needed this to, I don’t want to say resurrect my career, but last year was so hard mentally, emotionally,” said Cunningham, who matched his best World Cup finish after spending some of last season racing in the lesser international tiers. “I regained the love of the sport.”

Bascue got on a World Cup podium for the first time.

“Amazing feeling,” Bascue said. “A little bit of an emotional race, my first race without Holcy, but I took that and kind of used the emotion and it’s nice to be on the podium for the first time.”

It was far from a first podium trip for Kaillie Humphries, who went to bobsled school in Lake Placid and clearly paid attention in class.

The two-time reigning Olympic champion from Canada got her season off to a winning start, teaming with Melissa Lotholz to win gold at Mount Van Hoevenberg in the World Cup women’s bobsled season-opener. It was the fourth time Humphries won in Lake Placid, where she drove a bobsled for the first time in 2006 and quickly became one of the sport’s stars.

“To beat the Americans on any track is difficult,” Humphries said.

Humphries’ two-run time was 1:54.40. She edged longtime friend and rival Meyers Taylor, who paired with Gibbs to finish in 1:54:43 — with a start record in there as well.

Germany got the bronze, with Stephanie Schneider and Lisa Marie Buchwitz finishing in 1:54.60 and nipping Greubel Poser and Aja Evans of the U.S. by .01. Full results are here.

“I love this track just as much as anybody,” said Humphries, whose hair was dyed in the colors of the South Korean flag in a nod to the upcoming PyeongChang Olympics. “I’ve been driving it for numerous years and I’m really happy to do it justice today.”

It was the 13th time that Humphries and Meyers Taylor finished first and second in a World Cup, world championship or Olympic competition. Humphries now has won seven of those, Meyers Taylor six.

“She had a good day. I didn’t have a great day. That’s kind of how it goes,” Meyers Taylor said. “I don’t expect this to be the trend, though.”

Greubel Poser, who won at Lake Placid each of the last two seasons, settled for fourth on her 34th birthday.

“So much went into preparing for this season, it was different for a lot of different reasons for us,” Evans said. “I think to get over this first hurdle with this first race in Lake Placid, it was big just to get it out of the way. Now we can move on and keep pursuing PyeongChang.”

Earlier Thursday, Austrian Janine Flock won the World Cup skeleton season opener in Lake Placid by .26 over Canadian Elisabeth Vathje.

Olympic champion Lizzy Yarnold of Great Britain was third, .33 behind, followed by Olympic bronze medalist Elena Nikitina of Russia.

The top American was three-time Olympian Katie Uhlaender in ninth, sandwiched between the last two world champions from Germany — Jacqueline Loelling and Tina HermannFull results are here.

Races conclude in Lake Placid with two-man bobsled and men’s skeleton Friday.

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MORE: U.S. bobsledders remember Steven Holcomb as Olympic season starts

Simone Biles returns to the gym, going from mental drain to physical pain

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For Simone Biles, this was supposed to be the stretch run of a legendary career.

Instead, she returned to her gym on May 18 with long-term thoughts of waiting 14 months until the Tokyo Olympics. And the immediate aches of a world-class gymnast who just missed nearly two months of regular training.

“After that amount of time off, it kind of sucks because your body hurts and then you get really sore,” Biles said in a pre-recorded ESPNW interview that aired Thursday. “So you just have to get back into the swing of things. But it felt nice to see my coaches, my teammates, and just to be back on the equipment and in the environment.”

In that same Texas gym three months ago, Biles had a far different outlook. One that would have put fear into any gymnast who still harbored ambition of ending her near-seven-year win streak.

“I never felt more ready this early in the season,” she said. “I was so ready for the Olympics to be this year.”

Biles repeated in interviews the last two months that the Olympic postponement to 2021 was devastating. Thoughts zig-zagged: How do I go on another year, at age 23, in a sport recently dominated by (but not limited to) teenagers?

“I’m getting pretty old,” she said in the interview published Thursday. “Will I be at the top of my game?”

Biles proved the last two years — after a year off — that she can win — and comfortably — while not at her best. She grabbed the 2018 World all-around title by a record margin — with two falls. Last year, she became the most decorated gymnast in world championships history. In Tokyo, she can become the first woman to repeat as Olympic all-around champion, and the only one older than 20, in more than 50 years.

This for a gymnast whose early goal was to earn a college scholarship. Biles did, to UCLA, but had to give it up by turning professional.

“So I’ve exceeded that,” Biles said. “And then I wanted to go to world championships and Olympics, and I’ve been to five worlds and one Olympic Games. So, I’d be more than happy [to walk away].”

After gymnastics, Biles has another goal — to be a voice for foster kids. She was in foster care multiple times before being adopted at age 6 by grandparents Ron and Nellie.

Those plans, along with so much else for Biles and so many others, have been pushed back a full year.

“I was already being mentally drained and almost, not done with the sport, but just going into the gym and feeling tired and being like, OK, I’m going to get my stuff [done], get out,” she said. “We have this one end goal, and now that it’s postponed another [year], it’s just like, how are we going to deal with that? We’re already being drained, and so it’s to keep the fire in the sport within yourself alive.”

MORE: Top U.S. gymnasts disagree with Tokyo Olympic age rule

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2022 Pan Pacific Championships canceled as swimming calendar shifts

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The Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, a quadrennial major international meet, will not be held in 2022 “out of respect for the recent changes to the international sporting calendar,” according to a press release.

The Pan Pacs’ charter nations — the U.S., Australia, Canada and Japan — agreed to the move. The 2026 event will be held in Canada, which was supposed to be the 2022 host.

The decision came after the 2021 World Championships were moved to May 2022, following the Tokyo Olympics moving from 2020 to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The quadrennial multi-sport Commonwealth Games — which includes Australia and Canada, but not the U.S. or Japan — are scheduled for July 27-Aug. 7, 2022.

“Organizing a third major championships in that window presented several challenges,” according to the Pan Pacs release.

Pan Pacs mark the third-biggest major international meet for U.S. swimmers, held in non-Olympic, non-world championships years.

MORE: Caeleb Dressel co-hosts a podcast. It’s not about swimming.

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