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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

Kelly Slater has an Olympic decision to make

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Surfing icon Kelly Slater is in great position to qualify for his sport’s Olympic debut in 2020, but he’s undecided about making a required event appearance this summer to stay eligible.

The top two U.S. male surfers in this season’s World Surf League final standings are in line to qualify for the Olympics.

Slater, a 47-year-old, 11-time world champion, is ranked third among Americans through six of 11 events, but the No. 2, two-time world champion John John Florence, is likely out for the rest of the season after an ACL tear.

If Slater keeps up his current pace of results, he will pass Florence’s point total by the end of the season in December.

“It appears as though I have to make a decision [on the Olympics] sooner than that,” Slater said after being eliminated from South Africa’s J-Bay Open in ninth place on Wednesday. “I’ve really got to figure out all the factors around that and make a decision in the next few weeks.”

Slater’s concern is the ISA World Surfing Games in Miyazaki, Japan, in September, an event that top Olympic hopefuls on the WSL tour are required to attend, barring illness or injury.

“I think I have to surf that event, and if I don’t, it may disqualify me,” he said (the International Surfing Association, the sport’s governing body, later confirmed it would disqualify him). “But I’m not sure if I want to go to Japan and compete right now.”

The ISA Games take place in the week between the next two WSL events, the latter hosted by Slater’s Surf Ranch wave pool in California.

“I’m not exactly sure how I feel about the Olympics right now, anyways,” said Slater, who last year said he was “50-50” on the Olympics when noting his differing thoughts on the qualification process and venue. “The point is, I’m not really focusing on it at this point. I’m trying to get myself back in the flow of the tour.”

Slater missed 13 tour stops between the 2017 and 2018 seasons after breaking a foot and having multiple surgeries.

He finished fifth, third, ninth, ninth and ninth in his five most recent events to get into Olympic qualifying position. He expected more after placing third in the two contests he entered healthy last season. Slater said he competed at J-Bay after straining his back “really bad” on Sunday, keeping him from surfing the three days before the contest.

“Ninth place, to me, used to be a pretty awful result. I’m used to at least a quarterfinal on for most of my career,” he said. “I’m not horrified by my results, but I’m also not surprised. Maybe other people are because everyone focuses on my age and that kind of thing. It’s not like I’m going to all of a sudden forget how to do this thing, you know?”

Slater, at 48, would be the oldest U.S. Summer Olympic rookie competitor in a sport other than equestrian, sailing or shooting (or art competitions!) in the last 100 years, supplanting Martina Navratilova, via the OlyMADMen.

“Right now in my head the focus is more on this tour than it is on the Olympics, but we’ll see,” he said. “I was starting this year with a lot of pressure on myself to try and make the Olympic team and think, maybe I’ll retire there next year and that will be the end for me. It put so much pressure on the start of the year for me that I didn’t feel like I could freely compete. It was putting too many things in my head. I needed to let that take a backseat and not worry about it. I’m just not really thinking about it a lot.”

MORE: Top U.S. surfer has links to Egg McMuffin, Guinness World Record holder

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China on brink of sweeping every gold medal at diving worlds

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Shi Tingmao joined Guo Jingjing as the only women to win three straight world titles in an individual diving event, giving China 11 gold medals in 11 events with two finals left in Gwangju, South Korea.

Shi, who swept the individual and synchronized springboard titles in Rio, claimed the 3m world title on Friday by 18.25 points with 391 total. Countrywoman Wang Han took silver, 5.8 points ahead of Australian Maddison Keeney.

Americans Sarah Bacon and Brooke Schultz missed the 12-woman final, placing 14th and 29th.

China, which has dominated the sport for two decades, is looking to sweep the golds at an Olympics or worlds for the second time after winning all 10 events in 2011. This year’s feat could be more impressive, should China win the last two events Saturday — a mixed-gender springboard and the men’s platform.

That’s because three mixed-gender events were added to the world program (but not the Olympic program) since 2011. And this year, China has not only won every gold but also taken every silver in the three individual Olympic program events thus far.

China is in strong position to go one-two in the men’s platform. Yang Jian and Yang Hao were nearly 70 points clear of the field in Friday’s semifinals.

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MORE: Diving Worlds TV Schedule