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Ashley Wagner’s pain not limited to Olympic years

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Ashley Wagner said she is prepared to face “demons” at the 2018 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, given public nightmares at nationals in 2010 and 2014.

What the three-time U.S. champion kept more private were the struggles she endured at the last two world championships — mental and physical.

About a month before the 2016 World Championships in Boston, Wagner had what she called “a freak accident” after performing at an ice show in Canada.

“I caught my toe pick and just body slammed myself down onto the ice,” Wagner said recently while promoting Bridgestone, one of her sponsors. “Immediately, I knew that I had done something terrible.”

She partially tore the quad muscle in her landing leg. Wagner rated the initial pain as a seven out of 10. It lessened, but it would bother her for two months.

Wagner never considered withdrawing from the world championships team. A worlds in a skater’s home country is a rare opportunity.

“I was careful in training and knew that if I could get through a long program in training, competing wasn’t going to be an issue,” she said.

Wagner had the performance of her life at worlds, ending a 10-year U.S. women’s medal drought by taking silver.

“You’re going into a jump, and you just know it’s going to hurt,” Wagner remembered. “There’s a lot of anxiety that comes with an injury like that, but you have to turn your head off at that point.”

Wagner chose not to discuss the injury in interviews before or right after worlds. She did reportedly mention it at Skate America six months later.

“I didn’t want that to be the story [at worlds],” Wagner said. “I was already mentally dealing with so much. The last thing that I wanted to see was a reminder of my injury left and right.”

Then came the 2016-17 season. On paper, it was Wagner’s least successful campaign in six years.

She recently disclosed that her boyfriend of three years, Olympic short track speed skater Eddy Alvarez, broke up with her right before worlds last March.

“It wasn’t just my relationship,” she said. “I was really struggling last season with finding the heart.”

She placed seventh at worlds, matching her lowest finish at the annual event in her last five starts.

“I feel like things are always crumbling down around me,” she said. “But as soon as that was done, I finally felt like I was working toward something [the Olympic year] and that conviction in what I wanted to accomplish in the sport.”

In Wagner’s 11 years at the senior international level, she also endured five or six concussions from her head hitting the ice in falls, according to reports earlier this year.

In 2009, Wagner was the best U.S. woman in the fall Grand Prix season. She placed third at nationals in January 2010, missing the two-woman Olympic team.

In January 2014, Wagner went to nationals as the two-time defending champion. She placed fourth and was put on the three-woman Olympic team, due to merit from previous years, the next day. But it was a stressful night’s wait, and many fans disagreed with U.S. Figure Skating’s decision.

Sochi didn’t go as planned either. She became a meme in the team event and was seventh individually, after making top five at worlds the previous two years.

Wagner opened this fall with a third-place finish at Skate Canada three weeks ago. Her score ranks 25th among all women among the four Grand Prix series events thus far, but it’s early. The Olympics are in three months.

“The only reason why I signed on for four more years in the sport is because I think I’m capable of getting an individual medal,” she said when asked to rate her medal chances after Skate Canada. “How I skated at Skate Canada isn’t going to get me a medal, but also Skate Canada isn’t the bar that I’m setting for myself at the Olympics. I will be better. I will be prepared.”

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Denis Ten, Olympic medalist figure skater, dies

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Denis Ten, the 2014 Olympic figure skating bronze medalist from Kazakhstan, died after he reportedly was stabbed in Almaty on Thursday.

The International Skating Union confirmed Ten’s death.

Ten, 25, competed in three Olympics and earned world championships silver and bronze medals in 2013 and 2015.

At 16, Ten was the youngest men’s competitor at Vancouver 2010 and finished 11th in his Olympic debut; he was also only the second singles skater Kazakhstan had ever sent to the Olympics.

Ten made unexpected history in 2013, becoming the first skater from Kazakhstan to win a world championships medal. After experiencing health setbacks at the start of his 2014 Olympic season, he was the biggest question mark among the top men in Sochi, but he surprised by becoming the first skater from Kazakhstan to earn an Olympic medal.

Ten struggled through health issues leading into his last Olympics in PyeongChang, where he placed 27th. Those Winter Games were nonetheless special to Ten, who was of South Korean descent; his great-grandfather was a famous general who fought for Korean independence, and there is a statue and memorial dedicated to him in Wonju, a town 35 miles southwest of PyeongChang.

Ten also played a significant role as an ambassador for his hometown Almaty’s bid for the 2022 Winter Games. Beijing got the Games over Almaty in an IOC members vote in 2015.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

Stars align for historic Diamond League weekend; TV, stream info

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The Diamond League has never had a weekend like this.

Four straight days of competition between two meets for the first time in the series’ nine-year history. Track and field’s established champions — Caster SemenyaElaine ThompsonChristian Taylor — and rising stars — Noah LylesChristian ColemanJuan Miguel Echevarria — dot the fields in Monaco on Thursday and Friday and London on Saturday and Sunday.

Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA will air live broadcast coverage, streamed on NBC Sports Gold along with additional events and commercial-free feeds.

Friday — Monaco
Olympic Channel — 2-4 p.m. ET
NBC Sports Gold — 1:35-4

Saturday — London
Olympic Channel — 9-11 a.m. ET
NBC Sports Gold — 8:30-11

Sunday — London
Olympic Channel — 9-11 a.m. ET
NBC Sports Gold — 8:45-11

Following Monaco and London, there will be just one more Diamond League meet (Birmingham, Great Britain, on Aug. 18) before the two-leg Diamond League finals in Zurich and Brussels on Aug. 30-31.

The fallow season (no Olympics, no world outdoor championships) is almost over, but there is plenty to be decided at two of the Diamond League’s strongest annual meets.

Here are the entry lists for Monaco and for London. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

Thursday — Monaco
12 p.m. — Women’s Shot Put
1:15 p.m. — Men’s Shot Put

Friday — Monaco
1:35 p.m. — Women’s Pole Vault
1:45 — Men’s 1000m
2:03 — Women’s 400m
2:05 — Men’s Triple Jump
2:10 — Men’s High Jump
2:15 — Men’s 800m
2:25 — Women’s 100m Hurdles
2:35 — Women’s 3000m Steeplechase
2:50 — Women’s 100m
3 — Men’s 1500m
3:15 — Men’s 110m Hurdles
3:25 — Women’s 800m
3:35 — Men’s 200m
3:45 — Men’s 3000m Steeplechase

Saturday — London
8:30 a.m. — Men’s Pole Vault
8:33 — Women’s 3000m
9:04 — Women’s 400m Hurdles
9:09 — Women’s Javelin
9:30 — Women’s Long Jump
9:55 — Men’s 400m
10:05 — Men’s 5000m
10:26 — Men’s 400m Hurdles
10:38 — Women’s 100m
10:50 — Men’s 100m

Sunday — London
8:45 — Women’s Discus
9:04 — Women’s 400m
9:09 — Women’s High Jump
9:31 — Men’s Long Jump
9:37 — Men’s 110m Hurdles
9:48 — Women’s 800m
9:58 — Men’s 800m
10:08 — Men’s 1500m
10:19 — Men’s 200m
10:29 — Women’s 200m
10:39 — Women’s 100m Hurdles
10:49 — Women’s Mile

Here are 10 events to watch:

Women’s Pole Vault — Friday, 1:35 p.m. ET
A gathering of the top seven women in the world this year (indoors and outdoors). Though U.S. Olympic silver medalist Sandi Morris won the world indoor title on March 3, London Olympic champion Jenn Suhr and New Zealand’s Eliza McCartney have been the best outdoors this spring and summer.

Women’s 3000m Steeplechase — Friday, 2:35 p.m. ET
The 11 fastest women in the world this year in one of the deepest fields in Diamond League history for any event. The headliners are the top four from the 2017 World Championships — U.S. gold and silver medalists Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs and Kenyans Hyvin Kiyeng and Beatrice Chepkoech. Plus, Kenyan Celliphine Chespol, second-fastest all-time in the event. This could be an opportunity for Coburn and Frerichs to chase the 9-minute barrier, which no North American has broken (Coburn’s American record is 9:02.58). Olympic champion and world-record holder Ruth Jebet has not competed since January due to a reported doping issue.

Women’s 100m — Friday, 2:50 p.m. ET
Missing the top Americans (world champion Tori Bowie and U.S. champion Aleia Hobbs), but it has most of the international stars. That includes Olympic champion Elaine Thompson, who hasn’t been the same since she was shockingly fifth at 2017 Worlds and hasn’t won a meet outside of Jamaica this year. Marie-Josée Ta Lou of the Ivory Coast, fastest in the world in 2018 at 10.85, has to be the favorite.

Men’s 1500m — Friday, 3 p.m. ET
First time Olympic champ Matthew Centrowitz faces all three 2017 World medalists — Kenyans Elijah Manangoi and Timothy Cheruiyot and Norwegian Filip Ingebrigtsen — since this meet last year. Cheruiyot crushed Manangoi and Centrowitz in the Bowerman Mile at the Prefontaine Classic on May 26. The 22-year-old has one loss all year, runner-up to Manangoi at the Commonwealth Games, and has the three fastest 1500m times for 2018.

Women’s 800m — Friday, 3:25 p.m. ET
Caster Semenya puts her near-three-year win streak on the line against the next seven fastest women this year, including Olympic silver medalist Francine Niyonsaba and world bronze medalist Ajeé Wilson. Semenya broke the South African record at this meet the last two years. She’s already chopped .91 off her national record this year to become the fourth-fastest all-time. She is .97 shy of the 35-year-old world record.

Men’s 200m — Friday, 3:35 p.m. ET
U.S. 100m champion Noah Lyles puts his two-year 200m win streak on the line. Challengers include surprise world champion Ramil Guliyev of Turkey, who is 0-3 against Lyles all-time, and Ameer Webb, who won the national title in Lyles’ absence on June 24. Lyles clocked 19.69 seconds in his last two 200m races, tying South African Clarence Munyai (not in the Monaco field) for the fastest time in the world since August 2015. Only six men have broken 19.60 — Usain Bolt, Yohan BlakeMichael JohnsonWalter DixJustin Gatlin and Tyson Gay — but none were as young as the 21-year-old Lyles.

Men’s 3000m Steeplechase — Friday, 3:45 p.m. ET
All three world championships medalists and the seven fastest in the world this year. None bigger than Olympic and world champion Consenslus Kipruto, undefeated internationally in 2016 and 2017. Not the case this season. Fellow Kenyan Benjamin Kigen beat him at Pre, and then Kipruto was a shocking 12th in Rabat last Friday. Another chance for Olympic silver medalist Evan Jager to become the first sub-8-minute American. He won in Monaco in 8:01.29 last year.

Men’s 100m — Saturday, 10:50 a.m. ET
Christian Coleman, after reasserting his argument as the world’s fastest man, faces another formidable field. U.S. runner-up Ronnie Baker and NCAA champion Cameron Burrell are also here, as is Brit Zharnel Hughes, at 23 arguably the most promising non-American in the world.

Men’s Long Jump — Sunday, 9:31 a.m. ET
Cuban Juan Miguel Echevarria is the most exciting long jumper in recent memory after nearly jumping out of the pit last month with the world’s best jump in 23 years. The 19-year-old followed that with two best wind-legal jumps in the world this year at his next two meets. He could be pushed even farther here by the last two Olympic champions — Jeff Henderson and the soon-retiring Greg Rutherford — and every 2017 World medalist — Luvo ManyongaJarrion Lawson and Rushwahl Samaai.

Women’s 100m Hurdles — Sunday, 10:39 a.m. ET
Olympic champion Brianna McNeal, world-record holder Kendra Harrison and fellow American Sharika Nelvis split the last three Diamond League races and split their three head-to-head-to-head meetings this year. A strong win here makes a pretty good argument for best in the world at the moment. McNeal has the top 2018 time of 12.38, but that’s not close to Harrison’s world record of 12.20 from two years ago.

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