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U.S. Olympic short track trials preview, broadcast schedule

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Olympic medalists J.R. Celski and Katharine Reutter-Adamek headline the U.S. Olympic short track speed skating trials, live on NBC, NBCSN and streaming on NBCOlympics.com from Friday through Sunday.

The top five men and three women from trials in Kearns, Utah, will make up the U.S. Olympic team for Pyeongchang.

The best Olympic medal prospects lie with the men, four of whom teamed up in November to break the 5000m relay world record. The only U.S. speed skating medal in Sochi — a silver — came in that relay.

Celski anchored that relay, earning his third Olympic medal. Celski debuted at the Winter Games in 2010, earning bronzes in the 1500m and the relay five months after needing 60 stitches to sew a left-leg gash caused by his own skate blade in a fall.

He’s also the only U.S. skater to earn an individual World Cup medal in the last 13 months, a pair of bronzes.

Each day at trials, the men and women will twice skate rounds of one of three individual Olympic distances (1500m on Friday, 500m on Saturday and 1000m on Sunday).

For the men, the top two skaters each day are in line to make the Olympic team, unless that results in six different men.

In that case, the runner-up skater with the lowest standing combining all six races will not make the Olympic team. Basically, if and when a skater gets top two in two distances, everyone in the top two for all distances is safe.

If taking the top two each day results in fewer than five different men, then the Olympic team will be rounded out by the next highest-ranked skaters in overall standings combining all six races.

For the women, the winner of each distance will make the Olympic team. If a woman wins multiple distances, then second-ranked skaters in each distance come into play, with priority given to the runner-up with the highest ranking combining all six races.

If the same two women finish first and second in every distance, then the final Olympic spot will go to the third-ranked woman in the 1500m, the only event where the U.S. earned the maximum three Olympic spots.

The U.S. women earned three Olympic spots rather than the maximum five because they failed to qualify a relay for the Olympics for the second straight time.

If Celski is the men’s favorite, then John-Henry Krueger is right behind.

Krueger was the No. 2 U.S. man behind Celski in the fall World Cup season and is the only U.S. skater other than Celski to earn an individual World Cup medal in this Olympic cycle.

The 22-year-old based in the Netherlands was favored to make the 2014 Olympic team but contracted swine flu the week of trials and missed out.

Celski is the only man with Olympic experience competing this week.

The U.S. women are in the midst of a 5 1/2-year World Cup medal drought, but they have experience and a bright young talent.

Reutter-Adamek was the world’s No. 2 skater in 2011 but retired in 2013 due to back and hip injuries. She came out of retirement in 2016 and broke her American record in the 1000m at her second World Cup.

She missed this fall’s first two World Cups due to a January concussion but was the top American at the most recent World Cup in the 1000m and 1500m.

Jessica Kooreman won the 2014 Olympic Trials — and was fourth in the 1000m in Sochi — and looks primed to make her second Olympic team at age 34. She ranks first or second among Americans this season in all three Olympic distances.

Then there’s Maame Biney, a 17-year-old who moved to the D.C. area from Ghana with her father at age 5.

Biney is the top U.S. woman internationally in the 500m after breaking out in August by winning the overall standings in the U.S.’ World Cup qualifier. She also placed seventh overall at last season’s junior worlds, including a bronze in the 500m.

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U.S. Olympic Short Track Trials

Day Time (ET) Events Network
Friday 6:45-8 p.m. 1500m rounds STREAM LINK
8:30-10 p.m. 1500m finals NBCSN | STREAM LINK
Saturday 12-1:45 p.m. 500m rounds STREAM LINK
2:30-4 p.m. 500m finals NBC | STREAM LINK
Sunday 10:15 a.m.-12:15 p.m. 1000m rounds STREAM LINK
1-3 p.m. 1000m finals NBC | STREAM LINK

U.S. to play in snow volleyball tour, led by 4-time Olympian

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When USA Volleyball asked four-time Olympian Lloy Ball to put together a team for a snow volleyball tournament in Moscow this week, the 2008 gold medalist was eager to accept.

Never mind that he’s never played on the snow before.

Or that, at 46, he’s not a likely candidate for the U.S. Olympic team if the discipline is eventually added to the Winter Games.

“I’ve been playing volleyball my entire life. It would just be an amazing feeling to know that me and my friends would be able to help volleyball grow,” Ball said. “To help be one of the forefathers, to get another discipline of volleyball into the Olympics, it would be awesome.”

The son of a volleyball coach and a member of the U.S. indoor team that won gold in Beijing, Ball played professionally in Russia for six years and was a natural choice to be a part of first American team to play on the European snow volleyball tour. After what he is calling an exploratory mission, he hopes to report back to the national governing body on how it can help the sport grow.

The ultimate goal: helping snow volleyball earn a spot in the Olympics — perhaps by 2026.

“We want to climb this mountain step by step. We do not want to rush,” said Fabio Azevedo, the general director of the sport’s international governing body, adding that snow volleyball will join the Olympics “as soon as the discipline has an amazing relevance in the world.”

“We have our road map, we have our timeline,” he said. “We really believe it is premature now to mention anything about Winter Olympic Games. I cannot say to you 2026 is realistic or not.”

Still, they are plowing ahead.

After a demonstration at the PyeongChang Olympics, the European governing body held its first snow championships in March. With its 2018-19 tour starting this weekend in Moscow it has invited teams from the United States to compete. (Teams from Kazakhstan and Brazil were also offered wild-card entries.)

Knowing that he spent time in Russia and would make a good ambassador, USA Volleyball chief Jamie Davis called Ball, who remains active as a coach and a semi-pro grass and beach volleyball player. He pulled together a team with Will Robbins, Kevin Owens and Tomas Goldsmith.

Although they have been training outside in Indiana to get used to the cold, the first time they will play on a snow court will be in Moscow.

“I’m going to rely on my massive amount of repetition and skill training and experience,” Ball said with a laugh. “Hopefully we won’t embarrass ourselves too badly and hopefully we’ll know what to do better next time. I’m going to come back and sit down with Jamie, and maybe say ‘Hey, this is something that can take off.’”

The women’s team for the Moscow tournament, which USA Volleyball put together, consists of Allie Wheeler, Emily Hartong, Katie Spieler and Karissa Cook.

“It’s a milestone for us,” Davis said. “We’re starting at level zero and building this up from scratch.”

“My hope is that we’ll get more and more athletes that are concentrating on snow, in addition to beach and indoor,” he said. “What I would hope for snow volleyball is that we’re going to be able to have players — north, south, east or west — be able to go outdoors to play the sport they love to play.”

Although snow volleyball has kicked around Europe for a decade, its growth accelerated the last five years. The European volleyball federation officially recognized the sport in 2015, and a seven-stop European tour is planned for 2018-19, starting with this week’s event in Moscow.

Azevedo said the FIVB is hoping to add three more events of its own, including one in Argentina that will be the first outside of Europe. Davis said he hopes to host one in the United States next winter.

From there, the FIVB is planning for a snow volleyball competition at the Youth Olympics and World University Games in 2020 and the winter Military World Games in 2021, along with a possible world championship.

“We are really shaping this new discipline around the world,” Azevedo said, adding that it would have much lower barriers to entry than many winter sports, which require ice rinks or luge runs or mountains.

That could help open the Winter Olympics to countries with successful volleyball programs but no ice or snow.

“Possibly snow volleyball is the only winter sport you can just pass by and play,” Azevedo said. “You just need proper clothes, football cleats, and you can play.”

An earlier incarnation of the sport had two-person teams, like beach volleyball, but organizers tinkered with the rules and settled on three-on-three, with a fourth teammate as a substitute. While indoor sets go to 25 and the beach goes to 21, snow volleyball games are up to 15

“Thank God, because it is minus 20 in Russia — Celsius,” Ball said.

Although the court layout is similar to beach, the ball is heavier when it gets wet and players wear thermal clothing and soccer cleats for traction. Ball said the sport puts a premium on ball control and serving, because it’s harder to move quickly in the snow.

“As long as you control the serve receive and serve well, I think on any surface you can be successful,” he said.

Martin Kaswurm, who is credited with inventing the sport when he set up a court outside his restaurant in Austria, said having different rules helps distinguish the sport from “its older brother beach volleyball” and could make it more appealing to Olympic officials.

“This should help to position snow volleyball as a unique version of the game,” he said.

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Ester Ledecka must decide between ski, snowboard worlds

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SELVA DI VAL GARDENA, Italy (AP) — Skier-snowboarder Ester Ledecka will not be able to follow up her dual sport gold-medal performances at the PyeongChang Olympics with a similar haul of world titles this season.

That’s because the schedule won’t allow it, and she’s not happy about it.

The parallel giant slalom at the world freestyle skiing and snowboard championships in Utah is Feb. 4 — the same day downhill training opens at Alpine skiing worlds in Are, Sweden, and a day before the super-G.

“I was a little bit hoping they would reschedule the snowboard race — put it a week earlier so I could do it both — but they didn’t want to so I have to choose,” Ledecka said Tuesday after placing 29th in a World Cup downhill.

In PyeongChang, Ledecka followed her super-G title by winning the parallel GS in snowboarding — becoming the first athlete to win two golds at one Winter Games using two different types of equipment.

The 23-year-old Czech is the reigning world champion in parallel GS.

Ledecka said she brought up the issue with the International Ski Federation, which governs both sports.

“On one side I see their point. For one athlete why should they do that, right? But from the other side I think I made snowboarding a little more popular, and I think a lot of fans would be happy to see me compete in both,” Ledecka said. “It’s their decision, and I have to respect it.”

Ledecka has not decided which worlds she’ll compete in. She’s currently going back and forth between the snowboard and ski circuits.

Last week, she finished first and second in two parallel GS events in Italy and then switched to downhill skis this week. She was fastest in a downhill training run Monday before finishing 29th in Tuesday’s race.

“I think I can decide right before,” Ledecka said. “But it will probably be early, so I’m well prepared.”

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