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U.S. Olympic speed skating trials preview, broadcast schedule

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The U.S. speed skating flop in Sochi did not carry over.

Four different Americans won world titles between 2015 and 2017.

The top U.S. skaters in this Olympic cycle — Heather Bergsma and Brittany Bowe — traded 1000m and 1500m world records in 2015.

The World Cup and world championships medals make what happened in Sochi — zero medals for the first time since 1984 in the U.S.’ most successful Winter Olympic sport — stand out even more.

“Of course after Sochi we looked into, like, everything that possibly could have went wrong and tried to figure out where we went wrong, but I think it was just no one was at their best at Sochi,” Bergsma said last spring.

U.S. Speedskating determined after Sochi that several factors — not just the well-publicized Under Armour skinsuit debacle — led to poor performances from every medal hopeful.

Among them was emphasizing training at altitude despite the Olympics being held near sea level.

“It wasn’t the suits,” Bergsma said in the spring. “I just think we weren’t peaked, and mentally after one person was done, we just kept dropping.

“We’re winning in [different Under Armour] suits now, so I don’t think there’s a problem there.”

Under Armour developed suits for PyeongChang with input from athletes after wind-tunnel testing months ago.

Skaters will receive them after qualifying for the Olympics at next week’s trials near Milwaukee (NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

They will have a full month to train in them versus the week and a half they had before Sochi. They’re similar to the suits most skaters have worn this World Cup season.

“We hated them [the 2014 Olympic suits], to be perfectly honest,” two-time U.S. Olympian Mitch Whitmore said. “These [2018 suits] we know exactly what we’re wearing going into it. We all feel very comfortable in it.”

This season has been the least successful for U.S. skaters since Sochi.

They combined for one World Cup race victory in the fall. Bowe and four-time Olympic medalist Shani Davis have been kept off the podium altogether.

Japanese and Russians, plus the always dominant Dutch, are out in front.

But Americans racked up World Cup wins before the Olympics four years ago before falling behind in Sochi. Could they be timing peaks better this season?

Up to 16 skaters could qualify for the Olympic team at trials with the best medal hopes in the 1000m, 1500m and mass start.

Bergsma, eyeing her third Olympics and first medals, swept the 1000m and 1500m at the world championships at the PyeongChang Olympic venue last February, plus added a mass start bronze.

Bowe, a former Florida Atlantic point guard, missed almost all of last season with a concussion and was slowed this fall by illness. She swept the 1000m and 1500m at the 2015 World Championships and was the world’s best sprinter in 2015 and 2016.

Davis is trying to make one more Olympic team at age 35. All of his Olympic medals came in the 1000m and 1500m in 2006 and 2010. His best World Cup finish in the fall was 11th.

The top three men in the 1000m and 1500m at trials are in line to make the Olympic team. Davis ranks third among Americans in those events this season.

Joey Mantia is the reigning world champion in the mass start, a race making its Olympic debut in PyeongChang.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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MORE: Dutch speed skaters won’t defend Olympic titles

U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials

Day Time (ET) Events Network
Tuesday, Jan. 2 4:15 p.m. Women’s 3000m LIVE STREAM
5:30-7 p.m. Women’s 3000m NBCSN
Wednesday, Jan. 3 6-7:30 p.m. 1000m NBCSN
Thursday, Jan. 4 6:30-8:30 p.m. Women’s 5000m NBCSN
Friday, Jan. 5 4:20 p.m. 500m #1 LIVE STREAM
6:30-8 p.m. 500m #2 NBCSN
Saturday, Jan. 6 6-8 p.m. 1500m NBCSN
Sunday, Jan. 7 6-6:45 p.m. Mass start NBCSN

Naomi Osaka, Coco Gauff set Australian Open duel

Naomi Osaka, Coco Gauff
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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Plenty was going badly for Coco Gauff in the second round of the Australian Open.

The double-faults kept coming Wednesday, nine in all. The deficits, too: First, she dropped the opening set against 74th-ranked Sorana Cirstea.

Then, after forcing a third, Gauff fell behind by a break, ceding 14 of 16 points with a series of mistakes. Later, after getting even at 3-all, Gauff was a mere two points from a loss.

None of that mattered. As she keeps showing, over and over, Gauff is not a typical 15-year-old. Not a typical tennis player, either.

And by getting past Cirstea 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 in a little more than two hours thanks to a more aggressive approach in the late going, she now has set up yet another Grand Slam showdown against Naomi Osaka.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

“I kind of felt the momentum changing,” Gauff said about turning things around against Cirstea. “I knew I had to keep pressing.”

Less than five months after their memorable meeting at the U.S. Open — Osaka won that one in straight sets, then consoled a crying Gauff on court and encouraged her to address the spectators — the two will face each other again. Like that time, Osaka is the major’s reigning champion and Gauff is making her debut at the tournament.

“I think I’ll be less nervous this time,” said Gauff, who eliminated seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams in the first round Monday. “I think I’m more confident this time around.”

As for what sticks with her about the post-match comforting Osaka offered in New York, Gauff said: “If I had a child or something, that’s something I would want my child to see. It just shows what being a competitor really is. You might hate the person on the court, but off the court you love them — not really, like, ‘hate,’ but you want to win. Sometimes when we’re on the court, we say things we don’t mean because we have that mentality. When it’s all said and done, we still look at each other with respect.”

Other winners included Serena Williams — 6-2, 6-3 against Tamara Zidansek in a match that finished with the Rod Laver Arena retractable roof closed because of rain — No. 1 Ash Barty, 2018 Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki and two-time major champion Petra Kvitova, the runner-up to Osaka in Australia a year ago.

In the last featured match of the night, No. 10 Madison Keys defeated Arantxa Rus 7-6 (7-3), 6-2.

Defending men’s champion Novak Djokovic required all of 95 minutes to breeze past Japanese wild-card entry Tatsuma Ito 6-1, 6-4, 6-2, while Roger Federer swept Filip Krajinovic 6-1, 6-4, 6-1.

Gauff was not at her very best on a windy afternoon against Cirstea but managed to figure her way out of trouble repeatedly. Gauff demonstrated plenty of grit, yes, and also enthusiasm, pumping herself up by shaking a fist and yelling, “Come on!” after most of her successful points down the stretch.

All the while, Gauff was supported by a Melbourne Arena crowd that chanted, “Let’s go, Coco! Let’s go!”

Her father, Corey, was animated in the stands, too, except when he was squeezing his eyes shut at critical moments.

There were several of those for his precocious daughter, who was ranked only 313th last year when she became the youngest player in history to qualify for Wimbledon, then wound up beating Williams there en route to the fourth round.

It is a measure of her came-so-soon stardom that Gauff was playing at Melbourne Park’s third-largest stadium Wednesday, even though this was a matchup between a pair of players ranked outside the top 60 and with one career Grand Slam quarterfinal between them, more than a decade ago (Cirstea made it that far at the 2009 French Open).

Indeed, every Grand Slam singles match — “every” being a relative term, of course, because this was No. 9 — of the 67th-ranked Gauff’s nascent career has been placed on a show court.

This was the first main draw match at a major for Gauff in which she held a better ranking than her opponent.

Didn’t seem that way at the outset: Gauff dropped the first set. After forcing things to a third, she trailed 3-0. After making it 3-3, Gauff needed to get through one more gut-check: Twice, she was two points from departing.

But the American teenager broke in the next-to-last game, then held to win.

How did Gauff get through this test?

“Just my will to win,” she said. “My parents, they always told me I can come back, no matter what the score is.”

Osaka worked through some frustrations Wednesday by grabbing her racket with both hands and chucking it to the ground, tossing away a tennis ball and kicking the racket along the court, to boot.

Then she plopped herself down on her sideline seat and draped a towel over her head. Soon, she was gathering herself and defeating Zheng Saisai 6-2, 6-4.

“I mean, my racket just magically flew out of my hand. I couldn’t control it,” Osaka said with a mischievous smile. “I think that’s how I dealt with my frustration. It was a bit childish. I just want to play one match without throwing my racket or kicking it. That’s all I want.”

Perhaps because her news conference took place while Gauff and Cirstea were still playing, Osaka deflected a question seeking some sort of lookahead to the third round, saying simply she would go watch the end of that match.

MORE: Another top U.S. tennis player cools on Olympics

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John Isner leaning toward skipping Olympics again

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John Isner, the highest-ranked U.S. male singles tennis player, is considering skipping the Olympics for a second straight time.

“I haven’t put a ton of thought into it, but as of right now, I think I’m leaning towards not playing,” the 19th-ranked player said at the Australian Open on Tuesday. “It’s about scheduling. I know the Olympics, it’s a fantastic honor. There’s no doubt about that. … Right now, at this stage in my career, it’s not a huge priority for me. So that’s probably the main reason I won’t be going. I certainly love playing in the summer in America, and I’m going to focus on that.”

The Tokyo Games take place the same week as a lower-level ATP Tour event in Atlanta that Isner, a former University of Georgia star, has won five times.

Other notable male players already said they will pass on Tokyo, including Sam Querrey, the top American in Olympic qualifying standings.

Austrian Dominic Thiem, a two-time French Open finalist, is prioritizing an ATP event in Kitzbühel the week of the Olympics. The U.S. doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan are not planning to play the Olympics in their final season before retirement, their manager said in November.

“The Olympics is very tough on the schedule … especially with Davis Cup,” Isner said in 2016, according to USA Today. “I think the fact that they have no [ATP ranking] points [at the Olympics], to be honest, was a pretty big factor as well. Obviously the Olympics is not about the money, but no points I think hindered me a bit.”

Isner, who turns 35 on April 26, is likely giving up his last chance to play Olympic singles. In his only Olympic participation, he reached the quarterfinals of the 2012 London Games, plus lost an opening-round doubles match there with Andy Roddick.

The top four U.S. men qualify for Tokyo, assuming they are among the top 60 overall qualifiers (maximum four per country) after this spring’s French Open.

Taylor FritzReilly Opelka, Steve Johnson and Tommy Paul are the U.S. men currently in Olympic qualifying position if excluding Querrey and Isner.

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