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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

Bernard Lagat reminded of Atlanta Games at U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials

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ATLANTA — As 45-year-old Bernard Lagat sat inside a hotel overlooking Centennial Olympic Park, he spoke one sentence that prefaced the start of his Olympic journey more than two decades ago.

“We are doing this in a special place,” he said of the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, which finish at the park on Saturday (12 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Lagat is an underdog, but has a chance to make a sixth Olympic team by placing in the top three. He can break his own record as the oldest U.S. Olympic runner in history.

Lagat was reminded this week of the Atlanta Olympics that got away.

In 1996, the Kenyan-born runner was coming off his freshman year at Jomo Kenyatta University Agriculture and Technology in Nairobi. He studied mathematics and computer science.

Lagat debuted at the Kenyan Olympic Trials. He remembered finishing seventh in the 1500m, having exhausted himself by clocking a 3:37 semifinal.

“They had fancy shoes, nice clothing,” he said of the pros. “Me, I was like hand-me-down spikes.”

Lagat’s coach at the time, Nganga Ngata, arranged for him to transfer to Washington State later that summer. But first, Lagat watched on TV the Olympic 1500m final — famous for then-world-record holder Noureddine Morceli and current world-record holder Hicham El Guerrouj making contact at the bell; El Guerrouj fell, Morceli won.

Days later, Lagat headed to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi. He was to fly to the United States for the first time, embarking on a journey that would lead to U.S. Olympic teams in 2008, 2012 and 2016 after he represented Kenya in 2000 and 2004.

Before a 21-year-old Lagat boarded his flight, he encountered a reception. The Kenyan Olympic team was arriving back from Atlanta after collecting eight medals, including in every men’s distance-running event.

“They had all these celebrations, traditional milk and the gourds,” Lagat said. “Oh, it was amazing. … That fire, seeing them coming home with medals, and I thought, I want to be like those guys.”

Lagat went on to earn eight combined Olympic and world championships medals between the 1500m and 5000m. Lagat qualified for one last Olympics on the track in 2016, going from sixth place at the bell to win the trials 5000m. He was fifth in Rio.

Then he turned to the marathon. Lagat has raced two of them. He clocked 2:17:20 in New York City in 2018, saying he was “running blind” with inexperience. He ran 2:12:10 at the 2019 Gold Coast Marathon in Australia, ranking him outside the 20 fastest Americans in this Olympic cycle.

Lagat went back to Kenya last month to train for the trials with the likes of world-record holder Eliud Kipchoge. Lagat soaked up so much that he likened it to a six-week school term.

At one point, Lagat was part of a 30km training run with Kipchoge. By the end he rounded a bend and saw the Olympic favorite just 60 seconds ahead.

“You think about Eliud being 60 seconds ahead of you in a 30K?” an incredulous Lagat said. “I thought, I’m done. Now I can buy my flight and go back to USA. I’m ready.”

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Chris Lillis, after missing Olympics, back atop aerials podium

Andrey Kulagin
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U.S. men’s aerials skiers had gone four years between World Cup victories. Now, they’ve won back-to-back events.

Chris Lillis prevailed in Kazakhstan on Friday, six days after Justin Schoenefeld ended the U.S.’ longest men’s victory drought since aerials became an Olympic medal sport in 1994.

Lillis, the 21-year-old brother of 2017 World champion Jon Lillis, landed a double full-full-full in the super final to score 121.27 points. Full results are here. He beat a field that included Schoenefeld (sixth place) and his older brother (14th) but lacked the world’s best from China and Russia.

“That was definitely one of the best jumps of my career,” Chris Lillis said. “Moving forward I’m feeling deadly.”

Chris has earned back-to-back World Cup podiums, his first top-three finishes since missing the PyeongChang Olympics with a torn ACL.

Also Friday, American Megan Nick finished second in the women’s event for her second runner-up this season. The last U.S. woman to win a World Cup was Kiley McKinnon on Jan. 6, 2018.

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