U.S. Olympic speed skating team finalized after trials

1 Comment

WEST ALLIS, Wis. (AP) — All Joey Mantia needed to do to qualify for the mass start in the Olympics was to finish at the U.S. speed skating trials.

He took it a little easy to begin the race Sunday before adrenaline kicked in.

The fifth-place finish on Sunday clinched Mantia’s spot in the mass start at the Winter Games, where the reigning world champion has bigger goals in mind.

“I really wanted to let those guys race it out and then I got a little hungry with a half-lap to go. I thought, ‘Maybe I can win this,’” Mantia said.

Brian Hansen took the event with a time of 7:48.24 on Sunday, the final day of the trials.

Mantia and Hansen had already qualified in other events. U.S. Speed Skating added Emery Lehman as a specialist in team pursuit to complete the seven-member men’s squad.

  • Jonathan Garcia — 500m
  • Kimani Griffin — 500m
  • Mitchell Whitmore — 500m, 1000m
  • Shani Davis — 1000m, 1500m
  • Joey Mantia — 1000m, 1500m, mass start
  • Brian Hansen — 1500m, mass start
  • Emery Lehman — team pursuit specialist

Lehman, a 2014 Olympian, will have to interrupt his junior year at Marquette, about a 10-minute drive from the Pettit National Ice Center near Milwaukee.

“I have to email my adviser, withdraw from classes,” Lehman said.

Mantia and Hansen finished one-two in the overall rankings to secure the two entries in the mass start, which makes its Olympic debut in PyeongChang.

“I think we can put together a solid plan. I think he’s on board for working for me, as the designated winner for the Games, but we’ve got to see how it plays out and who’s feeling the best when we get there,” Mantia said. “But I’m very confident having a strong teammate like Hansen.”

The mass start is speed skating’s version of NASCAR. Foregoing the traditional time-trial format, all entries were on the oval at the same time for the 16-lap, 6400m free-for-all that included four sprint laps.

“You never know what’s going to happen in that race,” Hansen said.

Asked if the goal was to help Mantia, Hansen added “We’ve got three weeks. I don’t know what exactly the strategy is going to be yet.”

With 24 entries on Sunday, the men’s race was a little more hectic than the eight-entry women’s race in which Heather Bergsma finished second and Mia Manganello third.

That gave each skater, who had already qualified in other events, enough points to finish atop the rankings to clinch the U.S. berths.

Consider the combinations of Mantia and Hansen, and Bergsma and Manganello, as two-person squads at the Games.

“I think that’s the best way that we can get a country medal at the Olympics, is working as a unit,” Manganello said, “and I think with [Bergsma] and I, I think we’ve got a great opportunity to do so.”

Maria Lamb won the women’s race at 9:15.17, but could not pass Bergsma or Manganello in overall points in order to qualify. The women’s roster for the Olympics is complete with six skaters.

  • Heather Bergsma — 500m, 1000m, 1500m, mass start
  • Brittany Bowe — 500m, 1000m, 1500m
  • Erin Jackson — 500m
  • Jerica Tandiman — 1000m
  • Mia Manganello — 1500m, mass start
  • Carlijn Schoutens — 3000m, 5000m

The mass start wrapped up what U.S. Speedskating high performance director Guy Thibault considered a successful trials.

They drew sellout crowds for all six days in the return to Pettit for the first time since 1998.

Once considered the American mecca for the sport, Pettit had been overtaken by the Utah Olympic Oval in recent years as the home for top speedskaters.

“I’ve never seen the Pettit Center so busy,” Thibault said. “That was actually pretty amazing.”

Now it’s on to PyeongChang, where the U.S. hopes to erase the painful memories of getting shutout four years ago in Sochi.

It was the first time that Americans failed to earn a medal in speed skating since 1984.

“As far as selection goes, I think we ended up with the best team,” Thibault said.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Two Dutch speed skaters won’t defend Olympic titles

WATCH LIVE: U.S. Figure Skating Championships rhythm dance, women’s free skate

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Can Bradie Tennell hold off 14-year-old Alysa Liu? The U.S. Figure Skating Championships crowns its female medalists on Friday, live on NBC Sports.

Action starts with the rhythm dance at 4:30 p.m. ET for NBC Sports Gold subscribers, with NBCSN broadcast coverage joining in at 5. The women start at 7:25 on Gold, with NBC TV coverage starting at 8.

LIVE STREAM: Rhythm dance — Gold | NBCSN | Skate Order
LIVE STREAM: Women’s free skate — Gold | NBC | Skate Order

Tennell topped Thursday’s short program with a clean slate of jumps, plus the highest artistic score.

She bettered Liu in the short program last year, too, but fell in the free skate to take silver. Liu, meanwhile, landed two triple Axels to win by 3.92 points and become the youngest U.S. champion in history.

Another skater to watch is Gracie Gold, the two-time U.S. champion competing at nationals for the first time in three years. Gold, lauded for her return from an eating disorder, depression and anxiety, struggled with jumps in the short and is in 13th place of 18 skaters.

In the rhythm dance, past U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue and Madison Chock and Evan Bates are expected to begin a duel that should come down to Saturday’s free dance.

Key Skate Times
5:32 p.m. — Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue
5:38 — Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker
5:44 — Madison Chock/Evan Bates
8:07 — Gracie Gold
10:03 — Karen Chen
10:11 — Amber Glenn
10:27 — Bradie Tennell
10:35 — Mariah Bell
10:43 — Alysa Liu

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Full Results

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

Iran’s only female Olympic medalist, who defected, eyes Tokyo Games as German or refugee

AP
Leave a comment

LÜNEN, Germany (AP) — Iran’s only female Olympic medalist said Friday she wants to compete for Germany after defecting from her native country.

Kimia Alizadeh is trying to rebuild her life and career after she announced this month she had left Iran, citing sexism on the part of officials there.

“Even if I do not make it to the Olympics, it does not matter because I have made up my mind,” Alizadeh said at a meeting with journalists at a taekwondo club.

“I am sure that I will be judged by many, but I am just 21 years old and can attend world tournaments and future Olympics. However, I will spare no effort to get the best result at this time as well.”

She added she doesn’t expect ever to compete in Iran again.

Alizadeh was just 18 when she won bronze in taekwondo at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, catapulting her to instant fame at home. Despite Iran’s long history of victories in men’s wrestling and weightlifting, no Iranian woman had ever won a medal before.

However, Alizadeh was frustrated with life in Iran despite her Olympic success. In an Instagram post this month announcing she had left Iran, she accused Iranian officials of sexism and criticized wearing the mandatory hijab headscarf.

Alizadeh hasn’t given up hope of being able to compete at this year’s Olympics in Tokyo. However, getting there would require highly unusual exemptions from the usual rules on nationality switches and qualification, regardless of whether she tries to represent Germany or the International Olympic Committee’s refugee team.

Alizadeh spent time in the Netherlands before heading to Germany this week to meet with taekwondo officials there. The German Taekwondo Union has spoken up in favor of Alizadeh staying in the country in what it calls a first step toward her gaining nationality and becoming eligible to compete for Germany.

“If the German government assists me and I can go through this process as fast as possible, I might be able to make it to the Olympics, too,” she said.

In recent years, many Iranian athletes have left their country, citing government pressure. In September, the former world judo champion Saeed Mollaei moved to Germany after walking off the Iranian team at the world championships in Japan. He said Iranian officials had tried to force him to withdraw so as not to compete against an Israeli opponent.

Alireza Faghani, an Iranian international soccer referee, also left Iran for Australia last year.

Alizadeh said she just wants “a peaceful life,” and she’s not looking back.

“I have a great feeling to have made a decision for my life that would definitely change my future,” she said. “I think it is not even clear enough now and. in the years to come, I will understand what a good decision I made.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Full list of U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics