U.S. Olympic speed skating team finalized after trials

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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.

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

Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara
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Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)
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There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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