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Host South Korea seeks Olympic sliding breakthrough in skeleton

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Korean skeleton star Yun Sungbin is absolutely obsessed with Iron Man. He collects the figurines. He’s seen the movies. He knows every aspect of the superhero’s story.

Some even call him Iron Man. He may be called Gold Man soon.

South Korea has 26 gold medals in its Winter Olympic history — all on ice, all with skates involved, most from speed skating.

The nation doesn’t have much of a sliding history, but has made great strides as it builds momentum to host the PyeongChang Games.

And Yun is certainly one of the host nation’s top gold hopefuls, looking to parlay his home-track advantage into big things.

“I do believe that if I focus on what I should do, then everything will come out great,” Yun said in early January, according to South Korea’s JoongAng Daily.

He could be right.

Yun was the only slider on the circuit to finish first or second in each of the first six World Cup races this season.

If there’s any pressure on him as he goes into his second Olympics, and obviously his first at home, it’s not showing.

He will face serious competition from the Latvian brother duo of Martins Dukurs and Tomass Dukurs, while Matt Antoine of the United States — a Sochi bronze medalist — has been trying to build his entire season around peaking in PyeongChang.

In women’s skeleton, Great Britain might have a chance at a third straight gold from a third different woman.

Laura Deas will look to carry on her team’s tradition of winning the sport’s biggest race, after Amy Williams in 2010 and Lizzy Yarnold in 2014.

Since skeleton returned to the Olympic program in 2002, a British woman won gold, silver or bronze every time.

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Here’s some of what to know going into skeleton in PyeongChang:

MEDAL FAVORITES
The women’s race could be wide open with no fewer than 10 medal contenders from seven countries. Yun will be the men’s favorite, and since the host South Koreans have far more runs down the track at the Alpensia Sliding Center than anyone else, his familiarity there could be the edge he needs.

WHAT IS IT
No, you may not call it “headfirst luge.” Skeleton sliders go down the track headfirst, on a very different sled than those in the luge world, but can reach speeds exceeding 80 mph (128.74 kph). There’s a sprint at the start as racers hang onto their sled, then they jump aboard and go on a wild ride for the next minute or so.

BEST RIVALRY
Nothing like a sibling rivalry, and in this case, poor Tomass Dukurs. The Latvian is one of the sport’s very best sliders right now, but is also second-best in his own family. His brother Martins Dukurs finishes ahead of him more than 90 percent of the time when they’ve both been entered in the same international competition.

RISING STARS
The future of women’s skeleton is clear. Germany’s Jacqueline Loelling is 22, Canada’s Elisabeth Vathje is 23, and they have been consistently better than everyone else this season. This could be the start of a real Olympic rivalry.

RULE CHANGES
A World Cup has two heats on one day; an Olympic competition has four heats over two days.

DEFENDING SOMETHING
These are strange times in the Olympic world because of the still-developing fallout from the doping scandal that ensnared the host Russians at Sochi 2014, one that led to many medals getting stripped — but not yet reallocated.

So Martins Dukurs, who finished second in 2014, may go to PyeongChang and still not know if he’s the defending gold medalist in his event.

Katie Uhlaender, the hard-luck American veteran who has spent half her life chasing an Olympic medal, might be getting one because she finished fourth behind a since-banned Russian in Sochi four years ago. “I have to focus on what I can control, and I have to focus on myself,” Uhlaender said.

DON’T MISS
Dave Greszczyszyn of Canada is a 38-year-old who once was a teacher and part-time bus driver before deciding to pursue his Olympic skeleton hopes. He’s called Alphabet, for obvious reasons.

OLYMPIAN EFFORT
John Daly of the U.S. will make headlines for his super-coiffed hair. He retired after a last-run disaster in Sochi, then came back while holding down a full-time job, and everything he’s done over the last two years has been about getting ready for this race. He’ll go for broke, and it may net him a medal.

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MORE: First U.S. skeleton slider qualifies for PyeongChang

World champion wins doping case citing bodily fluids from boyfriend

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — A world champion canoeist won a doping case Monday after persuading a tribunal that her positive test was caused by bodily fluid contamination from her boyfriend.

The International Canoe Federation (ICF) ended its investigation into 11-time world champion Laurence Vincent Lapointe, who tested positive for a steroid-like substance in July. She faced a four-year ban and could have missed her event’s Olympic debut at the Tokyo Games.

The Canadian canoe sprint racer and her lawyer detailed in a news program that laboratory analysis of hair from her then-boyfriend showed he was likely responsible for a tiny presence of ligandrol in her doping sample.

“The ICF has accepted Ms. Vincent Lapointe’s evidence which supports that she was the victim of third-party contamination,” the governing body said in a statement, clearing her to return to competition.

The legal debate is similar to tennis player Richard Gasquet’s 2009 acquittal in the “cocaine kiss” case. The Court of Arbitration for Sport accepted Gasquet’s defense that kissing a woman who had taken cocaine in a Miami nightclub, after he had withdrawn injured from a tournament, caused his positive test.

The 27-year-old Vincent Lapointe was provisionally suspended for almost six months and missed the 2019 World Championships, which was a key qualifying event for the Tokyo Olympics. American 17-year-old Nevin Harrison won the 200m world title in her absence.

She can still qualify for the Olympic debut of women’s canoe sprint events with victory at a World Cup event in May in Germany.

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U.S. women’s soccer team begins Olympic qualifying, which should rest on one match

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The U.S. women’s soccer team has never been in danger in Olympic qualifying, but that doesn’t change this fact: It must win on Feb. 7 to reach the Tokyo Games.

The CONCACAF tournament begins Tuesday in Houston, where the world champion Americans face world No. 72 Haiti. The last two group games are against No. 68 Panama on Friday and No. 37 Costa Rica on Feb. 3. The top two nations from the group advance to Feb. 7 semifinals.

The U.S. roster, with 18 of its 20 players coming from the 2019 World Cup team, is here.

Since CONCACAF qualifies two nations to the Olympics, the semifinals are the deciding games.

Should the U.S. win its group, it would face the runner-up from the other group in a winner-goes-to-Tokyo match. The other group (world ranking):

Canada (8)
Mexico (37)
Jamaica (53)
St. Kitts and Nevis (127)

Chaos could result in the unlikely event that either the U.S. or Canada finishes second in its group, and the two North American powers play a semifinal.

The U.S. is undefeated in Olympic qualifying history, since the tournament format began in 2004 — 15-0 with a goal differential of 88-1 (not counting matches played once they’ve already clinched qualification). The lone goal allowed came in a group-stage match in 2008, when the U.S. was already assured a spot in the semifinals.

Still, the U.S. knows the feeling of one poor outing in an important match. In 2010, it lost to Mexico in a winner-to-the-World Cup match. The U.S. was forced to win a last-chance, home-and-home playoff against a UEFA team — Italy — for the last spot in the World Cup.

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