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US speedskaters have altitude adjustment for PyeongChang

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — U.S. Speedskating needed an altitude adjustment after getting shut out in Sochi.

Maybe the change will help the United States reclaim golden glory this month at the Pyeongchang Olympics.

The U.S. team was left off the medal stand in 2014 after training too long at altitude even though those games were held near sea level in Russia.

Fast forward four years and the Americans have adjusted their preparation routine to spend more time training at the Pettit National Ice Center, one of the sport’s important venues, ahead of the Pyeongchang Games . Like Pettit, the oval in South Korea is at sea level.

“Having them be here is going to give them a similar (feel) on the ice once they get over to Korea,” said Bonnie Blair Cruikshank, a vice president of the Pettit’s board of directors. She’s also speedskating royalty as a five-time Olympic gold medalist who spent much time training at the big rink on the outskirts of Milwaukee.

“It’s a perfect place for them to train and know what they’re going to be feeling like” in South Korea, Blair Cruikshank said.

The Pettit had been overtaken by the Utah Olympic Oval, which is about 4,600 feet above sea level, as the home for top speedskaters in recent years. The U.S. Olympic trials were held in Utah four years ago ahead of Sochi.

A lack of familiarity with high-tech skins suits was among other factors contributing to the embarrassing outcome for the United States in what had been its most successful Winter Olympics sport. U.S. Speedskating held its pre-Sochi camp at a frigid outdoor rink in the mountains of Italy.

This time, the Americans held their camp indoors at the Pettit, where the Olympic trials also were held for the first time since 1998. Another camp at the Pettit in January 2017 sandwiched a visit typically held each year in September.

“Four years ago when we selected our team in Salt Lake, there was a lot of pushback — the Milwaukee people were upset,” said Guy Thibault, U.S. Speedskating’s high performance director. “Sochi is a slower rink, and people were wondering why we’re picking a team at altitude.”

Logistics played a role, too, Thibault noted, with NBC needing the selections to take place in Utah. The short-track trials immediately followed the long-track trials in 2014, and television coverage is good for publicity for a sport that draws the most attention in Olympic years.

The move to Milwaukee worked out this year.

“It’s better for the sport overall,” Thibault said.

At higher altitudes, “there’s less air slowing you down” because the density is thinner, Thibault said. A skater can glide a little more.

“So you’re cutting through the air a lot faster in Salt Lake, hitting a lot higher speeds, a lot less resistance,” said Brittany Bowe , a 2014 Olympian and medal contender this year . Bowe and fellow American Heather Bergsma have dominated the 1,000 and 1,500 distances internationally.

At sea level, it takes a little more energy to cut through the thicker air.

“Therefore the times are slower,” Bowe said. “You just have to adjust the way that you’re skating a little bit, you have to adjust your mental tactics and capacity and realize you’re not going to be hitting those speeds in Salt Lake.”

Olympian Jonathan Garcia said team members have probably spent about eight weeks in Milwaukee in each of the last two years. He feels good heading into South Korea after reaching personal bests at sea level.

“I just think it’s like training with a weight vest for another sport. It gives you that extra resistance that you wouldn’t have in Salt Lake,” Garcia said. “So it’s not so much as a shock to the body.”

Milwaukee offers added comfort because of its speedskating roots .

The Pettit is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Before the Pettit opened in 1992, the location was home to the outdoor Wisconsin Olympic Ice Rink, where five-time gold medalist Eric Heiden trained. Blair Cruikshank and another gold medalist, Dan Jansen, trained at the Pettit ahead of the 1994 Winter Games in Lillihammer, Norway.

The return of the Olympic trials in early January drew sold-out crowds, a sign that it may not take another two decades for the most important speedskating event in the United States to return to Wisconsin.

“For the sport, I’m excited for the Olympic trials and the excitement it created,” Blair Cruikshank said. “Now it’s nice that this is the facility where they were (training) in for their final preparations.”

Kuwaiti sheikh steps aside from IOC after indictment

AP
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GENEVA (AP) — Facing a criminal trial in Switzerland, Olympic powerbroker Sheikh Ahmad al Fahad al Sabah temporarily stepped aside from his IOC work on Monday.

The Kuwaiti sheikh denies wrongdoing but said in a statement he did not want “these politically motivated allegations to distract attention” from the Olympic movement’s work.

“Sheikh Ahmad has every confidence and trust in the Swiss courts and IOC Ethics Commission’s impartial due processes,” the statement from his personal office in Kuwait said. “He fully intends to continue serving the IOC again at the earliest opportunity.”

The sheikh has been indicted for forgery in Geneva and faces a prison sentence of up to 10 years, city daily Le Temps reported. The investigation arose from a dispute with another royal family member, who is a former prime minister of Kuwait.

Sheikh Ahmad has been an International Olympic Committee member for 26 years, a close ally of president Thomas Bach, and leads the global and Asian groups of national Olympic bodies. He also chairs an IOC panel which will give $500 million to Olympic bodies and athletes before the 2020 Tokyo Games.

He is due to be re-elected unopposed in Tokyo next week as president of the global Olympic group known as ANOC.

The IOC said in a statement its ethics panel can intervene for misconduct “even if it is not related to sport.”

The Olympic ethics panel had confirmed last year it was studying separate allegations against Sheikh Ahmad relating to bribery in international soccer elections.

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Who qualifies for figure skating’s Grand Prix Final?

Yevgenia Medvedeva
NBC Sports Gold
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A look at the qualifying scenarios for December’s Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual international figure skating event, with the sixth and last qualifier happening this week at Internationaux de France, headlined by Nathan Chen and streaming live on NBC Sports Gold … 

Men
1. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 30 points (qualified)
2. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 30 points (qualified)
3. Michal Brezina (CZE) — 26 points (qualified)
4. Sergey Voronov (RUS) — 24 points (qualified)
5. Cha Jun-Hwan (KOR) — 22 points (bubble)
6. Keegan Messing (CAN) — 20 points (bubble)

Competing this week: Nathan Chen (USA) — 15 points, Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 9 points, Jin Boyang (CHN) and Dmitry Aliyev (RUS) — 7 points, Jason Brown (USA) — 5 points.

Outlook: Chen qualifies with a fifth or better this week. If he wins as expected, it would mean the favorites swept the six men’s Grand Prix Final qualifiers (Hanyu, Uno and Chen with two wins each). That trio last faced off at the Olympics, where Hanyu repeated as champion, Uno took silver and Chen rebounded from a 17th-place short program with the top free skate to place fifth overall. Hanyu, though, is uncertain for the Final after injuring his right ankle in practice before his free skate at Rostelecom Cup on Saturday. Samarin is the only man in this week’s field who would get into the Final by placing second to Chen.

Women
1. Alina Zagitova (RUS) — 30 points (qualified)
2. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 28 points (qualified)
3. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS) — 26 points (qualified)
4. Kaori Sakamoto (JPN) — 24 points (bubble)
5. Sofia Samodurova (RUS) — 24 points (bubble)
6. Mako Yamashita (JPN) — 17 points (bubble)

Competing this week: Rika Kihira (JPN) — 15 points, Stanislava Konstantinova (RUS) — 13 points, Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 11 points, Mai Mihara (JPN), Bradie Tennell (USA) and Alexia Paganini (SUI) — 9 points, Laurine Lecavelier (FRA) — 7 points.

Outlook: It’s a near-lock that the Grand Prix Final will be an all-Russian and Japanese affair. The biggest question across all disciplines this week is whether the Olympic silver medalist and two-time world champion Medvedeva can earn one of the three available spots. She is definitely in with a win. If she’s second, it likely comes down to a tiebreak among at least Medvedeva, Sakamoto and Samodurova, looking at who had the most total points between their two Grand Prix starts. If she’s third, she’s almost definitely out of the Final. The U.S. champion Tennell is one of six women who qualify automatically with a win this week.

Pairs
1. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 30 points (qualified)
2. Natalya Zabiyako/Alexander Enbert (RUS) — 30 points (qualified)
3. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 26 points (qualified)
4. Nicole Della Monica/Matteo Guarise (ITA) — 26 points (qualified)
5. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 22 points (bubble)
6. Alisa Efimova/Alexander Korovin (RUS) — 20 points (bubble)

Competing this week: Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres (FRA) — 15 points, Aleksandra Boikova/Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 9 points, Ryom Tae-Ok/Kim Ju-Sik (PRK), Tarah Kayne/Danny O’Shea (USA) and Minerva Fabienne Hase/Nolan Seegert (GER) — 7 points.

Outlook: With none of the Olympic medalists competing this fall, the fourth- and fifth-place finishers from PyeongChang have been the most impressive thus far — Tarasova and Morozov and James and Cipres. The French make it to the Final by finishing fifth this week. For either the North Koreans or the Americans to make the Final, they almost definitely have to win. That’s a very tall order against the French in Grenoble.

Ice Dance
1. Madison Hubbell/Zach Donohue (USA) — 30 points (qualified)
2. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 30 points (qualified)
3. Charlene Guignard/Marco Fabbri (ITA) — 26 points (qualified)
4. Tiffany Zahorski/Jonathan Guerreiro (RUS) — 24 points (bubble)
5. Sara Hurtado/Kirill Khaliavin (ESP) — 22 points (bubble)
6. Lorraine McNamara/Quinn Carpenter (USA) — 20 points (bubble)

Competing this week: Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker (USA) — 15 points, Victoria Sinitsina/Nikita Katsalapov (RUS) — 13 points, Piper Gilles/Paul Poirier (CAN) and Rachel Parsons/Michael Parsons (USA) — 11 points, Marie-Jade Lauriault/Romain Le Gac (FRA) — 9 points, Olivia Smart/Adrián Díaz (ESP) — 7 points, Allison Reed/Saulius Ambrulevičius (LTU) — 5 points.

Outlook: This week’s favorites have no chance at the Final. That’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who missed their first Grand Prix due to Cizeron’s back injury. The anticipated showdown between the three-time world champions and Olympic silver medalists from France and world silver medalists Hubbell and Donohue must wait until the world championships in March. Their absence could open the door for multiple U.S. dance couples to qualify for the Final for a fifth straight year, despite the absence this fall of Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani (indefinite break) and Madison Chock and Evan Bates (injury). Hawayek and Baker are into the Final with a fourth or better this week.

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