Getty Images

US speedskaters have altitude adjustment for PyeongChang

Leave a comment

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.”

Lindsey Vonn makes first trip to Kitzbuehel, still feeling some sadness of retirement

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Lindsey Vonn is back on the Alpine skiing World Cup tour this weekend, but not as a racer.

Vonn, who retired last year, is a spectator (and course inspector) at the famed Hahnenkamm in Kitzbuehel, Austria, home to the biggest annual men’s race in the sport (full TV, live stream schedule here).

It’s her first time watching competition in person since a career’s worth of injuries forced her to retire last winter, four wins shy of Ingemar Stenmark‘s World Cup record total of 86.

“I feel like skiing is like a bad break-up, so I need to keep some distance and some space,” she said, according to sponsor Red Bull. “And I’m slowly getting back into watching it. It’s hard, because every time I watch it, it reminds me of what I’m missing. I find it easier to watch the men’s races obviously than the women’s, but of course I’m always cheering for my teammates and watching girls coming back from injury who’ve had a hard time.

“I kind of need some space still. But, as time goes on, I’ll be able to be more involved and it will be less painful for me, and I can kind of start to build a new relationship with ski racing.”

Vonn was a special guest at the podium presentation of Friday’s super-G won by Norwegian Kjetil Jansrud, who like Vonn came back from major knee injuries to return to an Olympic podium.

Vonn long harbored ambitions of racing against men, but it never came to fruition, at least in part due to the International Ski Federation never signing off. In 2012, she was quoted saying she wanted to race at Kitzbuehel, the most challenging track on the men’s circuit.

“Before I was injured, I really wish I would have at least got a chance to ski down it,” she said this week. “I wouldn’t even mind if I had raced, but it would have been cool for me to one time go down it with a race suit on and see what it’s like. Being here as a spectator, I’m so jealous of the men.”

While Vonn keeps busy in retirement, including wedding planning with fiance P.K. Subban, emotional pain remains from being off the ski circuit.

“It’s not really about letting go as much as just not being able to do what I love anymore,” she said. “That’s like a bad break-up where I just miss it, and wish I could still do it, but physically I wasn’t able to, and it’s a hard reality to accept. No matter how many business deals I make or companies I start, it’s never going to replace the adrenaline and the speed and the thrill of ski racing.

“It’s something I have to learn to live with ,and I just thought it would be a little easier than it was, but when you wake up and your world’s totally different and the reality sinks in, it just makes you sad sometimes.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Alpine skiing season TV schedule

Bradie Tennell delivers her punch, seizes figure skating nationals lead

Leave a comment

GREENSBORO, N.C. – Bradie Tennell punched the air when she finished her winning short program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships Thursday night.

For most athletes, that is a common reaction to a strong performance.

For Tennell, whose default mood is self-containment, it was an unusual outpouring of emotion.

And maybe it showed just how well she understood the way her choreographer, Frenchman Benoit Richaud, wanted her to perform a program in which her confident, sometimes sassy skating complimented the staccato, robotic music.

After all, she would be skating it in a look-at-me bright red dress.

When they first began working on the program, Richaud felt Tennell was characteristically trying to disappear into the woodwork by turning what were meant to be bold physical statements into understated movements.

“You need to make a splash,” he told her. “You need to feel like you’re the center of everyone’s attention.”

That is the last thing Tennell normally wants to be.

“It’s weird,” Tennell said. “I guess when I’m on the ice, that’s what I’m aiming for, but when I’m off the ice, I’m more introverted, so it’s not something I’m used to.”

Tennell, the 2018 U.S. champion, commanded the judges’ attention with a flawless performance begun with a strong triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination and ended with consecutive eye-catching spins. They gave her 78.96 points, leaving her 3.56 ahead of Alysa Liu, 14, who last year became the youngest senior champion in U.S. history.

NATIONALS: TV/Live Stream Schedule | Full Results

That is almost exactly the same situation as last year, when Tennell had a 2.71-point lead over Liu going into the free skate. Mistakes by Tennell and Liu’s higher-valued jump content reversed the order in the final standings.

Tennell was battling not only her reserved persona but nervousness over a lingering arm problem.

She had hit her elbow on a wall after a bad spill a few months ago, leading to swelling that went up and down intermittently since then. “For some reason, this week it got really swollen and really painful,” she said.

When she woke up Wednesday, she could not bend her arm. She went to the event medical staff for help. They told her she had an infected hematoma and gave her antibiotics. Her mother, an emergency room nurse for 25 years, added her expertise to the treatment.

That did not calm her nerves, though. It took the first jumping pass to do that.

“As soon as I landed the Lutz-toe, I was like, ‘I can get through this,’’’ she said.

Tennell has spent all season getting beaten by young Russians with more formidable jump arsenals. She insists being at such a disadvantage is not frustrating.

“I don’t think about it that way,” she said. “Luckily, I don’t have to compete against them here, so it’s not really on my mind this week.”

Yet a glance at the short program scores shows just how much an impact Liu’s more difficult jumps can have.

Liu started with a technical base value 5.18 points higher than Tennell’s. Despite Liu’s weaker spins and a wonky landing on a triple Axel, which resulted in a loss of 1.94 points on grade of execution, her overall technical score was only .16 behind Tennell’s.

“I did make a few mistakes,” Liu noted.

Liu’s base advantage increases in Friday free skate, where she plans to do two triple Axels and a quadruple lutz. Those three jumps are worth 10.4 points more than Tennell’s three highest-value jumps.

Of course, Liu has to execute those things, and ice is slippery, as Mariah Bell showed in falling on footwork at the end of her strong short program.

Bell (73.22) was third, 2.18 behind Liu. Amber Glenn was a close fourth (73.16) after giving the most captivating performance of the evening, flush with speed, power and emotion.

Karen Chen, the 2017 champion returning to nationals after a 2019 season lost to injury, was a solid fifth (70.41).

Two-time champion Gracie Gold, whose comeback from depression and an eating disorder has been widely celebrated, struggled to 13th. She botched the landing of a triple lutz and got no points after singling a planned triple loop.

The top three finished in the same order as a year ago. Once again, it was Tennell’s night. It isn’t so bad being the center of attention.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

MORE: Gracie Gold rebuilds herself to return to nationals

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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!