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Heiden Olympic legacy lives on with Joanne Reid

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PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – Joanne Firesteel Reid remembers every burning minute of those seven hours.

“Because firstly, I was awake through both procedures,” she wrote, “and secondly because, you know, they saved my athletic career.”

Reid, a 25-year-old biathlete, said she almost blacked out at the penultimate World Cup stop of the 2016-17 season in Kontiolahti, Finland.

She was diagnosed with paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia, which she then realized had been going on since 2014. Her heart would occasionally get stuck at 230 beats per minute for up to an hour straight.

“It’s not dangerous, actually, but what it does do is when your heart enters the tachycardia loop, the blood isn’t cycling correctly, so you’re not recovering as fast or maybe at all,” she said. “When your heart gets confused basically.”

The episodes occurred at high stress.

“If my heart rate would start to come down, I would get stuck in tachycardia,” she said.

That’s particularly troublesome in her sport. Biathletes normally shoot after their elevated heart rate from skiing lowers slightly, but trying to do so at well over 200 beats per minute is “like trying to shoot in the middle of an earthquake,” she told her hometown newspaper in Boulder, Colorado.

So in August, and again in October, Reid arrived at Massachusetts General Hospital’s cardiology unit for a heart procedure to keep her Olympic dream alive.

She had to be awake for each 3½-hour procedure.

“They pumped me full of adrenaline, then they stimulated my heartbeat to really massively high rates, and then they burned [my femoral vein],” Reid said. “It’s sort of like your chest is on fire, and it really is in a way.”

Reid could not train at full intensity for two weeks after each procedure, yet recovered to make the five-woman U.S. Olympic biathlon team fewer than three years after picking up the sport.

 NBCOlympics.com: More on biathlon

The story adds to her family’s athletic legacy.

You may recognize her uncle Eric Heiden, who won five gold medals in speed skating at the 1980 Lake Placid Games and rode the Tour de France.

And her mom, Beth Heiden Reid, who won an Olympic bronze medal and world all-around title in speed skating, plus a world title in road cycling.

Reid’s parents now live in Palo Alto, California.

“I guess the Olympics are probably not meaningless to anyone, but if I said that I was part of a family legacy, I would say my family legacy leans more toward working for Apple,” said Reid, who has an undergraduate mathematics degree and a master’s in engineering from the University of Colorado. “That seems to be the majority holding right now.”

Reid grew up on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with older brothers Garrett and Carl. Her middle name, Firesteel, comes from a river that empties into Lake Superior.

“It seemed appropriate to us at the time because we wanted her to be strong,” said Beth, whose first daughter, Susan Elizabeth, was born with heart, kidney and liver problems a year earlier and died at 19 days.

Mom said none of her kids knew about the family Olympic history until they were in elementary school during their father’s two-year sabbatical when they lived in Madison, Wisconsin.

The kids went to the same school as Eric and Beth. On the playground, there was a 15-foot-by-15-foot building named “the Heiden Haus,” a warming area for when the local fire department would flood the field every winter to create a skating rink.

“The other little kids in school all knew about the Heiden speed skaters,” Beth said. “When my kids showed up, they said, ‘That’s your mom.’”

The family moved to Palo Alto after the sabbatical and spent weekends and holidays cross-country skiing in Truckee.

Reid and her mom competed against each other at the 2010 U.S. Cross-Country Championships, with 50-year-old mom beating 17-year-old daughter in a pair of races. It bears mentioning that Beth also won an NCAA cross-country title at Vermont in 1983.

Reid won her NCAA title for Colorado in 2013 but wasn’t keen on continuing as an elite professional skier. She kept competing while going for her master’s.

Reid traveled to Houghton, Michigan, for the January 2015 U.S. Cross-Country Championships. She stayed with family friends who were crazy about Nordic skiing. They watched early morning live streams of World Cup biathlon races from Europe.

“I had never seen a biathlon race and didn’t know a thing about it,” said Reid, who had forgotten that 10 or 15 years earlier she and the other kids in her California ski club actually did biathlon once or twice a year.

Around that time, her grandfather, Jack Heiden, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He had a biathlon rifle and passed it down to Beth.

“Joanne thought, I could use grandpa’s rifle, and I can start biathlon,” Beth said. “It was a perfect match.”

Joanne proved a precocious talent. Nearly a year to the day after leaving the U.S. Cross-Country Skiing Championships in Houghton, Reid was competing on biathlon’s highest level, the World Cup, in Ruhpolding, Germany.

“When she showed up on the World Cup, we realized that none of the athletes who were racing on the World Cup at that time had actually ever met her,” two-time U.S. Olympian Susan Dunklee said. “That had never happened before. We had never had somebody come onto the World Cup who none of us knew.”

Reid’s best finish in those first two seasons was 29th. She ranked third among U.S. women in 2016-17 in the only sport where the U.S. hasn’t won a Winter Olympic medal.

She made the 2017 World Championships team and seemed destined for Pyeongchang. The heart procedures ended up being a temporary roadblock. She feels fine now.

NBCOlympics.com: Watch biathlon events, highlights

“This is something I wanted to do for my grandfather,” Reid said of the Olympics, “before he passes away.”

Jack Heiden, 84, still lives in Madison.

“We all go to visit him regularly,” Beth said. “We tell him about Joanne and the rifle, and he’s all excited. I can tell him about it again the next day, and he’s just as excited.”

Reid used the rifle passed down by her grandfather for her first full season of biathlon. It was named “Forget-Me-Not.”

Reid’s rifle the last two seasons includes art designs of the state flowers of Wisconsin, Colorado and California and the forget-me-not surrounding the word “Tunkasila,” which means grandfather.

On the other side is a naked woman.

“Lady Fortune — the mistress of biathlon,” Reid told the IBU. “In a sport full of ups and downs, dependent on both skill and luck, chance is a part of our lives. Without Fortune’s favor, we cannot succeed, and she is a fickle mistress indeed.”

Brian Orser reveals Hanyu’s, Medvedeva’s, and Brown’s Grand Prix plans

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Over the past decade, the Toronto club where Brian Orser coached South Korea’s Yuna Kim to the 2010 Olympic title has become such an attraction for top figure skaters from around the globe that it could add a word to a name that already is a mouthful.

You could call it the Toronto International Cricket Skating and Curling Club.

But its reach now is limited by the deadly virus pandemic that has effectively frozen out the elite athletes from Japan, Russia, South Korea and Poland who train at the Cricket Club.

That situation won’t change quickly, even with the International Skating Union having announced Monday its plans to proceed with a live format for the international Grand Prix Series. This fall, it will become a series of six essentially domestic competitions scheduled to begin with Skate America Oct. 23-25 in Las Vegas.

If they take place.

“As soon as the skaters can come back, it will be full steam ahead… to where, we don’t know,” Orser said via telephone Wednesday.

Two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu remains in Japan. Two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva is in Russia, four-time national champion Cha Jun-Hwan in South Korea, and two-time national champion Yekaterina Kurakova in Poland.

“We would like for them all to come back, but with the Canadian travel restrictions in place until at least Aug. 21, we can’t guarantee approval to get them in, and they would have a 14-day quarantine here if they do get in,” Tracy Wilson, who coaches with Orser, said via telephone Wednesday. “Right now, they are all training at home, and that’s OK.

“The situation is different for each one. The Japanese federation may need Yuzu to do the Grand Prix in Japan, and at this point he would face quarantine entering Canada and returning to Japan.

“For Yevgenia, as soon as she does the Russian test skates (scheduled for early September), we will re-evaluate her situation.”

Orser said he has been doing three video coaching sessions a week with Medvedeva, with whom he is in his third season as coach. Medvedeva, who left Russia for Canada after winning a silver medal at the 2018 Olympics, also is currently getting help from coach Elena Buyanova at the CSKA rink in Moscow.

“She (Medvedeva) looks way ahead of where she was at this point last year,” Orser said.

MORE: Looking back at Yuna Kim’s 10-year gold medal anniversary

Orser also has been having live remote sessions with Cha and Kurakova, and they are also sending videos to him. The only skater he has not seen is Hanyu.

“That’s normal when he is back in Japan,” Orser said. “I wasn’t expecting anything.”

How long Hanyu stays in Japan may depend on travel restrictions being loosened in both his homeland and Canada.

“I would like to get them all back, and they need to come back,” Orser said. “But facing a double quarantine is not in anyone’s best interest.”

Only two of the Cricket Club’s international skaters, 2014 Olympian Jason Brown of suburban Chicago and Yi Zhu of Los Angeles (who represents China), have come back to Toronto after leaving in late winter.

It took Brown two tries to get back across the border because of issues with the paperwork necessary for Canada to consider it essential he be allowed to enter. Orser and Wilson want to be sure any skaters coming from Asia and Europe are admitted on the first try.

From April to July, until skaters could get back on the ice in their various homelands, Brown led Thursday off-ice fitness classes via Zoom, with Medvedeva, Cha and Kurakova taking part.

“It was such a fun way to stay connected and still ‘train’ together while we were oceans apart,” Brown said in a Wednesday text message.

Orser and Wilson will recommend that all the foreign skaters training at the Cricket Club try to compete at Skate Canada, scheduled the last weekend of October at a 9,500-seat arena in Ottawa. Wilson thought if the event cannot have spectators, it might be moved to a smaller facility, possibly in a different city.

“All plans are in the early stages,” Skate Canada spokesperson Emma Bowie said in an email.

Grand Prix assignments have not yet been made.

Whether Brown picks Skate Canada over Skate America – if he gets a choice – could depend on when (and if) the Canadian government shortens quarantine periods for travelers from the United States.

“I know that we are in such unprecedented and uncertain times, so I love seeing the ISU being creative and trying to find a way to hold skating events this year,” Brown wrote. “While a lot can happen before October, if it’s safe to do so, I’ll be ready and eager to take part in any events that I can.”

The ISU said it wants to have the Grand Prix Final in Beijing, whether it takes place on its original dates (Dec. 10-13) or early in 2021. The competition is to be used as a test event of the skating venue for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

There are no details yet on qualification for the final, which usually is determined by points for placements at the six “regular season” events of the series, held in the U.S., Canada, China, France, Russia and Japan. The top six in each of the sport’s four disciplines make the Final.

In the past, the highest-ranked skaters could compete in up to two Grand Prix events, but ISU Vice-President Alexander Lakernik of Russia said in a Tuesday email that everyone would be limited to one event this year.

Because the Final presumably would have much more of an international field than the six other events, staging it is infinitely more problematic because of travel involved.

“We want what’s best for the sport,” Wilson said. “We have to get these kids out there doing programs, to get them on TV. [Note: An NBC spokesman said the network would, as planned, provide coverage of the Grand Prix, with details forthcoming.] In terms of competition, we’re up for anything.

“For me, though, with all the restrictions, there is no way they will be able to run a fair qualification for the Grand Prix Final. You’ve got to reinvent yourself and make it something else – if you are able to have it at all.”

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

MORE: Nathan Chen is surprised, grateful and posing questions about figure skating’s restart

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Steven Nyman, top U.S. downhiller, faces another obstacle

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Steven Nyman, the active U.S. leader in World Cup downhill wins, tore his right Achilles in a training crash and had surgery earlier this week in Mt. Hood, Ore.

“I am moving forward,” was posted on Nyman’s social media. “I’ve been through this before and have full intention to comeback [sic] and compete through the next Olympics.”

Nyman raced in three Olympics and owns three World Cup downhill victories.

He turns 40 during the next Winter Games in Beijing in 2022, when he will be three and a half years older than any previous U.S. Olympic Alpine skier.

Nyman missed the PyeongChang Olympics after a pair of major injuries: blowing out his left knee in a January 2017 downhill race crash and tearing his right ACL in downhill training in January 2018. He also tore his left Achilles in 2011.

He raced the last two seasons with a best World Cup finish of fifth in Val Gardena, Italy, site of all of his World Cup wins in 2006, 2012 and 2014.

The U.S. men’s program is in the midst of its longest World Cup downhill victory and podium droughts this millennium — none since Travis Ganong‘s win in Garmish-Partenkirchen, Germany, on Jan. 27, 2017.

MORE: Alpine skiing World Cup plans earlier season start with fewer fans

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