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‘Healthy rivalry’ defines Canada-U.S. women’s hockey

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GANGNEUNG, South Korea – Cassie Campbell has an elevator story.

It happened at a world women’s hockey championship tournament around 20 years ago. Campbell, who captained Canada at the 2002 and 2006 Olympics, saw the hotel elevator door open. The lift was packed with U.S. players.

Campbell squeezed in at the front. She nodded to the Americans whom she knew, then turned around to face the door, her back to her rivals.

A U.S. rookie, whom Campbell will not name, started chirping.

“I have a lot of respect for her, but she didn’t say some very nice things,” Campbell said. “It was kind of easy to say when you’ve got 10 teammates with you and I’m by myself.”

Campbell’s floor came before the Americans’ floor.

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“I got off the elevator, and I turned around to [U.S. veteran] Karyn Bye, and I said, ‘Hey, take care of your rookies and make sure they respect the game,’” Campbell said. “I walked off. I think the point was well taken.”

The U.S. and Canada play in the Olympic women’s hockey final. It’s the fifth time in six Olympics since women’s hockey was added in 1998 that they face off for gold.

The rivalry is the storyline, and rightfully so, but like anything it has evolved over two decades. The hate between players 15 and 20 years ago and the stories, some mythical, are no longer as evident off the ice. Or at least as talked about openly.

“It feels like it has a less sharp edge than it did when I played,” said NBC Olympics analyst A.J. Mleczko, who played for the U.S. in 1998 and 2002. “The difference, I think, between now and then is [the Canadians] did not very frequently come south of the border to go to school or to play. Now, these athletes play on the same team for months out of the year [in college and in U.S. and Canadian leagues].”

Of the 23 players on Canada’s Olympic team in PyeongChang, 21 played NCAA hockey. There was no formal NCAA women’s hockey in 1998.

Twenty years ago, the U.S. and Canada played each other 13 times before the Nagano Olympics and stayed in the same hotel every time, Mleczko said.

Players from both teams were known to not board an elevator if a player from the opposite team was on it.

“I have had the chance to become very friendly with Cassie Campbell, who was on that team,” Mleczko said before the U.S. beat Finland 5-0 in Monday’s semifinals (Canada beat the Olympic Athletes from Russia 5-0 later Monday). “We laugh about it now. She says, ‘We were told that you weren’t allowed to be with us.’

“That wasn’t true. We just didn’t want to.”

Campbell, commentating for CBC here, described herself as “a bit of a s— disturber” while on the national team from 1994-2006.

“I heard a story, whether it was true or not, that they [Americans] weren’t allowed to talk to us,” Campbell said. “So I would go out of my way to go and talk to them at the cafeteria.”

If that was playful or mind games, what happened (or didn’t happen) in the second U.S.-Canada group-play game in Nagano became personal.

Canada’s coach intimated that a U.S. player (later deemed Sandra Whyte) trash talked Canadian Danielle Goyette by bringing up Goyette’s father who died on the eve of the Games.

“Zero truth,” Mleczko said. “I’m not denying that there might have been words said by everybody … but nothing about Goyette, specifically, and certainly nothing about her father.”

Campbell didn’t hear it on the ice, but she believes it happened.

“I don’t blame Sandra Whyte for that,” she said. “I would have never done it, but that was the intensity of the rivalry where you’re looking for an edge. Danielle Goyette was our best player. I, personally, would have never attacked someone personally, but I understand why she did it. Goyette was our best player, and she’s trying to knock her off her game. That shows you the intensity of the rivalry back then. To go there, there was a true hatred.”

Then came 2002. Canadian Hayley Wickenheiser gave this legendary interview after beating the Americans in the Salt Lake City Olympic final.

“The Americans had our flag on their floor in the dressing room, and now I want to know if they want us to sign it,” she passionately told Don Cherry.

In between the second and third periods of that final, the Canadian captain Campbell told the rest of her team a story that she heard about the U.S. trampling a Canadian flag in their dressing room.

“That story should have never been public, and I feel bad about that,” Campbell said Monday. “I had heard it from an arena attendant, and I had heard it during the tournament earlier. I kept it in my back pocket.

“They were a better team than we were. We were up 3-1 going to the third, and I really felt as a captain that we needed to be mad to beat them. So I did tell that story. At the time, I believed it was true. Now, it should have never gone public. Unfortunately, one of our players who was never even asked for an interview decided to do an interview and decided to talk about it. Then it became an international incident.

I [later] spoke to [U.S. captain] Cammi [Granato] about it, and I believe that it didn’t happen.”

Fewer stories like that spread over the last four Olympic cycles, but some incidents kept the rivalry burning.

Multiple U.S. players received concussions on hits from the same Canadian player, forward Gillian Apps, a 6-foot granddaughter of an NHL Lady Byng Trophy recipient.

And the 2010 Olympic final. Canada celebrated a 2-0 win by riding an ice-resurfacing machine after fans exited the arena, smoking cigars and pounding Molsons.

“None of us really gave them a hard time,” U.S. forward Julie Chu said a few years ago. “At the same time, the locker room is a great place to celebrate, too.”

The 2014 Olympic final isn’t remembered for any bitter hatred or unsportsmanlike behavior but rather for its utter quality and the unbelievable ending.

Canada scored twice in the final 3 1/2 minutes to tie it at 2-all. In that span, a U.S. clearing shot toward an empty Canadian net clanged off the post. Marie-Philip Poulin, who scored both goals in the 2010 Olympic final, potted the tying score with 55 seconds left in regulation and the golden goal eight minutes into overtime.

Canadian GM Melody Davidson said before this tournament that the U.S. is the favorite as three-time reigning world champion.

“It’s a healthy rivalry,” Davidson said. “Back in those early days, the girls never knew each other as people. These girls have all gone to school with most of these Olympians. They know them. I would even venture to say some of them take vacations together.”

Canada then beat the U.S. in group play on Thursday, its fifth straight win in the rivalry.

U.S. star forward Hilary Knight said Monday that Canada is the favorite. “All the pressure’s on them,” she said.

Before this tournament, seven Canadian players were asked to describe the rivalry in one word. Two said “fun.” The closest thing to a stinging answer was “intense.”

“It does feel a little differently to me,” Mleczko said. “I think they do ride elevators together.”

Mondo Duplantis, Sandi Morris miss attempts at pole vault records

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Sweden’s Mondo Duplantis and U.S. athlete Sandi Morris took turns attempting world records in the pole vault Wednesday at the Meeting d’Athlétsime Hauts-de-France Pas-de-Calais meet at Arena Stade Regional in Liévin, France, but both were unable to clear the bar.

Duplantis, aiming to set the world record for third time in February, had no misses leading up to his record attempts. U.S. vaulter Sam Kendricks, who has won the last two world championships, cleared 5.90m but dropped out after one attempt at 5.95m. Duplantis passed on that height, then cleared 6.07m to warm up for his shot at 6.19m, just shy of 20 feet, 3 3/4 inches.

Morris’ attempt to tie Jennifer Suhr‘s world indoor record of 5.03m from 2016 was more of a surprise. Morris holds the U.S. outdoor record at 5.00m but had never done better than 4.95m indoors. She won Wednesday’s competition with a clearance of 4.83m and asked to go immediately to 5.03m, or 16 feet, 6 inches.

Yelena Isinbayeva still holds the outdoor record of 5.06m, set in 2009. Morris is second on the all-time list and is the only athlete other than Isinbayeva or Suhr to clear 5 meters either indoors or outdoors.

In the men’s pole vault, Duplantis’ clearance of 6.18m Feb. 15 in Glasgow is the best vault indoors or outdoors.  Sergey Bubka still has the highest clearance outdoors at 6.14m. Bubka also held the indoor record of 6.15m for more than 20 years, finally losing it to Renaud Lavillenie in 2014. Duplantis cleared 6.17m Feb. 9 in Poland, then added another centimeter last week in Glasgow.

READ: Duplantis raises record in Glasgow

Duplantis, Lavillenie and Bubka are the only vaulters to clear 20 feet. Kendricks cleared 6.06m, or 19-10 1/2, last summer, the highest outdoor clearance by anyone other than Bubka.

Duplantis grew up in Louisiana and attended LSU for one year, setting the NCAA indoor (5.92m) and outdoor (6.00m) before turning pro, though he was upset in the NCAA final by South Dakota junior Chris Nilsen.

Also at Wednesday’s meet:

Ronnie Baker ran 6.49 seconds in the 60m semifinals and lowered that to 6.44 in the final, second only to Christian Coleman this season. Demek Kemp finished second and tied his personal best of 6.50.

Nia Ali and Christina Clemons finished 1-2 in the women’s 60m hurdles with identical times of 7.92. Ali is the reigning world champion and Olympic silver medalist in the 100m hurdles. She also won world indoor titles in 2014 and 2016.

Two Ethiopian runners set the fastest times of the season Samuel Tefera in the 1,500m (3:35.54) and Getnet Wale in the 3,000m (7:32.80). Wale was fourth in the 3,000m steeplechase in the 2019 world championships.

Pascal Martinot-Lagarde, racing in his home country of France, won the 60m hurdles in 7.47, second this season to Grant Holloway‘s 7.38 last week.

The World Athletics Indoor Tour ends Friday in Madrid. The world indoor championships originally scheduled for March in Nanjing, China, have been postponed a year due to the coronavirus outbreak.

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Susan Dunklee extends decade of surprises for U.S. biathletes

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When Susan Dunklee‘s time held up for second place in Friday’s 7.5km sprint, she became the first U.S. biathlete to win two world championship medals in her career and earned the sixth medal for the U.S. in world biathlon championship history.

Four of those medals have come in the past eight years.

First was Tim Burke, who had gained some fame among biathlon fans with his three World Cup podiums in the 2009-10 season and his relationship with German biathlete Andrea Henkel, who would win two Olympic gold medals and eight world championships before retiring and marrying Burke.

In that season, Burke led the World Cup briefly but faded and didn’t do well in the Olympics. But in 2012-13, he finished 10th in the World Cup overall and ended the American drought in the world championships, finishing second in the individual behind dominant French biathlete Martin Fourcade, who won his 11th non-relay world title Wednesday in the individual.

In 2017, Dunklee became the first U.S. woman to win a non-relay medal, taking the lead in the mass start after quickly knocking down all five targets in the last shooting and holding on for second. She didn’t come out of nowhere, having taken a few World Cup medals. That season, she ranked 10th overall in the World Cup.

Then came the stunner. Lowell Bailey, who had just one World Cup podium in a long career coming into the 2016-17 season, had bib 100 in the individual, a spot usually reserved for non-contenders. But he hit all 20 targets, always important in a race that penalizes athletes one minute per miss, and gutted it out through the last lap to keep a 3.3-second advantage and win the first world championship for a U.S. biathlete.

Like Dunklee, Bailey earned his medal in the midst of a strong season. The individual was won of his four top-10 finishes in the world championships, including a fourth-place finish in the sprint. He wound up eighth overall in the World Cup.

Bailey and Burke each stuck it out to compete in their fourth Olympics in 2018, then crossed the finish line together in their final race at the U.S. championships.

This season is their first in management. Bailey, also a bluegrass musician, is now U.S. Biathlon’s director of high performance. Burke is director of athlete development.

Dunklee, on the other hand, isn’t done. Her results slipped a bit after her 2017 breakthrough, but she has had some top 10s. When she shoots clean, as she did Friday, she’s a contender.

The first U.S. medal was in the first women’s world championship in 1984, when Holly Beatie, Julie Newman and Kari Swenson bronze in 3x5km relay. Swenson also finished fifth in the individual that year and returned to compete in the next two world championships after a harrowing experience in which she was abducted and shot, a story that inspired a film starring Tracy Pollan.

The only other U.S. medal in the world championships before Burke, Bailey and Dunklee was Josh Thompson‘s individual silver in 1987. The only athletes other than Burke, Bailey, Dunklee and Thompson to have World Cup podiums (excluding relays) are Jeremy Teela in 2009 and Clare Egan, who was third in a mass start last spring and is competing in the world championships this year.

U.S. Paralympians broke through with two gold medals on the first day of competition in the 2018 Paralympics.

READ: Kendall Gretsch, Dan Cnossen take gold

Wednesday saw another surprise finish for a U.S. biathlete. Leif Nordgren, whose career-best finish outside the relays is 16th, was the only athlete to go 20-for-20 on the shooting range and placed eighth in the individual.

The championships continue through through Sunday with the single mixed relay on Thursday, the men’s and women’s relays on Saturday, and the men’s and women’s mass starts on Sunday.

WATCH: World biathlon championships TV schedule

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