AP

Kaetlyn Osmond, figure skating world champion, weighs whether to return

Leave a comment

World figure skating champion Kaetlyn Osmond wants to go to school, study broadcasting and work in radio. What is less clear is if she has skated in competition for the last time.

“It’s still all up in the air,” Osmond said in New York City last week, before performing at the Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park ice rink. “If I come back to competing, I will fight to be able to be back on top. I will fight for all of that, but I know what my strong suits are, and I’ll see what I can add onto that.”

The 23-year-old Canadian is on an indefinite break — taking this entire season off — after earning Olympic team event gold, individual bronze and a world title between February and March.

She’s still skating, but not in front of judges. Osmond recently finished the Thank You Canada Tour with her Olympic champion teammates, performing two-hour shows at 27 sites across the country.

“It was equally as exhausting [as a competition season], being in a different city in a different bus, a different everything for an entire two months,” she said.

In a similar stretch in the winter, Osmond had one of the greatest runs for a Canadian athlete in recent memory. She helped Canada dethrone Russia as Olympic team-event champion, became the second Canadian woman to earn an individual Olympic figure skating medal in 30 years and then the first to take a world title in 45 years.

It’s hard to rank the three medals.

“Worlds for me might have been the best one, only because I really questioned my ability; I was extremely tired after the Olympics,” she said.

A minor back injury throughout the season flared after PyeongChang. Osmond skipped some training sessions and said she was “in quite a bit of pain.” Once she arrived at worlds in Milan, Osmond sprained an ankle the first day of practice.

“My coach and I, we never actually voiced it to each other, but both of us were thinking that worlds might not be possible,” said Osmond, who has been coached by Ravi Walia for 12 years and drew attention in the last Olympic cycle for practicing at an Edmonton mall rink four times per week.

Osmond endured and rallied from fourth place after the short program with a clean free skate, scoring just 1.65 fewer points than at the Olympics. She won by 12.33 over Japanese Wakaba Higuchi in the only competition that Alina Zagitova failed to win for the season.

“To be able to make the podium was my ultimate goal,” Osmond said that day. “I never thought being champion was possible.”

Two months later, Osmond announced she was taking the fall season off “to refocus and evaluate the next steps in my career.” Two months after that, Osmond extended the break to the entire 2018-19 season.

If and when she returns, Osmond knows that the elite skating picture will likely look very different than when she left it on top. The world’s best skater this season, 16-year-old Japanese Rika Kihira, can land triple Axels in combination. A pair of Russian 14-year-olds, eligible for senior championships next season, can land quadruple jumps.

“It’s quite terrifying,” Osmond said without a laugh. “I knew it was coming. I just didn’t expect it to go so quickly.”

Four years ago, Osmond also took the entire post-Olympic season off. It was forced after she fractured her fibula swerving to avoid a skater in practice.

“When I came back, it took me a full year to be able to regain confidence to compete against everyone then, and they weren’t doing triple Axels at that time,” she said.

A return would not be about chasing an unfulfilled goal. Osmond, who began skating at age 3 by following her older sister, said she accomplished more than she ever expected when she won the Canadian novice title at 13.

“It wasn’t until I had a year off before [in 2014-15] that I started to create more goals and higher goals, ones that I still didn’t think were going to be able to be accomplished,” Osmond said. “I did [accomplish] that, plus beyond, this year. Going off that, the main reason that I would come back is … for a personal gain, the miss and love of competing, being in front of an audience and traveling the world with everyone.”

MORE: U.S. figure skating rankings going into nationals

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Chad le Clos seeks Sun Yang’s Olympic gold medal for doping case

Getty Images
Leave a comment

NAPLES, Italy (AP) — Chad le Clos believes he has a claim on Sun Yang’s gold medal from the Rio Olympics, with a verdict imminent on the Chinese swimmer’s latest doping case.

“He should be banned. It’s as simple as that,” Le Clos said in an interview with The Associated Press this week. “Anyone who tests positive should be banned. I should get my gold medal back from Rio.

“Not for the moment. I lost that. I don’t really care about that,” Le Clos added on Wednesday. “It’s just for my record. If I break my leg and I can’t swim again I want my record to say, ‘Two individual golds, two individual silvers.’ Because that’s what it should be.”

Le Clos’ Olympic record currently contains one gold medal and three silvers — including a second-place finish to Sun in the Rio Olympic 200m free

Odds are, though, that Sun won’t lose any Olympic titles when the Court of Arbitration for Sport issues its ruling over his alleged refusal to provide blood and urine in September 2018 in a visit by sample collectors to his home in China. During the late-night confrontation, a security guard used a hammer to smash a container holding Sun’s blood as the swimmer lit the scene with his mobile phone.

The World Anti-Doping Agency appealed after swimming federation FINA merely warned Sun and cited doubts about credentials shown by three sample collection officials.

A three-time Olympic champion, Sun could be banished from the sport for up to eight years but any ban likely won’t be backdated before September 2018 — meaning all of his Olympic medals seem safe.

But there’s also the fact that international swimming authorities worked to protect Sun from being banned, according to a Swiss supreme court document.

FINA has faced criticisms in the past for favoring Sun during his career. It did not announce Sun’s three-month ban for doping imposed by Chinese authorities until after it ended in 2014.

“I just hope the system and whatever we have is really accurate,” said Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszú, who won three golds in Rio. “I just hope the decisions they are making is fair and is for the sport and not for other reasons.”

The medals that Sun risks losing most are the two golds that he won at last year’s world championships in the 200m and 400m frees. At the event in Gwangju, South Korea, fellow medalists Mack Horton of Australia and Duncan Scott of Britain refused to stand with him on the podium.

Sun has denied any wrongdoing. Any ban imposed in the coming days would likely prevent him from competing at this year’s Tokyo Olympics.

“I have nothing against anybody. It’s not personal,” Le Clos said. “It’s just how the world should be. If you cheat or if you do something wrong, like if you false start, you get disqualified. It’s simple as that.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: 2004 Olympic swimming champion banned one year

U.S. Olympic luger Emily Sweeney looks forward from depression bout

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Luge’s World Cup campaign ends this weekend in Germany, where most of the best 100 sliders in the sport will be looking to close their international seasons on a high note.

Emily Sweeney won’t be among them.

Her season ended a couple weeks ago, on her terms.

The U.S. veteran is officially two years into her recovery from a crash at the PyeongChang Olympics that she walked away from — even with a broken neck and broken back — and two years away, she hopes, from being a medal contender at the Beijing Games.

She decided to listen to her body and step away from the frantic end of the season, heading home instead to meet her sister’s new baby and formulate a plan for her offseason.

Here’s what she has learned: Fractures heal, but everything else takes time. So while her body still betrays her from time to time on the track, an additional focus on the mental game is what Sweeney hopes will get her to the medal podium in Beijing in 2022.

“I am very comfortable about thinking about my weaknesses because I failed so much early on,” Sweeney said. “I didn’t make two Olympic teams right in a row. I constantly had to look at myself and say ‘What’s wrong? What am I not like?’ I had to be creative with my training and with the whole process. And so, I think I’m pretty comfortable with challenges.”

That’s why, this season, when she felt like her body couldn’t do it anymore she simply went home. The decision was not easy: Her team is still competing, she has plenty of friends on the circuit and her longtime boyfriend — Italian star Dominik Fischnaller — is a serious contender to win the men’s World Cup overall title.

But a setback right now could throw a serious wrench into her Olympic plans. The problem was pressure, not in the sense of what’s comes with the prospects of winning or losing in competition, but the massive gravitational force that sliders feel and fight through when they are on the ice at speeds often topping 80mph. It takes tremendous strength, and Sweeney’s neck still isn’t always up to the challenge. So, with wear and tear of the season taking a toll, she headed home.

“It’s not a question of if I’m good enough,” said Sweeney, who won a medal at last season’s world championships — cementing her status as one of the fastest women on ice. “I see it in my splits. I would have first-place splits, then get to the pressure and I ended up 15th. I just couldn’t keep going through this cycle of pushing it, pushing it, pushing it and then losing all my speed as soon as I can’t hold my head up anymore.”

So she’s working on her body and her mind.

Sweeney is one of the most-upbeat sliders on the luge circuit; always smiling, always happy, and most of the time her good mood is genuine. After the crash, however, the good mood wasn’t always there, and it took Sweeney some time to realize that there was more wrong than just the fractures in her neck and back.

“I went into a depression,” Sweeney said. “It’s weird saying that. But it feels foreign to me to say I broke my neck and my back two years ago. And it feels dramatic to say, which I guess I need to just get more comfortable with that. But I think that just the way I was raised was like, ‘All right, brush it off and move on.’ And that’s why I think I appear a lot of times like it’s just sunshine and rainbows, but this one forced me to stop. But you have to. And the alternative is to stay at that low and that just becomes miserable.”

From therapy came a plan: Do one thing a day to feel better toward the ultimate goal of medaling in 2022.

Most days, she succeeds. When Sweeney is right, especially in sprint events, few women in the world have a chance of catching her. Her sliding career is peaking. Her mental game, she thinks, is catching up.

And now she’s got two years to put the whole package together.

“Being an Olympian was my dream since I was 7 years old,” Sweeney said. “And then I became an Olympian, and I said, ‘Well, that’s not enough. I want a medal.’”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Lugers boycott World Cup event