Brian Kiefer

Catching up with speed skating gold medalist Bonnie Blair

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NBC Sports spoke with Bonnie Blair while she attended a recent ASICS and Right To Play Fundraising Event. The five-time Olympic gold medalist shared thoughts on U.S. speed skating today, how fast her daughter is advancing in the sport and where the time has gone since Lillehammer, nearly 25 years ago.

This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

What’s the state of American speed skating right now?

Sometimes after an Olympic year, it tends to be a little bit of a challenge because of retirements and things like that. But Brittany Bowe just won the 1000m at a World Cup in Poland. It’s her first time she’s been on the top podium for the 1000m in almost three years. That’s definitely very encouraging for her because she had such a couple of challenging years.

Along with that, she’s kind of bringing some of our girls that maybe didn’t quite make World Cups last year, but are starting to make World Cups this year, and they’re making some big jumps. All training together has been very good for those up and coming ones. On the flip side, for Brittany, she’s off to a great start this season. I just think of a lot of great things to come for her.

[Editor’s note: Bowe grabbed the 20th win of her career on Sunday.]

Joey Mantia was fourth in the 1000m. I think probably he is stronger in the 1500m just because he has a little bit more of a challenge to get up to speed in that first 200 meters. But that was one of his best races so far this season.

I’m hoping, as on the girls’ side, Brittany’s gonna bring some of those girls that are knocking on the door to be going to World Cups and bring them along. Kinda hoping Joey can do the same thing.

How is your daughter’s progress in the sport going?

Blair had made the junior world team last year in the 500m. That’s the hope, that she’ll be able to make that team again. Hopefully this year, maybe she’ll even skate the 1000m. She’s been training for the 1000m.

She’s made some great gains. My husband [three-time Olympian Dave Cruikshank] and I have to remind ourselves she’s only “5 years old” in speed skating years – although she’s 18. Our daughter really didn’t grow up too much on skates. Really, five years ago, she couldn’t do a crossover.

It was all on her own when she had to give up gymnastics, due to chronic wrist issues. She’s like, “OK, I need to do something else, maybe I should speed skate.”

I’m like, “Now you’re gonna do this!?” But whatever: better late than never! We’re all for it and excited for what the future holds for her.

Have you had to reel back your own urges to coach her?

My husband is more the coach; I try to take a step back. I do say things. Or I’ll go to Dave and say what about this and this and this, what do you think? Just so she doesn’t have too many things coming in from too many different angles. I know what that’s like as an athlete when you’ve got too many coaches in there. It can get confusing.

She’s also very good at listening to mom and dad. I think she’s pretty good at keeping things separate as we are and when we’re at home it’s not 24/7 skating. You don’t want it 24/7 because you don’t want to burn the kid out, either.

She goes onto the website all on her own and she starts watching the races. She knows what’s going on. I’d say she’s a good student of the sport. And like I said, it’s been a lot of fun for us as well.

You were in PyeongChang for the Olympics. What were your highlights?

U.S. Speedskating brought me over there as an ambassador and to go to some events with some groups. I feel very lucky that I was able to go over there and I haven’t missed an Olympics yet, so I knock on wood on that one.

Watching our girls win that [team pursuit] bronze medal was one of the highlights. That was so exciting. I was also in the stands when [short track skater] John-Henry Krueger won his [silver] medal. That was exciting, too.

I felt like if Brittany Bowe would’ve had one more month before the Olympics, she could’ve been on the podium three or four times. It was frustrating in some parts, but definitely when the girls pulled out that bronze, that was pretty exciting.

While we’re talking Olympic Games – the 25th anniversary of Lillehammer is coming up.

25 years – wow! Where did the time go? When you got a 20-year-old and an 18-year-old, I guess that’s where a lot of the time has gone!

I have such great memories from Lillehammer. Lillehammer was really that true Winter Olympics. In Calgary, they brought in white sand for the Closing Ceremony to make it look like it snowed because the chinook winds kept coming in and keeping things warm. Then Albertville was a very warm Olympics as well. When we got to Lillehammer, it was cold, there was snow. You really felt like it was a Winter Games. And the people there, the hospitality was great. My family had a great time. Like I said, I’ve got a lot of great memories from there.

That leads me into what I’m doing here, with Right To Play with Johann Olav Koss. What he started from the success that he had [winning three gold medals in Lillehammer] really did a lot of good things for a lot of people.

He’s really touched the world and touched many people. Probably changed who knows how many lives. I really feel he has made the world a better place.

Catch the race to the finish line with plenty of drama along the way! Don’t miss the world’s fastest skaters compete live and on-demand with the “Speed Skating Pass” on NBC Sports Gold.

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MORE: Brittany Bowe adds World Cup 1000m win to 1500m

 

Simone Biles, her name sparkling, extends 6-year win streak

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Simone Biles has long stood out for her gymnastics, but on Saturday she competed with her last name sparkling in silver beads on her World Champions Centre leotard for the first time. The gym’s other athletes had “WCC” on the back.

Biles lived up to the billing, extending her six-year win streak to 19 straight all-arounds, capturing the U.S. Classic, a tune-up for next month’s U.S. Championships.

Biles, the four-time Rio Olympic champion, scored 60 points in Louisville at the meet where she made her comeback last year after nearly two years off from competition. She prevailed by a comfortable 2.1 points over Riley McCusker, her largest margin of victory of her four U.S. Classic titles.

“I’m very satisfied,” she said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “I’m a little sad that I went out of bounds on floor [exercise], but overall I feel like there are improvements to be made.”

Full results are here.

Biles is prepping for nationals in Kansas City in three weeks, when she eyes a sixth U.S. all-around title to tie Clara Schroth Lomady‘s record from the AAU era in the 1940s and ’50s.

Then come the world championships in October in Stuttgart, Germany. Biles could win a fifth all-around to move one shy of Kohei Uchimura‘s record.

The world’s other top gymnasts may be her countrywomen.

Biles was outscored on balance beam on Saturday by 2018 World teammates Kara Eaker and McCusker and beaten on uneven bars by 2017 World all-around champion Morgan HurdSunisa Lee, Grace McCallum and McCusker. Biles swept all the gold medals at last year’s nationals.

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MORE: USA Gymnastics revamps Safe Sport policy amid abuse scandal

Geraint Thomas struggles; Julian Alaphilippe ups Tour de France lead

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LA MONGIE, France (AP) — When the team of Geraint Thomas was in its pomp at the Tour de France, a time trial followed by a big mountain stage would have been playgrounds for Sky — now in new colors as Ineos — to take cycling’s greatest race by the scruff of the neck and leave everyone else fighting for second place.

Not this year.

Thomas, the defending champion, cracked on Saturday on the Tour’s first encounter with a climb to above 2,000 meters (6,500 feet), exposing unprecedented weaknesses in his team that has won six Tours in the past seven years.

The time trial on Friday and the climb up to the legendary Tourmalet pass on Saturday seemed primed for Thomas to reel in Julian Alaphilippe, the yellow jersey-holder from France who is setting the Tour alight with his punchy riding and determination to keep the race lead, filling French fans’ heads with dreams of a first homegrown winner since 1985.

TOUR DE FRANCE: TV Schedule | Full Standings

But instead, Thomas has seen Alaphilippe only get further and further away. In two days, the Frenchman has put 50 seconds of extra daylight between him and the Welshman. His lead — up to 2 minutes, 2 seconds — is becoming large enough to start realistically envisioning Alaphilippe in yellow in Paris next weekend as the first French winner since Bernard Hinault.

Fueling the ecstasy of delirious crowds that lined Saturday’s steep uphill finish, French rider Thibaut Pinot won Stage 14, putting him back in the picture to fight for the podium after he lost mountains of time on Stage 10.

Thomas rightly pointed out that the Tour is far from done, with six more ascents to above 2,000 meters still to come.

But his inability to stay with Pinot, Alaphilippe and other title contenders at the top of the Tourmalet — he was eighth, 36 seconds behind Pinot — was a mini-earthquake for the Tour dominated by his British team since 2012 — with champions Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and, in 2018, Thomas.

“Not the best day. I just didn’t feel quite on it from the start. I was quite weak,” Thomas said.

“At the end I knew I just had to pace it. I didn’t really attempt to follow when they kicked. I just thought I should ride my own pace rather than follow them and blow up on the steepest bit at the end. It’s disappointing. I just tried to limit the damage.”

Having taken cycling to a new level since 2012 with its vast budget and attention to the minutest of details, the team run by David Brailsford has been hit both by misfortune and by the inevitability that, eventually, other teams would start to close the gap.

A horror crash in training for four-time winner Froome, now recovering from career-threatening broken bones, robbed the team of its ace. Thomas’ own preparations were hampered by a crash at the Tour of Switzerland last month.

And Egan Bernal, being groomed by Brailsford to succeed Froome and Thomas, looks increasingly unable to compete for the title this year. Bernal was fifth on the Tourmalet and is fourth overall, 3 minutes behind Alaphilippe.

Pinot, now sixth overall and 3:12 behind Alaphilippe, is showing remarkable grit in bouncing back from his Stage 10 misfortune, when he was part of a group that got separated from other title contenders in crosswinds.

“I have this rage inside me, because in my opinion it was an injustice,” said Pinot, a podium finisher in 2014.

“Since the start of the Tour I had this stage in the back of my mind. The Tourmalet, it’s mythical,” said Pinot, who has three career stage wins at the Tour.

French President Emmanuel Macron, on hand at the top of the Tourmalet to see Pinot win and Alaphilippe extend his lead, gushed about the “two fantastic riders.”

“They attack and they have heart,” Macron said.

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