Brittany Bowe
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Post-concussion, Brittany Bowe back at her best

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At an Oval in Obihiro, Japan, Brittany Bowe crossed the line to win the season-opening 1500-meter World Cup race in November.

It was Bowe’s first World Cup victory in two seasons, and the time that flashed on the board marked a track record. Among the skaters who finished behind her: Ireen Wuest and Miho Takagi, the reigning Olympic gold and silver medalists in the event.

This was one more to add to the list of 17 World Cup victories Bowe already had. But winning has not lost its novelty, not after two challenging seasons that left her wondering if she could return to the level that made her one of the best.

Bowe was back, and she knew it.

“[That race] really proved to myself that I still do have what it takes to be the best in the world,” she said in a telephone interview last month.

For the past six years, Bowe, 30, has been among the sport’s top sprinting talent: she’s a world champion in both the 1000m and 1500m, a two-time sprint world champion, and an Olympic bronze medalist in team pursuit. Among the peaks of her career was the 2015-16 season, when Bowe won more individual medals at the World Single Distance Championships than any other athlete.

But in the summer of 2016, a collision during training left her with a concussion. Bowe was cleared to train a few weeks later, but her symptoms continued to linger. She had fainting spells and blood pressure issues and struggled with balance, so essential in a speed-based sport spent on ice. Though she reached the World Cup podium in December 2016, Bowe decided to end her season early, which she later called “one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make in my life.”

Bowe returned home to Florida in early 2017, but found she felt worse without training. She then relocated to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, hoping a daily structure would put her back on track.

Teammates admired her strength and positivity in the face of the injury. Joey Mantia, one of Bowe’s Olympic teammates, called her “mentally stronger than anyone I’ve ever met in my life…I’ve never once heard her be negative about the situation.”

But concussions, as Bowe knows all too well, can be particularly cruel. She said in April 2017, “At times I feel really opposite of optimistic. I feel like sometimes…my willpower has been taken from me, my patience has been taken from me.”

A doctor in Colorado Springs suggested Bowe print out images of herself – ones that summoned her strength and power – as reminders of all she’d accomplished already. Bowe chose a few race pictures and podium shots and hung them up in her living room as she trained for the Olympics.

The injury also came at a particularly challenging time, just before a crucial pre-Olympic season. Bowe knew first-hand that even perfect training does not always yield Olympic success: she’d been pegged as a medal favorite in the 1000m and 1500m prior to the Sochi Games, but came up short of the podium in each of her races, calling those Olympics “one of the biggest disappointments of my career.”

The concussion meant Bowe had limited training ability in the summer and fall before the Olympics, and said she felt at 75 to 80 percent of her normal capacity by the time she stepped on the ice in South Korea. But instead of worrying about a less-than-perfect lead-up to the Games, Bowe said she was simply “grateful to have the opportunity to skate again.”

Bowe finished in the top five in each of her individual races in PyeongChang, calling those performances “some of the best races of my life considering the training I was able to do leading into that competition.” The U.S. had not originally qualified in the women’s team pursuit, but was given a place after quotas were re-allocated (once it was determined that Olympic Athletes from Russia would not compete in the event). Bowe and her teammate Heather Bergsma, also a multi-world champion, were so focused on their individual events that they debated whether to skate the team pursuit. Ultimately, they agreed to go for it. After the qualification round, Bowe said, “we were like, ‘we have a real shot to do something special here.’”

Bowe, Bergsma, Mia Manganello and Carlijn Schoutens (who skated in the semi-final) won bronze in team pursuit, claiming the first medal for U.S. women in speed skating since 2002. For Bowe, winning her first Olympic medal in a team event – after all the support she’d received to get back on the ice – seemed fitting. “When I sit back and think of it, it’s kind of how it should’ve been. It took a team to get me there,” she said.

Following the Olympics, Bowe won a silver medal at the World Sprint Championships in March before taking a few months off. She got back into the yoga studio, and went on a retreat in Costa Rica, spending her days meditating, surfing and hiking.

After a strong start to the 2018-19 season, Bowe has high expectations for herself at this year’s World Single Distance Championships, which begin Thursday. She’s currently leading the World Cup standings in both the 1000m and 1500m, with three wins this season in the 1000m and two in the 1500m.

She plans to keep skating through the 2022 Olympic Winter Games, an Olympic gold medal still atop her list of career goals.

“I’m forever grateful for my team and support for bringing me that medal in the team pursuit,” she said. “But I’m still out for more.”

Bowe no longer has podium pictures of herself in the living room – she’s since moved back to Salt Lake City. But she hasn’t ruled out using them as an inspirational tool again. Or, she said, “hopefully I am my strongest and most confident going into my next winter Olympics, where I can just have that image of what I want to see in my mind.”

She could leave Worlds with another image of herself on the podium. One more to hang up on her wall, should she ever need it.

Federica Brignone passes Mikaela Shiffrin for World Cup overall lead

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Italian Federica Brignone passed an absent Mikaela Shiffrin for the World Cup overall standings lead by winning a combined in Switzerland on Sunday.

Brignone prevailed by .92 of a second adding times from super-G and slalom runs in Crans-Montana. Full results are here.

Brignone moved 73 points ahead of Shiffrin in the overall through 29 of 40 scheduled races. A race winner receives 100 points on a descending scale through the 30th-place finisher. The season runs through March 22.

Shiffrin, the three-time reigning World Cup overall champion, has not competed since the unexpected death of her father on Feb. 2. She has not announced if or when she will return this season.

Brignone, 29, is having a career season with five wins and 10 podiums across four disciplines.

Brignone’s best previous World Cup overall standings finish was fifth. She earned giant slalom medals at the 2018 Olympics (bronze) and 2011 World Championships (silver).

She could become Italy’s first female World Cup overall champion. The last Italian male winner was Alberto Tomba in 1995.

The women’s Alpine skiing World Cup moves to La Thuile, Italy, for a super-G and a combined next Saturday and Sunday.

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Jade Carey on brink of becoming first gymnast to qualify for U.S. Olympic team

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The U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials aren’t until late June, but Jade Carey is in position to qualify for the Tokyo Games in March.

Carey, seeking an individual Olympic gymnastics spot outside of the team competition, earned the maximum points in a World Cup series that is one path to Olympic qualification.

Carey has three wins each on floor exercise and vault with two World Cups left in March. Carey will mathematically clinch an Olympic spot if no other gymnasts earn maximum points on one of the apparatuses to force a tiebreaker.

A gymnast’s top three finishes across the eight-stop series count in Olympic qualifying. If Carey finishes atop the floor or vault standings, she goes to the Olympics.

Carey picked up those third wins on floor and vault at the sixth World Cup in Melbourne, Australia, this weekend.

So far, no other gymnast has two wins on floor. One other gymnast can get to the maximum points on vault with one win between the last two stops (and others with two).

The one downside to qualifying this route: Carey would not be able to compete in the team competition at the Olympics. Those four spots will be determined at and after June’s trials in St. Louis, with Simone Biles likely grabbing one of them.

“I knew I would be giving up being on the team,” Carey said in October of going the World Cup route, “but I think, for me, it made sense to just go for it.”

Carey is a world medalist on vault and floor, but she doesn’t have the all-around credentials of Biles and some other U.S. gymnasts.

Olympic team event roster sizes were cut from five to four for Tokyo, putting a greater onus on all-around prowess given a team must put three gymnasts on each apparatus in the Olympic final.

The U.S. is the deepest country in women’s gymnastics, so the only truly safe pick to make the four-woman Olympic team event roster is Biles.

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