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Four Continents Reporter’s Notebook Day 1: Can U.S. Figure Skating’s junior world team help improve results?

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The next time you complain about working overtime, think of Timoki Hiwatashi and Ting Cui.

The young skaters distinguished themselves at the 2019 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit, Mich., placing fourth and fifth, respectively, in the senior men’s and ladies’ divisions. Cui finished up her event the night of Jan. 25; Hiwatashi, on the afternoon of Jan. 27.

Both are age-eligible for the 2019 World Junior Figure Skating Championships in Zagreb, Croatia Mar. 4-10, and both were invited to U.S. Figure Skating’s first-ever World Junior Team Camp, held Sunday and Monday in Strongsville, Ohio. To no one’s surprise, they were selected for the U.S. World Junior Team.

From there, Cui and Hiwatashi journeyed to Anaheim, Calif. for the 2019 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships. Three major competitions and a monitoring camp, all in the space of six weeks.

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“I flew straight here, so it’s kind of been a crazy week after nationals,” Cui, 16, said.

The 19-year-old Hiwatashi, who wasn’t expecting his fourth-place finish and subsequent Four Continents’ assignment, is glad to be here but admitted the schedule was tough.

“Originally I was planning to go back (home) to Chicago, take a rest, I wasn’t expecting fourth,” Hiwatashi said, adding, “I guess I may be a little fatigued, but I try not to think about anything. I try to do the best recovery I can, the best warm-up I can, to come here and not get injured.”

Neither Cui nor Hiwatashi looked fatigued during their short programs at the Honda Center on Thursday. Cui skated clean, earning 66.73 points and seventh place for a Rachmaninov short that included a triple lutz-triple toe loop combination; Hiwatashi touched down his free leg on the landing of his triple Axel, but shone in the rest of his jazzy “Cry Me a River” program, earning 76.95 points for ninth place.

“I was just trying to be focused and do what I do in practice,” Cui said. “When I landed (the triple-triple) I was happy to be able to complete it. It wasn’t my best one but I was happy I did it.”

Tom Zakrajsek, who coaches Cui in Colorado Springs, Colo., doesn’t think his skater is overdoing things.

“She practices so intensely, I told her to just think of it as how you practice every day,” Zakrajsek said. “She likes to have an intense workload, so nationals with the Junior Worlds Camp and then (Four Continents) is just like three weeks of hard training. If anything, it’s made her do less than she normally does in training.”

Cui, Harrell hope to end Junior Worlds’ medal drought

The camp, which included singles’ skaters only, simulated competition of both the short programs and free skates, with skaters receiving protocols complete with element levels, grades of execution and program component scores. Zakrajsek was uncertain if the process helped Cui.

“Well…I’d guess yes,” he said. “I think competing here in Anaheim is really helpful for Ting. We do what we are told we have to do (by U.S. Figure Skating) and the camp is not negotiable.”

No U.S. lady has earned a medal at Junior Worlds since Gracie Gold took silver in 2012. In the six seasons since then, Russian and Japanese ladies have claimed all of the medals. The last U.S. lady to win the event was Rachael Flatt in 2008. Cui, the top U.S. finisher last season, placed seventh.

At the Junior Grand Prix Final in December, Russians Alena Kostornaia, Alexandra Trusova and Alena Kanysheva claimed the top three spots. No U.S. lady qualified.

Results like this helped give birth to the camp, said Justin Dillon, U.S. Figure Skating’s Director, High Performance Development.

“The data over the last couple of years has shown our skaters are not as consistent as we would like them to be,” Dillon said, attributing some of the deficit to lack of direct head-to-head competition.

“We want to put these athletes together for a little bit of training, and also competition,” he added.

Differences in event types – some of the skaters competed on the Junior Grand Prix, while others had their best performances at senior events – make direct comparisons difficult.

“For example, the energy was different for Gabriella Izzo, who won juniors in Detroit, than it was for the ladies competing as seniors,” Dillon said. “I would like to see them do junior programs side-by-side…Apples to apples is a better way for U.S. Figure Skating to evaluate the athletes.”

Hanna Harrell, fourth at the 2019 U.S. Championships, will join Cui in Croatia. Alex Krasnozhon, who placed fifth in Detroit, and Camden Pulkinen, who was 12th, round out the U.S. junior men’s team.

Other skaters considered at the camp were: on the ladies’ side, Starr Andrews (eighth in Detroit); Emmy Ma (ninth) and Izzo, the 2019 U.S. junior ladies’ champion. Andrew Torgashev, seventh in Detroit, attended the camp, as did the top two junior men’s finishers, Ryan Dunk and Dinh Tran.

U.S. men have fared better on the junior circuit than U.S. ladies. In recent years, Nathan Chen and Hiwatashi have earned medals at Junior Worlds, and Vincent Zhou won the event in 2017.  But while Pulkinen, Hiwatashi and Torgashev all qualified for the Junior Grand Prix Final this season, none of them earned medals. (Torgashev withdrew from the event due to a fractured right big toe.)

According to Zakrajsek, while Pulkinen was disappointed by his programs in Detroit, his performances at the camp helped lift him to the team.

“At this camp, everyone stands around and watches you, including your competitors,” Zakrajsek said. “Eyes are on you the entire time, and Camden went out and did clean programs. He threw down a clean long program when he had to.”

The U.S. Championships and World Junior Team Camp are not the only criteria considered. The International Selection Committee also looks at performances on the Grand Prix circuit; placements at past World Junior Championships, and ISU Challenger Series’ performances.

“Camden did very well in Tier 2, 3 and 4 of the criteria, but in Tier 1, nationals, he didn’t,” Zakrajsek said. “At camp, we did some things a little different than we normally do, to help bring out his best.”

As for Cui, Zakrajsek thinks she’s capable of scoring an upset at the World Junior Championships.

“She has a maturity and a complete performance (quality) not all of the top girls have,” he said. “We know she can break 70 points in the short program, she did that at the Junior Grand Prix at Ostrava (in September; Cui placed seventh overall). She’s even stronger now. If she can break 70 in the short at Junior Worlds, she will be right in the medal hunt.”

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Lance Armstrong timeline: cancer, Tour de France, doping admission

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A look at the rise and fall of Lance Armstrong, who beat testicular cancer to win a record seven Tour de France titles, then was found guilty of and admitted to doping for the majority of his career …

Aug. 2, 1992: Armstrong, then a 20-year-old amateur cyclist who had left triathlon because it wasn’t an Olympic sport, makes his Olympic debut at the Barcelona Games. He finishes 14th in the road race as the top American, missing a late breakaway. “I don’t think it was one of my better days, unfortunately,” Armstrong said on NBC. “Last couple weeks, everything has been perfect, but today, I just didn’t have what it took.” A week later, Armstrong finished last of 111 riders in his pro debut.

Aug. 29, 1993: Wins the world championships road race, becoming the second U.S. man to win a senior road cycling world title after three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond. Armstrong prevails by 19 seconds over Spain’s Miguel Indurain, who won five straight Tours de France from 1991-95. “I’m not sure I’m cut out to be a Tour racer,” Armstrong said, according to the Chicago Tribune. “I love the Tour de France; it’s my favorite bike race, but I’m not fool enough to sit here and say I’m going to win it. For the time being, I’m a one-day rider.”

Aug. 3, 1996: After failing to finish three of his first four Tour de France appearances (and placing 36th in the other), is sixth in the Atlanta Olympic time trial. “This was a big goal and something that I wanted to do well in and wanted the American people to see success,” Armstrong said on NBC. “The legs just weren’t there to win or to medal. I have to move forward and look to the next thing.”

Oct. 2, 1996: Diagnosed with testicular cancer. A day later, he undergoes surgery to have the malignant right testicle removed. Five days later, he begins chemotherapy. Six days later, Armstrong holds a press conference to announce it publicly, saying the cancer spread to his abdomen (and, later, his brain). He described it as “between moderate and advanced” and that his oncologist told him the cure rate was between 65 and 85 percent. “I will win,” Armstrong says. “I intend to beat this disease, and further, I intend to ride again as a professional cyclist.”

Oct. 27, 1996: Betsy Andreu later testifies that, on this date, Armstrong told a doctor at Indiana University Hospital that he had taken performance-enhancing drugs; EPO, testosterone, growth hormone, cortisone and steroids. Andreu said she and others were in a room to hear this. Her husband, Frankie Andreu, an Armstrong cycling teammate, confirmed her recollection to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). Armstrong, in admitting to doping in 2013, declined to address what became known as “the hospital room confession,” which he previously refuted.

January 1997: Establishes the Lance Armstrong Foundation, later called Livestrong, to support cancer awareness and research. Is later declared cancer-free.

Feb. 15, 1998: Returns to racing. Later in September, finishes fourth in his Grand Tour return at the Vuelta a Espana, one of the three Grand Tours after the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France.

1999 Tour de France: Achieves global fame by winning cycling’s most prestigious event in his first Tour de France start since his cancer diagnosis. Armstrong was not a pre-event favorite, but he won the opening 4.2-mile prologue to set the tone. He won all three time trials and, by the end, distanced second-place Alex Zulle by 7 minutes, 37 seconds in a Tour that lacked the previous two winners — Jan Ullrich and Marco Pantani. Armstrong faced doping questions during the three-week Tour. An Armstrong urine sample revealed a small amount of a corticosteroid, after which Armstrong produced a prescription for a cream to treat saddle sores to justify it. “There’s no secrets here,” Armstrong said after Stage 14. “We have the oldest secret in the book: hard work.”

2000 Tour de France: With Ullrich and Pantani in the field, Armstrong crushed them on Stage 10, taking the yellow jersey by four minutes. He ends up winning the Tour by 6:02 over Ullrich, who over the years became the closest thing Armstrong had to a rival. In a Nike commercial that debuted in January that year, Armstrong again attacked his critics, saying, “Everybody wants to know what I’m on. What am I on? I’m on my bike, busting my ass six hours a day. What are you on?”

Sept. 30, 2000: Takes bronze in the Sydney Olympic time trial, behind Russian Viatcheslav Ekimov (a teammate on Armstrong’s Tour de France teams) and Ullrich. Armstrong would be stripped of the bronze medal 12 years later for doping. “I came to win the gold medal,” he said on NBC. “When you prepare for an event and you come and you do your best, and you don’t win, you have to say, I didn’t deserve to win.”

2001 Tour de France: Third straight Tour title. In Stage 10 on the iconic Alpe d’Huez, Armstrong gave what came to be known as “The Look,” turning back to stare in sunglasses at Ullrich, then accelerating away to win the stage by 1:59 over the German. “I decided to give a look, see how he was, then give a little surge and see what happened,” Armstrong said after the stage. Also that year, LeMond gives a famous quote to journalist David Walsh on Armstrong: “If it is true, it is the greatest comeback in the history of sport. If it is not, it is the greatest fraud.”

2002 Tour de France: Fourth title in a row — by 7:17 over Joseba Beloki sans Ullirch and Pantani — with few notable highlights. Maybe the most memorable, French fans yelling “Dope!” as he chased Richard Virenque (another disgraced doper) up the esteemed Mont Ventoux. Armstrong would be named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year.

2003 Tour de France: By far the closest of the Tour wins — by 1:01 over Ullrich — with two very close calls. In Stage 9, Armstrong detoured through a field to avoid a crashing Beloki, who broke his right femur and never contended at a Grand Tour again. In Stage 15, Armstrong’s handlebars caught a spectator’s yellow bag. He crashed to the pavement, remounted and won the stage, upping his lead from 15 seconds to 1:07 over Ullrich.

2004 Tour de France: Record-breaking sixth Tour de France title. Jacques AnquetilEddy MerckxBernard Hinault and Indurain shared the record of five, and now share the record again after Armstrong’s titles were stripped. Earlier in 2004, the Livestrong yellow bracelet/wristband is introduced. Tens of millions would be sold. He skips the 2004 Athens Olympics, which began three weeks after the Tour ended.

April 18, 2005: Announces he will retire after the 2005 Tour de France. “My children are my biggest supporters, but at the same time, they are the ones who told me it’s time to come home,” Armstrong says. On the same day, former teammate and 2004 Olympic time trial champion Tyler Hamilton is banned two years for blood doping.

2005 Tour de France: Finishes career with seventh Tour de France title. Armstrong remains defiant until the end. In his victory speech atop a podium on the Champs-Elysees, he says with girlfriend Sheryl Crow looking on, “The last thing I’ll say, for the people that don’t believe in cycling, the cynics and the skeptics, I”m sorry for you. I’m sorry you can’t dream big. And I’m sorry you don’t believe in miracles.” A month later, French sports daily newspaper L’Equipe publishes a front-page article headlined, “Le Mensonge Armstrong” or “The Armstrong Lie.” It reports that six Armstrong doping samples at the 1999 Tour de France showed the presence of the banned EPO.

Sept. 9, 2008: Announces comeback, the reason being “to launch an international cancer strategy,” in a video on his foundation’s website. In his 2013 doping confession, Armstrong says he regrets the comeback. “We wouldn’t be sitting here if I didn’t come back,” he tells Oprah Winfrey on primetime TV.

2009 Tour de France: Finishes third, 5:24 behind rival Astana teammate and Spanish winner Alberto Contador. “I can’t complain,” Armstrong said on Versus after the penultimate stage finishing atop Mont Ventoux. “For an old fart, coming in here, getting on the podium with these young guys, not so bad.” USADA later reported that scientific data showed Armstrong used EPO or blood transfusions during that Tour, which Armstrong denied in 2013 when admitting to doping earlier in his career.

2010 Tour de France: Finishes 23rd in his last Tour de France. Armstrong races after former teammate Floyd Landis admits to doping and accuses Armstrong and other former teammates of doping during the Tour de France wins. “At some point, people have to tell their kids that Santa Claus isn’t real,” Landis says in a “Nightline” interview that aired the final weekend of the Tour.

Feb. 16, 2011: Announces retirement, citing tiredness (in multiple respects) at age 39. “I can’t say I have any regrets. It’s been an excellent ride. I really thought I was going to win another Tour,” Armstrong said, according to The Associated Press. “Then I lined up like everybody else and wound up third.”

Aug. 24, 2012: USADA announces Armstrong is banned for life, and all of his results dating to Aug. 1, 1998, annulled, including all seven Tour de France titles. Armstrong chose not to contest the charges, which were first sent to him in a June letter, though he did not publicly admit to cheating. USADA releases details of the investigation in October. The International Cycling Union chooses not to contest USADA’s ruling, formally stripping him of the Tour de France titles. “Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling,” UCI President Pat McQuaid says. In November, a defiant Armstrong tweets an image of him lying on a couch in a room with seven framed Tour de France yellow jerseys on the walls.

Jan. 17, 2013: Admits to doping during all of his Tour de France victories in the Oprah confession that airs on primetime TV. “I viewed this situation as one big lie that I repeated a lot of times,” Armstrong says in a pre-recorded interview. “It’s just this mythic, perfect story, and it wasn’t true.” Armstrong said he did not view it as cheating while he was taking PEDs because others did, too. On the same day, the International Olympic Committee strips Armstrong of his 2000 Olympic bronze medal.

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Anna Veith retires, leaves Austrian Alpine skiing in unfamiliar territory

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Anna Veith has retired from Alpine skiing, leaving Austria without an active woman who has won a World Cup overall title for the first time in 27 years.

Veith announced her retirement on a German-language live stream interview Saturday after a montage of career highlights set to Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor.” She was in tears after watching a series of video messages from the likes of fellow champion ski racers Marcel HirscherTina Maze and Lara Gut.

“I‘m ready for the next chapter,” was posted on Veith’s Instagram minutes later. “My heart and head are telling me it‘s time to do something new. And so, I have decided to retire from ski racing.
Skiing is my whole life. It has made me who I am today and will always be something I’m passionate about. I am so grateful for the opportunities I’ve had, to learn and achieve in the past fifteen years. I’ve been able to fulfil my childhood dreams and more.”

Veith, 30, won the overall, the biggest annual prize in ski racing, in 2014 and 2015. Lindsey Vonn was in between major leg injuries. Mikaela Shiffrin was still on the rise.

Veith, then Anna Fenninger, blossomed into the world’s best skier in her early 20s. After winning the 2014 Olympic super-G, she finished first or second in five of her last six starts of that World Cup season to overtake a retiring German Maria Hoefl-Riesch for the crown.

The following year, Veith again came from behind, this time edging Slovenian Tina Maze in the last race of the season.

Everything changed on Oct. 21, 2015. Veith crashed in training, tearing ligaments and the patellar tendon in her right knee, three days before the start of the season. She missed 14 months of races.

Veith, after a 2016-17 season-ending left knee surgery, returned to the top of a World Cup podium in December 2017. At her last Olympics in PyeongChang, Veith skied into first place from the 15th bib in the super-G, looking to cap an improbable ride to a repeat gold medal.

Then something more surprising happened: World champion snowboarder Ester Ledecka beat Veith’s time by .01 from the 26th starting position, relegating Veith to silver. Pre-race medal contenders are usually done by bib 20. Ledecka’s best prior World Cup race finish was a seventh.

Veith tore another right knee ligament in January 2019, then returned this past season with a best finish of seventh.

With Veith’s retirement, Austria has zero active Olympic or World Cup overall champions in women’s Alpine skiing. Austria, the most successful Olympic Alpine nation in history, had at least one active World Cup overall champion every day since Anita Wachter‘s crown in 1993.

In the most recent abbreviated World Cup season, Austria had zero women win a discipline or overall title, though Nicole Schmidhofer won the 2017 World super-G title and the 2019 World Cup downhill season crown.

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