Getty Images

U.S. open-water swimmers concerned about Olympic venue

1 Comment

ATLANTA (AP) — Haley Anderson has been through this before.

In the lead-up to the Rio Olympics, all the talk about open-water swimming focused on the conditions rather than the competition.

Now, it’s happening again with the Tokyo Games less than a year away.

This time, there is concern about the potentially dangerous heat.

For athletes such as Anderson and U.S. teammate Jordan Wilimovsky, it’s all rather frustrating. The Olympics is the one chance for their obscure sport to really shine. Instead, they’re being asked whether it should be moved to a cooler location.

“It’s been really frustrating,” Anderson said Thursday night after competing in the U.S. Open, which is being held at Georgia Tech. “No one wants to know how we’re doing, how we’re preparing. It’s all about the conditions.”

Not that she’s complaining about the focus on safety.

“We need to talk about it,” Anderson said. “I’m glad people are starting to speak out and hopefully it will get people moving, because there’s no Plan B. There should always be a Plan B for any race.”

Wilimovksy remembered the 2016 competition being overshadowed by the severe pollution at Rio’s Copacabana Beach.

“It’s a little annoying that it’s come up again four years later,” he said.

Anderson competed at a test event in Tokyo Bay this past August, when sweltering conditions provided a sobering preview of what the swimmers will face next summer.

She dropped out less than a quarter of a way through the 10km race, feeling it just wasn’t safe enough to press on.

“I wasn’t comfortable,” said Anderson, a silver medalist at the 2012 London Games who already has qualified for her third Olympics. “It was warm water, warm air. One of their solutions was moving it earlier (in the day), but it doesn’t cool off that much.”

Fearing Tokyo’s blistering summer heat, the International Olympic Committee already ordered the marathon and race-walking events moved to Sapporo in northern Japan. Local organizers bristled over the decision, saying it was forced on them by the IOC and deprived the city of one of its glamour events.

Now attention has turned to open water, especially in light of very warm water temperatures recorded this past summer at the course known as “Odaiba Marine Park.”

“We already have to deal with a lot of different conditions, which I like,” Anderson said. “That’s what makes open water interesting and fun. That’s what drew me to it. But there’s a point to where it’s dangerous.”

One day, the water temperature climbed to 86.9 Fahrenheit at the Olympic venue — just under the limit of 87.8 set by swimming’s world governing body FINA. The temperatures were consistently in the 84-86 range.

There also are concerns about water quality, most notably E. coli bacteria. There are filters to help deal with the issue, but heavy rainfall exacerbates the problem.

“Hopefully they’re able to figure it out at the venue that they have,” said Wilimovsky, who will be competing in his second Olympics after finishing fifth in Rio. “Odaiba looked really cool when we were there for the site visit.”

When Anderson was asked whether the open-water races should be moved to a different location, she didn’t hesitate.

“Yes,” Anderson said. “I would love to see some options. It’s hard, because as an athlete you don’t get to choose where you race. But I just want somewhere that’s safer.”

USA Swimming officials have quietly lobbied to move the Olympic events to a lake course at the base of Mount Fuji, which would provide a striking backdrop. But Tokyo organizers have been adamant that no more events be shifted out of the city. It seems highly unlikely the IOC would try to impose another venue change at this late date.

This figures to remain a contentious issue, especially for a U.S. team that hasn’t forgotten losing one of its own.

In 2010, hot water temperatures were linked to the death of American swimmer Fran Crippen during a distance swim in the United Arab Emirates. The autopsy concluded that he died from drowning and heat exhaustion, with the possibility of a heart abnormality.

It was the first competitive death in FINA’s history, putting severe pressure on the governing body to improve safety standards.

“It’s always on our minds,” Anderson said. “Fran was always the biggest supporter of athlete safety. The biggest. That’s what he instilled in us. It’s frustrating that we’re dealing with the same issues. There have been multiple races that I’ve pulled out of because I didn’t feel safe.”

In 2016, the open-water races went on as scheduled at Copacabana. No one reported any health issues afterward.

“Instead of showcasing what open-water swimming’s about, all the questions were, ‘How do you feel about racing in dirty water?’” Wilimovsky recalled. “It turned out fine. The race was awesome. It’s just annoying that (water quality) was kind of hanging over it.”

He is confident that no one will be in harm’s way at the next Olympics.

“I trust the U.S. is not going to make us race or put us in a position to race where the water’s unsafe,” he said.

If that’s not the case, Anderson isn’t sure what she’ll do.

It’s one thing to drop out of a test event. It’s a whole different issue when an Olympic medal is on the line.

“Swimming is once every four years. It’s not like the NBA and other sports, where you have a huge event every year,” Anderson said. “It’s hard to take your competitiveness and try to take a step back. I want to do well. I want to compete at the Olympics. But at what cost?”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Dressel recalls summer tears in Golden Goggles speech

Carreira, Ponomarenko understand the depth of U.S. ice dance at nationals

Carreira and Ponomarenko
Getty Images
Leave a comment

GREENSBORO, N.C. Heading into the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro this week, up-and-coming ice dancers Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko focused on their “quads” not four-revolution jumps, but still pretty tough to execute.

“(Our coaches) have us doing double run-through weeks, triple run-throughs, even quadruple run-throughs, to make sure we’re fully ready,” Carreira said. “We’re drilling a lot more, so at nationals we go in 100 percent confident.”

Pasquale Camerlengo, who trains the team along with primary coach Igor Shpilband, agreed that the run-up to Greensboro has been grueling for the skaters from Novi, Mich.

“We always plan a week we call the quads, performing (programs) four times,” Camerlengo said. “We’re trying to make them ready physically and work their stamina, to handle their programs in competition, which is a little bit different than in practice. Physically, they’re ready for it.”

Tough practices are just one component of what’s been a challenging but productive sophomore senior season for the two-time world junior medalists, fifth in the U.S. in 2019.

Thus far, they’ve competed at six international competitions, stretching from Lake Placid, N.Y., in August to NHK Trophy in Sapporo, Japan, in late November. Six is a lot, considering other top teams they’ll compete against in Greensboro have competed three to five times so far this season.

“Igor wants to get more experience at the senior level, and also more world points,” Carreira, 19, said. “For that we have to compete. We get out there and compete as much as we can, so our programs feel more trained.”

Those programs – a rhythm dance to Cole Porter’s “It’s Too Darn Hot” and flamenco free dance to “Farrucas” – stretch their abilities far more than last season’s routines. Competing every two weeks or so left little time to make adjustments, so the past six weeks were the key to their preparation for Greensboro.

“We pushed a lot of changes we needed to make until after NHK, to smooth out the programs and really train them,” Ponomarenko, 18, said.

He added that the grueling first half of 2019-20 was a necessary ice dance rite of passage.

“It’s very different from our first season. We really didn’t know what to expect. Now we kind of know where we’re at and how we can improve. We definitely feel the sophomore slump this year, but we just want to compete and keep putting our good performances.”

On paper, Carreira and Ponomarenko’s 2018 Grand Prix results – which included a bronze medal at Rostelecom Cup – look more impressive than the sixth-place finishes they earned at Skate America and NHK this season. But the skaters don’t think the placements tell the full story.

“Last season, results-wise, it might have looked better, because a lot of (top) teams took the Grand Prix season off last season,” Carreira said. “This season, I feel our programs are more difficult and we’re skating better. We want to improve our consistency so that we can compete with the top teams.”

It doesn’t take much to lose points in an ice dance routine, especially on step sequences and “twizzles,” a series of fast rotations moving across the ice. A few slips here – including a small mistake on their twizzles in the rhythm dance at Skate America – can easily drop teams out of the top group.

“They always have the feeling they could do more,” Camerlengo said. “But the season is a progression. They’re getting better and better. That’s the goal, to have them (be) more reliable.”

“They need to do what they’re capable of,” he added. “They just have to do what they’ve learned, with no fear, and just go for it.”

In Greensboro, Carreira and Ponomarenko will have to throw caution to the wind to grab one of the three U.S. ice dance spots at the 2020 World Figure Skating Championships in Montreal this March.

With Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue, and Madison Chock and Evan Bates, very likely battling for gold, the Michigan skaters have their sights set on bronze. It’s a herculean task, considering the reigning U.S. bronze medalists, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, qualified for the Grand Prix Final last season and notched career-best scores at Skate Canada this fall.

All three of those teams train together in Montreal. 

But Carreira and Ponomarenko think their programs, strengthened by adjustments and all of those quadruple run-throughs, give them a fighting chance.

“(A bronze medal) is more realistic now than last season,” Carreira said.

“I believe we’ve really grown as skaters,” Ponomarenko said. “Our programs are much more difficult, which has really helped us improve. I believe the podium at nationals is very reasonable. It could be achieved with some good skating.”

Other teams could be in the mix. Last season, Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter placed a strong fourth, but injuries forced them to withdraw from one of their Grand Prix events this fall. A new pairing, Caroline Green and Michael Parsons, has gelled quickly, winning two medals at Challenger Series international events.

“The level of U.S. ice dance level is high, the depth in the U.S. is really the top worldwide,” Camerlengo said. “But the podium, it is reasonable for Christina and Anthony. They have been working hard and they have a very good level to fight for the medal. We’ll see how they will perform here. They’re ready for it.”

Not all of the team’s challenges are on the ice. The Montreal-born Carreira – who has lived and trained in Novi since she was 13 – faces hurdles gaining her U.S. citizenship, without which the couple cannot compete at the Olympics. Last May, she petitioned U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to be deemed an “alien with extraordinary ability” under the immigration code, which would help smooth the way for legal permanent residency status. She was denied and filed suit against the USCIS, later dropping the action.

Carreira is still working to achieve a pathway to U.S. citizenship and prefers not to discuss the issue.

“I can’t really say anything,” she said. “We’re working on it, we’re hoping for the best.”

Citizenship issues never entered the skaters’ minds when they teamed up in the spring of 2014. Ponomarenko and his parents, 1988 Olympic ice dance champions Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko, had long admired Carreira’s skating. When he and his former partner Sarah Feng split after the 2014 U.S. Championships, he tried out with Carreira in Novi.

“We really worked well together from the beginning,” Ponomarenko said. “I had wanted to skate with Christina for a really long time even before getting together, so it was no-brainer. The bump in the road (citizenship) can be worked through.”

“There were so many good factors it would be, I think, stupid to let something that can be fixed get in the way of (our partnership),” Carreira said. “We didn’t even think about it.”

The ice dance competition in Greensboro kicks off with the rhythm dance on Friday afternoon, with medalists decided with the free dance on Saturday night.

MORE: 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships TV, live stream schedule

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Coronavirus forces Olympic soccer and boxing qualifiers to move

women's soccer
Getty Images
Leave a comment

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Olympic qualifying events in two sports were moved from the Chinese city of Wuhan on Wednesday because of an outbreak of a deadly viral illness.

A four-nation Asian qualifying group for the women’s soccer tournament was switched from the city at the center of the health scare to Nanjing.

The Asia-Oceania boxing qualifying tournament scheduled for Feb. 3-14 in Wuhan was cancelled. No new plans were announced.

The decisions followed Chinese health authorities telling people in Wuhan to avoid crowds and public gatherings.

The Asian Football Confederation said the round-robin group — featuring host China, Australia, Taiwan and Thailand — will be played on Feb. 3-9, retaining the same dates, in Nanjing.

More than 500 people have been infected and at least 17 killed since the outbreak emerged last month. The illness comes from a newly identified type of coronavirus.

Cases have also been reported in the United States, Japan, South Korea and Thailand. All involve people from Wuhan or who recently traveled there.

In the soccer qualifiers in China, two teams advance to a four-nation playoff round in March. That will decide which two teams from Asia join host Japan at the Tokyo Olympics.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!