Getty Images

20 Olympic sports events to watch in 2020 (before the Tokyo Games)

Leave a comment

A look at 20 Olympic sports events for the first half of 2020, before the granddaddy in Tokyo opens July 24 …

1. Youth Winter Olympics
Jan. 9-22, Lausanne, Switzerland
The third edition of the Youth Winter Games, for athletes ages 14-18. The U.S. roster of 96 athletes is here. Past U.S. Winter Youth Olympians included Chloe Kim and Jack Eichel. Traditional Olympic sports are joined by non-Olympic events such as monobobsled, women’s Nordic combined and ski mountaineering.

2. U.S. Figure Skating Championships
Jan. 23-26, Greensboro, N.C.
Nathan Chen will be favored to become the first man to win four straight national titles since Brian Boitano in 1988. Alysa Liu, who last year became the youngest female champion in history at age 13, can become the first woman to repeat since Ashley Wagner in 2013. But Liu, unlike Chen, is not old enough to qualify for March’s world championships.

3. Winter X Games
Jan. 23-26, Aspen, Colo.
The biggest annual event for snowboarders and freeskiers. Expect Gus Kenworthy to begin his return to competition in earnest since announcing his switch to Great Britain. Chloe Kim is sitting out this season. Shaun White is also not on the invite list, having said he’s taking a break from snowboarding before a Beijing 2022 run.

4. World Single Distance Speed Skating Championships
Feb. 13-16, Salt Lake City
Expect world records to fall. Every current men’s mark in an Olympic distance, and all but one on the female side, was set at the 2002 Olympic oval. Brittany Bowe, the reigning world champion and world-record holder at 1000m, leads the U.S. charge.

5. World Luge Championships
Feb. 15-16, Sochi, Russia
Russia would be in danger of being stripped of host rights if it had not appealed its ban from the World Anti-Doping Agency. Instead, the 2014 Winter Games venue will produce at least one first-time champion given the absence of German stars Natalie Geisenberger (pregnancy) and Tatjana Huefner (retirement).

6. World Bobsled and Skeleton Championships
Feb. 17-March 1, Altenberg, Germany
Germany won all but one event at the 2019 Worlds at Whistler, B.C. The U.S. team will be without triple Olympic medalist Elana Meyers Taylor (pregnancy), but should feature two-time Canadian Olympic champion Kaillie Humphries, who switched representation before this season.

7. U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials
Feb. 29, Atlanta
The top three male and female finishers make the team for Tokyo. Galen Rupp, the Rio bronze medalist, is a favorite despite having raced just once since 2018 Achilles surgery and having recently lost his coach, the now-banned Alberto Salazar. The women’s field shapes up as deeper, though it recently lost its biggest name with the retirement of four-time Olympian Shalane Flanagan.

8. World Short Track Speed Skating Championships
March 13-15, Seoul
South Korea, while facing competition at recent Olympics, returned to dominating at worlds the last two years, sweeping the women’s golds in March 2018 and then the men’s golds last season. However, last season’s top male skater, Lim Hyo-Jun, was banned for this season after pulling down the pants of a male teammate in front of female skaters.

9. World Figure Skating Championships
March 18-21, Montreal
Top storylines: Nathan Chen putting his undefeated-since-the-Olympics record on the line against Yuzuru Hanyu, whom he has outscored in five straight programs. And a potential Russian women’s medals sweep, not seen in one discipline for one nation since Kristi YamaguchiTonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan for the U.S. in 1991.

10. Alpine Skiing World Cup Finals
March 18-22, Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy
The last races of the calendar often determine season-long champions, but Mikaela Shiffrin has made a habit of mathematically clinching titles well before that. Same story this season. Shiffrin leads the overall standings by nearly 300 points (a win nets a skier 100 points) and appears well on her way to a fourth straight crystal globe. More likely at stake for Shiffrin in Cortina: discipline titles in giant slalom and perhaps super-G and downhill.

11. Olympic Baseball Qualifying Tournaments
March 22-26, Arizona
April 1-5, Chinese Taipei
The last two chances for the U.S. to qualify for the first Olympic baseball tournament since 2008 (and the last one until, at least, 2028). The Americans failed in their first opportunity at the global Premier12, beaten by Mexico. In late March/early April, USA Baseball must navigate roster selection with Major League Baseball clubs finalizing minor-league, season-opening rosters at the end of spring training. Just which players will be made available is unknown.

12. World Women’s Hockey Championship
March 31-April 10, Nova Scotia, Canada
The U.S. captured the last nine top-level international tournaments dating to 2015 (Olympics, worlds, Four Nations Cup), but last year’s world title came in controversial fashion after a Finnish overtime goal was waived off. Canada, whose streak of four straight Olympic titles ended in PyeongChang, last year failed to reach the world championship final for the first time.

13. U.S. Olympic Wrestling Trials
April 4-5, Penn State
Only one wrestler per weight class can qualify for Tokyo. The most high-profile matchup should come on the men’s side, where 2012 Olympic champion Jordan Burroughs and 2018 and 2019 World champion Kyle Dake are expected in the 74kg division. Another storyline: Can Helen Maroulis, who in Rio became the first female U.S. Olympic wrestling champion, come back from her January 2018 concussion and a blown-out right shoulder?

14. World Men’s Hockey Championship
May 8-24, Switzerland
The U.S. last won a standalone world title in 1933 and last reached a final in 1950. Perhaps the Americans can take underdog motivation from 2019 World champion Finland, which became the first title team without NHL players since at least 1993. As for NHL players returning to the Olympics in 2022? No public progress has been made at the Olympic cycle midpoint.

15. French Open
May 24-June 7, Paris
Roland Garros carries Olympic ramifications once every four years. This year, it will be the last tennis tournament in the one-year Olympic qualifying window. The likes of Novak DjokovicRafael Nadal and Roger Federer are all but assured places in Tokyo. But the race is on to see who will qualify for the U.S. women’s singles team of four, with Serena Williams in pole position. Coco Gauff ranks fifth so far but with fewer than half the points of fourth-place Madison KeysVenus Williams (ninth) and Sloane Stephens (11th) need big first halves of 2020.

16. U.S. Olympic Diving Trials
June 14-21, Indianapolis
The top two per individual event and each winning synchronized event pair are in line to qualify for Tokyo, provided the U.S. qualifies remaining quota spots at the FINA World Cup in April. David Boudia is the headliner. The four-time Olympic platform medalist switched to the springboard after a February 2018 concussion and was fifth at last summer’s worlds.

17. U.S. Open
June 18-21, Winged Foot
The U.S. boasts 11 of the world’s top 17 male golfers, but only four of them can go to Tokyo. The U.S. Open is the last Olympic qualifier in golf’s two-year window, after which the world rankings determine the field. Tiger Woods, for all his success in 2019, is ranked fifth among Americans in Olympic qualifying and currently the world’s top golfer to miss the cutoff. If Woods plays his traditionally limited schedule this winter and spring, he may need a significant result (even a win) at Winged Foot.

18. U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials
June 21-28, Omaha
The top two per individual event qualify for Tokyo, plus extras in the 100m and 200m freestyles for relays. Star watch: Katie Ledecky, likely to add the 1500m freestyle to her trials slate as it debuts at the Olympics, and Caeleb Dressel and Simone Manuel, who could each try to make the team in seven Olympic events when including relays (including the new mixed-gender medley relay).

19. U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials
June 25-28, St. Louis
USA Gymnastics re-combined the men’s and women’s trials to the same weekend, three weeks after the national championships in Fort Worth, Texas. This should be the last domestic competition of Simone Biles‘ career. The top two all-arounders automatically qualify for the four-woman Olympic team. For the men, the top all-arounder combining scores from nationals and trials also qualifies automatically.

20. U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials
June 19-28, Eugene, Ore.
The top three per individual event (in most cases) qualify for Tokyo. World champions Christian Coleman and Noah Lyles are both expected to go for the 100m-200m double. Allyson Felix, the nine-time medalist, eyes a fifth Olympic team (her first as a mom) and to break Michael Johnson‘s record as the oldest Olympic 400m medalist.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

BEST OF 2010s: Summer Olympians | Winter Olympians | Teams
MOMENTS: Summer Olympics | Winter Olympics | Paralympics | Viral

Lindsey Vonn makes first trip to Kitzbuehel, still feeling some sadness of retirement

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Lindsey Vonn is back on the Alpine skiing World Cup tour this weekend, but not as a racer.

Vonn, who retired last year, is a spectator (and course inspector) at the famed Hahnenkamm in Kitzbuehel, Austria, home to the biggest annual men’s race in the sport (full TV, live stream schedule here).

It’s her first time watching competition in person since a career’s worth of injuries forced her to retire last winter, four wins shy of Ingemar Stenmark‘s World Cup record total of 86.

“I feel like skiing is like a bad break-up, so I need to keep some distance and some space,” she said, according to sponsor Red Bull. “And I’m slowly getting back into watching it. It’s hard, because every time I watch it, it reminds me of what I’m missing. I find it easier to watch the men’s races obviously than the women’s, but of course I’m always cheering for my teammates and watching girls coming back from injury who’ve had a hard time.

“I kind of need some space still. But, as time goes on, I’ll be able to be more involved and it will be less painful for me, and I can kind of start to build a new relationship with ski racing.”

Vonn was a special guest at the podium presentation of Friday’s super-G won by Norwegian Kjetil Jansrud, who like Vonn came back from major knee injuries to return to an Olympic podium.

Vonn long harbored ambitions of racing against men, but it never came to fruition, at least in part due to the International Ski Federation never signing off. In 2012, she was quoted saying she wanted to race at Kitzbuehel, the most challenging track on the men’s circuit.

“Before I was injured, I really wish I would have at least got a chance to ski down it,” she said this week. “I wouldn’t even mind if I had raced, but it would have been cool for me to one time go down it with a race suit on and see what it’s like. Being here as a spectator, I’m so jealous of the men.”

While Vonn keeps busy in retirement, including wedding planning with fiance P.K. Subban, emotional pain remains from being off the ski circuit.

“It’s not really about letting go as much as just not being able to do what I love anymore,” she said. “That’s like a bad break-up where I just miss it, and wish I could still do it, but physically I wasn’t able to, and it’s a hard reality to accept. No matter how many business deals I make or companies I start, it’s never going to replace the adrenaline and the speed and the thrill of ski racing.

“It’s something I have to learn to live with ,and I just thought it would be a little easier than it was, but when you wake up and your world’s totally different and the reality sinks in, it just makes you sad sometimes.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Alpine skiing season TV schedule

Bradie Tennell delivers her punch, seizes figure skating nationals lead

Leave a comment

GREENSBORO, N.C. – Bradie Tennell punched the air when she finished her winning short program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships Thursday night.

For most athletes, that is a common reaction to a strong performance.

For Tennell, whose default mood is self-containment, it was an unusual outpouring of emotion.

And maybe it showed just how well she understood the way her choreographer, Frenchman Benoit Richaud, wanted her to perform a program in which her confident, sometimes sassy skating complimented the staccato, robotic music.

After all, she would be skating it in a look-at-me bright red dress.

When they first began working on the program, Richaud felt Tennell was characteristically trying to disappear into the woodwork by turning what were meant to be bold physical statements into understated movements.

“You need to make a splash,” he told her. “You need to feel like you’re the center of everyone’s attention.”

That is the last thing Tennell normally wants to be.

“It’s weird,” Tennell said. “I guess when I’m on the ice, that’s what I’m aiming for, but when I’m off the ice, I’m more introverted, so it’s not something I’m used to.”

Tennell, the 2018 U.S. champion, commanded the judges’ attention with a flawless performance begun with a strong triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination and ended with consecutive eye-catching spins. They gave her 78.96 points, leaving her 3.56 ahead of Alysa Liu, 14, who last year became the youngest senior champion in U.S. history.

NATIONALS: TV/Live Stream Schedule | Full Results

That is almost exactly the same situation as last year, when Tennell had a 2.71-point lead over Liu going into the free skate. Mistakes by Tennell and Liu’s higher-valued jump content reversed the order in the final standings.

Tennell was battling not only her reserved persona but nervousness over a lingering arm problem.

She had hit her elbow on a wall after a bad spill a few months ago, leading to swelling that went up and down intermittently since then. “For some reason, this week it got really swollen and really painful,” she said.

When she woke up Wednesday, she could not bend her arm. She went to the event medical staff for help. They told her she had an infected hematoma and gave her antibiotics. Her mother, an emergency room nurse for 25 years, added her expertise to the treatment.

That did not calm her nerves, though. It took the first jumping pass to do that.

“As soon as I landed the Lutz-toe, I was like, ‘I can get through this,’’’ she said.

Tennell has spent all season getting beaten by young Russians with more formidable jump arsenals. She insists being at such a disadvantage is not frustrating.

“I don’t think about it that way,” she said. “Luckily, I don’t have to compete against them here, so it’s not really on my mind this week.”

Yet a glance at the short program scores shows just how much an impact Liu’s more difficult jumps can have.

Liu started with a technical base value 5.18 points higher than Tennell’s. Despite Liu’s weaker spins and a wonky landing on a triple Axel, which resulted in a loss of 1.94 points on grade of execution, her overall technical score was only .16 behind Tennell’s.

“I did make a few mistakes,” Liu noted.

Liu’s base advantage increases in Friday free skate, where she plans to do two triple Axels and a quadruple lutz. Those three jumps are worth 10.4 points more than Tennell’s three highest-value jumps.

Of course, Liu has to execute those things, and ice is slippery, as Mariah Bell showed in falling on footwork at the end of her strong short program.

Bell (73.22) was third, 2.18 behind Liu. Amber Glenn was a close fourth (73.16) after giving the most captivating performance of the evening, flush with speed, power and emotion.

Karen Chen, the 2017 champion returning to nationals after a 2019 season lost to injury, was a solid fifth (70.41).

Two-time champion Gracie Gold, whose comeback from depression and an eating disorder has been widely celebrated, struggled to 13th. She botched the landing of a triple lutz and got no points after singling a planned triple loop.

The top three finished in the same order as a year ago. Once again, it was Tennell’s night. It isn’t so bad being the center of attention.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

MORE: Gracie Gold rebuilds herself to return to nationals

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!