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NHL given deadline on 2022 Olympic hockey participation

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Olympic hockey officials need to know by late August whether the NHL will participate in the 2022 Beijing Winter Games.

International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) president René Fasel said Sunday that his organization needs an answer from the NHL before the last three nations qualify for the Olympic men’s hockey tournament in late August.

All of the world powers have qualified — including the U.S., Canada and Russia — leaving Latvia, Norway and Slovakia to host last-chance qualifying tournaments mostly made up of European nations without any Olympic medal history.

Fasel said the early deadline was set to avoid a repeat of the last Olympic cycle. The NHL announced 10 months before the PyeongChang Winter Games that it would not participate, ending a streak of five straight Olympics with NHL players. Fasel called that timeline “a late no” on Sunday.

The U.S. and Canada, whose past Olympic teams were entirely made up of NHL players, were forced to pluck players from various European leagues and U.S. minor leagues. Russia, then labeled the “Olympic Athletes from Russia,” ended up beating Germany in the Olympic final.

“Especially the North American teams, the U.S. and Canada, they had some problems to find the players and to build up a good team going to the Olympics,” Fasel said. “If there is a no [from the NHL on Olympic participation], these teams should have time to prepare competitive teams to go to the Olympics in 2022.”

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman repeated in the last two years that he doubts the league takes a midseason break for the 2022 Winter Games, even with a more favorable host market for hockey growth in China than in South Korea in 2018.

The NHL previously asked for concessions (mostly financially driven) from the IOC, IIHF or the NHLPA to entice NHL owners and officials to take a break in its season to accommodate the Olympics.

“There is no news to report,” Bettman said in November after meetings with the IIHF. “I don’t want to sound like a broken record on the subject, but I think going to the Olympics is a challenge for us. I know the players love representing their countries. I know that the players like going. I know that the players that don’t go like having a break in the middle of the season. But from our standpoint, we have found going to the Olympics to be incredibly disruptive to our season.

“For us, at best, it’s a mixed bag. And, again, it has some pretty material downsides in terms of what happens to our season.”

Fasel was, in contrast, optimistic on Sunday.

“I consider Gary as a smart person. He’s smart, and in the end, he will come. I hope so,” Fasel said. “Having the opportunity to present the game of hockey and his brand NHL in front of, first of all, 1.5 billion Chinese, and the rest of Asia, I think as a smart person he should. I know that Gary doesn’t want to say yes because he wants to negotiate. So we will see. It will be a lot of fun in, I would say, the next six months, seven months.”

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Cyclist in induced coma after Tour of Poland crash

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Dutch cyclist Fabio Jakobsen was put into an induced coma Wednesday after suffering injuries in a crash on the final stretch of the Tour of Poland, organizers said.

A massive crash at the finish of the first stage resulted in Dylan Groenewegen‘s disqualification from the race.

Leading a bunch sprint, Groenewegen veered toward the right barrier, pinching countryman Jakobsen, who barreled into the barrier meters from the finish line.

Jakobsen went head over heels, his bike went airborne and the barriers exploded onto the road, causing more cyclists to crash.

Jakobsen was airlifted to a hospital in serious condition and was put into an induced coma, the Tour de Pologne press office said.

Groenewegen crossed the finish line first but was disqualified, giving Jakobsen the stage win, according to the stage race website.

Groenewegen, a 27-year-old Jumbo-Visma rider, owns four Tour de France stage wins among the last three years.

The International Cycling Union (UCI) “strongly condemned” Groenewegen’s “dangerous” and “unacceptable” behavior. It referred Groenewegen’s actions to a disciplinary commission for possible sanctions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Figure skating Grand Prix Series will be held as ‘domestic’ competitions

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Figure skating’s Grand Prix Series will go ahead as scheduled this fall, with modifications due to the coronavirus pandemic, the International Skating Union decided Monday.

Each of the series’ six tops around the globe will be “a domestic run event,” limited to skaters of the event’s host country, who regularly train in the host country and from a respective geographical area. The number of disciplines and skaters at each event are to be worked out.

The Grand Prix Series, held annually since 1995, is a six-event fall season, qualifying the top six skaters and teams per discipline to December’s Grand Prix Final. The annual stops are in the U.S., Canada, China, France, Russia and Japan, leading up to the Final, which is held at a different site each year.

The Final is the second-biggest annual competition after the world championships, which are typically in late March. The Final is still scheduled for Beijing, though whether or when it can be held will be discussed.

The series begins in late October with Skate America, which debuted in 1979 and has been held every year since 1988 as the biggest annual international competition in the U.S. Skate America’s site is Las Vegas, just as it was in 2019.

Skaters typically compete twice on the Grand Prix Series (three times if they qualify for the Final). ISU vice president Alexander Lakernik said skaters will be limited to one start in the six-event series before the Final, according to a Russian media quote confirmed by Phil Hersh.

The ISU has not confirmed or denied Lakernik’s assertion.

Most, if not all, top-level U.S. skaters train in the U.S. or Canada. That makes the first two Grand Prix stops — Skate America and Skate Canada — likely destinations. Grand Prix assignments have not been published.

“I appreciate the ISU is open to adapting competitive formats and is working to give athletes opportunities to compete,” Evan Bates, a U.S. ice dance champion with Madison Chock who trains in Montreal, wrote in a text message to Hersh. “This announcement gives reassurance that the ISU is doing their best to ensure a season will still take place. Of course, it’s hard to predict what will happen, and we’re not sure about what country we would compete in. It would probably depend on what the quarantine rules are at that time.”

The January 2021 U.S. Championships are scheduled for San Jose, Calif. The March 2021 World Championships are set for Stockholm.

In July, the ISU canceled the Junior Grand Prix Series for skaters mostly ages 13 to 18, including two-time U.S. champion Alysa Liu, who cannot enter the senior Grand Prix until 2021.

Other early season senior international competitions scheduled for September were also canceled or postponed.

U.S. Figure Skating said in a statement that it will have more details on the Grand Prix Series in the coming weeks after collaborating with an ISU-appointed group.

“This is a great example of the figure skating community coming together to ensure that the world’s premier figure skating series will continue during these challenging times,” the statement read. “Figure skaters want to compete and figure skating fans from all around the world want to see their favorite athletes skate, and this format will ensure just that.”

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