Polina Edmunds wanted another Olympic run. The coronavirus pandemic stopped it.

Polina Edmunds
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Olympic figure skater Polina Edmunds finally got past a years-long injury battle. She anticipated graduating from Santa Clara University this past spring, and then, for the first time in four and a half years, resuming her skating career full throttle in a bid to qualify for her second Olympic team in 2022.

Then the coronavirus pandemic struck.

Edmunds, while forced off the ice for months due to rink closures, did earn her communications degree but called off the comeback in June. She became one of the few, if any other, U.S. Olympians to retire from competition because of the pandemic.

“If things were different with the last six months and coronavirus never happened, then I think I definitely would be in full training mode right now. I was very focused for the 2022 Games,” Edmunds said on the What Fulfills You? podcast published on July 15.

She expanded in more podcast interviews over the summer and autumn and in a phone interview on Wednesday.

“Now the landscape has completely changed,” Edmunds said on the Beyond the Rink podcast published Monday. “I have opportunities that I can take outside of skating that I don’t need to wait for, if I want to take them right now. I also know that with my plan of competing constantly this year, that’s out of the picture now because of Covid. That doesn’t really set me up well for later skating if I’m not practicing competing because that’s the one thing I needed to work on. If I can’t be doing that this year, then it doesn’t really feel like there’s a point for me. So that’s why I decided.”

Edmunds, the youngest U.S. competitor across all sports at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at age 15 (placing ninth), said she was flying high in early 2016 before a foot injury dropped her to absolute bottom.

She had just taken silver at the U.S. Championships for the second time in three years, after a brilliant short program. She was to compete at the world championships for a third straight year, seeking to improve on eighth-place finishes from 2014 and 2015.

But a bone bruise in her right foot, her landing foot for jumps, crept up. She withdrew from worlds in Boston and missed competition for more than a year and a half. She returned for the 2017-18 Olympic season, but withdrew from the January 2018 Nationals after a seventh-place short program, citing the injury.

Determined to skate at full strength, she took 10 months off the ice. Edmunds also didn’t run or do any other activities that could harm that navicular bone. She hiked and took up SoulCycle instead, while continuing classes at Santa Clara, where she was part of the Delta Gamma sorority.

“I had this huge comeback plan,” Edmunds said on the Bleav: When Your Sport Ends podcast published last week.

That plan was on track. Edmunds, out of competition practice after another year-and-a-half break, did not qualify for the January 2020 U.S. Championships, but said she got all of her jumps back, including a triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination.

“I really felt super unstable competing when I tried to last year, so I knew this season was going to be all about putting myself out there constantly to get used to the feeling of competing again,” she said. “I had this new identity of being an actual woman on the ice and having more fluid, beautiful lines, rather than me when I was a little more awkward at 16.”

Edmunds wanted to compete all summer, putting herself in pressure situations, even in smaller events, to prepare her nerves for vying for a 2022 Olympic spot.

In March, rinks closed. Edmunds was forced off the ice into June, and in-person competition events were gone. Her mom and longtime coach, Nina, brought up the option of stopping.

“At first, it just felt unreal to even think about dropping skating because it had always been this huge part of my identity,” said Edmunds, who started skating at age 2 and competing around 6 or 7 and was profiled by The New York Times at 11. “But then as I started talking it out with more of my family and more of my friends, it was really emotional. Every time I talked about it, I would start to cry, just because I couldn’t fathom the idea of stopping.

“If you don’t enjoy the journey, then it’s not worth it. You can’t only enjoy the end goal, because you don’t know if you’re going to even get that end goal.”

Edmunds leaned on a university degree, which many Olympians don’t have at the end of athletic careers in their 20s. Though entering the work force now is difficult, she could put her skills to use while staying connected to the sport. She has skating seminars scheduled this month and hopes to perform in shows once they resume.

Edmunds, who wants to get into sports broadcasting, also created her own website — Polpowered.com. She started a podcast, “tapping into the slippery slope of the figure skating world.” She draws from her own experiences in discussing sensitive topics, including politics within the sport and body image.

Edmunds, at 22, is satisfied with her skating career. But she will miss the international competition, traveling and interacting with athletes from around the world.

“When I stopped, I felt kind of in limbo, and it didn’t feel like a lot of my days mattered or counted to anything, because I didn’t have that same structure,” she said. “Learning how to manage that and throw my energy into other opportunities and work, that was a struggle, but now I feel like I’m really going with the flow. I don’t miss the hardships of training anymore.”

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Mikaela Shiffrin, three gates from gold, skis out of world championships combined

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Mikaela Shiffrin was three gates from a record-tying seventh world championships gold medal when she lost her balance and straddled a gate, skiing out of the first race of worlds on Monday.

Italian Federica Brignone won the women’s combined instead, prevailing by 1.62 seconds over Swiss Wendy Holdener, the largest Olympic or world championships men’s or women’s margin of victory in the event since it switched from three runs to two in 2007.

Austrian Ricarda Haaser took bronze in an event that is one run of super-G followed by one run of slalom.

At 32, Brignone, the 2020 World Cup overall champion, won her first global title and became the oldest female world champion in any event.

“What was missing in my career was a gold medal,” she said. “So I’m old. No, I’m just kidding.”

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Shiffrin was sixth fastest in the opening super-G run, 96 hundredths behind Brignone. She skied aggressively in the slalom in a bid to beat Brignone. Shiffrin cut the gap to eight hundredths by the last intermediate split with about 10 seconds left on the course in Meribel, France.

Shiffrin looked set to overtake Brignone until tripping up slightly with five gates left. It compounded, and Shiffrin couldn’t save the run, losing control, straddling the third-to-last gate and skiing out. The timing system still registered her finish — 34 hundredths faster than Brignone — but it was quickly corrected to the obvious disqualification.

Asked on French TV if she lost focus, Shiffrin said, “People are going to say that no matter what.”

“The surface changed a little bit on these last gates, so [on pre-race] inspection I saw it’s a bit more unstable on the snow,” she added. “I tried to be aware of that, but I knew that if I had a chance to make up nine tenths on Federica, or more than that, like one second, I had to push like crazy. So I did, and I had a very good run. I’m really happy with my skiing.”

It marked Shiffrin’s first time skiing out since she did so in three races at last February’s Olympics, where her best individual finish was ninth in five races. At the Olympics, she skied out within the first 13 seconds in each instance. On Monday, she was more than 40 seconds into her run.

“I was thinking, now I’m going to go through the mixed zone. and everyone’s going to ask, ‘Oh, is this Beijing again?'” Shiffrin said. “I didn’t really think about that for myself, but more for the people asking. But I also said before, coming into this world champs multiple times, I’m not afraid if it happens again. What if I don’t finish every run? What happened last year, and I survived. And then I’ve had some pretty amazing races this season. So I would take the season that I’ve had with no medals at the world championships. If it’s either/or, then I would take that. I’m happy with it. But I’m going to be pushing for medals, because that’s what you do at world champs. You wear your heart on your sleeve, and you go for it. I’m not afraid of the consequences, as long as I have that mentality, which I had today.”

NBC Sports analyst Steve Porino said what happened Monday was “completely different” from the Olympics, calling it “an error of aggression.”

“It certainly wasn’t nerves that sent her out,” Porino said on the Peacock broadcast. “This was Shiffrin knowing that she had to have a huge run to get the gold medal.

“The way she went out this time, I think she can brush that one off.”

Shiffrin was bidding to tie the modern-era records for individual world championships gold medals (seven) and total medals (12). Coming into Monday, she earned a medal in her last 10 world championships races dating to 2015.

Her next chance to match those records comes in Wednesday’s super-G, where she is a medal contender. Norway’s Ragnhild Mowinckel is the world’s top-ranked super-G skier through five races on the World Cup this season, though she was 71 hundredths behind Brignone in Monday’s super-G run.

Shiffrin has raced two super-Gs this season with a win and a seventh place.

She is expected to race three more times over the two-week worlds, which is separate from the World Cup circuit that she has torn up this season.

Shiffrin has a tour-leading 11 World Cup wins in 23 starts across all disciplines since November, moving her one shy of the career victories record of 86 accumulated by Swede Ingemar Stenmark in the 1970s and ’80s. Again, world championships races do not count toward the World Cup, which picks back up after worlds end in late February.

Worlds continue Tuesday with the men’s combined.

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Shaunae Miller-Uibo, Olympic 400m champion, announces pregnancy

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Bahamian Shaunae Miller-Uibo, the two-time reigning Olympic 400m champion, announced she is pregnant with her first child.

“New Year, New Blessing,” she posted on social media with husband Maicel Uibo, the 2019 World Championships silver medalist in the decathlon for Estonia. “We can’t wait to meet our little bundle of joy.”

Miller-Uibo’s agency said she plans to return to sprinting, but they don’t yet have a timeline of her plans.

Miller-Uibo, 28, followed her repeat Olympic title in Tokyo by winning her first world indoor and outdoor titles last year.

Also last year, Miller-Uibo said she planned to drop the 400m and focus on the 200m going into the 2024 Paris Games rather than possibly bid to become the first woman to win the same individual Olympic running event three times.

She has plenty of experience in the 200m, making her world championships debut in that event in 2013 and placing fourth. She earned 200m bronze at the 2017 Worlds, was the world’s fastest woman in the event in 2019 and petitioned for a Tokyo Olympic schedule change to make a 200m-400m double easier. The petition was unsuccessful.

She did both races anyway, finishing last in the 200m final, 1.7 seconds behind the penultimate finisher on the same day of the 400m first round.

She did not race the 200m at last July’s worlds, where the 200m and 400m overlapped.

Notable moms to win individual Olympic sprint titles include American Wilma Rudolph, who swept the 100m, 200m and 4x100m at the 1960 Rome Olympics two years after having daughter Yolanda.

And Dutchwoman Fanny Blankers-Koen, who won four gold medals at the 1948 London Olympics, when the mother of two also held world records in the high jump and long jump, two events in which she didn’t compete at those Games.

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