2022 Winter Olympics hit one year out date with star athletes emerging

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The Beijing Winter Olympics open in exactly one year — on Feb. 4, 2022 — and will be the largest Winter Games ever with 109 medal events. A sport-by-sport look at where things stand …

Alpine Skiing
Mikaela Shiffrin, after winning the slalom in 2014 and the giant slalom in 2018, goes into her third Olympic year challenged like never before. This season, after Shiffrin went 300 days between races following her father’s death, she ranks third in slalom and fifth in GS going into next week’s world championships.

After Lindsey Vonn retired in 2019, Shiffrin carried the U.S. program. But this season, others emerged. Breezy Johnson is the best downhill prospect since Vonn and Julia Mancuso‘s heyday. Ryan Cochran-Siegle ended U.S. men’s podium and victory droughts in the downhill and super-G, respectively.

Internationally, veteran Olympic medalists like Sofia Goggia of Italy, Lara Gut-Behrami of Switzerland, Petra Vlhova of Slovakia and Alexis Pinturault of France continue to rack up podiums and victories on the World Cup.

Biathlon/Cross-Country Skiing/Nordic Combined/Ski Jumping
Jessie Diggins
, who teamed with now-retired Kikkan Randall to win the U.S.’ first Olympic cross-country skiing title in PyeongChang, is having her best individual performances ever this season. She became the first American to win the Tour de Ski, a Tour de France-like stage race. Then she notched her most impressive individual victory in at least three years (perhaps ever) last Friday, beating a field that included the dominant Norwegians who skipped the Tour de Ski.

The top male and female biathletes in PyeongChang have since retired, and Norway has capitalized this season. Norway also has the world’s top-ranked men in Nordic combined and ski jumping and the reigning Olympic women’s ski jumping champion, portending another possible medal standings rout like it had in PyeongChang (eight more medals than any other nation).

The U.S. could go one-two in a bobsled event for the first time in 90 years. Kaillie Humphries, a two-time gold medalist for Canada, married an American and switched to the U.S. program after saying she was verbally and emotionally abused by a Canadian program coach. Humphries, while in the process of obtaining U.S. citizenship and Olympic eligibility, is allowed to compete on the World Cup and world championships level. Elana Meyers Taylor, a medalist at the last three Olympics, eyes her first gold after returning from childbirth last year. They’ll get two chances for medals with the addition of women’s monobob.

Germany still dominates men’s bobsled. Driver Francesco Friedrich is one of the world’s dominant athletes, following his double gold in PyeongChang with two- and four-man world titles in 2019 and 2020.

Germany also continues to rack up luge titles, led by two-time Olympic champions Natalie Geisenberger (back from childbirth) and Felix Loch (having his best season in several years) and Julia Taubitz, who just won the women’s world title. Though Germany swept the 2020 World titles in skeleton, veterans Martins Dukurs of Latvia and Janine Flock of Austria are having the best World Cup seasons.

The U.S. men’s team skipped by John Shuster that took surprise and storybook gold in 2018 remains largely intact and among the medal contenders after placing fifth at the most recent world championships in 2019. Still, Shuster’s group must qualify for the one and only U.S. Olympic spot at trials this fall.

Canada, after earning a medal in all 10 Olympic men’s and women’s curling events since the sport returned to the medal program in 1998, missed both podiums in PyeongChang. While the Canadian men took silver at 2019 Worlds, the women dropped all the way to eighth.

Figure Skating
One of the most anticipated head-to-heads in 2022 is lining up to be Hanyu Yuzuru of Japan against American Nathan Chen. Hanyu is trying to become the first man to win three Olympic singles titles in 94 years. But Chen is undefeated since entering PyeongChang as the favorite and placing fifth, including two wins over Hanyu.

It’s likely that a Russian takes a third consecutive women’s title. The 2018 Olympic gold and silver medalists, Alina Zagitova and Yevgenia Medvedeva, struggled since PyeongChang and have recently been absent from competition. A new group of teens ascended, led by three-time national champion Anna Shcherbakova and 14-year-old Kamila ValiyevaBradie Tennell, the top U.S. woman in PyeongChang in eighth place, regained her national title in January. Alysa Liu, who won the previous U.S. titles at ages 13 and 14, has shown the jumping arsenal to contend for a medal but is navigating a growth spurt and coaching changes.

The U.S. again has multiple medal contenders in ice dance, but French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron assumed favorite status after the retirement of Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. In pairs, Sui Wenjing and Han Cong could deliver for the host nation, but 2018 gold medalists Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot have been skating together recently, fueling hope of a possible return after three years off.

Freestyle Skiing
The U.S. has a bevy of medal threats, but the most striking story this season has been the emergence of its women’s aerials program. Winter Vinecki, bidding to become the first Winter Olympian with that first name, and Megan Nick each earned their first World Cup wins, and two more U.S. women made a podium among the last four events.

The recent Winter X Games saw the star turn of Chinese Eileen Gu, a 17-year-old Stanford enrollee who won both halfpipe and slopestyle in her Aspen debut. The U.S. returns 2018 Olympic medalists in men’s slopestyle (Nick Goepper) and men’s and women’s halfpipe (Brita Sigourney, David Wise and Alex Ferreira). Another freeskiing event, big air, makes its Olympic debut in Beijing.

In moguls, the skiers to beat remain 2018 gold medalists Mikaël Kingsbury of Canada and Perrine Laffont of France.

The U.S. women followed their first Olympic title in 20 years by winning the 2019 World title in a shootout with Finland, the first time ever that it didn’t play Canada in a world championship gold-medal game. Canada missed its chance to rebound in 2020 when worlds were canceled due to the pandemic, but is due to host the 2021 tournament in April. Meanwhile, the U.S. program saw changes at head coach — Robb Stauber moved to coach club hockey and was replaced by Bob Corkum — and captain — Meghan Duggan retired.

NHL players are in line to return to the Olympics after not participating in 2018. That means the U.S. roster could include Patrick KaneAuston Matthews and Jack Eichel. Canada, which won the last two Olympics with NHL players, could get one more Olympics with Sidney Crosby, flanked by would-be Olympic rookies Connor McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon.

Kim, who in 2018 became the youngest halfpipe gold medalist at 17, just won in her first two snowboard contests in 22 months, after taking a season off for freshman classes at Princeton. Shaun White hasn’t competed outside of skateboarding since his third Olympic title in PyeongChang, but was planning to return at X Games before withdrawing with a minor knee injury.

The U.S. also has the reigning Olympic slopestyle champions. Jamie Anderson, the only female snowboarder with multiple Olympic golds, won the last two X Games titles and just won her first X Games crown in big air. Red Gerard, the surprise 17-year-old champ in 2018, faces a greater challenge from Canadians and rising American Dusty Henricksen, who just won X Games at 17.

The U.S. has a rich history in snowboard cross, but with only two World Cups so far this season and no place in the X Games anymore, it’s hard to predict medal challengers until after next week’s world championships. American Mick Dierdorff won the last world title in 2019. Lindsey Jacobellis, a five-time world champion and 10-time X Games champ, last made a top-level podium in March 2019.

Speed Skating
The U.S. turnover has been striking — Olympic medalists Shani DavisJ.R. Celski and Heather Bergsma all retired after PyeongChang. Brittany Bowe is again dominating the World Cup, hoping to become the first U.S. woman to win an individual Olympic long-track medal since 2002. Otherwise, the Dutch still rule the oval.

In short track, the U.S.’ lone medalist in 2018, John-Henry Krueger, is now skating for Hungary. The March 2020 World Championships and the entire 2020-21 World Cup season were canceled amid the pandemic. Another worlds is scheduled for March.

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U.S. women’s basketball team, statistically greatest ever, rolls to FIBA World Cup title

FIBA Women's World Cup

The revamped U.S. women’s basketball team may have been the greatest of all time.

The Americans completed, statistically, their most dominant global championship ever by routing China 83-61 in the FIBA World Cup final on Saturday in Sydney — giving them 60 consecutive wins between the Olympics and worlds dating to 2006.

It marked the largest margin of victory in a World Cup final since the event converted from a fully round-robin format in 1983.

For the tournament, the U.S. drubbed its opponents by an average of 40.75 points per game, beating its previous record between the Olympics and worlds of 37.625 points from the 2008 Beijing Games. It was just off the 1992 U.S. Olympic men’s Dream Team’s legendary margin 43.8 points per game. This U.S. team scored 98.75 points per game, its largest at worlds since 1994.

“We came here on a mission, a business trip,” tournament MVP A’ja Wilson said in a post-game press conference before turning to coach Cheryl Reeve. “We played pretty good, I think, coach.”

Since the U.S. won a seventh consecutive Olympic title in Tokyo, Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles retired. Tina Charles ceded her national team spot to younger players. Brittney Griner was detained in Russia (and still is). Diana Taurasi suffered a WNBA season-ending quad injury that ruled her out of World Cup participation (who knows if the 40-year-old Taurasi will play for the U.S. again).

Not only that, but Cheryl Reeve of the Minnesota Lynx succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, implementing a new uptempo system.

“There was probably great concern, and maybe around the world they kind of looked at it and said, ‘Hey, now is the time to get the USA,'” Reeve said Saturday.

The U.S. response was encapsulated by power forward Alyssa Thomas, the oldest player on the roster at age 30 who made the U.S. team for the first time in her career, started every game and was called the team’s glue and MVP going into the final.

Wilson and Tokyo Olympic MVP Breanna Stewart were the leaders. Guard Kelsey Plum, a Tokyo Olympic 3×3 player, blossomed this past WNBA season and was third in the league’s MVP voting. She averaged the most minutes on the team, scored 15.8 points per game and had 17 in the final.

“The depth of talent that we have was on display,” Reeve said. “What I am most pleased about was the trust and buy-in.”

For the first time since 1994, no player on the U.S. roster was over the age of 30, creating a scary thought for the 2024 Paris Olympics: the Americans could get even better.

“When you say best-ever, I’m always really cautious with that, because, obviously, there are great teams,” Reeve said when asked specifically about the team’s defense. “This group was really hard to play against.”

Earlier Saturday, 41-year-old Australian legend Lauren Jackson turned back the clock with a 30-point performance off the bench in her final game as an Opal, a 95-65 victory over Canada for the bronze. Jackson, who came out of a six-year retirement and played her first major tournament since the 2012 Olympics, had her best scoring performance since the 2008 Olympics.

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IOC looks for ways Russian athletes ‘who do not support war’ could compete as neutrals

Thomas Bach

GENEVA (AP) — Russian athletes who do not endorse their country’s war in Ukraine could be accepted back into international sports, competing under a neutral flag, IOC president Thomas Bach said in an interview published Friday.

“It’s about having athletes with a Russian passport who do not support the war back in competition,” Bach told Italian daily Corriere della Sera, adding, “We have to think about the future.”

Most sports followed IOC advice in February and banned Russian teams and athletes from their events within days of the country’s military invasion of Ukraine.

With Russians starting to miss events that feed into qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics, an exile extending into next year could effectively become a wider ban from those Games.

In an interview in Rome, Bach hinted at IOC thinking after recent rounds of calls with Olympic stakeholders asked for views on Russia’s pathway back from pariah status.

“To be clear, it is not about necessarily having Russia back,” he said. “On the other hand — and here comes our dilemma — this war has not been started by the Russian athletes.”

Bach did not suggest how athletes could express opposition to the war when dissent and criticism of the Russian military risks jail sentences of several years.

Some Russian athletes publicly supported the war in March and are serving bans imposed by their sport’s governing body.

Olympic gold medalist swimmer Yevgeny Rylov appeared at a pro-war rally attended by Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Gymnast Ivan Kuliak displayed a pro-military “Z” symbol on his uniform at an international event.

Russian former international athletes are being called up for military service in the current mobilization, according to media reports. They include former heavyweight boxing champion Nikolai Valuev and soccer player Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.

Russians have continued to compete during the war as individuals in tennis and cycling, without national symbols such as flags and anthems, even when teams have been banned.

Bach told Corriere della Sera it was the IOC’s mission to be politically neutral and “to have the Olympic Games, and to have sport in general, as something that still unifies people and humanity.”

“For all these reasons, we are in a real dilemma at this moment with regard to the Russian invasion in Ukraine,” he suggested. “We also have to see, and to study, to monitor, how and when we can come back to accomplish our mission to have everybody back again, under which format whatsoever.”

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