Women’s ice hockey world championship called off, may be rescheduled

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The International Ice Hockey Federation is scrambling to reschedule the women’s world hockey championships after health officials in Nova Scotia, Canada, on Wednesday scrapped plans to hold the tournament next month because of COVID-19 concerns.

IIHF chief Rene Fasel told The Associated Press by phone he was blindsided by the decision, which was made at essentially the last minute. Teams were preparing to travel to Canada over the next two days to satisfy the nation’s quarantine regulations for foreign travelers.

“At 5 o’clock this morning, this was a go. At 7:30 it was not,” Hockey Canada CEO Tom Renney said on a video call with reporters. “Some of this is much, much further beyond our control than we would like.”

The 10-team tournament was scheduled to be held from May 6-16 in Halifax and Truro, the same communities that were supposed to host the event a year ago before it was called off. The IIHF had already pushed back the event’s opening by a month due to recommendations from health officials.

Fasel said the focus is now on rescheduling the tournament to potentially this summer and holding it in either Nova Scotia, elsewhere in Canada or finding another host nation. He said the initial plan is to have Nova Scotia host the event in August.

“We have every intention of making sure we follow through with a women’s world championship here in Canada at a point in the near future,” Renney said. “And beyond that, who’s to say?”

The women’s championship was canceled last year because of the pandemic, and Fasel called it imperative to hold this year’s tournament because it is the final one before the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

“This is very bad news, very sad. And I feel so bad for the girls,” Fasel said. “They’re looking forward to going and spending two weeks quarantining in Nova Scotia, doing everything possible, and then suddenly, bang. ‘Nope, you cannot come. We closed the border.’”

Fasel said he was was informed of Nova Scotia’s decision shortly before the IIHF was scheduled to hold a meeting earlier in the day.

“I will say the disappointment is really big, but it is like it is. There’s nothing we can do and we have to accept that,” Fasel said. “It has to do with safety. … We have to take it and pull the plug.”

Canada is currently experiencing an outbreak of COVID-19, with numerous provinces closing their borders even to inter-provincial travel. The U.S.-Canada border has been closed for 13 months, and all foreign travelers are required to self-quarantine for up to two weeks upon arrival.

“In the end, we must accept the decision of the government,” the IIHF and Hockey Canada said in a joint statement. “We owe it to every single player that was looking forward to getting back on the ice after such a difficult year that we do everything possible to ensure this tournament can be moved to new dates and played this year.”

The U.S. women’s national team completed a recent training camp in Maine. The team had a shakeup at coach with assistant Joel Johnson taking over after head coach Bob Corkum abruptly stepped down citing COVID-19 protocol concerns on Friday.

Hockey Canada president Scott Smith said there was no room for negotiations with Nova Scotia health officials, who expressed comfort in hosting the event as recently as Tuesday. That changed, Hockey Canada officials said, because of a spike in virus cases in the province.

Asked about the optics of the men’s world championships still being scheduled to take place this spring in Latvia, Renney said: “We’re very sensitive to what this might look like. But we’re also more sensitive to public health, this opponent that we can’t see, the ebb and flow of what this looks like worldwide from a health perspective is at the forefront of all of our minds.”

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Jenny Simpson, most decorated U.S. miler, shifts focus with new Puma sponsorship

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Jenny Simpson, the most decorated U.S. female miler in history, plans to return to racing on Sunday with a new shoe sponsor, Puma.

Simpson, whose last race was the Cherry Blossom 10-mile road race in Washington, D.C., in September 2021, according to World Athletics, will run what she called “a little rust-buster” at the Army Ten-Miler in Washington, D.C.

“My intention is to turn my focus to the roads,” Simpson, 36, wrote in an email. “I have some great PUMA spikes that I love so the track isn’t off the table. But my emphasis will be road racing.”

Last year’s Cherry Blossom was her first race longer than 5,000 meters, according to World Athletics. What are the chances she eventually moves up to the marathon distance?

“This new chapter is an exploration,” she answered. “I’m going to let the races, training, and coaching guide the next steps as they come. I know I can physically do it, it’s a matter of whether I can be great at it and my team and I will only go there if we think we can be competitive. So, let’s say for chances… 51% :)”

Simpson made her first Olympic team in 2008 in the 3000m steeplechase, then in 2012 and 2016 in the 1500m, earning a bronze medal in Rio. She is the lone U.S. woman to win a world 1500m title (2011) or an Olympic 1500m medal.

From 2007 through 2019, Simpson finished in the top three in one of the 1500m, 5000m or 3000m steeplechase at all 13 annual USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. Last year, she was 10th in the Olympic Trials 1500m in a bid to become the oldest U.S. Olympic 1500m runner in history, according to Olympedia.org.

Simpson focused much of her time this year helping her Colorado community heal and rebuild from a late December fire. She did not enter the USATF Outdoors for the first time since 2006.

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Mikaela Shiffrin, checklist complete, carries lessons into new World Cup season

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Mikaela Shiffrin said she hit every possible statistical goal in the first 11 years of her Alpine skiing career. Keep that in mind as the storyline the next few seasons may turn to the World Cup wins record.

Shiffrin, who begins her 12th World Cup season in Soelden, Austria, in two weeks, is up to 74 victories on the circuit. The 27-year-old ranks third all-time behind Lindsey Vonn, who owns the women’s record of 82 wins, and Swede Ingemar Stenmark, who has the overall record of 86.

Shiffrin did rounds of interviews Thursday at the media day for her ski sponsor, Atomic. In one sitdown streamed by Atomic, she was asked, “Are you aiming for the record? … There’s just 12 left. Normally, winning 12 races, that’s a lot, but you already won 74, so it doesn’t sound that much anymore.”

“Just 12,” Shiffrin joked. “If you look at it like that, but that’s maybe oversimplification.” (Note greats including Americans Picabo Street and Julia Mancuso didn’t win 12 World Cups over a career.)

Then Shiffrin asked if the interviewer did in fact say 74 — “Yeah, you have 74,” the interviewer confirmed to Shiffrin, who sat between fellow stars Sofia Goggia of Italy and Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway.

“Even after 74 … one race feels like a lot,” Shiffrin continued. “Twelve [wins] still feels like a large mountain to climb, for sure, but it’s step by step or race by race. If I just focus on what’s coming in the next couple weeks and then keep going from there, then we’ll see.”

From 2017 to 2019, Shiffrin won 11, 12 and 17 times on the World Cup. Her last three seasons were abbreviated after her father’s death, the COVID-19 pandemic and back problems. She still won an average of five races each year.

In an earlier interview Thursday, Shiffrin expressed confidence about her preseason form. She followed February’s Beijing Olympics, where her best individual finish was ninth, by bagging her fourth World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in the sport, crowning the best all-around skier.

“Finishing off [at last March’s World Cup Finals] in Meribel, that final race of the season, I was thinking, I could use a moment to breathe,” she said. “There was also this part of me that’s like, I kind of didn’t want this to be the last race. I was a little bit antsy to actually get going on the next season already.”

Shiffrin took less of a break than a year ago, spending 10 days in Maui. She had “really productive” training camps in Colorado, Switzerland and Chile and arrived back in Europe on Wednesday for the run-up to the World Cup opener on Oct. 22.

As always, the priority is keeping her slalom and giant slalom technique top-notch. As long as that’s flowing, Shiffrin feels comfortable branching into the speed events, starting with super-Gs. She plans to race both the slalom and GS at February’s world championships, then possibly the super-G with the combined less of a priority. The downhill is “fairly doubtful,” but she has a few months to make a final decision.

Of course, Shiffrin raced everything at the Olympics in February. In interviews last winter, she couldn’t quite explain why the greatest technical skier in history did not finish any of her three technical runs at the Games.

Shiffrin gave a detailed, two-and-a-half-minute answer when asked Thursday if she went back during this offseason to analyze those races. Or if she is brushing them off as an anomaly.

“Statistically, it’s an anomaly, but there was a lot of culminating factors that could have been involved,” she said.

In basic terms, she got on her inside ski in the opening GS and fell within 13 seconds — “a technical flaw that had a much higher consequence than it’s ever had in any other race that I’ve ever done.” In slalom, she had too much intensity, or too much speed, in a section that required more precision and skidded out within six seconds — “I was not giving anything away, and then I gave everything away.”

“There was less margin for error in Beijing because of the snow conditions,” said Shiffrin, who like every other racer hadn’t previously raced on that slope of manufactured snow. “I don’t think I maybe considered that enough in the moment when I was skiing to kind of reel it in sometimes when it would have been necessary. But I also wasn’t skiing to reel it in or make it to the finish. I was skiing to like, blow the course apart. I was going for it.”

She hopes to take that mentality into this season. In the spring and summer, she devoted more time to developing equipment that works better on softer snow, which is becoming more commonplace at World Cup venues given warmer temperatures.

“If you have a checklist of goals you want to achieve before you retire, actually, my checklist is complete,” she said. “If I had one, it would be complete. Somehow, I feel like I still have something left to accomplish, or faster skiing to do, so that’s kind of why I’m here. Hopefully I can remember that when there’s points in the season that feel stressful or pressure. There’s nothing that has to be done.”

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