Florida trio continues to turn heads in speed skating

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Erin Jackson, Brittany Bowe and Joey Mantia continued to do their hometown proud and consolidated their Olympic speed skating medal prospects this weekend.

The American trio raised in Ocala, Florida, combined for another four World Cup podiums at the season’s second stop in Stavanger, Norway. A week earlier, they totaled five podiums, with three wins.

Jackson, a 29-year-old roller derby convert, won a third consecutive 500m on Saturday and finished second in another 500m on Sunday.

She defeated 2018 Olympic champion Nao Kodaira of Japan in those first three races — becoming the first Black woman to win a World Cup long-track speed skating race, according to U.S. Speedskating — before Kodaira clipped her by .14 on Sunday.

Jackson, who became a speed skater in the months leading up to the 2018 Olympics, came into this season with a best World Cup finish of ninth. Now she’s an Olympic medal favorite, if not the gold-medal favorite in the 500m sprint.

“In PyeongChang, I felt a little out of place, like, how did I get here?” Jackson said Saturday, according to the International Skating Union. “Now it’s completely different.”

Bowe, a two-time Olympian and former Florida Atlantic basketball player, is now up to 32 World Cup victories after taking the 1000m for the second consecutive week.

She is the reigning world champion and world-record holder in the event and was fourth at the 2018 Olympics, missing a medal by .38 after suffering a concussion in summer 2016.

Jackson or Bowe looks likely to win the U.S.’ first individual Olympic speed skating medal (if Mantia doesn’t beat them to it), and perhaps its first speed skating gold in any event, since Shani Davis in 2010.

Mantia, an inline world champion like Jackson and Bowe, took second in the 1500m on Sunday, one week after finishing third in the event known as the Race of Kings.

Mantia, a three-time world champion in the mass start, can in February become the first U.S. man to win an Olympic speed skating medal since Davis in 2010.

Jackson, Bowe and Mantia all trained at different times under inline coach Renee Hildebrand in Ocala before converting to the ice and moving to Salt Lake City. Hildebrand, a grandmother in her late 50s, has molded skaters at a roller rink behind a Save A Lot.

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Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

Kendall Gretsch
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Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

Kyle Smaine
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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”