Who makes the U.S. Olympic women’s figure skating team?

Mariah Bell
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Figure skating’s autumn season climaxes next week with the Grand Prix Final, but it will not include any U.S. women’s singles skaters.

The next major senior competition for the top Americans will be the national championships in six weeks. After that, the three-woman Olympic team will be named by a committee, based on results over the previous year starting with 2021 Nationals.

Now that the six-event Grand Prix Series is finished, it’s an opportune time to gauge where everyone stands. A look at the contenders for Beijing:

Alysa Liu leads the pack

Liu, who in 2019 became the youngest national champion in history at age 13, is the clear leading U.S. woman this season. She has competed five times and posted five of the six best total scores among U.S. Olympic hopefuls, including the highest score by 8.89 points, according to SkatingScores.com.

That consistency makes Liu’s recent coaching change, two months before the Olympic team is named, less of a concern. Every American woman has question marks at this point.

Liu, in addition to her second coaching change in two years, hasn’t attempted a quadruple jump since taking bronze at the March 2020 World Junior Championships. She has tried five triple Axels this season. All but one were under-rotated or downgraded.

She doesn’t need a quad or a triple Axel to make the Olympic team — no other U.S. Olympic hopeful has landed either in competition — but she will to vie for a medal in Beijing (unless a Russian collapses). Liu ranks fifth in the world this season if taking out all of the Russians who won’t be at the Olympics.

Mariah Bell’s resurgence

Bell, in her sixth year among the handful of top Americans, had not shown anything this season to establish herself as an Olympic team favorite until this past weekend.

At the last Grand Prix Series event, she tallied 210.35 points for fourth place at Rostelecom Cup. Bell upped her season’s best score by 19.56 points and jumped from fifth to second in the domestic standings this autumn.

She was able to do that without a triple-triple combination. Among three competitions this season, Bell has landed one triple-triple (that was negatively graded). Bell landed triple-triples at most of her competitions in recent seasons. If she can get it back for nationals, you have to like her podium chances.

Bell is entered in a lower-level event in Croatia next week. At 25, she’s trying to become the oldest U.S. Olympic rookie female singles skater since 1920 (when figure skating was part of the Summer Games), according to Olympedia.org. One of her coaches, Adam Rippon, became in 2018 the oldest U.S. Olympic rookie male singles skater since 1936.

Bradie Tennell’s absence

Four years ago, Tennell entered the Olympic season as a nobody, won the national title and was the highest-placing American at the Olympics and world championships.

This season, the reigning national champion Tennell hasn’t competed at all, withdrawing before six scheduled starts and citing a foot injury. Last week, she pulled out of a lower-level event in Croatia three weeks ahead of time. There are no other significant international competitions between now and nationals.

No singles skater in the last 30 years made the Olympic team by making their season debut at nationals (though Michelle Kwan made the 2006 team without competing at all that season).

Karen Chen, Amber Glenn in the mix

After Liu and Bell, the third-best American this season is 14-year-old Isabeau Levito, who is too young for the Olympics.

After that, veterans Chen and Glenn are neck and neck. Chen’s best score is 202.49. Glenn’s is 201.02.

Chen, a 2018 Olympian, also boasts a fourth-place finish from last March’s world championships, which is among the competitions that the selection committee is supposed to include. Glenn and Chen also finished second and third at last season’s nationals, which boosts each’s profile.

Lindsay Thorngren the dark horse

Correction: A U.S. woman will be at the Grand Prix Final in Osaka, Japan, next week. Two, actually. Levito (again, too young for the Olympics) and Lindsay Thorngren qualified for the Junior Grand Prix Final.

Thorngren, who turns 16 on Sunday and is age-eligible, scored at least 180 points in all of her events this season. The only other U.S. Olympic hopeful who can say that is Liu. Like Liu, Thorngren has tried triple Axels this season, though all three were downgraded.

Thorngren, who made her senior international debut two weeks ago, will look to follow the path set by Polina Edmunds, who made the 2014 Olympic team with zero senior international experience and Tennell, who had one senior international event under her belt before the 2018 season.

Thorngren won the 2020 U.S. junior title, then placed sixth in her senior nationals debut last season.

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Katie Ledecky talks swimming legacy and life in Gainesville

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OlympicTalk recently caught up with Katie Ledecky to discuss life since moving from Stanford to Florida 15 months ago, her meticulous mindset, and the legacy she continues to build.

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can also catch an encore presentation of Ledecky’s performance at the 2022 U.S. Open this Saturday at 4:30 pm ET on NBC.

What does a typical day look like for you Gainesville? Walk me through a full day starting from the minute your alarm clock goes off.

Ledecky: A typical day would be waking up at 5 o’clock in the morning and swimming from 6 to 8. Then I have weights from 8 to 9:15. I get breakfast, have lunch and then take a nap. Then I have practice again at 2 or 3 in the afternoon for another two hours.

Wow, that sounds incredibly busy! Have you had a chance to find any new favorite places to eat in Gainesville?

Ledecky: I’m still kind of finding my spots. There is a breakfast spot pretty close to campus that a lot of the swimmers like, so I go there quite a bit, but I’m still looking. I haven’t gone to very many places more than once.

What are you doing in your free time? Are you coaching?

Ledecky: Yes, I’m volunteering with the [University of Florida] team, but I think of myself more as a teammate. I have a lot of other things going on with sponsorships, but aside from that, I enjoy spending time with my family and friends. I have a piano and enjoy playing that!

How often do you get to see your family?

Ledecky: My parents, David and Mary, still live in the D.C. area, and then my brother, Michael, lives in New York, so I’m a lot closer to home [than at Stanford]. I see them around the holidays, and they come to a lot of my swim meets.

I know how much you love to stay academically engaged. Are you taking any classes at the University of Florida?

Ledecky: I’m not taking any classes right now. I’m taking a break, but I’m still trying to learn as much as I can just in other areas, reading a lot and watching the news, following different things that I’m interested in. I think at some point, I’ll probably go to grad school, but I’m still figuring out what area that would be in right now.

There’s a quote, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” I feel like that only scratches the surface of describing your work ethic and mindset. You demand excellence in every area of your life, not just from yourself, but from others around you. Can you talk about where that mindset comes from?

Ledecky: I’ve always had that kind of a mindset. I’m very driven, and I’m always setting new goals for myself no matter what I’ve achieved in the past. I’m always looking forward, I don’t take very many breaks, and so it’s always on to the next goal and making sure I’m doing the little things right and doing the things I need to do to reach my goals.

To be able to perform at the level that you do every single day takes a lot of mental toughness. What do Katie Ledecky’s inner thoughts look like? What do you tell yourself? Any affirmations? 

Ledecky: I try to stay positive no matter how well or how poorly a practice or a race is going. When I’m swimming, I give myself positive mental pep talks along the way throughout a race. I’ll say “keep it up,” “hold pace” or “hit this turn.”

I just want to read you a few tweets… 

You idolized Michael Phelps when you were younger, and now you’re that person for a lot of people. You’re the GOAT. You’re Katie Ledecky. Someone’s idol. What does that feel like?

Ledecky: It’s an honor to have young swimmers look up to me, and I don’t take that lightly. I try to be a good role model and reach out to young kids and sign autographs and take photos if people approach me at swim meets. I hope that there are some young swimmers out there that will grow up to be champions or maybe they’ll just continue to love the sport or find other things that they’re passionate about, but it’s an honor.

Have you had any memorable interactions with young swimmers?

Ledecky:  Yeah, actually the World Cup in Indianapolis [in November]. We were given those giant checks at the end of the meet that you really can’t travel with, so I was able to sign it and give it to one of the basket carriers at the meet. They were thrilled, and it was fun to be able to put a smile on their face.

Give me just one word to describe each of these milestones in your life, starting with the 2012 Olympics.

Ledecky: The first. It was my first international competition and my first gold medal, so that’s the one that’ll probably be the most special for me forever.

OLY-2012-SWIM

2016 Rio Olympics.

Ledecky: Consistency. I was swimming in multiple events at the Olympics for the first time and I just got into a really good rhythm and felt so comfortable in the pool deck. So confident. That was just a very unique feeling.

Tokyo Games.

Ledecky: Tokyo was different with all the COVID protocols. Nobody in the stands. No family there. But it was a lot of fun still, so a lot of great memories with my teammates there.

What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind at the end of your career? What do you want to be remembered for?

Ledecky: I’d like to be remembered as somebody that worked really hard and gave my best effort every time I got up on the blocks and represented Team USA. Hopefully, I can continue to inspire young kids to work hard in whatever it is that they are passionate about, whether that’s something academic, athletic, or something else. If you find something that you really love, you should go all in on it and try to be the best you can be at it.

You’ve achieved so much in life already personally and professionally, I just want to ask: Are you genuinely happy? Are you satisfied in this season of life right now?

Ledecky: Oh yeah, I’m very happy. I love the sport more and more every year. I get a little sad thinking about the day I will eventually retire–which isn’t anytime soon. I love the sport. I’m trying to just enjoy every day of training and racing and trying to be the best that I can be.

I say this all the time, I never imagined I would even make it to one Olympics and so to be training now to try to qualify for a fourth Olympics is it’s all just icing on the cake at this point and something that I truly enjoy. I enjoy doing it with my teammates, striving for similar goals, and getting to do it with really great people.

Knowing all that you know now, what advice would you give to your younger self — the little Palisades Porpoise?

Ledecky: I don’t have very many regrets or anything in my career, so I think I would just continue to tell myself to have fun and enjoy every moment. Maybe, write down a little bit more early on. I’ve done a better job of journaling and writing down different things so that I can remember them down the road, but I didn’t do as good of a job in 2012 and 2013.

Rapid-fire questions. Race day hype song? 

Ledecky: “Badlands” by Bruce Springsteen.

Finish this sentence: I’m not ready for a meet without … 

Ledecky: My suit, cap and goggles.

Did you have AIM back in the day? What was your embarrassing screen name?

Ledecky: I didn’t. I didn’t even have a cell phone until before the London Olympics. I think I actually borrowed my brother’s phone for that, and then we went out and bought an iPad so that I could FaceTime my family from London. I didn’t have an email account either until high school.

Your life is on the line. You need to sing one karaoke song to save it. What are you picking?

Ledecky: Well, USA Swimming did carpool karaoke in 2016 before the Olympics. My car did “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, which is a great karaoke song because it’s like 10 minutes long so maybe I would choose that just as a fun memory. We also did “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen in 2012. Those are two fun songs with some fond memories.

Post-workout meal?

Ledecky: After morning practice, eggs and toast or veggies and eggs. I love breakfast. I could eat breakfast food for all three meals and I’d be satisfied.

Cheat meal? 

Ledecky: Either pizza or a burger.

If you had to choose another Olympic sport to compete in what would it be and why? 

Ledecky: Probably hockey. I’m not good on skates, but it’s my favorite sport to watch.

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Marie-Philip Poulin is first female hockey player to win Canada Athlete of the Year

Marie-Philip Poulin
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Marie-Philip Poulin became the first female hockey player to win Canada’s Athlete of the Year after captaining the national team at the Winter Olympics and winning her third gold medal.

Poulin, 31, scored twice and assisted once in Canada’s 3-2 win over the U.S. in the Olympic final on Feb. 17. She has scored seven of Canada’s 10 goals over the last four Olympic finals dating to the 2010 Vancouver Games — all against the U.S.

Nine different male hockey players won Canada Athlete of the Year — now called the Northern Star Award — since its inception in 1936, led by Wayne Gretzky‘s four titles. Sidney Crosby won it in 2007 and 2009, and Carey Price was the most recent in 2015.

Poulin is the fifth consecutive Olympic champion to win the award in an Olympic year after bobsledder Kaillie Humphries in 2014, swimmer Penny Oleksiak in 2016, moguls skier Mikaël Kingsbury in 2018 and decathlete Damian Warner in 2021.

Canada’s other gold medalists at February’s Olympics were snowboarder Max Parrot in slopestyle, plus teams in speed skating’s women’s team pursuit and short track’s men’s 5000m relay.

In men’s hockey, Cale Makar won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP in leading the Colorado Avalanche to the Stanley Cup and the Norris Trophy as the season’s best defenseman.

The Northern Star Award is annually decided by Canadian sports journalists.

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