In short track speed skating, global stars and an American standout ahead of Olympics

ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating Dordrecht - Day 4
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Recent Olympics showed that the pool of medal-contending nations in short track speed skating delves deeper than the traditional powers of South Korea, China, the U.S. and Canada.

The just-concluded World Cup season, the best indicator of Olympic medal prospects, marked further proof of that.

The six skaters atop the standings in individual Olympic events — men’s and women’s 500m, 1000m and 1500m — are from six different countries.

The standout continues to be Dutchwoman Suzanne Schulting, who was the lone man or woman ranked in the top four in all three distances this season.

Schulting, who in 2018 became the first Dutch Olympic short track champion (the nation has 42 long-track medals), won every gold at March’s world championships. The caveat then was that competition didn’t include any skaters from China or South Korea, nor Canada’s top skater, Kim Boutin.

But Schulting again swept every distance, this time against many of the world’s best, at the penultimate World Cup stop two weeks ago. Dutch dominance in long-track speed skating is being tested this season, so Schulting may be the Netherlands’ most successful Olympian in Beijing.

The other top women include veterans: Italian Arianna Fontana, who shares the Olympic short track record of eight medals, finished first or second in every 500m this season.

And newcomers: Lee Yu-Bin, a relay-only skater in PyeongChang and at worlds, was the lone South Korean woman to win multiple races this fall. Lee, though, was fourth overall at South Korea’s Olympic Trials in May, which puts her in line for relay-only duty again at the Olympics.

However, four-time Olympic medalist Shim Suk-Hee was removed from the national team for the entire World Cup season, potentially opening up an Olympic spot. Shim, who won the Olympic Trials, faced an investigation earlier this fall after a reported text message exchange that suggested she may have intentionally tripped fellow star Choi Min-Jeong during the 2018 Olympics.

Kristen Santos made three individual podiums this season, giving the U.S. hope for its first Olympic women’s short track medal since 2010. Santos was fourth overall at the 2018 Olympic Trials, where three women made the team. A month before trials, she needed surgery after another skater’s blade sliced her hand and wrist at a World Cup.

Santos can qualify for her first Olympics at trials in two weeks in Utah.

The top-ranked men in the 500m, 1000m and 1500m are all searching for their first individual Olympic medal.

The men’s 500m may be one of the most anticipated events across all sports at the Olympics, given the reigning Olympic champ and world-record holder is Wu Dajing of the host nation.

However, Hungarian Liu Shaolin Sandor outscored Wu on the World Cup. Liu, born in Budapest to a Hungarian mother and Chinese father, anchored a relay team in PyeongChang that won Hungary’s first Winter Olympic gold medal.

Canadian Pascal Dion, whose best individual Olympic or world champs finish is 10th, topped the 1000m standings this season. South Korean Hwang Dae-Heon won two of the four races, but he sat one out. Hwang won the overall title at South Korea’s Olympic Trials.

Ren Ziwei, a 2018 Olympic relay silver medalist for China, led the 1500m standings.

The U.S. men had zero podiums this season, though 2018 Olympic silver medalist John Henry-Krueger had a pair of second-place finishes for Hungary. Krueger changed nationalities after PyeongChang, citing a lack of financial support in the U.S.

Barring higher-ranked nations giving up their spots, the U.S. will not be part of the Olympic men’s relay for the first time since short track’s Olympic medal debut in 1992.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Football takes significant step in Olympic push

Flag Football
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Football took another step toward possible Olympic inclusion with the IOC executive board proposing that the sport’s international federation — the IFAF — be granted full IOC recognition at a meeting in October.

IOC recognition does not equate to eventual Olympic inclusion, but it is a necessary early marker if a sport is to join the Olympics down the line. The IOC gave the IFAF provisional recognition in 2013.

Specific measures are required for IOC recognition, including having an anti-doping policy compliant with the World Anti-Doping Agency and having 50 affiliated national federations from at least three continents. The IFAF has 74 national federations over five continents with almost 4.8 million registered athletes, according to the IOC.

The NFL has helped lead the push for flag football to be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games. Flag football had medal events for men and women at last year’s World Games, a multi-sport competition including Olympic and non-Olympic sports, in Birmingham, Alabama.

Football is one of nine sports that have been reported to be in the running to be proposed by LA 2028 to the IOC to be added for the 2028 Games only. LA 2028 has not announced which, if any sports, it plans to propose.

Under rules instituted before the Tokyo Games, Olympic hosts have successfully proposed to the IOC adding sports solely for their edition of the Games.

For Tokyo, baseball-softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were added. For Paris, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were approved again, and breaking will make its Olympic debut. Those sports were added four years out from the Games.

For 2028, the other sports reportedly in the running for proposal are baseball and softball, breaking, cricket, karate, kickboxing, lacrosse, motorsports and squash.

All of the other eight sports reportedly in the running for 2028 proposal already have a federation with full IOC recognition (if one counts the international motorcycle racing federation for motorsports).

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Helen Maroulis stars in wrestling documentary, with help from Chris Pratt

Helen Maroulis, Chris Pratt

One of the remarkable recent Olympic comeback stories is the subject of a film that will be shown nationwide in theaters for one day only on Thursday.

“Helen | Believe” is a documentary about Helen Maroulis, the first U.S. Olympic women’s wrestling champion. It is produced by Religion of Sports, the venture founded by Gotham Chopra, Michael Strahan and Tom Brady. Showing details are here.

After taking gold at the 2016 Rio Games, Maroulis briefly retired in 2019 during a two-year stretch in which she dealt with concussions and post-traumatic stress disorder. The film focuses on that period and her successful bid to return and qualify for the Tokyo Games, where she took bronze.

In a poignant moment in the film, Maroulis described her “rock bottom” — being hospitalized for suicidal ideations.

In an interview, Maroulis said she was first approached about the project in 2018, the same year she had her first life-changing concussion that January. A wrestling partner’s mother was connected to director Dylan Mulick.

Maroulis agreed to the film in part to help spread mental health awareness in sports. Later, she cried while watching the 2020 HBO film, “The Weight of Gold,” on the mental health challenges that other Olympians faced, because it resonated with her so much.

“When you’re going through something, it sometimes gives you an anchor of hope to know that someone’s been through it before, and they’ve overcome it,” she said.

Maroulis’ comeback story hit a crossroads at the Olympic trials in April 2021, where the winner of a best-of-three finals series in each weight class made Team USA.

Maroulis won the opening match against Jenna Burkert, but then lost the second match. Statistically, a wrestler who loses the second match in a best-of-three series usually loses the third. But Maroulis pinned Burkert just 22 seconds into the rubber match to clinch the Olympic spot.

Shen then revealed that she tore an MCL two weeks earlier.

“They told me I would have to be in a brace for six weeks,” she said then. “I said, ‘I don’t have that. I have two and a half.’”

Maroulis said she later asked the director what would have happened if she didn’t make the team for Tokyo. She was told the film still have been done.

“He had mentioned this isn’t about a sports story or sports comeback story,” Maroulis said. “This is about a human story. And we’re using wrestling as the vehicle to tell this story of overcoming and healing and rediscovering oneself.”

Maroulis said she was told that, during filming, the project was pitched to the production company of actor Chris Pratt, who wrestled in high school in Washington. Pratt signed on as a producer.

“Wrestling has made an impact on his life, and so he wants to support these kinds of stories,” said Maroulis, who appeared at last month’s Santa Barbara Film Festival with Pratt.

Pratt said he knew about Maroulis before learning about the film, which he said “needed a little help to get it over the finish line,” according to a public relations company promoting the film.

The film also highlights the rest of the six-woman U.S. Olympic wrestling team in Tokyo. Four of the six won a medal, including Tamyra Mensah-Stock‘s gold.

“I was excited to be part of, not just (Maroulis’) incredible story, but also helping to further advance wrestling and, in particular, female wrestling,” Pratt said, according to responses provided by the PR company from submitted questions. “To me, the most compelling part of Helen’s story is the example of what life looks like after a person wins a gold medal. The inevitable comedown, the trauma around her injuries, the PTSD, the drive to continue that is what makes her who she is.”

Maroulis, who now trains in Arizona, hopes to qualify for this year’s world championships and next year’s Olympics.

“I try to treat every Games as my last,” she said. “Now I’m leaning toward being done [after 2024], but never say never.”

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