NHL announces players will not participate in Beijing Winter Olympics

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The NHL announced its players will not participate in the Beijing Winter Olympics, citing the coronavirus pandemic disrupting the NHL regular season.

“We have waited as long as possible to make this decision while exploring every available option to enable our players to participate in the 2022 Winter Olympic Games,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a press release. “Unfortunately, given the profound disruption to the NHL’s regular-season schedule caused by recent COVID-related events — 50 games already have been postponed through Dec. 23 — Olympic participation is no longer feasible.”

Both Bettman and NHL Players’ Association executive director Don Fehr looked forward to NHL players in the 2026 Olympics in Italy.

“NHL players have looked forward with great anticipation to once again participating in the Winter Olympics,” Fehr said in a Wednesday statement. “Until very recently, we seemed to be on a clear path to go to Beijing. COVID-19 has unfortunately intervened.”

The news came after the league extended its holiday break to Wednesday through Saturday and brought the season total to 50 game cancellations.

While Olympic participation was agreed to last year, the recent pandemic surge caused reconsideration.

Bettman said on Dec. 10 the Olympic decision lay with the players — unless the league’s regular season “is in trouble because of COVID.”

“Let’s assume a number of teams came down with major outbreaks, and in effect we were missing lots and lots of games that had to be rescheduled and it became clear that we couldn’t reschedule without doing something else, including using some portion of the [Olympic] break,” Bettman said Dec. 10.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly interjected.

“We have an agreement that any material disruption to our season would certainly give us cause to withdraw,” he said.

Bettman said in Wednesday’s release that dates during the February Olympic window will be used to reschedule regular season games.

Several NHL stars expressed recent concern about Olympic participation with Vegas Golden Knights goalie Robin Lehner the one notable to say he definitely would not play. Some noted uncertainty about what happens if a player tests positive for the virus while in China.

The latest Olympic playbook states that athletes who test positive will be discharged if they meet certain health conditions, including two consecutive negative tests at least 24 hours apart, and in accordance with guidelines in China.

Beijing will mark the second consecutive Winter Games without active NHL players, who participated from 1998 through 2014. In 2018, the U.S. used players from European leagues, American minor leagues and the NCAA system. The U.S. is expected to choose from that kind of player pool again this time.

The reason for not participating in 2018: NHL executives and owners were largely against disrupting the regular season, especially when the Olympics aren’t in the U.S. or Canada. In 2017, Bettman cited a lack of concessions from the IOC, IIHF or the NHL Players’ Association to entice participation in PyeongChang.

Last year, the NHL and the NHLPA announced a new collective bargaining agreement that included Olympic participation in 2022 and 2026, at the players’ urging.

Some NHL superstars may have played their last Olympics.

Sidney Crosby, who scored the 2010 Olympic final golden goal, will be 38 years old come the next Winter Games in 2026 in Italy. Only two older Canadian men have played at the Olympics in the NHL era — Martin St. Louis in 2014 and Al MacInnis in 2002, according to Olympedia.org.

Crosby may have incentive to go for 2026, however, given he was controversially left off the Canadian team the last time the Olympics were held in Italy in 2006.

Alex Ovechkin, yet to win an Olympic medal, will be 40 years old come 2026. One older Russian man has played at the Olympics — Igor Larionov in 2002, according to Olympedia.

Other NHL stars may never play in the Olympics. Notably Steven Stamkos, who was left off Canada’s team in 2010 at age 19 (during a season in which he co-led the NHL in goals), then missed the 2014 Olympics with a broken tibia. He will turn 36 during the 2026 Olympics.

“It sucks,” Stamkos said Tuesday. “You grow up dreaming of winning a Stanley Cup. I’ve been able to accomplish that. You grow up wanting to represent your country at the Olympics and winning a gold medal. That’s something I probably won’t have a chance to do now.”

Connor McDavidAuston Matthews and Leon Draisaitl haven’t played at the Olympics but will still be 30 or younger come the 2026 Winter Games.

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Valencia Marathon produces historic times in men’s, women’s races

2022 Valencia Marathon
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Kenyan Kelvin Kiptum and Ethiopian Amane Beriso won the Valencia Marathon and became the third-fastest man and woman in history, respectively.

Kiptum, a 23-year-old in his marathon debut, won the men’s race in 2 hours, 1 minute, 53 seconds. The only men to ever run faster over 26.2 miles are legends: Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge (2:01:09 world record, plus a 2:01:39) and Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele (2:01:41).

Kipchoge made his marathon debut at age 28, and Bekele at 31.

Beriso, a 31-year-old whose personal best was 2:20:48 from January 2016, stunned the women’s field Sunday by running 2:14:58. The only women to have run faster: Kenyans Brigid Kosgei (2:14:04) and Ruth Chepngetich (2:14:18).

Ethiopian Letesenbet Gidey finished second in 2:16:49, the fastest-ever time for a woman in her marathon debut. Gidey is the world record holder at 5000m and 10,000m.

Valencia is arguably the top annual marathon outside of the six World Marathon Majors. The next major marathon is Tokyo on March 5.

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Aleksander Aamodt Kilde wins Beaver Creek downhill

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BEAVER CREEK, Colo. — Norway’s Aleksander Aamodt Kilde won his second straight World Cup downhill race to start the season, despite feeling under the weather.

Although dealing with an illness all week in training, Kilde powered through the challenging Birds of Prey course Saturday in a time of 1 minute, 42.09 seconds. It was enough to hold off Marco Odermatt of Switzerland by 0.06 seconds. James Crawford of Canada was third to earn his second career World Cup podium finish.

Kilde also won the opening downhill last weekend in Lake Louise, Alberta.

“It’s been a tough week,” Kilde said after the race. “I caught the flu in Lake Louise after a very, very nice weekend. It really hit me hard. Then I got a couple of days to rest and take it easy. … I felt OK. Still feeling it a little bit in my system.”

The Beaver Creek crew members had the course in solid shape a day after a downhill race was canceled due to high wind and snowfall.

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Kilde reached speeds around 75 mph in picking up his eighth World Cup downhill victory. That tied him with Kjetil Jansrud for the third-most downhill wins in the World Cup discipline among Norwegian men. The total trails only Aksel Lund Svindal (14) and Lasse Kjus (10).

“I found a really, really good set-up with my equipment and also with my skiing,” Kilde explained. “I believe in myself. I trust in myself. I have a good game plan. When I stand on the start, I don’t dwell on anything. I know that this plan is what I do and when I do that it’s going to be fast.”

Odermatt has been on the podium in all four World Cup races this season as he tries to defend his overall World Cup title. The 25-year-old finished third in the opening downhill of the season last weekend. He’s also won a giant slalom race and a super-G.

Ryan Cochran-Siegle wound up in seventh place for the top American finish. He was ninth in the downhill in Lake Louise.

“It’s been solid,” Cochran-Siegle said of his strides in the discipline. “A couple of little things here and there that pushed me off that top three. You have to ski with a lot of intensity and ski without abandon, in a sense. Today was a good step.”

Switzerland’s Beat Feuz, who won the Olympic downhill gold medal at the Beijing Games last February, tied for ninth.

The Beaver Creek stop on the circuit comes to a close Sunday with a super-G race. Odermatt will be the favorite after holding off Kilde in the opening super-G last weekend.

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