At Dutch speed skating trials, joy for some Olympic gold medalists, pain for others

Dutch Olympic Speed Skating Qualification Tournament - Day 2
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At the Dutch Olympic speed skating trials, legends Ireen Wüst and Sven Kramer won zero events, but Wüst is likely to be named to the team and Kramer a possibility after second- and third-place finishes.

The Netherlands won seven of the 10 individual distance races at the 2018 Olympics. Just one of those gold medalists won an event at the Olympic Trials, and it looks like at least two of them will miss the Olympic team altogether.

Kjeld Nuis, the only speed skater to win two individual events at the PyeongChang Games, rebounded from a fourth-place finish in Wednesday’s 1000m to win his other gold-medal event, the 1500m, on Thursday and book a spot on the team in his last race.

Kramer, the most decorated male Olympic speed skater with nine medals, must wait for a selection committee to decide if he merits a spot after finishing third in his lone event, the 5000m. Kramer won that event at the last three Olympics, but with Olympic roster sizes limited to nine total skaters per gender, third place didn’t guarantee selection.

The Dutch federation created a matrix before the trials to rank skaters by the nation’s medal chances in each event. If selectors choose the nine-man team directly from the matrix, Kramer would miss it by one spot.

However, that might not happen. Kramer could be put on the team to skate the team pursuit or the mass start, in addition to the 5000m. Kramer skated both those events at the 2018 Olympics.

The current ninth skater in the matrix, Dai Dai N’tab, finished second in the 500m at trials, but he is not suited to the team pursuit or mass start, which are distance events. The Netherlands has other skaters ranked higher who are capable of competing in the team pursuit or mass start, though.

Are those skaters sufficient for the federation, or does it value Kramer’s presence? The federation will announce the team on Monday, according to Dutch broadcaster NOS.

In the women’s events, career Olympic speed skating medals leader Wüst appeared to make a fifth Olympic team with a second-place finish in Wednesday’s 1500m, though it’s not totally assured. Wüst also placed third in the 1000m and is in line to skate that event in Beijing, too.

Wüst, 35, will tie retired Norwegian biathlete Ole Einar Bjørndalen for second place on the career Winter Olympic medals list if she wins two to bring her total to 13. If she wins three (possible if she’s on the team pursuit), she will move one shy of the Winter Olympic record held by retired Norwegian cross-country skier Marit Bjørgen.

Jorien ter Mors, who won the 1500m in 2014 and the 1000m in 2018, finished fifth and 13th in those events and appears set to miss the team altogether.

Esmee Visser, who won the 2018 Olympic 5000m, missed the team in that event by placing ninth on Thursday.

Carlijn Achtereekte, the 2018 Olympic 3000m champion, placed third on Thursday and looks to have made the team thanks to other skaters qualifying in multiple events.

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U.S. women’s rugby team qualifies for 2024 Paris Olympics as medal contender

Cheta Emba

The U.S. women’s rugby team qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics by clinching a top-four finish in this season’s World Series.

Since rugby was re-added to the Olympics in 2016, the U.S. men’s and women’s teams finished fifth, sixth, sixth and ninth at the Games.

The U.S. women are having their best season since 2018-19, finishing second or third in all five World Series stops so far and ranking behind only New Zealand and Australia, the winners of the first two Olympic women’s rugby sevens tournaments.

The U.S. also finished fourth at last September’s World Cup.

Three months after the Tokyo Games, Emilie Bydwell was announced as the new U.S. head coach, succeeding Olympic coach Chris Brown.

Soon after, Tokyo Olympic co-captain Abby Gustaitis was cut from the team.

Jaz Gray, who led the team in scoring last season and at the World Cup, missed the last three World Series stops after an injury.

The U.S. men are ranked ninth in this season’s World Series and will likely need to win either a North American Olympic qualifier this summer or a last-chance global qualifier in June 2024 to make it to Paris.

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Oscar Pistorius denied parole, hasn’t served enough time

Oscar Pistorius
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Olympic and Paralympic runner Oscar Pistorius was denied parole Friday and will have to stay in prison for at least another year and four months after it was decided that he had not served the “minimum detention period” required to be released following his murder conviction for killing girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp 10 years ago.

The parole board ruled that Pistorius would only be able to apply again in August 2024, South Africa’s Department of Corrections said in a short, two-paragraph statement. It was released soon after a parole hearing at the Atteridgeville Correctional Centre prison where Pistorius is being held.

The board cited a new clarification on Pistorius’ sentence that was issued by South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal just three days before the hearing, according to the statement. Still, legal experts criticized authorities’ decision to go ahead with the hearing when Pistorius was not eligible.

Reeva Steenkamp’s parents, Barry and June, are “relieved” with the decision to keep Pistorius in prison but are not celebrating it, their lawyer told The Associated Press.

“They can’t celebrate because there are no winners in this situation. They lost a daughter and South Africa lost a hero,” lawyer Tania Koen said, referring to the dramatic fall from grace of Pistorius, once a world-famous and highly-admired athlete.

The decision and reasoning to deny parole was a surprise but there has been legal wrangling over when Pistorius should be eligible for parole because of the series of appeals in his case. He was initially convicted of culpable homicide, a charge comparable to manslaughter, in 2014 but the case went through a number of appeals before Pistorius was finally sentenced to 13 years and five months in prison for murder in 2017.

Serious offenders must serve at least half their sentence to be eligible for parole in South Africa. Pistorius’ lawyers had previously gone to court to argue that he was eligible because he had served the required portion if they also counted periods served in jail from late 2014 following his culpable homicide conviction.

The lawyer handling Pistorius’ parole application did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

June Steenkamp attended Pistorius’ hearing inside the prison complex to oppose his parole. The parents have said they still do not believe Pistorius’ account of their daughter’s killing and wanted him to stay in jail.

Pistorius, who is now 36, has always claimed he killed Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model and law student, in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine’s Day 2013 after mistaking her for a dangerous intruder in his home. He shot four times with his licensed 9 mm pistol through a closed toilet cubicle door in his bathroom, where Steenkamp was, hitting her multiple times. Pistorius claimed he didn’t realize his girlfriend had got out of bed and gone to the bathroom.

The Steenkamps say they still think he is lying and killed her intentionally after a late-night argument.

Lawyer Koen had struck a more critical tone when addressing reporters outside the prison before the hearing, saying the Steenkamps believed Pistorius could not be considered to be rehabilitated “unless he comes clean” over the killing.

“He’s the killer of their daughter. For them, it’s a life sentence,” Koen said before the hearing.

June Steenkamp had sat grim-faced in the back seat of a car nearby while Koen spoke to reporters outside the prison gates ahead of the hearing. June Steenkamp and Koen were then driven into the prison in a Department of Corrections vehicle. June Steenkamp made her submission to the parole board in a separate room to Pistorius and did not come face-to-face with her daughter’s killer, Koen said.

Barry Steenkamp did not travel for the hearing because of poor health but a family friend read out a statement to the parole board on his behalf, the parents’ lawyer said.

Pistorius was once hailed as an inspirational figure for overcoming the adversity of his disability, before his murder trial and sensational downfall captivated the world.

Pistorius’s lower legs were amputated when he was a baby because of a congenital condition and he walks with prosthetics. He went on to become a double-amputee runner and multiple Paralympic champion who made history by competing against able-bodied athletes at the 2012 London Olympics, running on specially designed carbon-fiber blades.

Pistorius’ conviction eventually led to him being sent to the Kgosi Mampuru II maximum security prison, one of South Africa’s most notorious. He was moved to the Atteridgeville prison in 2016 because that facility is better suited to disabled prisoners.

There have only been glimpses of his life in prison, with reports claiming he had at one point grown a beard, gained weight and taken up smoking and was unrecognizable from the elite athlete he once was.

He has spent much of his time working in an area of the prison grounds where vegetables are grown, sometimes driving a tractor, and has reportedly been running bible classes for other inmates.

Pistorius’ father, Henke Pistorius, told the Pretoria News newspaper before the hearing that his family hoped he would be home soon.

“Deep down, we believe he will be home soon,” Henke Pistorius said, “but until the parole board has spoken the word, I don’t want to get my hopes up.”

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