Speed skater Ethan Cepuran makes first Olympic team while his brother announces race


With no spectators allowed at the U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials, Ethan Cepuran missed hearing the cheers of family and friends as he made his first Olympic team.

But a voice he knew well accompanied him around the oval.

Cepuran’s older brother Gordon was the race announcer. His play-by-play boomed throughout the Pettit National Ice Center in Milwaukee as Ethan came from behind to win the longest race of the trials, the 5000m, by the tip of his blade.

“It’s always awesome to have a familiar voice,” Ethan said. “That was really cool to still be able to have a family member in the building.”

Cepuran, 21, got his left leg across the finish line of the 5000 barely ahead of the right leg of training partner Casey Dawson, who is about three months younger.

The reigning U.S. champ, Cepuran, clocked 6 minutes, 16.54 seconds over the 12 ½-lap race while Dawson came in at 6:16.58 in the photo finish.

“This was just a bloodbath to the end,” said Cepuran, who was behind by 1.5 seconds with four laps to go and still trailed at the bell. He finished half a second shy of the track record of 6:16.23 set by Olympic medalist Chad Hedrick in 2008.

Cepuran clinched the first Olympic berth for Team USA at the trials, which began five days of competition Wednesday.

Dawson must now wait to see how the rest of the trials play out to determine if he will compete at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics in the 5000. Team USA has earned 10 individual men’s Olympic berths, but can only send seven men; some athletes are expected to double, which would clear room for Dawson on the team in the individual event.

Emery Lehman, 25, in a bid to make his third straight Olympic team, was third with a time of 6:16.71.

But Dawson and Lehman have another route to Beijing. Team pursuit could be the best chance for them – as well as Cepuran – to win a medal at the Games. The trio, as well as two-time Olympian Joey Mantia, has already earned medal contender status from US Speedskating in the team pursuit. The team composed of Mantia, Lehman and Dawson set the world record last month.

“We train with each other every day, we race each other,” Cepuran said. “I wouldn’t be where I am without them; they’re the best teammates in the world. It’s always an honor to be on the line and skate with them.”

Mia Manganello Kilburg, a 2018 Olympic bronze medalist in team pursuit, won the longest women’s race, the 3000m, with a time of 4:07.61. She was paired with Dessie Weigel, who clocked 4:15.35 to place second. Kilburg, 22, will be the first reserve skater to make the Olympic field if an athlete from another country gives up the spot.

Both Kilburg and Weigel are contenders in women’s mass start later this week.

Kilburg said she was physically prepared for the race, “but the head is a whole other thing. I feel like I conquered a beast that I’ve been fighting for a while, so it’s very exciting.”

Team USA will qualify a maximum of five women for the Olympics.

Kilburg said not having a crowd – a decision made by US Speedskating due to the rise in Covid-19 cases – turned out to be to her advantage.

“I think it kind of helped for me not have the outside noise, to really be able to focus on what I needed to focus on, what was in my mind, hearing my coach on the backstretch,” said Kilburg, who tends to get nervous on race day.

She added that wearing masks and being apart from family and friends would be good preparation for the Olympic bubble.

“This is what we have to deal with,” Kilburg said. “We either stress about it or refocus to get the job done.”

The men’s 5000 had been looking all season like it would be a three-man battle.

Lehman, skating in the pair before Cepuran and Dawson went head to head, “threw down an absolutely amazing race,” said Cepuran. “He laid the hammer down.”

But the Glen Ellyn, Illinois, native also knew that if he defeated Dawson, he had a good chance of going to Beijing. “I knew we were close to Emery,” he said, “and If I could keep Casey in my sights, I can dig deep those last few laps. At least one spot’s guaranteed, possibly two.”

Dawson, however, held the lead nearly the entire race. With 1600 meters left, Cepuran not only trailed by 1.5 seconds, he was also behind Lehman’s pace. Cepuran was still 1.20 behind Dawson with two laps to go, although he had moved into second overall. With one lap left, Dawson had a lead of .63 seconds.


“Between the three of us, those last few laps can be super decisive,” Cepuran said, “ and you’ve just got to lay it all out there until the end.”

Coming around the final curve, Cepuran had momentum. He was on the inside and flew down the straightaway to get ready for “the hawk,” the move in which a skater flings a skate forward at the line.

“It takes a little bit of timing,” Cepuran said.

And the crowd – what little there was – went wild.

“I had tons of family coming up to watch, and it’s sad they weren’t able to make it,” Cepuran said. “But it was the right thing to do. The biggest thing was make it to Beijing. There were plenty of racers cheering their hearts out. They were just as invested as we are.”

Even though the Pettit was nearly empty, Cepuran said there’s no place he would rather skate. “This is my home rink,” he said. “I’ve been coming to the Pettit even before I was born. My mom was pregnant with me when my older brothers skated.”

His oldest brother, Eric, is a former junior national team member and coach. “He’s my role model,” Ethan said of his brother, who coached him before the youngest Cepuran moved to Salt Lake City.

Gordon, who is about eight years older than Ethan, also skated.

“I just wanted to go to the rink, follow Eric and Gordon, and the easiest way to keep track of me was just put me in skates,” said Cepuran. “They put me in the center with a paint bucket to push it around. When you’re 2 years old, you can barely walk. It’s just how you survive.”

He said he doesn’t remember how long he pushed that bucket. “I definitely wasn’t all that good at first,” Cepuran said. “But it was years of having fun and smiling. Skating was always a way to be around my brother, be just like him and just have fun.”

Cepuran, who was 15th in the 5000 and 22nd in the 1500 at the 2021 World Championships, said his earliest Olympic memory was watching the 10,000 at the 2002 Olympics when he was only about 18 months old. He was better able to appreciate Shani Davis winning the gold in the 1000 at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

Cepuran calls the 5000, which usually has older Olympic medal contenders, “a race of experience.”

“Every 5K I’ve done in the past two years has elevated my ability to skate,” he said. “I just gotta believe in myself. If it doesn’t hurt, I’m not doing it right.”

However, Cepuran said the folks back home – who contacted him before his race – weren’t dwelling on the outcome of the race.

“As long as I’m happy doing what I do,” he said, “they just care if I’m the kid that’s still smiling like I was when I was out with the bucket.”

Karen Rosen, who has covered every summer and winter Olympics since 1992, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com.

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Mikaela Shiffrin finishes World Cup with one more win, two more records and a revelation


Mikaela Shiffrin finished a season defined by records with two more.

Shiffrin won the World Cup Finals giant slalom on the final day of the campaign, breaking her ties for the most career women’s giant slalom wins and most career podiums across all women’s World Cup races.

Shiffrin earned her record-extending 88th career World Cup victory, prevailing by six hundredths over Thea Louise Stjernesund of Norway combining times from two runs in Andorra on Sunday.


She won her 21st career GS, breaking her tie for the most all-time on the women’s World Cup with Vreni Schneider, a Swiss star of the 1980s and ’90s.

She made her 138th career World Cup podium across all events, breaking her tie for the most all-time on the women’s World Cup with Lindsey Vonn. Shiffrin earned her 138th podium in her 249th start, meaning she has finished in the top three in 55 percent of her World Cup races dating to her debut at age 15 in 2011.

Earlier this season, Shiffrin passed Vonn and then Ingemar Stenmark, a Swede of the 1970s and ’80s, for the most career Alpine skiing World Cup victories. She won 14 times from November through March, her second-best season after her record 17-win campaign of 2018-19.

In those years in between, Shiffrin endured the most difficult times of her life, was supplanted as the world’s top slalom skier and questioned her skiing like never before.

On Saturday afternoon, Shiffrin was asked what made the difference this fall and winter. There were multiple factors. She detailed one important one.

“I had a lot of problems with my memory,” she said in a press conference. “Not this season, so much, but last season and the season before that. I couldn’t remember courses. And when I was kind of going through this, I couldn’t keep mental energy for the second runs.”

Pre-race course inspection and the ability to retain that knowledge for a minute-long run over an hour later is integral to success in ski racing. Shiffrin is so meticulous and methodical in her training, historically prioritizing it over racing in her junior days, that inspection would seem to fit into her all-world preparation.

She didn’t understand how she lost that ability until she began working with a new sports psychologist last summer.

“That was a little bit like less focus on sports psychology and more focus on, like, psychology psychology and a little bit more grief counseling style,” she said. “Explaining what was actually going on in my brain, like chemical changes in the brain because of trauma. Not just grief, but actually the traumatic experience itself of knowing what happened to my dad, seeing him in the hospital, touching him after he was dead. Those are things that you can’t get out of your head. It had an impact. Clearly, it still does.”

Shiffrin had a “weird a-ha moment” after her first course inspection this season in November in Finland.

“I didn’t take that long to inspect, and I remembered the whole course,” she said. “Oh my gosh, I was like coming out of a cloud that I had been in for over two years.”

What followed was a win, of course, and a season that approached Shiffrin’s unrivaled 2018-19. Fourteen wins in 31 World Cup starts, her busiest season ever, and bagging the season titles in the overall, slalom and GS in runaways.

“After last season, I didn’t feel like I could get to a level with my skiing again where it was actually contending for the slalom globe,” she said. “And GS, I actually had a little bit more hope for, but then at the beginning of the season, I kind of counted myself out.

“I feel like my highest level of skiing has been higher than the previous couple of seasons, maybe higher than my whole career. My average level of skiing has been also higher than previous seasons, and my lowest level of skiing has also been higher.”

There are other reasons for the revival of dominance, though Shiffrin was also the world’s best skier last season (Olympics aside). She went out of her way on Saturday afternoon to credit her head coach of seven years, Mike Day, who left the team during the world championships after he was told he would not be retained for next season.

“He is as much a part of the success this entire season as he’s ever been,” said Shiffrin, who parted with Day to bring aboard Karin Harjo, the first woman to be her head coach as a pro.

Shiffrin’s greatest success this season began around the time she watched a a mid-December chairlift interview between retired Liechtenstein skier Tina Weirather and Italian Sofia Goggia, the world’s top downhiller. Goggia spoke about her disdain for mediocrity.

“Ever since then, pretty much every time I put on my skis, I’m like, ‘OK, don’t be mediocre today,’” Shiffrin said in January.

During the highest highs of this season, Shiffrin felt like she did in 2018-19.

“It is mind-boggling to me to be in a position again where I got to feel that kind of momentum through a season because after that [2018-19] season, I was like, this is never going to happen again, and my best days of my career are really behind me, which it was kind of sad to feel that at this point four years ago,” said Shiffrin, who turned 28 years old last week. “This season, if anything, it just proved that, take 17 wins [from 2018-19] aside or the records or all those things, it’s still possible to feel that kind of momentum.”

After one last victory Sunday, Shiffrin sat in the winner’s chair with another crystal globe and took questions from an interviewer. It was her boyfriend, Norwegian Alpine skier Aleksander Aamodt Kilde.

“Excited to come back and do it again next year,” she replied to one question.

“Yeah,” he wittily replied. “You will.”

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Mikaela Shiffrin ties Lindsey Vonn record at World Cup Finals


Mikaela Shiffrin tied Lindsey Vonn‘s female record with her 137th career Alpine skiing World Cup podium, taking third place in the slalom at the World Cup Finals in Andorra on Saturday.

Shiffrin, racing for the second time since breaking Ingemar Stenmark‘s career Alpine World Cup wins record last Saturday, finished 86 hundredths behind Olympic champion Petra Vlhova of Slovakia, combining times from two runs.

Shiffrin was fourth after the first run. The top two after the first run stayed in that order after the second run — Vlhova, followed by first-time podium finisher Leona Popovic (the best World Cup finish for a Croatian woman in 16 years).

“Every single race I feel the weight of having to be one of the best in the world no matter what the day is, which is actually quite a privilege, but some days it’s quite heavy,” Shiffrin said, according to the International Ski Federation (FIS). “But today it didn’t feel heavy. It just felt like a really good opportunity.”

Six of the 22 skiers skied out of the second run on soft snow.

In Shiffrin’s previous race at the season-ending Finals, she was 14th in Thursday’s super-G, which is not one of her primary events.

ALPINE SKIING: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

Shiffrin earned her 137th podium in her 248th start, meaning she has finished in the top three in 55 percent of her World Cup races dating to her debut at age 15 in 2011.

The only men with more Alpine World Cup podiums are the Swede Stenmark (155) and Austrian Marcel Hirscher (138).

Shiffrin’s first chance to break her tie with Vonn comes in Sunday’s giant slalom, the last race of the season, live on Peacock.

Shiffrin, who broke Vonn’s female career wins record of 82 in January, clinched season titles in the overall, GS and slalom before the Finals.

Also Saturday, Swiss Marco Odermatt won the men’s giant slalom by 2.11 seconds — the largest margin of victory in any men’s World Cup race in four years — for his 13th World Cup victory this season, tying the men’s single-season record.

He also reached 2,042 points for the season, breaking Austrian Hermann Maier‘s men’s record of 2,000 points in one season from 1999-2000.

Slovenian Tina Maze holds the overall record of 2,414 points from 2012-13.

“We partied hard on Thursday,” after winning the World Cup Finals super-G, Odermatt said, according to FIS. “Today wasn’t easy because of those damn 2,000 points. I really wanted the podium today. So, another victory, two seconds ahead, I don’t know what to say.”

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