Just 17, Jordan Stolz becomes third-youngest U.S. Olympic men’s speed skater

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Jordan Stolz is staking his claim as the future of speed skating in the United States, but Joey Mantia is not done yet.

Stolz, 17, won the 1000m at the U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials with a time of 1:07.62, making his first Olympic team on Thursday. Stolz broke the track record at Milwaukee’s Pettit National Ice Center held by Shani Davis, the two-time Olympic gold medalist in the 1000 in 2006 and 2010.

Mantia, 35, who posted the second-fastest time in the race, is likely to make his third straight Olympic team when the seven-man squad is announced this weekend.

Mantia said a skater like Stolz only comes around “every now and then.”

“It’s rare,” he added, “but it’s nice that I get to see that at the end of my career as I fizzle out here. Hopefully I’ve got a couple more good ones in me at the Olympics, but he’s definitely going to carry that torch into the next several quads.”

When Davis set the long-standing track record of 1:08.33 on Nov. 26, 2005, Stolz was a mere 18 months old.

Now he’s the fastest skater over two laps in his home rink.

“It means a lot, especially to beat it from Shani Davis,” said Stolz, who is from nearby Kewaskum. “I know the ice is a lot faster than when he was skating, but it’s still nice to have my name on the track record board.”

And to have his name on the Olympic team.

The 2020 Youth Olympian will become the third-youngest American man to compete in the Olympics in long track speed skating behind Eric Heiden and Emery Lehman, who were also 17 years old in their first Games.

While Stolz is on his way to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, a second spot is not guaranteed. Team USA has qualified for two spots at the Olympic Games, but has a maximum number of seven berths on the men’s side.

With doubling by athletes later this week, Mantia would compete in the 1000 at his third straight Games.

However, he was not pleased with his time Thursday of 1:09.00. He then had to sit and wait while Stolz went faster and Austin Kleba, a 2016 Youth Olympian, came awfully close at 1:09.15 in the final pairing.

OLYMPIC SPEED SKATING TRIALS: Broadcast Schedule

At the 2018 Winter Olympics, Mantia placed fourth in the 1000, just missing the podium. He was also eighth in the 1500 and ninth in mass start. Mantia is reigning world champion in the mass start, which is expected to be his best event in Beijing.

While Mantia is a converted inline skater from Ocala, Florida, Stolz has always skated on the ice.

“He has just got a really good feel for his skates,” Mantia said. “He doesn’t think too much, which is great. His coach told me he barely has to tell him anything, so he’s just a natural.”

The veteran remembered when he first saw the kid. It was a couple of years ago in Salt Lake City.

Stolz was “this scrawny little kid and he wasn’t very fast,” Mantia said, “then all of sudden he goes back home for a summer. It’s that special time when a boy grows into a young man and he comes back. He was jacked; he had these big muscles.”

Stolz also remembers how much he’d changed, and that he was suddenly able to keep up with the older skaters.

“It’s pretty fun, especially with how fast it came up,” Stolz said. “I guess two years ago I wasn’t anywhere near them. And all the power came, and I went straight up.”

This year has been sensational for Stolz as he has been a threat to break not only junior records, but senior ones as well. Stolz is coming off a World Cup silver medal in the 1000 last month in Calgary as well as a world junior record.

He has also set the American record in the 500 – at the senior level – as well as the world junior record at the same distance.

“Jordan has been really, really fun to watch,” said Brittany Bowe, who won the women’s 1000m at the trials and also set a track record. “He is incredible. I don’t even know if he knows how good he is — and he should, because he’s set a new junior world record every time he’s stepped on the ice.

“But he’s just a shy teenager from what I’ve seen up to this point and I’m sure he’ll warm up as he gets more involved and more comfortable with the team.”

Bowe said when Stolz won his silver medal at the Calgary World Cup, “every American that was in the building, we all went in front of the podium before he got his medal.”

And with Bowe, Mantia and Erin Jackson – the other top Americans – coming from inline skating, Bowe said Stolz is “the odd man out.”

But he certainly was at home at the Pettit Center, even though the kefir he had before the race made him sick after his tremendous effort.

“I feel like my performance was pretty good,” Stolz said. “It could have been a little bit better… it was good enough for sure.”

And he said it gives him some confidence going into Beijing.

“There’s a possibility for (a medal),” Stolz said, “but I’m not expecting it or anything. I’m just going to try and do the best race I can at the Olympics and see where it ends up. I’d like to get in the top 5 or top 6. I’d be happy with that.”

For now, he has the 500 on Friday as he is the favorite to qualify for the Games in his second event.

“I really want to get a good time in the 500,” Stolz said, adding that making his first Olympic team has “set in a little bit, but once I go, I’ll be able to call myself an Olympian.”

Mantia, who has enjoyed that designation for the past eight years, said Stolz is already a factor in Team USA’s success on the ice this season.

“Our team is doing so well and Jordan is a big part of that,” Mantia said. “Being a young kid, stepping up and crushing through junior world records and track records… it’s definitely raising everybody’s game. I watch him in practice and I’m like, ‘I gotta go faster. I gotta step it up.'”

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

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Shoma Uno tops Grand Prix Final short program; Ilia Malinin 5th

Shoma Uno
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World champion Shoma Uno of Japan leads after the short program at the Grand Prix Final, the biggest figure skating competition of the fall. Ilia Malinin, an 18-year-old American, is fifth out of six skaters after struggling on jumps on Thursday.

Uno, bidding for his first Final title after two silvers and two bronzes, landed a quadruple flip and quad toe loop-double toe combination en route to 99.99 points at the Palavela, the 2006 Olympic venue in Turin, Italy.

He takes a 5.13-point lead over countryman Sota Yamamoto going into Saturday’s free skate.

Malinin is fifth, 19.89 points behind, after stepping out of the landing on the back end of a quad toe-triple toe combination and spinning out of a triple Axel landing, putting a hand on the ice.

“It was a performance that I wasn’t really expecting,” said Malinin, who did not mention a left foot injury that affected him at his last competition (a win) two weeks ago. “We put a lot of effort trying to perfect all these movements in the program with all these jumps. The jumps didn’t go so well, but I think that my performance and my spins definitely have improved. … I just have to stay confident and look forward to the free skate.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Malinin rallied from smaller short program deficits to win his first three competitions in his first full senior season, becoming the first skater to land a quad Axel in September and repeating it in October and November.

Uno, the world’s top returning skater after Yuzuru Hanyu retired and Nathan Chen went back to Yale, didn’t compete against Malinin at those earlier events.

“It wasn’t up to the levels of my best performance,” Uno said of Thursday’s short program, according to a translation. “But I think I was able to show what I’ve done this season up until this competition. I’m genuinely happy.”

The quad Axel is not a point-scoring element in short programs, but it is in free skates.

Malinin, the son of Olympic skaters from Uzbekistan, was second at last January’s U.S. Championships but left off the three-man Olympic team due to his relative inexperience. He went to senior worlds in March and finished ninth, then won the world junior title in April.

The Grand Prix Final, which takes the top six per discipline from the six-event Grand Prix Series, is the most exclusive figure skating competition. It was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier, Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara topped the pairs’ short program with 78.08 points, edging world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier by 43 hundredths of a point.

Miura and Kihara, ranked No. 1 in the world this season, are bidding to win the biggest title ever for a Japanese pair.

Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979, recorded a personal best score with their first clean program since those worlds. Frazier put his hand on the ice on their side-by-side triple toe landings, but judges still barely graded it positively.

“We’ve made a big improvement from our [fall] Grand Prix [starts],” Knierim said. “I am elated with the outcome.”

Pairs experienced the biggest change of the four figure skating disciplines since the Olympics with none of the top five teams from the Winter Games competing internationally this fall. Russian pairs, traditionally the best in the world as a group, are ineligible due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including gold medalists Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t skate in the Grand Prix Series.

The Grand Prix Final continues Friday with the pairs’ free skate, rhythm dance and women’s short program, all live on Peacock.

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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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