World No. 1 skater Erin Jackson misses Olympic team, Bowe and Stolz double up

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Brittany Bowe and Jordan Stolz did what they were expected to do Friday. Erin Jackson did not.

While Bowe and Stolz won their second races at the U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Trials, Jackson’s trip to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics may have slipped away with one mid-race bobble.

Jackson, the world’s No. 1 skater at 500m, fought back from the misstep to finish with the third-fastest time behind Bowe and Kimi Goetz. Jackson had hoped to get a re-skate, but officials at the Pettit National Ice Center in Milwaukee ruled against her.

While Bowe and Goetz qualified for the two women’s quota spots in the 500, Jackson must wait and see if a third spot is awarded to the United States. Another country could give up a spot leading to a reallocation.

“I feel like I messed up,” Jackson said on the USA television broadcast with a rueful smile. “It’s definitely on me, but it would be awesome to get that re-skate, especially not just being No. 1-ranked in the U.S., but No. 1-ranked in the world. It would be kind of strange to not go.”

The three skaters finished in the same order on Thursday night in the 1000.

Bowe, 33, was the first of the women on the ice as none of the Top 3 went head-to-head. She posted a time of 37.81 seconds.

Jackson, 29, was in the next pair and the uncharacteristic wobble on the backstretch caused her speed to melt away.

“I could hear someone, I think it was Brittany, say, ‘Get back into your skating,’” Jackson said of Bowe, who has been her teammate since they were inline skaters in Ocala, Florida. “I was just trying to salvage whatever I could and make it to the finish line and cross my fingers.”

OLYMPIC SPEED SKATING TRIALS: Broadcast Schedule

Her time was 38.24. But Goetz, 27, was up next. She came around in 37.85 to clinch her Olympic berth in both the 500 and the 1000. The United States only has five total women’s berths at the Games with two races remaining — the 1500, in which Bowe and Goetz are again the top contenders, and the mass start.

The American men are only guaranteed to have one entrant in the 500 in Beijing so far, and that will be Stolz, who clocked 34.55 to break his second track record. Jun-Ho Kim of South Korea had the previous record of 34.59 set two years ago.

Stolz, 17, is the American record holder at 34.11, set on Dec. 10. That is also the junior world record.

On Thursday, he set his first track record in the 1000, breaking a 16-year-old mark held by Olympic gold medalist Shani Davis.

If enough U.S. men double up in events for Team USA to send a second entrant in the 500, Austin Kleba, who had a time of 35.17, would get the nod.

Stolz has gotten a confidence boost from the trials.

“I think I can get in the top five at the Olympic Games,” he said. “If somebody has a bad race or something, there’s always that possibility for a medal.”

A bad race is something Jackson now knows too well. Her fate hung in the balance for more than half an hour as she waited to find out if she would get another chance.

“Right now, unfortunately, there’s nothing that can be done rule-wise to get her in the Olympics,” said Matt Kooreman, the US Speedskating long track program director. “It really is kind of winner-take-all here at the Olympic Trials.”

It turns out that Jackson’s competitiveness and integrity may have worked against her. There are certain “protections” in place for medal contenders like her. If they are sick and cannot compete, they can petition onto the team. If they compete and have a mechanical failure or fall down, they get a re-skate.

Because Jackson stayed upright and finished, she skated her way out from under the protections.

“Everything felt good; it was going as planned,” Jackson said. “On the backstretch, I’m not really sure what happened. I lost my footing a bit, almost went down, saved it.”

In hindsight, that cost her.

“Of course, it flashed in my head, maybe I should have sat down,” said Jackson, who has also competed in roller derby. “I think it’s just a bad thing to encourage that. When it comes to a race like the 500, there should be special considerations — when it comes down to such a tiny time difference.”

Kooreman said he can remember people falling and making national teams after a re-skate, but he’d never seen anyone slip and miss out on a team.

“No one’s instinct is to fall down,” Kooreman said. “If you have a little slip, you just skate through it.”

He said there is a slip “in almost every race,” so that’s why a slip doesn’t warrant a re-skate. “You risk running re-skate after re-skate,” Kooreman said. “But it’s really tricky. It’s super unfortunate because Erin Jackson is just a complete class act and one of the best skaters we’ve ever had. To see this happen to her in particular, it’s heartbreaking.”

In 2018, Jackson was the first Black woman to make a U.S. Olympic team in long track. The former inline world champion had only four months of serious training under her belt when she came into those trials. She finished 24th at the Olympics and was determined to see what would happen four years later.

On the recent World Cup circuit, Jackson won four of the eight 500s and set the American record of 36.80 seconds in Salt Lake City in early December.

“She is the World Cup leader, so that goes without saying she’s currently the best in the world,” Bowe said.

Jackson does have another possible route to Beijing: Bowe or Goetz could give up their spot in the 500.

“Each of them looks at their schedule, and what works best for them,” Kooreman said. “The position I’m in, I don’t want to unnecessarily influence either of them.”

He added, “We don’t want anyone to think they got pushed out of a position.”

ON HER TURF: Erin Jackson will need teammates’ help

The final nomination date is Jan. 17 and US Speedskating does not take alternates to the Games.

“All I can do is wait and see if someone declines their spot, then I could go,” Jackson said. “It’s really disappointing of course, but I’m not giving up hope yet. Just kind of maybe waiting and seeing what shakes out. We’ll see.”

Stolz also had an imperfect race, but it was much less noticeable. Just like in the 1000, he had a little problem going into the last turn and wasn’t able to capitalize as much as he wanted on the G-forces.

Without that error, Stolz said, “It would have been really fast.”

He joins Eric Heiden and Emery Lehman as the only 17-year-olds to make a U.S. Olympic men’s speed skating team.

Stolz is from nearby Kewaskum, Wisconsin, and his parents were in the building as volunteers.

“It’s just too bad that the other parents couldn’t be here,” Stolz said. “It’s really nice to have them be here, have them see me make the team. It’s kind of a big thing.”

Kleba hopes it’s a big thing for him as well. He needs enough athletes, such as Joey Mantia, who is favored in the 1500 and the mass start and was second in the 1000, to double and triple.

“I’m crossing my fingers,” said Kleba, who like Stolz was a Youth Olympian. “I did everything I could up to now. Whatever the result or outcome is, I’m happy with my performance for sure.”

Kleba said that although there is usually overlap, because of how the team qualified the second 500 “if our team got too full and they needed to basically kick someone off the team, the second 500-meter spot unfortunately would be the first to go.”

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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