Katie Uhlaender makes fifth, likely final Olympics in skeleton

Katie Uhlaender
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Katie Uhlaender is going to a fifth and likely final Olympics in skeleton, clinching a spot as the highest-ranked American woman this season.

She’s joined by first-time Olympians Kelly Curtis and Andrew Blaser on the smallest U.S. Olympic skeleton team since the sport returned to the Olympic program in 2002.

Uhlaender, a 37-year-old with a best Olympic finish of fourth, will tie the record for Winter Olympic appearances by a U.S. woman. She will likely be the oldest female Olympian on the entire U.S. team in Beijing, if neither Lolo Jones nor Lauren Gibbs makes it in bobsled.

She will be the oldest U.S. Olympic female skeleton slider ever, breaking the record held by Lea Ann Parsley, a silver medalist in 2002 in women’s skeleton’s debut.

Snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis and curler John Shuster previously qualified for their fifth Olympics. Shaun White is also likely to be named to his fifth Olympic team.

MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for 2022 Winter Olympics

Uhlaender, the 2012 World champion and two-time World Cup season champ, didn’t compete in the season after placing 13th at the 2018 Olympics. She returned in 2019-20 and did lower-level races before her first World Cup in nearly three years in January 2021.

Her best finish in 11 World Cup races over the last 13 months: a pair of fifths.

The Olympic medal favorites include World Cup season champion Kimberley Bos of the Netherlands, Austrian Janine Flock, German Tina Hermann and Russian Yelena Nikitina. In a twist Friday, 31-year-old Australian Jackie Narracott beat all of them in the last World Cup before the Olympics. Narracott’s best prior World Cup finish was seventh.

Great Britain’s Lizzy Yarnold, who won the last two Olympic titles, retired in 2018.

In 2014, Uhlaender finished fourth at the Olympics, .04 of a second behind Nikitina for bronze. Nikitina was later stripped of her medal in 2017 as part of the Russian doping scheme during the Sochi Games, but was reinstated two months later by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, citing insufficient evidence.

Uhlaender plans to retire from competition after Beijing and pursue a bachelor’s degree.

Curtis, a 32-year-old former heptathlete who first converted to bobsled, was second in the U.S. rankings, edging Megan Henry for the last Olympic women’s spot. Curtis completed basic training for the U.S. Air Force in August 2020.

Blaser, a 32-year-old former decathlete at the University of Idaho, was the top-ranked American man this season — 28th in the world — despite being passed over for World Cups to start the campaign in favor of the more accomplished John Daly and Austin Florian. It’s the first time the U.S. will not have multiple male skeleton sliders at the Olympics.

Latvian Martins Dukurs won his 11th World Cup season title. At 37, he’s still seeking a first Olympic gold after silvers in 2010 and 2014 and a fourth-place finish in 2018. A slider from the host nation won the last three golds, boosted by more experience on the Olympic track.

China’s top slider, Geng Wenqiang, is 12th in this season’s standings (with one three-way-tie for a victory), one spot below 2018 Olympic champ Yun Sungbin.

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In a tie, Wendy Holdener puts to rest a remarkable stat in Alpine skiing

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Swiss Wendy Holdener ended one of the most remarkable victory droughts in sports by tying for the win with Swede Anna Swenn Larsson in a World Cup slalom in Killington, Vermont, on Sunday.

Holdener, after 15 second-place finishes and 15 third-place finishes in her career, stood on the top step of a World Cup slalom podium for the first time. She shared it with Swenn Larsson, who had six World Cup slalom podiums before Sunday and also earned her first win.

They beat Austrian Katharina Truppe by .22 of a second combining times from two runs.

ALPINE SKIING: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

Holdener, 29, previously won three World Cups in other disciplines, plus two world championships in the combined and Olympic and world titles in the team event.

“To be tied first when I came into the finish was such a relief,” Holdener said while shoulder to shoulder with Swenn Larsson. “On the end, it’s perfect, because now we can share our first win together.”

Mikaela Shiffrin had the best first-run time but lost her lead midway through the second run and finished fifth. Shiffrin, who won the first two slaloms this season last weekend, was bidding for a 50th World Cup slalom victory and a sixth win in six slaloms in Killington.

“I fought. I think some spots I got a little bit off my timing, but I was pushing, and that’s slalom,” she said before turning her attention to Holdener and Swenn Larsson. “It’s a pretty special day, actually.”

The women’s Alpine skiing World Cup moves next weekend to Lake Louise, Alberta, with two downhills and a super-G.

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Injured Ilia Malinin wins Grand Prix Finland, qualifies for Grand Prix Final

Ilia Malinin
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Ilia Malinin, competing “a little bit injured” this week, still won Grand Prix Finland and goes into the Grand Prix Final in two weeks as the world’s top-ranked male singles skater.

Malinin, who was second after Friday’s short program, landed four clean quadruple jumps in Saturday’s free skate to overtake Frenchman Kevin Aymoz.

Malinin, who landed a quad flip in competition for the first time, according to SkatingScores.com, also attempted a quad Axel to open his program, but spun out of the landing and put his hand down on the ice.

Malinin also won his previous two starts this season in come-from-behind fashion. The 17-year-old world junior champion became the first skater to land a clean, fully rotated quad Axel in September, then did it again in October at Skate America, where he posted the world’s top overall score this season.

Next, Malinin can become the second-youngest man to win the Grand Prix Final after Russian Yevgeny Plushenko. His biggest competition is likely to be world champion Shoma Uno of Japan, who like Malinin won both of his Grand Prix starts this fall. Malinin and Uno have not gone head-to-head this season.

Grand Prix Finland highlights air on NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

FIGURE SKATING: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Earlier, Japan’s Mai Mihara overtook world silver medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium to become the only woman to win both of her Grand Prix starts this season. Mihara prevailed by .23 of a point. The top three women this season by best total score are Japanese, led by a junior skater, 14-year-old Mao Shimada, who isn’t Olympic age-eligible until 2030.

Mihara and Hendrickx qualified for the Grand Prix Final, joining world champion Kaori Sakamoto and Rinka Watanabe, both of Japan, South Korean Yelim Kim and American Isabeau Levito, the world junior champion.

Italians Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini won both pairs’ programs and qualified for their first Grand Prix Final.

Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara and Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier headline the Final. Both pairs won each of their Grand Prix starts earlier this fall. The Japanese have the world’s two best scores this season. The Americans are reigning world champions.

At least one Russian or Chinese pair made every Grand Prix Final podium — usually pairs from both countries — but neither nation competed in pairs this Grand Prix season. All Russian skaters are banned due to the war in Ukraine. China’s lone entry on the Grand Prix across all disciplines was an ice dance couple.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier improved on their world-leading score for this season in winning the ice dance by 17.03 points over Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. Both couples qualified for the Grand Prix Final in the absence of all three Olympic medalists this fall.

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