Jordan Stolz arrives with three golds at speed skating worlds, leaving the Dutch in disbelief


The crescendo of 18-year-old American Jordan Stolz‘s historic weekend came not as he glided powerfully on the most famous ice in speed skating, but as he sat.

Stolz, already labeled “wonderkind” but “straaljager” (jet fighter) by Dutch reporters (the sport’s media of record), finished his last and longest race, Sunday’s 1500m, in the lead with one pair to go.

It wasn’t his most impressive time of his three days of racing at Thialf, the Madison Square Garden of speed skating in Heerenveen, Netherlands.

On Friday and Saturday, he won the 500m and 1000m, skating the second-fastest sea-level time in history in each race to become, twice over, the youngest gold medalist in world single distance championships history (since 1996). (The fastest times in speed skating are set at high altitude, in Calgary and Salt Lake City.)

Stolz wanted to finish the championships as the first man to win three individual gold medals in one edition.

To grasp the gravity of that feat, consider the last two times it happened at the Olympics: Johann Olav Koss, the Norwegian who won the 1500m, 5000m and 10,000m, all in world record times, at the Viking Ship at the 1994 Lillehammer Games, and Eric Heiden, Stolz’s fellow Wisconsinite who swept all five golds in Lake Placid in 1980.

German women Anni Friesinger (2003) and Gunda Niemann-Stirnemann (1997) also won three events at a single worlds. Plus, skaters have won three or more distances at the world allround championships, which crown one champion combining results from sprint and distance races and date officially to 1893.

Winning three of the five traditional distances is so difficult because most skaters are separated into three categories, each encompassing two distances: sprints (500m and 1000m), middle distance (1000m and 1500m) and distance (3000m/5000m for women and 5000m/10,000m for men). Rarely does a sprinter win the 1500m. Rarely does a middle distance skater win the 500m or the 3000m/5000m. Rarely does a distance skater win the 1500m.

Stolz, a modest interview, was reflective on Saturday night when looking ahead to the closing 1500m after winning the two sprints.

“Does it still surprise you, how good you are?” a reporter from Dutch broadcaster NOS asked him in the infield.

“Yeah, I think it does, because I don’t expect to be skating that much faster than the best skaters in the world, but somehow I am,” Stolz said.

“You’ll win [the 1500m], I think. What do you think?” the reporter said.

“I think I have a good chance,” Stolz replied. “Between me and Kjeld, I think it’s a pretty similar chance. So I’m not going to pick one.”

After skating into the lead on Sunday, Stolz took a seat within feet of the inside lane to watch the last pair. It included Dutchman Kjeld Nuis, who won the 1500m at the last two Olympics, holds the world record and, following the retirement of Sven Kramer, is the pre-eminent man in the Netherlands’ national sport.

Nuis trailed Stolz’s time after the first lap, unsurprising given Stolz was crowned the world’s best sprinter over the previous two days.

But Thialf grew louder. Nuis moved five hundredths ahead after two laps and 23 hundredths ahead with one lap left, about the time that an American coach (appeared to be Stolz’s personal coach Bob Corby) crouched down, put his arm around Stolz, patted his shoulder and said a few words into his pupil’s right ear.

A grimacing Nuis skated right past the seated Stolz on the back straightaway. He came around the final curve, dropped a hand to his knee and stabbed his right skate out across the finish line to stop the clock.

Thialf hushed. Nuis’ final time was 23 hundredths slower than Stolz. The dethroned Dutchman slammed a fist against his leg and kicked a track marker in frustration.

Stolz hugged American coaches after winning the 1500m, the middle distance that is labeled the “King’s Race” as it can be a gathering place for the world’s best sprinters and world’s best distance skaters.

“I guess I wrote some history,” Stolz said later, according to the International Skating Union. “I was worried [I might not win]. But yeah, I just had confidence in the last lap and I just had a little bit on him.”

Through the weekend, comparisons between Stolz and Heiden continued. Stolz, who also swept the 500m, 1000m and 1500m at last month’s world junior championships, joined Heiden and Heiden’s younger sister, Beth, as the only skaters to win junior and senior world titles in the same year.

Heiden was also 18 when he won the first of his three titles in the world allround championships.

Last year, Stolz became the third-youngest man to make a U.S. Olympic speed skating team, doing so at age 17, just like Heiden did in 1976.

“I can remember when LeBron James walked onto the court and I saw him in his rookie year,” Heiden said before the world championships, according to The New York Times. “There was just sort of this aura around him that I see around Jordan.”

Stolz finished 13th and 14th in his first Olympics. Heiden was seventh and 19th at his first Olympics as a 17-year-old, too. Bonnie Blair and Dan Jansen also made their first Olympic teams as teens and left without a medal.

Then Stolz opened this season in November by becoming the youngest man to win a World Cup race. He became the talk of the sport, though he traded wins with missing the podium altogether on the World Cup.

Could he deliver on the biggest stage at the world championships at Thialf? Or was he still growing through inconsistency?

Stolz, who honed his skating on the frozen pond behind the family house, answered emphatically the last three days. It was a shot in the arm for U.S. men’s speed skating, which last won an individual Olympic medal in 2010, though has had world champions since then.

Shani Davis, the 2006 and 2010 Olympic 1000m champion who has coached Stolz, texted him, “Great job,” according to NOS.

“It’s like trying to beat Michael Jordan or something, I assume,” Laurent Dubreuil, the Canadian who was runner-up to Stolz in the 500m, said, according to the International Skating Union. “He’s doing things that we would have deemed impossible.”

Stolz is also effecting the Dutch, who have three years to figure out how to be faster than the straaljager at the next Winter Games.

“If [Thomas] Krol and me would have finished one-two again, it would be like business as usual and easy-going into the summer,” said Nuis, mentioning a teammate who took silver at the Olympics. “But now there’s someone who gives us a real challenge.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Football takes significant step in Olympic push

Flag Football
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Football took another step toward possible Olympic inclusion with the IOC executive board proposing that the sport’s international federation — the IFAF — be granted full IOC recognition at a meeting in October.

IOC recognition does not equate to eventual Olympic inclusion, but it is a necessary early marker if a sport is to join the Olympics down the line. The IOC gave the IFAF provisional recognition in 2013.

Specific measures are required for IOC recognition, including having an anti-doping policy compliant with the World Anti-Doping Agency and having 50 affiliated national federations from at least three continents. The IFAF has 74 national federations over five continents with almost 4.8 million registered athletes, according to the IOC.

The NFL has helped lead the push for flag football to be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games. Flag football had medal events for men and women at last year’s World Games, a multi-sport competition including Olympic and non-Olympic sports, in Birmingham, Alabama.

Football is one of nine sports that have been reported to be in the running to be proposed by LA 2028 to the IOC to be added for the 2028 Games only. LA 2028 has not announced which, if any sports, it plans to propose.

Under rules instituted before the Tokyo Games, Olympic hosts have successfully proposed to the IOC adding sports solely for their edition of the Games.

For Tokyo, baseball-softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were added. For Paris, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were approved again, and breaking will make its Olympic debut. Those sports were added four years out from the Games.

For 2028, the other sports reportedly in the running for proposal are baseball and softball, breaking, cricket, karate, kickboxing, lacrosse, motorsports and squash.

All of the other eight sports reportedly in the running for 2028 proposal already have a federation with full IOC recognition (if one counts the international motorcycle racing federation for motorsports).

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Helen Maroulis stars in wrestling documentary, with help from Chris Pratt

Helen Maroulis, Chris Pratt

One of the remarkable recent Olympic comeback stories is the subject of a film that will be shown nationwide in theaters for one day only on Thursday.

“Helen | Believe” is a documentary about Helen Maroulis, the first U.S. Olympic women’s wrestling champion. It is produced by Religion of Sports, the venture founded by Gotham Chopra, Michael Strahan and Tom Brady. Showing details are here.

After taking gold at the 2016 Rio Games, Maroulis briefly retired in 2019 during a two-year stretch in which she dealt with concussions and post-traumatic stress disorder. The film focuses on that period and her successful bid to return and qualify for the Tokyo Games, where she took bronze.

In a poignant moment in the film, Maroulis described her “rock bottom” — being hospitalized for suicidal ideations.

In an interview, Maroulis said she was first approached about the project in 2018, the same year she had her first life-changing concussion that January. A wrestling partner’s mother was connected to director Dylan Mulick.

Maroulis agreed to the film in part to help spread mental health awareness in sports. Later, she cried while watching the 2020 HBO film, “The Weight of Gold,” on the mental health challenges that other Olympians faced, because it resonated with her so much.

“When you’re going through something, it sometimes gives you an anchor of hope to know that someone’s been through it before, and they’ve overcome it,” she said.

Maroulis’ comeback story hit a crossroads at the Olympic trials in April 2021, where the winner of a best-of-three finals series in each weight class made Team USA.

Maroulis won the opening match against Jenna Burkert, but then lost the second match. Statistically, a wrestler who loses the second match in a best-of-three series usually loses the third. But Maroulis pinned Burkert just 22 seconds into the rubber match to clinch the Olympic spot.

Shen then revealed that she tore an MCL two weeks earlier.

“They told me I would have to be in a brace for six weeks,” she said then. “I said, ‘I don’t have that. I have two and a half.’”

Maroulis said she later asked the director what would have happened if she didn’t make the team for Tokyo. She was told the film still have been done.

“He had mentioned this isn’t about a sports story or sports comeback story,” Maroulis said. “This is about a human story. And we’re using wrestling as the vehicle to tell this story of overcoming and healing and rediscovering oneself.”

Maroulis said she was told that, during filming, the project was pitched to the production company of actor Chris Pratt, who wrestled in high school in Washington. Pratt signed on as a producer.

“Wrestling has made an impact on his life, and so he wants to support these kinds of stories,” said Maroulis, who appeared at last month’s Santa Barbara Film Festival with Pratt.

Pratt said he knew about Maroulis before learning about the film, which he said “needed a little help to get it over the finish line,” according to a public relations company promoting the film.

The film also highlights the rest of the six-woman U.S. Olympic wrestling team in Tokyo. Four of the six won a medal, including Tamyra Mensah-Stock‘s gold.

“I was excited to be part of, not just (Maroulis’) incredible story, but also helping to further advance wrestling and, in particular, female wrestling,” Pratt said, according to responses provided by the PR company from submitted questions. “To me, the most compelling part of Helen’s story is the example of what life looks like after a person wins a gold medal. The inevitable comedown, the trauma around her injuries, the PTSD, the drive to continue that is what makes her who she is.”

Maroulis, who now trains in Arizona, hopes to qualify for this year’s world championships and next year’s Olympics.

“I try to treat every Games as my last,” she said. “Now I’m leaning toward being done [after 2024], but never say never.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!