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Kaetlyn Osmond, figure skating world champion, weighs whether to return

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World figure skating champion Kaetlyn Osmond wants to go to school, study broadcasting and work in radio. What is less clear is if she has skated in competition for the last time.

“It’s still all up in the air,” Osmond said in New York City last week, before performing at the Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park ice rink. “If I come back to competing, I will fight to be able to be back on top. I will fight for all of that, but I know what my strong suits are, and I’ll see what I can add onto that.”

The 23-year-old Canadian is on an indefinite break — taking this entire season off — after earning Olympic team event gold, individual bronze and a world title between February and March.

She’s still skating, but not in front of judges. Osmond recently finished the Thank You Canada Tour with her Olympic champion teammates, performing two-hour shows at 27 sites across the country.

“It was equally as exhausting [as a competition season], being in a different city in a different bus, a different everything for an entire two months,” she said.

In a similar stretch in the winter, Osmond had one of the greatest runs for a Canadian athlete in recent memory. She helped Canada dethrone Russia as Olympic team-event champion, became the second Canadian woman to earn an individual Olympic figure skating medal in 30 years and then the first to take a world title in 45 years.

It’s hard to rank the three medals.

“Worlds for me might have been the best one, only because I really questioned my ability; I was extremely tired after the Olympics,” she said.

A minor back injury throughout the season flared after PyeongChang. Osmond skipped some training sessions and said she was “in quite a bit of pain.” Once she arrived at worlds in Milan, Osmond sprained an ankle the first day of practice.

“My coach and I, we never actually voiced it to each other, but both of us were thinking that worlds might not be possible,” said Osmond, who has been coached by Ravi Walia for 12 years and drew attention in the last Olympic cycle for practicing at an Edmonton mall rink four times per week.

Osmond endured and rallied from fourth place after the short program with a clean free skate, scoring just 1.65 fewer points than at the Olympics. She won by 12.33 over Japanese Wakaba Higuchi in the only competition that Alina Zagitova failed to win for the season.

“To be able to make the podium was my ultimate goal,” Osmond said that day. “I never thought being champion was possible.”

Two months later, Osmond announced she was taking the fall season off “to refocus and evaluate the next steps in my career.” Two months after that, Osmond extended the break to the entire 2018-19 season.

If and when she returns, Osmond knows that the elite skating picture will likely look very different than when she left it on top. The world’s best skater this season, 16-year-old Japanese Rika Kihira, can land triple Axels in combination. A pair of Russian 14-year-olds, eligible for senior championships next season, can land quadruple jumps.

“It’s quite terrifying,” Osmond said without a laugh. “I knew it was coming. I just didn’t expect it to go so quickly.”

Four years ago, Osmond also took the entire post-Olympic season off. It was forced after she fractured her fibula swerving to avoid a skater in practice.

“When I came back, it took me a full year to be able to regain confidence to compete against everyone then, and they weren’t doing triple Axels at that time,” she said.

A return would not be about chasing an unfulfilled goal. Osmond, who began skating at age 3 by following her older sister, said she accomplished more than she ever expected when she won the Canadian novice title at 13.

“It wasn’t until I had a year off before [in 2014-15] that I started to create more goals and higher goals, ones that I still didn’t think were going to be able to be accomplished,” Osmond said. “I did [accomplish] that, plus beyond, this year. Going off that, the main reason that I would come back is … for a personal gain, the miss and love of competing, being in front of an audience and traveling the world with everyone.”

MORE: U.S. figure skating rankings going into nationals

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Surfer Stephanie Gilmore’s path to Olympics joined by Cathy Freeman

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Stephanie Gilmore, like many Australians of her generation, points to one iconic sports moment of her childhood — Cathy Freeman winning the 400m at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

“I remember just being so blown away by the pressure [that Freeman felt],” said Gilmore, who was 12 years old at the time, two years before signing her first sponsor deal with Rip Curl. Surfing wasn’t part of the Olympics then, but it got Gilmore thinking about her other sports, like field hockey, soccer and track and field.

“I could go to the Olympics and throw a javelin or a discus,” she thought.

Gilmore stuck to surfing. Wise move.

Seventeen years later, Gilmore met Freeman for the first time. With the sport added to the Olympics, Surfing Australia brought Freeman to speak to more than a dozen Tokyo 2020 hopefuls at a camp in New South Wales last January.

“I was basically in such awe of her,” Gilmore said while visiting New York City last week, fresh off her female record-tying seventh world title. “She was so genuine and just talking about how she would find her sacred place in that moment that every single [set of] eyes all over the world were on her.

“Now I’m an even bigger fan.”

It’s hard to imagine Gilmore’s 2019 or 2020 topping her 2018. She won her first world title in four years and saw the World Surf League announce equal prize money for men and women starting next season. That came after a difficult stretch.

“My motivation and inspiration had sort of waned,” Gilmore said of going two and a half years between WSL wins from 2014 to 2017, including missing most of the 2016 season with hairline fractures around her knee. “Traveling so much can get a little tiring. You lose confidence, too, as you’re going along.”

Gilmore says that in Australia, each little beach has its own surf club. That’s where she began competing against the boys while Freeman was fresh in the minds of the Australian public. By 17, Gilmore was entering top-level international events, even winning her home beach event in 2005, then earned her first of four straight world titles in 2007.

On Dec. 27, 2010, Gilmore was attacked outside her home by a man with a metal bar whom she didn’t know. He hit her in the head and wrist, drawing blood and tearing ligaments before fleeing and later being caught, according to reports at the time.

Gilmore competed in the season’s first contest two months later, won an event four months after that and finished third in the season standings.

Gilmore won the first and last events of the 10-stop season in 2017, placing second overall to countrywoman Tyler Wright and just ahead of another Aussie, Sally Fitzgibbons. It’s likely that no nation will qualify more than two Olympic surfing spots per gender. Gilmore is three years older than Fitzgibbons and six years older than Wright. Time may not be on her side. All three were invited to Surfing Australia’s January camp for Olympic hopefuls.

The 2019 World Surf League standings should determine the two Aussie women who go to Tokyo. Gilmore needs to set herself apart from the best in the world, since they’re also the best from her country.

She did just that in 2018. Gilmore won three of the season’s first six events and clinched the world title on the first day of the 10th and final contest in Maui two weeks ago. She was the lone Australian woman to win any event this year. Wright missed the second half of the season with the flu and chronic fatigue.

Gilmore said the sting of losing the season’s first event — a quarter-mile from her Coolangatta home — and the anticipation of leading the standings going into the last event were proof that the motivation was back.

She couldn’t sleep the night before the Maui contest, unusual for her.

“All the what-ifs and the fear of failure and all these sorts of things in my head,” Gilmore said. “Yeah, it was mine to lose.”

She chilled out upon tackling the first wave of round one. She clinched the title when American Lakey Peterson bowed out in an early round. Only good friend Kelly Slater has more titles than Gilmore’s seven. The 11-time world champion said he believes Gilmore can reach his tally.

The two FaceTimed shortly after Gilmore’s celebration, explaining the intricacies of how waves barrel to WSL owner Dirk Ziff. Gilmore and Slater also talk music. Both play the guitar.

“He’s always been there,” said Gilmore, who is on a Led Zeppelin kick and often buys a guitar while at contests and leaves it there when she departs.

Gilmore believes that over the last decade surfing has gained on swimming and rugby in popularity in a nation where a majority of the population lives within a short drive of the ocean.

“The Olympic swimmers have always been held in the highest regard,” she said. “Ian Thorpe is probably our greatest Olympian. The swimmers have always been the most recognized athletes in our country. We’re such a small population in our country, but I feel like everyone surfs.”

MORE: Will Kelly Slater go for Tokyo 2020?

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Mikaela Shiffrin rallies in parallel slalom for third straight World Cup win

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Mikaela Shiffrin earned a third straight World Cup win, her fifth in nine races this season and the 48th of her career, taking a parallel slalom in St. Moritz, Switzerland on Sunday. But it was close.

The Olympic slalom and giant slalom champion cruised through the bracket-format event before a close final. Shiffrin qualified fastest by .48 of a second, then won each of her four head-to-head rounds by clear margins (1.31, .62, .2 and .56) before rallying to beat Slovakian Petra Vlhova by .11 in the final.

Last December, Shiffrin edged Vlhova by .04 in a parallel slalom.

“I saw the look in her eyes before the final at the start,” Shiffrin said of her younger rival. “I was thinking, ooh, she really wants to beat me.”

Shiffrin made an early mistake in the final and trailed Vlhova midway down the side-by-side courses before pushing ahead in the last several gates.

“I was going a little bit off the course, and I could see her next to me, just ahead,” Shiffrin said. “She was going faster and faster, and I was thinking, oh, no, you’re giving it away.”

Shiffrin is the first woman to win five of the first nine races in a season since Lindsey Vonn in 2011.

“If you want to beat her,” Vlhova said, “you have to go without any mistake.”

Shiffrin, who has been a little ill in St. Moritz, will skip next week’s downhill and super-G in Val Gardena, Italy. Her next expected starts are a Dec. 21-22 giant slalom and slalom in Courchevel, France.

If Shiffrin wins that slalom, she will tie Austrian Marlies Schild‘s record 35 slalom victories. If she wins both Courchevel races, Shiffrin will tie Alberto Tomba for seventh on the World Cup list with 50 victories.

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