Katie Uhlaender

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U.S. Olympic skeleton team finalized

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Katie Uhlaender is going to a record fourth Olympics for a U.S. skeleton slider and looking for either her first or second Olympic medal.

The 33-year-old was one of four athletes named to the U.S. Olympic skeleton team on Monday, joining Sochi bronze medalist Matt Antoine, 2010 and 2014 Olympian John Daly and first-time Olympian Kendall Wesenberg.

Uhlaender placed fourth in Sochi, .04 behind Russian bronze medalist Elena Nikitina.

Nikitina’s bronze medal was stripped last year due to doping, and she was barred from the Olympics for life, though she is appealing. Uhlaender waits to see if she will be upgraded from fourth place to bronze.

Antoine, too, could be upgraded since Aleksandr Tretiyakov was stripped of his gold.

Daly was in fourth place after three of four runs in Sochi but finished 15th after slipping at the start of his final run.

He came out of a two-year retirement in 2016, hoping for another chance to author a different ending to his Olympic career.

Wesenberg, 27, is the only American slider to earn a World Cup medal since the start of 2017.

She first learned of the sport while watching bobsled during the 2010 Olympics. Wesenberg finished her degree at Colorado, where she played club soccer, and moved to Utah in 2012 to pursue skeleton.

The best World Cup finish for any American this season is seventh.

The Olympic men’s gold-medal favorites are South Korean Yun Sung-bin and Latvian Martins Dukurs. The top women are Germans Jacqueline Loelling and Tina Hermann and Canadians Elisabeth Vathje and Mirela Rahneva.

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MORE: Host South Korea seeks Olympic sliding breakthrough in skeleton

Russians stripped of Sochi Olympic skeleton medals; Uhlaender in line for bronze

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Sochi Olympic gold medalist Alexander Tretiyakov and bronze medalist Elena Nikitina of Russia were stripped of their skeleton medals for doping.

It puts the U.S. above Russia atop the Sochi Olympic total medal standings. American Katie Uhlaender is in line for her first Olympic medal.

A full IOC decision is here.

The IOC has stripped Russia of six of its leading 33 medals from the Sochi Winter Games after it commissioned investigations into reports of a state-sponsored doping program leading up to and during the Olympics.

Pending appeals, Latvian Martins Dukurs is in line to be upgraded to men’s skeleton gold, American Matthew Antoine to silver and Latvian Tomass Dukurs to bronze.

In the women’s event, Uhlaender could get her first Olympic medal from her third Games. She originally missed bronze by .04 in Sochi.

“I was half asleep,” Uhlaender said of learning the news at 6 a.m. at a World Cup stop in Whistler, B.C., according to ESPN.com. “I said to [U.S. coach] Tuffy [Latour], ‘Am I dreaming? Is this real?’ And then I got emotional.”

Tretiyakov and Nikitina, as well as two more Russian skeleton sliders sanctioned Wednesday, are disqualified from any future Olympics.

The Russian bobsled and skeleton federation president said the athletes will appeal, according to Russian news agency TASS.

Olga Potylitsina and Maria Orlova, Russians who were fifth and sixth in Sochi, also had their results stripped and were disqualified from future Winter Games.

Previously, the IOC stripped Russian cross-country skiers Alexander Legkov and Maxim Vylegzhanin of their five combined Sochi medals (one each of those medals was won together on a relay).

Russia Olympic Committee president Alexander Zhukov said he expects Russia to be stripped of its two- and four-man bobsled gold medals, too, according to TASS.

Ten Russian athletes total have been retroactively disqualified from the Sochi Olympics. The IOC will decide on Russia’s participation in the PyeongChang Olympics on Dec. 5.

If all Sochi medals are reallocated, Russia will fall from first to third in the total medal standings. Norway and the U.S. would share the lead with 29 medals.

As it stands, without any reallocations yet, the U.S. has 28 medals, Russia has 27 and Norway has 26.

Tretiyakov and Nikitina were looking like medal contenders for PyeongChang.

Tretiyakov, a 32-year-old nicknamed the “Russian Rocket,” was fourth at last season’s world championships and ranked fourth in this season’s World Cup standings.

He was third in last season’s World Cup standings despite being suspended for one race in January.

Tretiyakov, Nikitina, Potylitsina and Orlova were all provisionally suspended for three weeks last December and January after the IOC began disciplinary proceedings for athletes with “evidence of manipulation of one or more of their urine samples” from Sochi.

The suspensions were lifted after nine days “due to a lack of evidence” from a World Anti-Doping Agency-commissioned report on Russian doping.

Nikitina, 25, leads this season’s World Cup standings after the first two races. She won last weekend’s race in Park City, Utah.

Uhlaender has been waiting for this decision for more than a year, since the first reports of widespread Russian doping from Sochi in spring 2016.

“I understand that it was a difference of culture and that the Russians don’t believe they did anything wrong,” Uhlaender said Wednesday, according to The Associated Press. “But this was the only way to fix it.”

The 33-year-old Uhlaender reportedly had an exchange with Nikitina on Facebook after Nikitina’s name appeared on an athlete list that guided Russian doping violations in Sochi.

“I am not on the list!” Nikitina told Uhlaender in 2016, according to The New York Times. “I hope that the truth will prevail! And the perpetrators of this scandal will be punished!”

Uhlaender said in a phone interview Wednesday that she and Nikitina have not communicated since those Facebook messages.

Both women took training runs in Whistler on Wednesday ahead of a World Cup race Friday.

“It was really awkward,” Uhlaender said. “Nikitina wouldn’t make eye contact with me. Yulia, her teammate, made dirty faces at me. I don’t think it’s worth engaging in. I know the Russians don’t think they did anything wrong, and they believe it’s a conspiracy.”

The International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation is still deciding whether to sanction the Russians. As of now, they’re eligible to race in any competition that’s not the Olympics.

Uhlaender shed more tears Wednesday in what’s already been an incredibly difficult 12 months.

On May 6, she was the first to find the late Steven Holcomb, a close friend, unresponsive in his Olympic Training Center room.

“I wish Steve was here,” Uhlaender said Wednesday, according to ESPN. “He would be so elated. He would have broken into my room and woken me up. I miss him so much.”

Last year, she suffered a life-threatening autoimmune attack which put her in and out of the hospital for six weeks.

Doctors asked Uhlaender for her next of kin, she said, according to the Deseret News.

“I was like, ‘Oh, I’m dying,’” Uhlaender said in September, according to the newspaper. “I couldn’t drink, couldn’t eat, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t sleep. … I was hallucinating. Every time I took a breath, it was like someone stabbed me or punched me, so I was having to breathe really shallow. That’s why I thought I wasn’t going to make it.”

Uhlaender returned to her lodging from training in Whistler on Wednesday to find her door decorated by teammate and close friend Lolo Jones. “Congrats Oly bronze!” it read in cutout letters.

She entered the room to find a bronze No. 3 balloon, flowers and a picture of Holcomb that she keeps.

Uhlaender doesn’t believe Nikitina should be allowed to race Friday. Nor should she have been allowed to race at all while she was being investigated, Uhlaender said.

She hasn’t had time to think about what will mean the most — this moment, or when the results are officially changed (that could take a while, pending a Nikitina appeal) or when the bronze medal is in her hands.

If there is a make-up medal ceremony, Uhlaender has one request.

“I would definitely want Noelle [Pikus-Pace] and Lizzy [Yarnold] there,” she said of the silver and gold medalists, adding that the retired Pikus-Pace was one of the well-wishers Wednesday.

Martins Dukurs is in line for the first Winter Olympic gold medal for Latvia and the fourth Olympic gold overall for the former Soviet republic.

He was the world No. 1 going into the 2010 and 2014 Olympics but ended up with silver at both Games behind host-nation sliders (Jon Montgomery, Tretiyakov). He has won six of the last seven world championships.

The Dukurs brothers would become the seventh set of siblings to win Winter Olympic medals in the same individual event, according to Olympic historians.

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Katie Uhlaender waits to hear if she will become 2014 Olympic medalist

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LAKE PLACID, N.Y. (AP) — Katie Uhlaender was scatterbrained Thursday.

She didn’t put her racing bib on for the first run of the World Cup season, so technically she wasn’t compliant with uniform regulations.

Uhlaender also forgot to put anything long-sleeved in her bag of postrace clothes, so she stood in 36-degree air after the race with completely bare arms coming out of her vest.

“I forgot my shirt,” she said.

Uhlaender has plenty of reasons to be distracted.

She’s still grieving the loss of close friend Steven Holcomb, the U.S. bobsledding star who died suddenly in May. She’s breaking in new equipment. And she’s still waiting to hear, more than 3 1/2 years since the Sochi Winter Games ended, if she’s an Olympic medalist.

The International Olympic Committee probe of Russia’s state-sponsored doping program at the Sochi Games is ongoing, and plenty of bobsledders and skeleton athletes are waiting to see what happens. Uhlaender was fourth in those Olympics, and if Russia’s Elena Nikitina — one of the athletes who has been under investigation — loses her bronze, then the American may get her first medal.

“I can’t even put my head there,” Uhlaender said. “It’s been a year since the McLaren Report came out. I’m just going to focus on each race and control what I can control.”

So far, six Russian cross-country skiers have been banned from future Olympics as a result of the probe by an IOC disciplinary panel. The cases against the Russians were built on evidence of a state doping conspiracy detailed last year by World Anti-Doping Agency investigator Richard McLaren.

“More hearings concerning other athletes will be held over the next few weeks,” the IOC said Thursday.

All hearings will be completed by the end of November, the IOC said, and a decision is expected in early December regarding whether Russian athletes will be allowed to enter this winter’s PyeongChang Olympics.

Uhlaender was ninth on Thursday at Mount Van Hoevenberg, a less-than-ideal result especially considering the Americans hoped to have a home-track edge in Lake Placid. Nikitina is still eligible to compete and was fourth on Thursday.

“This year’s been really tough in general,” Uhlaender said, tears running slowly down her face. “Losing Holcomb, I’ve been having mini-panic attacks since he’s not here. Whenever I have a race freak-out, I would find him or text him and get an extra boost. This was the first race I had to go without that. I know what he’d say — that I can’t lose twice, and I have to represent my country by doing the right thing.”

Canada’s Elisabeth Vathje, Thursday’s silver medalist, said the waiting isn’t easy for anyone in sliding — including the probe’s targets.

“It’s a terrible situation and that it’s state-sponsored makes it even more difficult,” Vathje said. “I don’t know what those girls were told they needed or couldn’t do. We don’t know the whole story, and that’s really hard. I’m friends with the Russians. They’re lovely people. And it’s really hard to see them struggling.”

The three principal sliders still under investigation related to what is alleged to have happened in Sochi are double-gold-winning bobsledder Alexander Zubkov, men’s skeleton gold medalist Alexander Tretiyakov and Nikitina.

Zubkov is retired and is president of the Russia Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation. Tretyakov is scheduled to race in the men’s skeleton season opener Friday.

If Zubkov is disqualified, the top U.S. sleds in the two- and four-man events — both driven by Holcomb, with the two-man pushed by Steven Langton and the four-man pushed by Langton, Curt Tomasevicz and Chris Fogt — could move from bronze to silver.

If Tretiyakov loses his medal, Matt Antoine of the U.S. could go from bronze to silver. And if Nikitina loses her medal, Uhlaender could move to third.

“I definitely think something has to be done,” Uhlaender said. “Is there doping control in Russia? Do they believe that testing in the offseason should be done? Just because they’re not doping in the season, that doesn’t mean it’s OK in the offseason. I’m a clean athlete and I’m going to keep representing clean athletes. I don’t know what else to say.”

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