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= BEIJING 2022 =
From Lane One
Russian star Kamila Valieva leads the women’s figure skating competition after an impressive Short Program, in an event where the International Olympic Committee has decided there will be no medal ceremony if she earns one.
“We had to balance between the situation of the athlete, which has been authorized to continue to compete, and the interest of the other teams, who deserve a dignified ceremony. The decision was difficult to make because we fully understand that it’s difficult for the athlete not to have their ceremony, but there will be ways to restore the situation at a later stage.
“The damage for them is not irreparable, even if we fully understand that it’s not exactly the same if you get tour medal at the Games or later on. But the IOC decided to make every effort to have a very special ceremony for these teams when we know what kind of medal they will get.
“The message is that we want to allocate the medals to the right person.”
That message was from long-time IOC member Denis Oswald (SUI) – elected in 1991 – during Tuesday’s news conference in Beijing, as the dominant topic was once again the participation of 15-year-old Valieva in the women’s competition after she had a positive doping test in December.
Following the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s decision on Monday to allow her to participate, the IOC Executive Board announced that no medal ceremony would be held for the Team Event, in which she played a key role in the Russian victory.
Oswald, a central figure in the IOC’s disciplinary committee that considered athlete suspensions and removal of medals after the massive Russian doping effort for the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, explained the current situation as the IOC sees it:
● “Apparently the main element [in the Court’s decision] was the fact that if the athlete were to be suspended, she would not be able to participate in the Games and the damage for her would be irreparable, whereas if she competes, even if she gets the gold in the individual competition, the medal could always be withdrawn.”
● “We don’t have a decision on the merits. The “B” sample has not yet even been examined by the laboratory.”
● “It is also mainly on WADA to examine all aspects of this case, including the situation of the entourage of the girl because, of course, you can imagine a girl of 15 would not do something wrong alone. So, yes, the entourage will be investigated.”
Oswald later told reporters that “Her argument was this contamination happened with a product her grandfather was taking.”
He also sympathized with the American and Japanese teams that finished 2-3 in the Team Event:
“We fully understand the situation of the teams classified second and third, but you must understand that it would be very difficult to allocate medals based on a situation which is not final, because there was a fair chance that you would not give the right medal to the right team.
“And it’s why we decided – it’s wiser until we have clarity on the case – not to attribute medals.”
Oswald was asked to compare today’s issue with the massive, state-sponsored Sochi doping scandal:
“We don’t have the details of the current case; my impression from what I have seen and heard, is that there is no connection with the institutionalized doping we had in Sochi. It seems to be a totally different case.”
He was also pointedly asked how athletes can be confident in competing in a clean Games under the current circumstances; he noted:
“It’s very easy to criticize without knowing the situation. We try to do our best to apply the principle of justice, due process, respect the law, and OK, it’s part of our job to be criticized; that’s quite normal nowadays. …
“We have to weigh the interests of all the parties concerned; we respect also the disappointment of the athletes who are not going to have their ceremony at these Games, but we had to balance the two things. And the way we did it, we felt, in the most appropriate way.”
Oswald also made a point that IOC President Thomas Bach has repeatedly emphasized: “We cannot punish clean athletes, even if they are Russians.”
IOC spokesman Mark Adams (GBR) added:
“As a general comment, we are all wanting to see the end of doping. I’m afraid wherever people organize themselves, there is always cheating, and that can happen in any walk of life. So, I don’t ever think it will be done away with, but we have sympathy, we want to see clean sport and that’s why we’ve taken the actions that we have over the years to see clean sport prosper.”
The Russian news agency TASS reported a statement from the Russian Anti-Doping Agency from Monday that included:
“The athlete’s sample collected on December 25, 2021 was delivered to the [Stockholm] laboratory in due time enough for analysis in standard timeframes upon the expiration of terms envisaged by the international standards. The laboratory informed the agency about delays in analysis and reporting due to another coronavirus wave and incidence growth among its employees and the quarantine rules. However, the laboratory promised that the results would be ready by late January 2022, i.e. before the beginning of the Olympic Games in Beijing. The laboratory also informed that the analysis will be done as a matter of priority, but the report about the unfavorable analysis result was provided on February 7, 2022.”
So now the finger is pointed at the Stockholm lab. No doubt, more details to come.
Senior IOC member Richard W. Pound of Canada, who was also the first World Anti-Doping Agency President, told Reuters last Saturday that the Valieva case raises questions once again about Russia and doping:
“At a certain point if they are absolutely incorrigible you end up with the position of take a country timeout. We could say we can help you. You got a problem. We can concentrate on it. Take a time out for one or two, or three Olympic Games until you get this under control.
“The Russians don’t help themselves because they have been absolutely unrepentant. They won’t admit anything, they appeal every single decision. I think the approach probably has been too lenient to allow them to compete as the Russian Olympic Committee.”
If you want to see some outrage over the Valieva case, check out star U.S. sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson’s Twitter page.
Richardson won the U.S. Olympic Trials in the women’s 100 m last June and was a medal favorite for Tokyo, but was suspended for a month – missing the Games – for smoking marijuana. Among the entries:
● “Can we get a solid answer on the difference of her situation and mines? My mother died and I can’t run and was also favored to place top 3. The only difference I see is I’m a black young lady.”
● “Failed in December and the world just now know however my resulted was posted within a week and my name & talent was slaughtered to the people.”
● “Not one BLACK athlete has been about to compete with a case going on, I don’t care what they say!!!”
Richardson’s comments are fairly calm compared to some of the replies and re-tweets.
The difference, of course, was that Richardson’s test was administered by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which returned a doping positive after completing the required processes. No one knows what Valieva’s status really is, since the process – overseen by the Russian Anti-Doping Agency – of analyzing her sample has not been completed as yet.
Tuesday’s briefing focused on the IOC’s Olympic Solidarity program, which will spend $590 million in the 2021-24 on support for athletes and National Olympic Committees for sport development.
Some $17.5 million has been specifically invested in athlete preparations for the 2022 Winter Games through Olympic Scholarships of 429 athletes from 80 National Olympic Committees. A total of 236 of these scholarship athletes (139 men and 97 women) qualified for the Beijing Games (from 67 NOCs), and have won a total of seven medals so far.
Asked about the eligibility for the program, Olivier Niamkey (SUI), the IOC’s Associate Director of Olympic Solidarity, explained, “The selection criteria is very simple … any athletes with a realistic chance to qualify for the next Olympic Games is eligible for the program.”
There were no Coke bottles on the dais on Tuesday; water only.
The Olympic Covid incidence report for 14 February had just one total positive, with none at the airport (23 total arrivals) and none among athletes and coaches in the closed loop. There was one positive in the closed loop among 63,776 tests of other stakeholder.
The totals now show 183 total positives (arrivals and inside the closed loop) among athletes and team officials and 322 among all other stakeholders since the closed loop began operations on 4 January.
The U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee reported Tuesday that there were no new cases among the 521 delegates in Beijing. The number currently isolated is still one athlete.
NBC got the massive Olympics ratings boost it had been hoping for from the Super Bowl with a primetime audience of 24.0 million viewers for Sunday’s post-Super Bowl program.
That’s the largest since the opening of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games (28.3 million), but still pales to the staggering 112.3 million average total audience (English/NBC and Spanish/Telemundo, plus streaming) for the Super Bowl itself. The Rams-Bengals Super Bowl was estimated to have been watched, in some format for some period of time, by 167 million viewers.
NBC has not announced audience figures for Friday or Saturday, but Nielsen reports have come in, so the scoreboard to date:
● 3 Feb.: 7.235 million TV only (8.0M total audience per NBC)
● 4 Feb.: 10.758 million TV only (12.8M total audience per NBC)
● 5 Feb.: 10.146 million TV only (13.6M total audience per NBC)
● 6 Feb.: 10.999 million TV only (13.7M total audience per NBC)
● 7 Feb.: 8.448 million TV only (11.6M total audience per NBC)
● 8 Feb.: 8.348 million TV only (11.0M total audience per NBC)
● 9 Feb.: 9.787 million TV only (12.0M total audience per NBC)
● 10 Feb.: 11.088 million TV only (13.2M total audience per NBC)
● 11 Feb.: 8.571 million TV only (no NBC report; 10.7M TSX estimate)
● 12 Feb.: 8.243 million TV only (no NBC report; 10.3M TSX estimate)
● 13 Feb.: 21.277 million TV only (24.0M total audience per NBC)
● 2018: 17.8 million NBC-only primetime average (19.8M total audience average)
● 2014: 21.3 million NBC-only primetime average
Using our estimates for the two missing days, the first 10 days of the Games (not counting the pre-Games telecast), had an average primetime total audience of 13.3 million.
That’s down 33% from the nightly average of 19.8 million for the PyeongChang Games in 2018 and down from the 15.1 million nightly primetime average for the Tokyo Games last summer.
A media conference call held last Thursday offered some insights into NBC’s view of the Games so far:
● NBC Sports Group Chair Pete Bevacqua: “For us it’s been difficult. There’s no way around this. To bring these Games to life with all of the different hurdles that have come our way has been a challenge, but we a certainly have the right quarterback in Molly Solomon who you’re going to hear from shortly, and the job that Mike Tirico has done in Tokyo, now in Beijing, soon with the Super Bowl in LA, is really impressive to say the least, and I think he’s at the top of his game.”
● Bevacqua: “I would tell you, ratings, they are about where we thought they would be in terms of our estimates … Obviously linear ratings are down across the board, but we have been satisfied in terms of what we expected, and we also have been very pleased with the performance of Peacock and the streaming numbers have really been off the charts for us.”
● Molly Solomon, Executive Producer & President, NBC Olympics Production: “We’ve kept our commitment to produce storylines that document all of the triumphs and setbacks of Team USA and other key aspects of the game, and we did not shy away from our responsibility to place these Games in the proper geopolitical context as evidenced by our strong analysis during the Opening Ceremonies.”
Solomon further explained that NBC has a quite modest total of 600 people in Beijing, but 1,600 at the NBC production hub in Stamford, Connecticut. And she explained the amazing technology in place – from NBC, the IOC and using facilities provided by IOC sponsor Alibaba – that make the remote production program possible:
“We have 203 HD feeds coming from China to our NBC Sports headquarters, and we’ve got 101 feeds going back to our [International Broadcast Center studio] and our venues in China” and “the figure skating announcers and pictures travel under the Pacific Ocean three times in order to get on the air, so that’s 20,000 miles in seven tenths of a second.”
Another good day for Norway, which now leads the medal table with 26 (12-7-7), with Russia at 20 (4-7-9) and Germany moving up to third at 18 (9-6-3).
The U.S. (7-6-4) is tied with Canada (2-4-11) for fourth with 17. Austria is next with 16 and then Japan with 14. China is up to 12 medals overall (6-4-2), its best-ever Winter Games haul, eclipsing the 11 from 2006 and 2010; the six golds is also a record (prior: 5 in 2010).
For a better comparison of team strength, here are our TSX scoring rankings, using the top eight places, via the time-honored U.S. scoring of 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1. So after 78 of 109 events:
1. 306, Norway
2. 255, Russia
3. 252, Germany
4. 243, United States
5. 229, Austria
6. 205, Canada
7. 174, Italy
8. 164, Netherlands
9. 159, Japan
10. 148, China
11. 144, Sweden
12. 132, France
Russia has a total of 57 placements in the top eight so far, to 56 or Norway and 53 for the U.S.
~ Rich Perelman
= RESULTS: TUE., 15 FEBRUARY =
● Alpine Skiing: Women’s Downhill
Corinne Suter, the reigning World Champion in the women’s Downhill, conquered the field on Tuesday to complete a Swiss sweep of the most famous race in skiing at the Beijing Games.
Swiss star Beat Feuz had won the men’s Downhill and Suter joined with a fast start and the fastest finish in the field to dethrone Italy’s defending champion, Sofia Goggia, 1:31.87-1:32.03.
Italian Elena Curtoni was first out of the gate and skied beautifully, timing 1:32.87, a time not surpassed until the no. 11 starter, fellow Italian Nadia Delago, 23, who entered having never won even a World Cup medal.
But she finished in 1:32.44 and took the lead. American Mikaela Shiffrin was next, but did not challenge the leaders at 1:34.36 and ended up 18th. Goggia went next and gained speed down the course, finally streaming to the line in first place, heading a possible Italian 1-2-3!
The Sochi champion, Ilka Stuhec (SLO) skied next, but was not in contention; she finished 22nd. That brought up Suter, who had a World Cup Downhill win earlier in the year, who started well and was ahead of Goggia’s pace by the second of four intermediate splits and gained the critical speed at the finish to cross in 1:32.87 and take the gold medal.
Of course, Suter had to wait for all 31 skiers to finish; Czech miracle woman Ester Ledecka – the surprise Super-G winner in 2018 – finished 27th. German contender Kira Weidle, starting 17th, skied very well and crossed in 1:32.58 for fourth, moving Curtoni to her final position in fifth.
Keely Cashman finished in 1:34.13 in 17th as the top American, followed by Shiffrin in 18th.
● Biathlon: Men’s Relay
Norway’s Johannes Thingnes Boe and Vetle Christiansen came from 1:48 down in the final two legs to run away with the victory in the men’s relay, defeating France by 27.4 seconds, 1:19:50.2-1:20:17.6.
The leaders through the first three legs was Russia, with Said Khalili and Alexander Loginov recording the fastest first and second legs in the field, and forging a 33-second lead for Maxim Tsvetkov. He then turned in the fastest third leg and gave anchor Eduard Latypov – the Pursuit bronze medalist – a 41-second lead. But Latypov suffered five shooting penalties and was passed by a sprinting Christiansen and double Beijing gold medalist Quentin Fillon Maillet of France.
The Norwegians fell way behind after the second leg, with star J.T. Boe starting in sixth place, 1:47 behind the Russians. But Boe worked his way through the course, had the fastest third leg in the field and sent Christiansen off in third, just 1.7 seconds behind the French in second.
Christiansen had the fastest time in the field on his leg and crossed with a stunning victory, having nearly a half-minute on Fillon Maillet and 45.3 seconds on the Russians for third (1:20:35.5).
Germany was another 19 seconds back in fourth (1:20:54.5); the U.S. finished 13th in 1:25:33.0.
It was Norway’s first Olympic win in this race since 2010. Fillon Maillet has now won medals in all four men’s Biathlon events, with the Mass Start still to go.
● Bobsled: Two-Man
German dominance was confirmed, not just by Francesco Friedrich, who won his third Olympic gold medal across two Games, but by the first-ever medals sweep by one country in this sport.
Friedrich, with Thorsten Margis, set a track record of 58.99 on the third run and finished in 3:56.89 to defend his PyeongChang victory. That was 0.49 better than Johannes Lochner, with Florian Bauer (3:57.38) and 1.69 seconds up on surprising Christoph Hafer (with Matthias Sommer).
Hafer stood only sixth after the first two runs, but had the third-fastest runs in both the third and fourth rounds – behind Friedrich and Lochner, of course – and zipped up to the bronze medal in 3:58.58, 0.25 seconds ahead of equally-surprising Michael Vogt of Switzerland (3:58.83).
Just as stunning was the sixth-place finish for Monaco’s Rudy Rinaldi and Boris Vain; the pair had finished 19th at PyeongChang in 2018. Monaco had famously had Albert Grimaldi, now head of state as Prince Albert II, as a bobsledder in five Games, with a best finish of 25th in the Two-Man in Calgary in 1988.
All of the other favorites had at least one disastrous run; Russia’s Rostislav Gaitiukevich and Aleksei Laptev.
The top U.S. sled was Frank Del Duca with Hakeem Abdul-Saboor, in 13th (4:00.10).
● Freestyle Skiing: Women’s Slopestyle
Swiss star Mathilde Gremaud, the 2018 Olympic silver medalist and 2021 Worlds silver medalist in this event, was the first to start, scoring 1.1 points on her opening run. One and one-tenth, for last place.
But her second jump was a sturdy 86.56 and put her into the lead over Estonia’s 19-year-old Kelly Sildaru and they stayed 1-2 right into the third round. Chinese star Eileen Gu, the Big Air winner, managed 69.90 on a safe first run and just 16.98 on her second and was sitting in eighth place.
But Gu, the 2021 World Champion, came up big with a final-round 86.23 to zoom up to second, but that was as far as she could go, and scored her second medal of the Beijing Games.
Only those three managed scores above 80 points; Sildaru had the last jump of the event and scored 78.75, remaining with the bronze.
So Gu now has a gold and a silver, with the Halfpipe still to go, where she was the 2021 World Champion as well. Gremaud claimed her third career Olympic medal – a Big Air bronze in Beijing to go along with her 2028 silver in Slopestyle – and teen Sildaru got her first Olympic medal just two years after winning at the Winter Youth Olympic Games.
U.S. vet Maggie Voisin was the American, finishing fifth at 74.28, as Marin Hamill did not start.
● Nordic Combined: Individual Large Hill (140 m)
Norway’s Jorgen Graabak started the 10 km cross-country segment some 2:07 behind jumping leader – and teammate – Jarl Magnus Riiber, but skied to the fastest time in the field to win the Large Hill gold in 27:13.3 and his second gold medal in the event in the last three Games.
Riiber, the dominant force in the sport the last three years, had been in Covid quarantine and released only on Monday. But he somehow won the jumping segment and started the skiing with a 44-second lead over Estonia’s Kristjian Ilves.
Even with a wrong turn at the end of the first loop, Riiber was in second position through three-quarters of the race, but faded badly on the last loop and finished eighth.
Up front, Ilves also faded and the third Norwegian, Jens Oftebro, came from 1:47 down to start the skiing all the way up to second place and was part of a three-way sprint to the end with Graabak and Japan’s former World Cup winner, Akito Watabe.
Greebak crossed first, with Oftebro just 0.4 back and Watabe 0.6 back in 27:13.3-27:13.7-27:13.9.
Watabe, a silver medalist in the Normal Hill event in 2014 and 2018, was only fifth in the jumping, but persevered and was rewarded with the bronze medal. Fourth was German Manuel Faist, who finished in 26:16.6, some 3.3 seconds back of the winner.
It’s Graabak’s third Olympic gold, after his 2014 Sochi and a 2014 gold in the Team event.
The top American finisher was Jared Shumate in 17th.
● Snowboard: Men’s Big Air
China’s other teen sensation on snow – besides Gu – is the 17-year-old Yuming Su, who almost won the Slopestyle competition in Beijing, but had to settle for silver.
He was even better in Big Air, leading the qualifying at 92.50 and set up as the last jumper in the order. He popped into second place with his first-round mark of 89.50, behind only American Chris Corning’s terrific 92.00 run.
The combined best two scores count in Big Air and where Corning fell on his second run, Canada’s Max Parrot – the Slopestyle gold medalist – zoomed to a 94.00 run, followed immediately by Japan’s Takeru Otsuka, who got the biggest mark of the day at 95.00.
But Su was just as stoked and completed an impressive run that was rewarded with a 93.00 and a combined total of 182.50 and the lead.
That was going to be hard to catch in the third round and no one could. Parrot scored a good 76.25 to total 170.25 and move into second, but was passed by Norway’s Mons Roisland on the next-to-last-jump of the competition. Roisland, who finished 12th at the Pyeongchang Slopestyle event, at 171.75, combined an 89.25 first-round score with 82.50 in the third round to win the silver medal.
Su had the victory in hand on his last run and cruised in to enjoy his second medal of the Games and his first gold.
Corning could manage no better than a 64.00 in the last round to end up seventh with 156.00. Red Gerard was the top American, totaling 165.75 for fifth.
● Snowboard: Women’s Big Air
Going into the final round, the medal winners looked pretty well set.
Only three riders had managed scores of 90 points or more, with Kokomo Murase scoring 80.00-91.50 (171.50) for third and a 5.25-point lead over teammate Reira Iwabuchi (83.75-82.25: 166.00).
The top two were New Zealand’s Zoi Sadowski Synnott, the Slopestyle champ in Beijing, sitting at 177.0 after a 93.25 and 83.75, but only a quarter-point up on defending champ Anna Gasser, with a 90.00 and 86.75 (176.75).
Iwabuchi was the ninth of 12 to go in the last round and a fall meant she was going to stay in fourth place. Murase also fell and settled for the bronze. Now came Gasser, who completed a near-perfect run and scored a sensational 95.00 to move into the lead with a two-score total of 185.50.
That means that Sadowski Synnott had to score 92.25 to share the gold or 92.50 to win outright. She fell, scoring only 30.25 and took home the silver, her third career Olympic medal. With the Slopestyle gold and a Slopestyle bronze from 2018, she now has a full medal set.
Gasser has now won both editions of the Big Air in the Games and her final-round victory was all the more impressive as only four of the 12 finalists were able to finish their runs and she was the only one to score 75.00 or higher.
American Hailey Langland had trouble on all three runs and finished 12th.
● Speed Skating: Men’s Team Pursuit
Defending champion Norway got better with each round, winning its heat by 0.04 seconds, its semi by 1.34 seconds and the final by 2.38 seconds to win the men’s Pursuit once again.
Hallgeir Engebraten, Peder Kongshaug and returning gold medalist Sverre Lunde Pedersen had to get by Russia in the final, which had set an Olympic Record of 3:36.62 in the semi to defeat the U.S.
But the Norwegians took the lead from the start and never let up, building their advantage consistently to the finish, 3:38.08-3:40.46.
The U.S. team of Casey Dawson, Emery Lehman and Joey Mantia throttled the Netherlands in the bronze-medal final, 3:38.81-3:41.62. However, Ethan Cepuran – not Mantia, a three-time World Champion in the Mass Start – skated in the semifinal. Their time of 3:37.05 was great, but not enough with an Olympic Record ahead of them.
But it’s a medal for the U.S., the first for the men and the second at the Games, where podium places have been very hard to come by … and more opportunities to come. It was the first U.S. medal in this event since 2010.
● Speed Skating: Women’s Team Pursuit
Canada’s Ivanie Blondin, Valerie Maltais and Isabelle Weidemann set an Olympic Record of 2:53.44 in the final to rout defending champion Japan and won the country’s first gold in the women’s Pursuit.
While the Japanese trio of Miho and Nana Takagi and Ayano Sato had the top time in the quarterfinals, the Canadians were close. And in the semis, Canada stormed past the Netherlands with the best time in the round by almost four seconds.
The final wasn’t close and Japan settled for silver, 2:53.44-3:04.47. The Dutch were third in 2:56.86, ahead of Russia’s 2:58.66.
● Curling: The U.S. men’s team, skipped by John Shuster, went 1-1 on Tuesday, defeating the Swiss, 7-4, but losing to Italy, 10-4. That leaves them at 4-4, technically in fourth place for the moment (the top four advance to the playoffs).
The U.S. has one match to play against Denmark (1-6). Sweden (Niklas Edin) continues to lead the round-robin at 7-1 with Great Britain (Bruce Mouat: 6-1) both already in the playoffs.
Tabitha Peterson’s U.S. women’s squad lost to World Champion Switzerland, 9-6, on Tuesday to fall to 4-3, in a three-way tie for third, but technically in fourth place for the moment.
The Swiss, skipped by Silvana Tirinzoni, remain at the top of the standings at 6-1, with two matches to go. The U.S. still has to face so-far-disappointing Canada (3-3) and then Japan (also 4-3) in their final match.
● Figure Skating/Women’s Short Program: After all the furor about Kamila Valieva’s doping status, the 15-year-old competed impressively under pressure, posting the top score at 82.16, ahead of teammate (and 2021 World Champion) Anna Shcherbakova (80.20) and Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto (79.84).
There was a big drop-off from those three, with Alexandra Trusova – the 2021 Worlds bronze medalist – fourth at 74.60 and then Japan’s Wakaba Higuchi – the 2018 Worlds silver medalist – at 73.51.
Valieva’s score was way down from the 2022 European Championships, where she scored an astonishing 90.45 in the Short Program, with Trusova third at 75.13 and Shcherbakova fourth at 69.05. But all three were sensational in the Free Skate and ended up sweeping the medals.
Sakamoto was the 2018 Four Continents winner and sixth in PyeongChang and was first and fourth in her ISU Grand Prix appearances this season. At 21, she’s six years the senior of Valieva and four years older than Shcherbakova and Trusova, And has nowhere near the pressure that the Russians are feeling from the doping questions about Valieva.
The U.S. stood 8-11-13 after the Short, with Alysa Liu (69.50), Mariah Bell (65.38) and Karen Chen (64.11).
If Valieva is a medal winner, the IOC has already announced that there will be no awards ceremony, awaiting the outcome of a decision on her doping positive from December. The Free Skate will be on the 17th.
● Ice Hockey: The men’s playoff qualification round was completed, with Slovakia defeating Germany, 4-0, to advance to the quarters against the undefeated U.S. team on Wednesday.
Canada crushed China, 7-2, and will play Sweden in the quarterfinals, with the winner to face the winner of the U.S.-Slovakia match,
In the lower half of the bracket, the Swiss defeated the Czech Republic, 4-2, and will play Finland, the winner of Group C. Denmark edged Latvia, 3-2, and will play Russia.
= PREVIEWS: WED., 16 FEBRUARY =
(8 events across 5 disciplines)
● Alpine Skiing: Men’s Slalom
Almost impossible to pick a favorite, as the six World Cup races had six different winners!
The 2021 World Champion, Norway’s Sebastian Foss-Solevag, won one race, but teammate Lucas Braathen won two medals (1-1-0), as did Germany’s Linus Strasser (1-0-1), Swede Kristoffer Jakobsen (0-1-1) and Austria’s Manuel Feller (0-1-1).
Veteran Norwegian Slalom star Henrik Kristoffersen, who has 19 career World Cup Slalom wins (and was the 2014 Olympic bronze medalist), won just one World Cup bronze this season, but must be considered dangerous.
And what about the surprise of the season, Britain’s Dave Ryding, who won Britain’s first-ever World Cup race in January?
Add in French stars Clement Noel (1-0-0 this season; fourth in 2018) and Alexis Pinturault, a three-time World Cup Slalom winner in his career, and it’s anyone guess.
One possibility: Austria’s Johannes Strolz won the Alpine Combined gold and had the best Slalom time, followed by Israel’s Barnabas Szollos second (sixth overall) and Swiss Justin Murisier third (fourth overall).
● Biathlon: Women’s 4×6 km Relay
There have been three different winners in the last three Games – Russia in 2010, Ukraine in 2014 and Belarus in 2018 – and three different winners in the four World Cup relays held this season.
But France looks like the favorite, with two World Cup wins and two thirds, with the wins from Anais Bescond, Julia Simon, Anais Chevalier-Bouchet and Justine Braisaz-Bouchet.
Norway’s Marte Olsbu Roeiseland has won two events and medaled in a third in Beijing, and she was a member of the 2021 World Champions in this event, with Tirill Eckhoff, Ida Lien and Ingrid Tandrevold (who collapsed from exhaustion at the end of Sunday’s pursuit race, but was recovering well later).
Sweden won one race and medals from two others, led by the Oeberg sisters, and Russia won two medals and Belarus, one. Those five countries won all 12 medals on the World Cup circuit and figure to fight for the podium in Beijing.
Based on the results so far in Beijing, France, Norway and Sweden look like the primary medal contenders.
● Cross Country Skiing: Men’s Team Sprint ~ Women’s Team Sprint
Norway’s Erik Valnes and Johannes Hoesflot Klaebo are the reigning World Champions and as Klaebo won the Sprint in Beijing already, they are the favorites in the Classical Sprint team event. Klaebo was one-half of the 2018 Olympic-winning pair.
They have clear challengers: Russia was the 2018 silver winners and their team of Alexander Bolshunov and Denis Spitsov are back, or they could use Beijing Sprint finalists Alexander Terentyev and Artem Maltsev. PyeongChang bronze medalists France have Richard Jouve and Maurice Manificat returning, with Lucas Chanavat a possibility as well.
Beyond these three, check for Finland with Joni Maki a Sprint finalist in 2022, and Italy, with Federico Pellegrino as the lead leg.
The women’s Team Sprint was famously won by Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins of the U.S. in 2018, the first-ever U.S. win in Olympic Cross Country and the first medal in the sport for American women.
That was a Freestyle race, which favored the U.S., with the 2022 event in Classical style, where the Americans are not as strong. Randall is retired, but Diggins and either Rosie Brennan or Julia Kern will put up a considerable fight for another medal … and are quite capable.
The favorite, however, is Sweden, which was second by an eyelash to the U.S. in PyeongChang, but has proven Classical-style stars in Maja Dahlqvist, Johanna Hagstrom, and Freestyle gold medalist Jonna Sundling. Norway will, of course, be a contender with Maiken Caspersen Falla and perhaps Tiril Weng, as will Finland with Johanna Matintalo and 10 km Classical silver winner Kerttu Niskanen.
One more: Russia has World Cup leader Natalya Nepryaeva as half of its team, with a gold and a silver so far and could team well with Yulia Stupak or Veronika Stepanova.
● Freestyle Skiing: Men’s Aerials ~ Men’s Slopestyle
Only three countries have won medals in the Freestyle Big Air World events held this season: Russia, China and Switzerland.
The season started with four straight wins for Russia’s 2021 World Champion, Maxim Burov, but that’s the last we saw of him. But he’s in the field, along with older brother Ilia, the 2018 PyeongChang bronze medalist and veteran Stanislav Nikitin.
China’s Jiaxu Sun and Xindi Wang followed as winners of the last two World Cups and were joined on the podium by minor medalists Zongyang Jia (two medals, also the 2018 silver medalist), Longxiao Yang (2) and Guangpu Xi (1).
The Swiss got medals from Noe Roth (3), Pirmin Werner (2) and Nicolas Gygax; all three are entered. So is defending Olympic champ Oleksandr Abramenko, who hasn’t been heard from for a while.
The U.S. has two quality entries in Chris Lillis and Justin Schoenefeld, who made up two-thirds of the gold medal-winning Team Aerials. Lillis was the 2021 World Championships Aerials silver winner and Schoenefeld a World Cup medalist in seasons past.
Maxim Burov dominated the first half of this season and has to be the favorite, but is he in form?
Beijing will be the third edition of men’s Slopestyle in the Games, with all three medal winners from the earlier Big Air event all contenders for more hardware: winner Birk Ruud (NOR), runner-up Colby Stevenson of the U.S. and bronze medalist Henrik Harlaut (SWE).
Ruud was the Worlds Slopestyle silver winner in 2019, Stevenson won the 2021 Worlds Slopestyle silver and Harlaut was a 2021-22 World Cup medalist.
Stevenson was the most successful on the World Cup circuit last season, winning two of three events, but didn’t medal this season. Three more American contenders are in the field: Nick Goepper, 2014 bronze medalist and runner-up in 2018; Alex Hall, who won one of the three World Cups this season and took the 2021 Worlds bronze medal, and Mac Forehand, 11th in the Big Air final.
Current World Champion Andri Ragettli of Switzerland won one World Cup in each of the last two years and is going to be a factor.
Canada had three World Cup medal winners this season and all are entered: Max Moffatt, Evan McEachran and Edouard Therriault. New Zealand’s Ben Barclay also won one World Cup medal: a silver.
Goepper of the U.S., now 27, has the benefit of being in his third Winter Games, and with a win, would complete a full set of medals in the event. But Ruud and Stevenson were both in hot form in Big Air and have to be the favorites, along with Ragettli.
● Short Track: Men’s 5,000 m Relay ~ Women’s 1,500 m
Four of the five finalists won World Cup medals this season. Canada won two of the four World Cups held in this event in 2021-22 and was second in another to earn the favorite’s tag going in.
But South Korea also won two medals (1-1-0), and won the second semifinal in the fastest time of the day (the Canadians won semi one).
While China won a World Cup one silver and Italy a bronze, the Russian quartet also figures to be a strong contender.
In the end, it may be a sensational end of the race with Steve Dubois of Canada, Dae-heon Hwang (KOR), China’s Ziwei Ren and either Konstantin Iliev or Semen Elistratov of Russia – all Beijing medal winners – on the ice for the medals. Tactics and speed are key; perhaps Dubois and Ren are best positioned?
The final event of the Beijing Short Track program will be the women’s 1,500 m with Dutch star Suzanne Schulting looking to win a medal in all four events. She won the 1,000 m, was second in the 500 m and on the winning relay team.
During the World Cup season, Schulting won twice and was third once, losing to Korea’s Yu-bin Lee, who won the other two races. The third multi-medal winner was Canada’s Courtney Sauralt, who took two silvers and a bronze.
Italy’s Arianna Fontana – the 500 m winner and all-time leader in Olympic Short Track medals with 10 – and American Kristen Santos both got wiped out in a spill on the final lap of the 1,000 m with both in contention. Fontana, 31, would like to get a second Beijing medal while Santos, 27, who won a World Cup bronze in the season opener, wants to get her first Olympic medal after being a medal favorite in the 1,000 m and crashing out.
= BEYOND BEIJING =
● Athletics ● Uganda’s Halimah Nakaayi scored a world-leading 1:59.55 win in the women’s 800 m to highlight the Meeting l’Eure in Val-de-Reuil, France on Monday.
Poland’s Adam Kszczot, who announced his retirement a day earlier, was second in his final, running 2:19.14 in the men’s 1,000 m, behind Abdelati El Guesse (MAR: 218.79).
The U.S. saw wins from Michael Rodgers in the men’s 60 m (6.64), Jarret Eaton in the men’s 60 m hurdles (7.50) and Kayla White in the women’s 60 m (7.13).
More tickets will be made available for all sessions of the Oregon22 World Championships, beginning on 17 February (Thursday). More than 100,000 tickets have been sold so far.
● Modern Pentathlon ● The PentUnited athlete group tweeted on Tuesday a graphic showing an obstacle course race trial from a 2017 World Cup and stating “Now 5 years later, they want to try again” and asking:
“How were the 13 criteria for a 5th sport decided? They were not discussed at congress, and rule out most sports except one obvious choice. Are the UIPM listening 5th discipline discussions or is it just for show?”
● Swimming ● This is pretty wild: the Dutch swimming federation – known as the KNZB – has prohibited its swimmers from participating in the International Swimming League for 2022.
A letter sent to swimmers and officials was revealed on Twitter by Ben Van Rompuy, an Assistant Professor at Leiden University in the Netherlands, including:
“It considers that the recently announced match schedule for #ISL Season 4 overcrowds the national and international official sporting calendar. It also deems @iswimleague an unreliable partner for its members”
“In a letter they prohibit members from participating in @iswimleague in 2022. Swimmers that do participate can be disqualified from @fina1908 [European or World Championships] if the ‘Topsport’ Director deems that they failed to prepare full-time and ‘optimally’ due to such participation”
There are plenty of questions to follow, but one might be whether the “unreliable partner” reference has to do with unpaid bills for any of the seven matches held last season in Eindhoven, or late payments to any of the Dutch swimmers or coaches who were part of the ISL.
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