BEIJING 2022/Wednesday Review & Preview: Jacobellis scores sensational snowcross win; NBC ratings recede; Shiffrin skies out again

Snowboard Cross Olympic and World Champion Lindsey Jacobellis (USA)

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= BEIJING 2022 =
From Lane One

Wednesday’s news conference theme at the Beijing 2022 Main Media Center was sustainability, but in the course of describing the efforts of the International Olympic Committee and the organizing committee to create a carbon-neutral Games, there was an interesting insight into how future hosts cities will be selected.

Marie Sallois (SUI), the IOC’s Director, Corporate and Sustainable Development, was asked about reports that virtually none of the prior Winter Games hosts will be cold enough to host them again by the middle of the century. Her answer made perfect sense, but read it carefully:

“When we look at the future host, we take into account many different factors when we consider the future Olympic Games. First of all, we engage very early on in the discussion and you know now that we have a new process in which we are in permanent dialogue thanks to permanent Future Host Commission and as part of this dialogue, we look at different dimensions.

“So, geopolitical and economic factors, the vision of these territories to host the Games, sustainability and legacy, development plan to improve the region as well as meteorological data.

“And when we do that, we obviously make sure that, typically for Winter Games, the potential future host has sufficiently cold temperatures over a sufficiently long period of time.”

Was the first factor – “geopolitical and economic factors” – actually an implied statement of future intentions to stay away from autocracies? Sallois has no authority to say so, but to list it first, ahead of questions about venues, costs, sporting history and whether there is enthusiasm for the Games in the region, was noteworthy. Very noteworthy, and possibly revealing as the next Games will be held in Paris (2024), Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo (2026), Los Angeles (2028), likely either Sapporo or Salt Lake City (2030) and Brisbane (2032): all in democratic countries.

On the sustainability issue for Beijing 2022, Sen Li, the Director General of the General Planning Department of the organizing committee confirmed the goal of a carbon-neutral Games. He explained that in addition to using low-carbon venues – many reused from the 2008 Olympic Games – plus renewable energy, low-carbon transport and a low-carbon office, the organizers (per the interpreter) “also adopted carbon compensation methods such as a forestry carbon sink and donations of carbon credits from official partners.”

The forest project includes two planting sites covering about 198,500 acres in all, and as for the credits, the Beijing 2022 Pre-Games Sustainability Report noted “The three official partners of the Beijing 2022 Games, including PetroChina, the State Grid Corporation of China and the China Three Gorges Corporation” have assisted “in the realisation of the carbon neutrality goal of the Games.”

Sallois was asked if it carbon credits are a meaningful method of reaching carbon neutrality and she admitted that even with all of the reduction measures, some emissions will remain and they need to be compensated for.

A further question was posed as to how the use of artificial snow could be considered sustainable. Li explained in some detail that such snow is better for the athletes, as specific sports require specific qualities in snow for best performance (the same is true of ice). Further, the artificial snow produced for these Games use surface water (including melting snow) and the snow-making machinery uses renewable-source electricity, with no additives, but controlled by temperature and humidity to produce the desired texture.

The Beijing organizers were asked about the number of fans who have attended the Games and how many more will be invited; no answers were available.

A question was also raised about a delay in the Figure Skating Team Event awards ceremony, dealing with a “legal issue.” No word from the IOC or the International Skating Union yet, but a possible disqualification and an inevitable appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport are being predicted.

The Guardian (GBR) reported “The Winter Olympics medal ceremony for the figure skating team event was cancelled because of a Russian skater testing positive for a substance that was not performance enhancing.”

Longtime Olympic writer and figure skating expert Phil Hersh notes that the usual disclosure requirements on doping do not apply to “protected” persons, which includes athletes under 16. Russian women’s star Kamila Valieva, of course, is 15, and won both the Short Program and the Free Skate.

First announcement of a Beijing doping case, from the International Testing Agency, which reported that “an out-of-competition sample collected from Iranian alpine skier Hossein Saveh Shemshaki has returned an Adverse Analytical Finding for DHCMT metabolite.” That’s testosterone to the rest of us.

He has been suspended, but can appeal and can ask for an analysis of his second sample.

The Olympic Covid incidence report for 8 February was good again, with just five total positives reported: three at the airport and two (both athletes) inside the closed loop. That’s the lowest daily total reported yet since the soft opening of the Olympic Villages on 23 January.

The three airport positives came out of 205 arrivals (1.5%) and the two infections inside the closed loop were from athletes as part of 6,639 tests on Tuesday. There were no infections reports among all other stakeholders from 64,068 tests.

The totals now show 162 total positives (arrivals and inside the closed loop) among athletes and team officials and 308 among all other stakeholders since the closed loop began operations on 4 January.

The U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee reported Wednesday that there were no new cases among the 565 delegates in Beijing. The number currently isolated is down to three, with two athletes.

NBC’s reported a Monday primetime audience of 11.5 million, its lowest since the pre-Games coverage last Thursday, following total audiences of 12.8-13.6-13.7 million over the weekend.

For the first four days of the Games (not counting the pre-Games telecast), and subject to revision once all of the numbers come in, the average primetime total audience is 12.9 million. That is down 35% from the nightly average of 19.8 million for the PyeongChang Games in 2018 and down from the 15.1 million nightly average for the Tokyo Games last summer.

NBC also reported that its wall-to-wall coverage on USA Network averaged 1.6 million viewers per day on Saturday and Sunday.

Nielsen television-only ratings are starting to come in:

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)
2018: 17.8 million NBC-only primetime average (19.8M total audience average)
2014: 21.3 million NBC-only primetime average

The live Opening Ceremony coverage at 6:30 a.m. Eastern time on Friday drew 3.081 million and the Saturday and Sunday mid-day programs at 2:00 p.m. Eastern had 4.294 million and 4.536 million viewers.

By comparison, the NFL Pro Bowl exhibition on ABC and ESPN on Sunday afternoon (3 p.m. Eastern) drew a combined audience of 6.548 million and the NASCAR “Clash at the Coliseum” from Los Angeles on Sunday (6 p.m. Eastern) drew 4.283 million viewers.

The top Olympic cable audiences on USA were 2.633 million on Saturday afternoon (2 p.m.) and 2.493 million on Saturday evening (8 p.m.), and Sunday at 2 p.m. at 2.137 million.

Russia maintained its lead in the medal count with 11 total (2-3-6), with Norway (4-2-4) and Austria (2-4-4) at 10 each. Germany (5-3-0) and Canada (1-2-5) have eight; the U.S. (1-5-1) is one of five countries with seven.

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 37 of 109 events:

1. 127, Norway
2. 118, Austria and Germany
4. 117, Russia
5. 101, Canada
6. 97, United States
7. 85, Italy, Netherlands and Sweden
10. 66, France
11. 62, China and Japan

The International Olympic Committee has made a major push for gender equality under current chief Thomas Bach, and this emphasis – and the reasons for it – were underlined at a weekend news conference by IOC Sports Director Kit McConnell (NZL):

“In terms of the numbers, we’ve gone up from 41% in PyeongChang four years ago to 45% female participation here in Beijing. And that’s just not a statistic.

“Every female athlete that’s here has a ripple effect in terms of the investment in women’s sport in their respective countries, the International Federations of the new events investing more into the promotion of those women’s events, those women’s events having a higher profile and priority around World Cup and World Championship affects every single new event here, every single new quota for a female at the Games has even a wider impact outside the Games as well.”

More women’s events in the Games, more resources for women to reach to get to a future Games.

Monday’s Ski Jumping Mixed Team Event is drawing wider notice in the aftermath of five disqualifications of star women jumpers for not adhering to the regulations on the size of their jumping suits. The online report of the Federation Internationale de Ski included:

“Members of four top teams were disqualified because their suits were not compliant with the rules: Sara Takanashi (JPN), Daniela Iraschko-Stolz (AUT), Katharina Althaus (GER), and the two Norwegians Anna Odine Stroem and Silje Opseth. These disqualifications then became the main topic of the day. …

“The disqualifications were met with incomprehension by the affected teams, first and [foremost] Austria and Germany. Germany’s Karl Geiger said: “I don’t understand that three jumpers [sic] got disqualified. This is super weird.’”

The suits were too big according to the rules, potentially providing an advantage. The disqualification of Althaus kept Germany from advancing to the final, prevented fourth-place Japan from winning the silver and Norway from likely taking the bronze (Russia and Canada finished 2-3, behind Slovenia).

Said German team coach Stefan Horngacher, “For me, it is a puppet theater. The entire season the suits have been an issue. I am unbelievably angry and I don’t understand it.”

Reuters reported that Belarusian cross-country skier Darya Dolidovich, 17, and her family – including father Sergei, a six-time Olympian in the sport – have fled to Poland due to threats stemming from the father’s participation in widespread protests against the controversial August 2020 election of President Alexander Lukashenko.

Darya had her athlete registration with the Federation Internationale de Ski de-activated by the Belarus skiing federation, eliminating her ability to compete internationally.

This is another in a series of actions against athletes and others in Belarus by the authoritarian Lukashenko government, famously including the botched attempt to force sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya to return home from the Tokyo Games last year after she had criticized her coaches online. She enlisted the help of the Tokyo police at the airport and eventually also settled in Poland with her family.

The IOC has suspended some Belarusian officials, but not the National Olympic Committee, while it continues an investigation. Belarus has a 29-athlete team in Beijing.

One of the clear stars of the Games in China itself has been the panda mascot named Bing Dwen Dwen, whose image is just about everywhere, but souvenir items are hard to come by. Asked by a Chinese reporters during one of the daily news briefings, the Beijing 2022 spokeswomen suggested that production had been halted due to the Spring Festival, but that the factories would be revved up thereafter.

The Winter Paralympic Games have a different, all-red, lantern-style mascot named Shuey Rhon Rhon.

Let’s correct an error in yesterday’s review of the women’s Cross Country Sprint and Jessie Diggins’ first-ever individual women’s medal for the U.S. Thanks to reader Mike Harrigan for pointing out that Bill Koch was the U.S.’s 1976 medal winner (at 30 km), not Bill DeMong, the U.S.’s 2010 Nordic Combined gold medalist! This has been updated in the story online.
~ Rich Perelman


● Alpine Skiing: Women’s Slalom
It happened again.

The difficult Slalom course at the Yanqing National Alpine Skiing Centre took out 31 of the 88 competitors on the first run on Wednesday, including American star Mikaela Shiffrin and Giant Slalom fourth-placer Katharina Truppe of Austria.

Starting seventh, Shiffrin barely got started when she missed a gate and skied off the course, sat down near the fenceline and shook her head at being disqualified in her second race in a row in the 2022 Winter Games.

“I think I just slipped,” she said later. “I mean, I had every intention to go full gas, and there wasn’t really space in the course to, I don’t know, to slip even, not even a little. I didn’t give myself space for that.”

Clearly shocked, she said she was not sure if she would continue with the other events; next on the schedule is the Super-G on the 11th.

Germany’s Lena Duerr led the first run in 52.17, with Swiss Michelle Gisin 0.03 back and Giant Slalom winner Sara Hector (SWE) at 52.20. American Paula Moltzan stood sixth at 52.79, and Slovakian star Petra Vlhova – the favorite – in eighth at 52.89.

But the second run was a different story.

Vlhova let it all out and screamed through the course in the fastest time of the day – 52.09 – to zoom up to the top of the leaderboard … and then had to wait. She was followed by 2021 World Champion Katharina Liensberger, seventh after the first run, who also ripped through the course in 52.23, the third-fastest of the day and moved up to second.

Moltzan fell back with a 53.39 clocking that moved her back to eighth, but 2018 silver winner Wendy Holdener (SUI) also flew to a 52.45 time that moved her to the bronze medal position.

And none of the top four from the first run could match them. After Sweden’s Hector did not finish her second run, first-run leader Duerr had the last shot and looked for speed, but ended up with only the ninth-fastest of the second runs and her total of 1:45.17 left her fourth.

Vlhova won in 1:44.98, with Liensberger at 1:45.06 and Holdener at 1:45.10, just 0.12 separating the top three and Duerr 0.07 from a medal. Vlhova, 26, now has an Olympic Slalom gold to go with her 2019 Worlds Giant Slalom gold and Slovakia’s first-ever Alpine skiing medal!

In all, there were 50 finishers and 38 who didn’t make through both runs.

● Freestyle Skiing: Men’s Big Air
Norway’s Birk Ruud is only 21, but an exceptionally experienced skier, with three World Championships behind him and a silver medal in Slopestyle in 2019. So he was ready for his big moment in Beijing and nailed his first run, scoring 95.75 and challenging anyone to match him.

No one did. Canada’s Evan McEachren scored 93.00 for the second-best jump in the first round, but fell on his other two trials.

Ruud ended the suspense in round two with another superb run, scoring 92.00 for a 187.75 total that stood up for the gold medal. Behind him, Norway’s Christian Nummedal got into the mix with a 93.00 second-rounder and Americans Alex Hall and Colby Stevenson scored 92.50 and 91.75 and Swede Henrik Harlaut drilled a 90.00.

The all-important third round saw most of the contenders fall: McEachran, Nummedal and Hall. Stevenson came through with a 91.25 finale that moved him into second place (183.00) and Harlaut’s 91.00 gave him the bronze medal with a 181.00 total. All three of the medalists scored 90+ on two of their three runs and that’s what it took to get on the podium.

This was the first time that Big Air has been contested in the Games, and as Ruud had the event won by the time of his final trial, he celebrated by skiing with the Norwegian flag in his hands during his celebratory run.

Stevenson, 24, was the 2021 Worlds Slopestyle silver winner and moved up from 17th at the 2021 Worlds Big Air to collect his second major medal. Hall ended up eighth with falls on two of three attempts and Mac Forehand was 11th.

● Luge: Men’s Doubles
Germany’s Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt completed a three-peat after Olympic wins in Sochi and PyeongChang.

Not always the best in the World Cup season, Wendl and Arlt were convincing winners after setting a track record of 58.255 on their first run and winning the second run at 58.299 to total 1:56.554.

That was almost a tenth of a second faster than countrymen Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken, three-time World Champions, but second in both runs here (1:56.653) to move up to silver after winning bronze in 2018.

Third in both runs were Austria’s Thomas Steu and Lorenz Koller, five-time World Cup medalists this season, who finished in 1:57.065. The Latvian teams of Martins Bots and Roberts Plume (1:57.419) and brothers Andris and Juris Sics (1:57.437) were 4-5.

The American entry of Zachary Di Gregorio and Sean Hollander finished 11th.

● Nordic Combined: Gundersen Normal Hill (106 m)/10 km
A sprint to the finish of the 10 km race between Germany’s Vinzenz Geiger and Norway’s Jorgen Graabak ended with the Germans winning their third straight Olympic title in this event and fourth in the last five Games.

Everyone was behind Japan’s Ryota Yamamoto, who won the jumping portion, with Graabak started 1:16 behind and Geiger, 1:26. Both worked their way up through the pack and were in medal contention with 2 km remaining. They both passed Germany’s Johannes Rydzek and Austrian Lukas Greiderer, with seasonal leader Johannes Lamparter (AUT) close behind.

Nearing the finish, Geiger and Graabak broke free and raced to the finish, with Geiger crossing first in 25:07.7 to 25:08.5 for Graabak. It’s the first Olympic medal for both.

Greiderer held on to third in 25:14.3, with Lamparter fourth in 25:16.7 and Rydzek fifth.

It was the second straight bronze for Austria, with Lukas Klapfer taking third in 2018.

The top U.S. finisher was Ben Loomis in 15th (26:57.8).

● Short Track: Men’s 1,500 m
South Korea has dominated this event at the Games and Dae-heon Hwang – the 2018 silver medalist at 500 m – stepped to the top of the podium with a tight 2:09.219-2:09.254 win over Canada’s Steven Dubois, with Russian Semen Elistratov third in 2:09.267.

The top seven in the race all finished within one second of each and the three medalists all thought they had won. But Hwang did get across first, with Dubois’s thrust of a skate enough to get the silver.

Elistratov won the bronze for the second consecutive Games.

The Beijing 1,000 m winner Ziwei Ren of China and PyeongChang silver medalist Sjinkie Knegt were both disqualified in their semifinals.

Koreans have now won four of the six golds in the history of this event and four of the last five.

● Snowboard: Women’s Snowcross
American star Lindsey Jacobellis had been fairly quiet for most of this season. She skipped the first two World Cups, then competed in Cervinia in December (fourth), but then suddenly won bronze medals in two January events and at 36, was clearly going to be a contender in Beijing.

The five-time World Champion won her first-round match, won her quarterfinal, and impressively won her semifinal over 2014 Olympic bronze winner Chloe Trespeuch (FRA) and defending gold medalist Michela Moioli (ITA). She was, once again, in position to win.

Canada’s Meryeta Odine, who hadn’t won a World Cup medal since 2017, won the other semi in a shocker over Australian star Belle Brockhoff and both advanced to the final as well.

Jacobellis looked like the winner in Turin way back in 2006, but let up before the finish and got silver instead. She took no chances this time and gained control of the final right from the start. She fought off a pass attempt by Trespeuch and maintained perfect control right through the finish and earned the first American gold of the 2022 Games. Said the winner:

“This feels incredible because this level that all the women are riding at is a lot higher than it was 16 years ago. So I felt like a winner just that I made it into finals, because that’s been a challenge every time. All these ladies had the potential to win, and today it just worked out for me that my starts were good, my gliding was great and everything worked for me today.”

Trespeuch was second and the unheralded Odine took the bronze over Brockhoff. Amazing.

In the five times the women’s Snowcross has been held, Jacobellis is the only American to win a medal, in 2006 and 2022. And she is the fifth different winner, from five different countries, to win the event.


● Curling: The men’s competition opened with round-robin play and the U.S. squad skipped by John Shuster – defending gold medalists – won its opener over Russia, 6-5. Canada, skipped by Brad Gushue – gold medalist in 2006 – eased past Denmark, 10-5.

● Snowboard: Three Americans qualified for the final of the men’s Halfpipe, including defending Olympic champ Shaun White.

Japan’s Ayumu Hirano and Ruka Hirano were 1-3, scoring 93.25 and 87.00 with Scotty James (AUS) between them at 91.25. White qualified fourth, scoring 86.25 on his second run after aborting his first try.

Taylor Gold qualified seventh (83.50) and Chase Josey was the third American finalist, scoring 69.50 on his second run for 12th.

(8 events across 7 disciplines)

● Alpine Skiing: Men’s Alpine Combined
The Combined – the Downhill and the Slalom – is the orphan of Alpine Skiing and has been a target for removal from the Winter Games for years. It’s not even part of the FIS World Cup any more. But it’s still in the Games, at least this year.

The event has most often been won by a Slalom specialist, like Austria’s 2018 winner Marcel Hirscher, but Downhill winners have happened as well.

In Beijing, the 2018 silver medalist, France’s Alexis Pinturault – the 2019 World Champion in this event – is back and a clear contender, as is Swiss Loic Meillard, the 2021 Worlds bronze medalist.

Austria has the 2021 World Champion in this event, Marco Schwarz, plus Beijing Olympic Super-G winner Matthias Mayer, 2021 World Downhill and Super-G champ Vincent Kriechmayr, and Johannes Strolz, a World Cup Slalom winner earlier this season.

Norway is sending speed merchant Aleksander Aamodt Kilde and Kjetil Jansrud, 36, who won a Worlds silver in this event in 2015, but is primarily a Downhill and Super-G racer.

Or something crazy could happen, like for American Ryan Cochran-Siegle, the Super-G silver medalist, or Canada’s James Crawford.

● Cross Country Skiing: Women’s 10 km Classical
No doubt about the favorite: Norway’s Therese Johaug.

She already won the 15 km Skiathlon and was World Champion in this event in 2013, 2019 and 2021. In the 2021-22 World Cup, she won a 10 km Freestyle, a 10 km Freestyle Pursuit and was second in a 10 km Classical.

The winner of that race was Swede Frida Karlsson, the second choice in this event. She has four World Cup medals this season in distance events and was the 2019 Worlds runner-up and 2021 10 km Freestyle runner-up. Her teammate Ebba Andersson is not to be overlooked, a 28-time World Cup medalist and the 2019 Worlds 10 km Free bronze medalist.

Beyond these medal favorites, there are plenty of contenders. Russia’s Skiathlon silver medalist Natalya Nepryaeva (also the seasonal World Cup leader), Finland’s Kerttu Niskanen and Krista Parmakoski and Americans Jesse Diggins and Rosie Brennan are all medal possibilities.

Diggins stunned everyone with a 10 km Freestyle Mass Start win at the end of 2021 and Brennan was third in a 10 km Free race earlier in December. Neither are Classical specialists, but after good results in the Sprint, both are brimming with confidence.

● Figure Skating: Men’s Singles
The expected clash between Japan’s two-time defending Olympic winner Yuzuru Hanyu and three-time World Champion Nathan Chen of the U.S. collapsed when Hanyu missed his first jump entirely during the Short Program and scored only 95.15 and sits in eighth place going into the Free Skate.

Chen was brilliant and claimed the best Short Program score in history at 113.97, erasing Hanyu’s 111.82 from 2020.

Behind the American are Japan’s Yuma Kagiyama, the 2021 Worlds silver medalist and Shoma Uno – the 2018 silver winner – at 108.12 and 105.90.

After that, there was a big drop: 99.51 for fourth for Korea’s Jun-hwan Cha, 97.98 for Georgian Morisi Kvitelashvili and American Jason Brown in sixth at 97.24. One of the top three will have to falter for any of these three to advance to the podium.

Chen almost did that in 2018, ranking a miserable 17th after the Short Program, but then winning the Free Skate and finishing fifth overall! But in Beijing, Chen will have his sights set on the Olympic gold, and his own scoring records: the best Free Skate on record at 224.92 from the 2019 Grand Prix Final and the highest-ever total score of 335.30 from the same event.

The U.S. has not won the men’s gold since Evan Lysacek did it in 2010; before that, you have to go back to Brian Boitano in 1988 and Scott Hamilton in 1984. Chen, still just 22, could be at the beginning of a truly iconic career.

● Freestyle Skiing: Mixed Team Aerials
The three-person Mixed Team Aerials will be held for the first time in the Winter Games in Beijing, with the host Chinese the favorite to win.

The event was held twice on the World Cup circuit, with China winning both times, with Mengtao Xu and Guangpu Qi on both teams. Russia was second once and the U.S. was second once, with Winter Vinecki, Chris Lillis and Justin Schoenefeld. Ukraine was third both times.

Lillis and Schoenefeld are both on the U.S. roster for Beijing, as is Vinecki. But the U.S. could also send out Ashley Caldwell or Kaila Kuhn if desired as well. Canada will also be in the medal mix.

● Luge: Mixed Team Relay
The relay is now a standard part of the FIL World Cup and will be held for the third time at the Winter Games.

Germany dominates this sport, but a German team only won twice out of six events on the World Cup tour; their line-up has many options, but will likely feature Johannes Ludwig for the men, triple Olympic gold medalist Natalie Geisenberger or Julia Taubitz for the women and either Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt or Toni Eggert or Sascha Benecken for the Doubles. In any configuration, they are favored.

Russia (3 medals), Austria (3), Italy (2), the U.S. (2) and Latvia (3 medals) all figure to mount medal challenges. The Austrian team, with Doubles stars Thomas Steu and Lorenz Koller and with Madeleine Egle burning to get another shot at a medal after one disastrous run kept her off the women’s podium, is perhaps the best bet to challenge the Germans.

The U.S. won a silver and bronze during the World Cup and a team with Chris Mazdzer and Jayson Terdiman in Doubles, Tucker West and either Ashley Farquharson or Summer Britcher could be a contender.

● Snowboard: Women’s Halfpipe ~ Men’s Snowcross
Just three men have won the six World Cup events held this season: Austrians Alessandro Hammerle (2) and Jacob Dusek (1), and Germany’s Martin Noerl (3). Add in Spain’s 2021 World Champion Lucas Eguibar – a bronze medalist on this season’s World Cup tour – and you have your medal favorites.

Beyond these four experienced competitors are other medal-capable contenders. Canada’s Eliot Grondin won the 2021 Worlds bronze and has two World Cup medals this season. American Nick Baumgartner, now 40, is a two-time Worlds bronze medalist. And Italy’s Omar Visintin and Australians Jarryd Hughes – the 2018 silver medalist – and Cameron Bolton are capable of a podium finish.

Noerl comes in having won the last three World Cups in a row, the last over Hammerle and Bolton on 29 January. But that seems like such a long time ago.

Wake up, it’s Chloe Kim time!

The dynamic winner of the PyeongChang gold in 2018 has dominated the World Championships, winning in both 2019 and 2021 and comes in as a heavy favorite to win a second Olympic gold in 2022. She would be the first repeat winner in this event and would give the U.S. five wins in the seven times it has been contested in the Winter Games.

Kim, 21, is so good, she only pays attention to the FIS World Cup when she wants to. She skipped the U.S. stops at Copper Mountain and Mammoth this season, but was in Laax (SUI) to win the final qualifier and assure her place on the Olympic team. She led the qualifying at 87.75 on her first attempt.

Beyond Kim are Chinese star Xuetong Cai, the two-time World Champion in 2015 and 2017, teammate Jiayu Liu, the 2009 World Champion and PyeongChang runner-up, Spain’s Queralt Castellet, a Worlds medal winner in 2015 and 2021, and the Japanese sisters Ruki and Sena Tomita, both World Cup medalists this season. In the qualifying, Mitsuki Ono upstaged the Tomitas with a 83.75 ride in the second round to rank second, so Japan will have three in the finals.

But it is Kim that gives this event its patina in the U.S., but she seems undisturbed by the pressure and more in tune with what she is trying to achieve on her board. Don’t disturb: artist at work!

● Speed Skating: Women’s 5,000 m
This is the longest distance for women at the Winter Games and once again the focus will be on Dutch star Irene Schouten.

Already the 3,000 m winner in these Games, Schouten won the only 5,000 m race in the World Cup season and is the reigning World Champion at 5,000 m. But she will face off with some of the greats in the history of this event.

Czech Martina Sabilkova, 34, won 10 world titles in a row in the 5,000 m from 2007-19 and won Olympic golds in 2010-14 and the silver in 2018. Russia’s Natalya Voronina ended Sabilkova’s streak in 2020, was second to Schouten in last year’s Worlds and took bronze in 2018. Italy’s Francesca Lollobrigida was second to Schouten in the Beijing 3,000 m, but has never won an international medal at this distance.

And the Dutch have a second contender in Carlijn Achtereekte, the 2021 Worlds bronze medalist and seventh in the 3,000 m already in Beijing.

Canada’s Isabelle Weidemann, the 3,000 m bronze winner and Norway’s Ragne Wiklund both won World Cup medals this season, but always behind Schouten.

Clearly under threat is the Olympic Record of 6:46.91 set by Germany’s three-time Olympic champion at this distance, Claudia Pechstein, set in the thin air of Salt Lake City in 2002. Schouten has already skated faster this season.


● Athletics ● Kara Goucher, the 2007 World Championships 10,000 m silver medalist and star U.S. marathoner, announced on her Instagram page that her running life has ended as she has been diagnosed with repetitive exercise dystonia.

“The doctor confirmed repetitive exercise dystonia, and tried to tell me, as gently as possible, that the more I run the worse my symptoms will get. I have to drastically cut back or not only will I lose the ability to run at all, I will struggle to walk as well.”

The condition creates involuntary muscle contractions and cannot be cured at present, although treatment is available to reduce its impact. Goucher was a popular runner whose profile has been enhanced by her work as an NBC track & field and road running analyst, including at the Tokyo Olympic Games last year.

She had bests of 30:55.16 in the 10,000 m (seventh all-time U.S.), 68:05 in the half-marathon (ninth all-time U.S., also 66:57 on a downhill course) and 2:25:53 in the marathon. Her last competitive race was at the December 2018 Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in San Antonio.

The New Balance Indoor Grand Prix on Staten Island last Sunday drew a good audience on NBC, shown for two hours in between Olympic coverage and drawing 1.448 million viewers and a 0.88 rating. That was the most-watched show during that time period.

Although very little information has been forthcoming, Rex Cawley, the 1964 Olympic 400 m hurdles champion, has died at age 81. The 1963 NCAA champ for USC, he won national titles in 1963 and 1965 and won the Olympic Trials 400 m hurdles in 1964.

He set a world record of 49.1 in winning the ‘64 Olympic Trials, a mark which lasted just two days short of four years.

● Football ● Modest television viewing interest in the U.S.-Honduras World Cup qualifier in frigid St. Paul, Minnesota last Wednesday. The telecast on FS1 drew 843,000 English-language viewers; no report on Spanish-language viewing.

● Swimming ● In response to FINA’s announcement of a 2022 World Championships – on short notice – in Budapest, USA Swimming has revised its meet schedule.

Most important is that the Phillips 66 International Team Trials will take place April 26-30 in Greensboro, North Carolina and select the U.S. team for the Worlds.

After cancelling the first two stops in the Tyr Pro Swim Series, there will now be two events, with a 2-5 March stop in Westmont, Illinois – a new event – and the 30 March-2 April event in San Antonio. The third stop, in Mission Viejo, has been moved up to 1-4 June, ahead of the 18 June-3 July Worlds in Budapest; it had originally been scheduled for 29 June-2 July.

● Wrestling ● Never wanting to miss a promotional tie-in, USA Wrestling has identified six players on the Super Bowl LXI rosters with wrestling ties.

Five are on the Cincinnati Bengals: defensive tackle Mike Daniels, defensive end Wyatt Hubert, offensive lineman Riley Reiff and offensive lineman D’Ante Smith all wrestled in high school; Reiff was a three-time South Dakota state champion. Linebacker Logan Wilson wrestled in middle school.

On the Rams, offensive lineman Brian Allen was also a high school wrestler and the 2013 Illinois State 3A heavyweight champion. Now you know.

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