While US Figure Skating’s selectors followed their procedures by leaving rising teenage star Ilia Malinin off the Olympic men’s team, his omission revived the debate over whether a skater’s “body of work” should trump current performance.
The 17-year-old Malinin surprised even himself by finishing second to six-time champion Nathan Chen at last weekend’s Nashville nationals with two clean programs packed with quadruple jumps. But the selectors picked Vincent Zhou and Jason Brown, who placed third and fourth, to accompany Chen to Beijing based on what they’d done this season and last.
Brown had the stronger case. He was third at last year’s nationals and seventh at worlds, and he made podiums at his two Grand Prix events last fall. Zhou, a former global medalist, was US runner-up last year, won this season’s Skate America (handing Chen his first defeat since the 2018 Games), and was second at his other Grand Prix in Tokyo).
But Zhou, an Olympic veteran, is wildly inconsistent. He imploded at worlds, finishing 25th in the short program, and failed to advance to the final. In Nashville, he made a hash of his long program and only placed third because he led Brown by 12 points after the short program.
“I was so nervous that my body froze up on me,” Zhou said.
Malinin, by comparison, was lights out both nights. He had the game to be a medal contender at Olympus. What he didn’t have was the résumé. Since he was just up from juniors, Malinin didn’t get any Grand Prix assignments. Last year’s junior Grand Prix series and junior worlds were canceled because of COVID. And Malinin missed the 2021 US championships because of an injury. So he couldn’t check nearly as many boxes as could Zhou and Brown.
At least Malinin was named to the squad for the March world championships in France, where he’ll go up against most of the same men whom he would have faced at the Games. But there’s a strong argument that Malinin would have had a better podium chance in Beijing than will Brown, who’s a decade older and still can barely manage one quad in a program, much less four. The Olympics are like the US nationals: You get a medal for what you do on the day, not as a lifetime achievement award.
Blast from the past
USA Hockey revved up the wayback machine to 1994 when it announced an Olympic men’s roster that includes 15 collegians, nearly four times as many as participated in the 2018 Games, when NHL players also were absent.
The Lillehammer team, the last Olympic group before the NHLers signed on for Nagano, had 16 collegians, including the likes of Todd Marchant, Brian Rolston, Mike Dunham, and Garth Snow. They performed fairly creditably at the Games, until the Finns put out their lights in the quarterfinals.
This team’s challenge will be the same — matching up with professional rivals like the Germans (the PyeongChang silver medalists) who can put together a podium-level team from their domestic leagues. Eight of the US players perform in Europe, five of them in the KHL, and two are AHL minor leaguers.
Being a good teammate
Why did US speedskater Brittany Bowe give up her Olympic spot in the 500 meters to Erin Jackson, who’d missed the squad? Because it was the best thing for the team, Bowe said. Jackson, who stumbled in her race at the recent trials, has a good chance to win the event at the Games. Bowe, who qualified in two other events, has a distant chance.
“It’s just the spirit of the Olympics and being a great teammate,” said Bowe, whose friendship with Jackson dates to their days in Ocala, Fla. “It’s bigger than me.”
Bowe, who has an excellent chance at gold medals in both the 1,000 and 1,500, already has a full competitive plate. Still, Olympic entries are precious. For Bowe, who’ll be seeking her first individual podium at her third Games, giving up a start for a teammate with a better chance (”It’s my honor,” said Bowe) was the essence of sportsmanship.
“I’m beyond grateful and humbled,” said Jackson.
Double the fun
For Medway luger Zack DiGregorio and doubles partner Sean Hollander, making the Olympic team came with a bonus. They’ll also get to race in the team relay where the Americans, who’ve made two World Cup podiums this season, have a legitimate chance at a medal.
With favorites Chris Mazdzer and Jayson Terdiman crashing in the qualifying race, DiGregorio and Hollander claimed the spot by less than .07 seconds over Dana Kellogg of Chesterfield and Duncan Segger. Terdiman graciously offered them his sled and went back to Utah to help them train for the Games.
“It shows what kind of human and teammate he is,” said DiGregorio. “He put the team first 100 percent. He’s done more than I could ever imagine.”
Shaun White is all but certain to be named to his fifth Olympic snowboarding team at 35 after winning the bronze medal at this weekend’s World Cup halfpipe event in Switzerland, his first podium finish since he won gold at the 2018 Games.
The three-time Olympic champion now ranks second among Americans on the world points list, which should earn him a spot on the team along with Taylor Gold, Chase Josey, and Lucas Foster.
Losing her lead
As the World Cup women’s Alpine calendar shifts away from technical racing, Mikaela Shiffrin is likely to lose her overall lead since all but one of the next 10 events are speed races.
Italy’s Sofia Goggia, who has won three downhills and three super-Gs, is sitting third, more than 300 points behind Shiffrin. But with victories counting for 100 points, Goggia is poised to schuss ahead of her.
Meanwhile, US downhiller Breezy Johnson, who finished second to Goggia in all three races and is second in the discipline standings, is skipping this weekend’s races in Austria as a precaution after dinging a knee in training.
US bobsled pilot Hunter Church’s bronze medal at last weekend’s World Cup four-man event in Winterberg came out of nowhere. No American sled had made the podium since Church did it in Innsbruck two seasons ago.
“To medal on a German track, which we historically haven’t had success on, is unreal,” said Church, who was fifth after the first run and missed silver by only .04 seconds. Pembroke native Kris Horn, a former UMass decathlete, was the brakeman.
(Material from Olympic committees, sports federations, interviews and wire services was used in this report.)
John Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.