Tuesday November 17th, 2009

Evan Lysacek is right where he wants to be.

The world champion figure skater from Naperville, Ill., won the Skate America competition in Lake Placid last weekend, building on his season-opening silver in Beijing. Lysacek likes his season to have a progression from conservative performances to stronger ones. In Lake Placid, he landed seven triple jumps, including two triple axels, stepping out of only his triple Salchow. He did not attempt a quad.

Lysacek's teammate, Ryan Bradley, stumbled into eighth place in the short program, but, with a strong free skate that included two quads, he rallied to finish third behind Lysacek and Canada's Shawn Sawyer.

Korea's Kim Yu-na handily won the ladies' competition, even without her best performance. After a knockout short program, the reigning world champ and Olympic favorite opened her free skate by hitting a clean triple Lutz-triple toe combination, but landed just three triple jumps in all and crashed on her triple flip -- the jump that seems to give her the most difficulty.

But she is so far ahead of the rest of the world -- she beat silver medalist Rachael Flatt of the U.S. by 13.07 points with Hungary's Julia Sebestyen, the bronze medalist, another 15.88 points behind -- she has a large margin for error. That's as telling about Kim's fine skating as it is about the lack of international depth on the ladies' side.

Bode Miller's return to the World Cup circuit last weekend left him looking more like a boxer than a skier. Miller got whacked in the face with a gate on the second run of a slalom competition in Levi, Finland, on Sunday and had to stop skiing after suffering some blurred vision. Ted Ligety placed 18th and was the top U.S. finisher in the race that was won by Austria's Reinfried Herbst. Miller made news this offseason by announcing he was returning to the U.S. team after skiing independently the previous seasons. He won a silver medal a year ago in the Levi slalom.

The news was better for U.S. World Cup champ Lindsey Vonn, who cruised to second place behind Germany's Maria Riesch in the Levi slalom on Saturday. Vonn stayed away from a lot of speed training earlier this fall, avoiding injury risks on icy terrain and making sure she felt comfortable with her equipment. Her early-season rustiness was obvious -- she was noticeably hesitant navigating some basic turns in the World Cup opener this season -- but she still managed to make up time on the flats, a forte of hers.

Chicagoan Shani Davis continues to dominate the 1,000- and 1,500-meter distances in the long-track events. Davis, who opened the season by winning those races in Berlin, also captured both distances in Heerenveen, Netherlands, one of the world's premier skating sites. Davis also teamed with Chad Hedrick and Trevor Marsicano to give the U.S. a tie for first with the host Dutch in the pursuit. Davis and Hedrick appear to be overlooking their feud, which bodes well for a medal in the event.

Dutch distance star Sven Kramer did not skate in the race, which tends to favor the host skaters who are more comfortable on the oval's slower, more challenging ice surface. Kramer did win the 5,000 meters earlier in the meet, while Hedrick finished sixth and Davis seventh. The multi-talented Davis faces a decision about which races to skate in Vancouver

The Dutch received a horrible blow on Friday when Marianne Timmer suffered a broken left heel and had to be carried from the ice, ending her bid for a fourth Olympic berth. The 35-year-old is the defending Olympic champion in the 1,000 meters and was considered a medal threat in the 1,500, as well. She won both races at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano.

At the season's final pre-Olympic World Cup competition for short-track skating in Marquette, Mich., last weekend, the U.S. team qualified five men and five women for the Games, a good result given the injuries and illnesses that have plagued the squad this season. The team will compete in both relays and enter the maximum number of three skaters in each individual race except the women's 500, in which it will have two.

Apolo Ohno won the men's 1,000 meters, holding off Korea's Lee Jung-su at the end. Ohno led for most of the six-lap race, let Kim pass him briefly, then went wide into the final turn to make the decisive pass. Lee outlasted Ohno to win the 1,500 the day before.

Katherine Reutter, who has cleared stamped herself as the top U.S. woman this season, won silver in the women's 1,000 behind China's Wang Meng, the top skater in the world.

The women's relay was notable for two reasons. First, the U.S. women failed to reach the final when Reutter lost her footing and slid into the boards during the semis. In the finals, China built an enormous lead, but nearly lost it at the end, when Wang left her arms on her back in the final lap and then stood straight up and looked over her shoulder in what was either an act of laziness or hot-dogging. She ultimately edged Korea's Kim Min-jung by one-hundredth of a second.

With Steve Holcomb's team entering the season as the first world champs from the U.S. in half a century, the top U.S. driver in the opening world cup competition in Park City was ... Todd Hays. The 40-year-old Texan continued his successful return to the sport, teaming with Steve Langdon to take silver behind Beat Hefti and Alex Baumann of Switzerland. This was the first podium for a Hays sled since he won a four-man race on the natural-ice track of St. Moritz in 2006. Holcomb and Curt Tomasevicz finished fourth, behind another Swiss pair.

It shouldn't be long after the 2010 Vancouver Games when the IOC awards TV rights in the United States for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi and the 2016 Olympics in Rio, rights that the IOC is almost certain to sell as a package. NBC has been the host network for every summer broadcast since 1988 and each winter telecast since 2002. But the group from ABC/ESPN dipped a toe into the Olympic waters last week by securing the South American rights to the 2010 and 2012 Games.

Iberoamericana Television Organization (ITO) had broadcast each of the Summer Games since 1992, when Barcelona hosted the Games. ESPN Star Sports had already won partial rights for those two Games in Asia. Though the Games in Sochi won't draw significant interest from the U.S. market, the IOC hopes that Rio's favorable time zone (two hours from the East Coast during summertime), a travel-log aura comparable to Beijing's, a less competitive summer sports season and the possibility of a stronger economy that could lure advertisers would make the Games attractive to a network.

ABC has not shown the Olympics since the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary, where Jim McKay was still the primary studio host. The Games have never been on ESPN.

NBC is still expected to bid for the package, though the recent news that Comcast may assume a controlling stake in NBC Universal adds uncertainty to that prospect. CBS and Fox may also bid, though neither has indicated strong interest.

A British Columbia Court of Appeal last week rejected a final attempt by women's ski jumpers to compete at the Vancouver Games. Any other decision would have been fraught with complications, given that the Games are only three months away. Would the IOC increase its avowed maximum number of athletes it would allow at the Games? Would there have enough beds at the Olympic village? Would the number of male ski jumpers need to be reduced? Would this open the door for another court in another country to dictate future event programs at the 11th hour to the IOC and to an organizing committee?

Count on women's jumping being on the Olympic program soon, perhaps in 2014. The United States may be the big loser in the omission of women's jumping for 2010. Lindsey Van (often confused with alpine's Vonn) of Park City is the reigning world champion in the event.

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