Tuesday March 30th, 2010

Make some more room in the Phinney family trophy case. Nineteen-year-old Taylor Phinney took home two medals at the UCI Track Cycling World Championships in Denmark this weekend. Phinney won the pursuit event and also captured a bronze in the omnium. His teammate Sarah Hammer won the women's pursuit earlier in the week, adding to the golds she won in 2006 and 2007.

Phinney captured his first national senior championship in the pursuit in 2007 and took his first world title in the event in 2009. His parents, Davis and Connie, both nabbed medals at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. Davis won a bronze in the team time trial, while Connie won the road race, edging out teammate Rebecca Twigg. In 1972, she competed at the Sapporo Olympics in speedskating, before she turned to collegiate rowing at Cal, where she won two national titles.

Tony Benshoof, the top male luger in the U.S., is going under the knife again. Benshoof, 34, suffered from a back ailment all season after re-rupturing a disk that was repaired in December. The constant jarring during his 90 mph runs down the track aggrevated his injury.

During his career, Benshoof has won three medals, two silver and one bronze, at three different world championships, though an Olympic medal has eluded him. His fourth-place showing at the Turin Games in 2006 is still the best finish in history for a U.S. men's luger. He says he will not make a decision about his career before starting a rehabilitation program next month.

Following the World Figure Skating Championships in Turin, Icenetwork.com, a barometer of consistency for international skating performance, released its end of season rankings. Not surprisingly, Evan Lysacek took the top spot in men's skating after winning the Olympics in Vancouver. Brian Joubert of France was second, followed by Canada's Patrick Chan. Russia's Evgeni Plushenko, the Olympic silver medallist, was ranked seventh, mainly because he didn't compete often enough. Two other U.S. skaters hit the top ten: Jeremy Abbott in fifth and Johnny Weir in tenth.

China's pairs team of Qing Pang and Jian Tong easily ranked first followed by Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany and Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov of Russia. After flaming out at the U.S. Nationals and missing the Olympics, Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker were the top U.S. pair, in ninth.

In ice dancing, Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the U.S. finished in the No. 1 position on the strength of their overall season. Canada's Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir finished in the No. 2 spot, despite winning both the Olympics and world championships. Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin of Russia finished third, followed by Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto of the U.S. in fifth. Neither of the two top dance teams has announced any intentions about whether they will continue, though both are young enough to go for four more years.

South Korea's Kim Yu-na was the top-ranked woman, after going unbeaten until the recent world championships. Mao Asada of Japan finished second after winning worlds, followed by Canada's Joannie Rochette, who won praise for competing in Vancouver days after the death of her mother. Rachael Flatt of the U.S. was ranked ninth, the only U.S. skater to crack the top ten.

It will be interesting to watch the trajectory of Mirai Nagasu, the 16-year old from California whose medal prospects still look bright despite her inconsistencies. Nagasu led the ladies' competition after the short program in Turin before coming apart in the free skate. While she still needs to gain strength so she doesn't tire or get downgraded on jumps and though she needs to become more consistent in her programs, those improvements can come in time. For now, the U.S. team is still facing an uphill battle in the ladies event. Since neither Nagasu nor Flatt performed especially well in Italy, the team will have two spots available for the next worlds in the ladies' event.

In the most dominant performance in the history of the event, the Kenyans blew away the field at the World Cross-Country Championships in Bydgoszyz, Poland on Sunday. Kenyan runners captured all eight gold medals in individual and team events for the first time in history. In the featured events, Joseph Ebuya won the first men's 12K title since Paul Tergat in 1999 and Emily Chebet took the women's 8K title. While other international programs have less control over their runners' meet schedules and preparation for anything other than the Olympics, the Kenyans have kept a firm hold on structure, despite turnover among sports officials. The emphasis on events such as the Boston Marathon and the World Cross are undoubtedly shown through the team's results. The U.S. women, led by Shalane Flanagan, took bronze in the team 8K event, the only U.S. medal at the championships.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has threatened criminal charges against Russian sports officials if investigations reveal any misappropriation of funds that were supposed to be directed at athlete performance for Russian athletes. The program has endured drug scandals, including 31 international positive tests since the 2006 Games, a rebuke from IOC President Jacques Rogge and an embarrassing showing in Vancouver, where the team brought home just 15 medals, only three of which were gold. With the Games heading to Sochi in four years, the pressure is greater than ever for athletes and sports officials to start winning international medals in advance of the next Olympics.

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