Almost no U.S. Olympian has endured the highs and lows the way Noelle Pikus-Pace has. The resilient 30-year-old skeleton athlete slid to her first world cup win in eight years last weekend on the fast track in Koenigssee, Germany.
In the speed of a yo-yo, the ups and downs have read like this: In 2006, Pikus-Pace secured enough high finishes that an Olympic medal seemed likely before the 2006 Turin Games (up). But four months before, while she was still standing in the track at the national team trials in Calgary, a bobsled slid past the finish line and nearly took off her right leg (down). After months of tough rehabilitation, Pikus-Pace returned to action the following season and won the world title in St. Moritz with a flawless final run (up). Then at the Vancouver Games in 2010, she missed out on a medal by a tenth of a second and finished fourth (down).
With her own hat-making business and two children, a girl born before the Vancouver Games and a boy after, Pikus-Pace stuck to her decision to retire until she simply because she couldn't stay away. "I had no intention to come back," she said at the time. "I was going to be a fulltime mother."
Her husband, Janson, the man who built her sled, could sense her fidgets last summer and coaxed her to follow her heart one more time. To defray the cost of training, she even enlisted the help of her four-year-old daughter, Laycee, to pitch for donations on her website. It seems the youngest of eight children has always had to fight for her place.
With a new strength program, Pikus-Pace greatly improved her starts. She posted the fastest times in each of her four races at the national trials in Lake Placid in October, easily topping the competition. Pikus-Pace will next compete at a world cup race in Igls, Austria next week and then later in the month at the world championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland where she won her world title in 2007. It may be time for another up.
German beach volleyball player Jonas Reckermann, one of the truly surprising champions from the London Olympics quietly announced his retirement this week. Reckermann, with teammate Julius Bring, who won the men's beach volleyball gold medal last summer in a stunning match, toppling the heavily favored Brazilian team of Alison Cerutti and Emanuel Rego 23-21, 16-21, 16-14 at the London Games.
Reckermann, 33, has had recurring back pain throughout his career, and he had missed a full season in 2006 because of it. It wasn't until he underwent shoulder surgery in October that doctors discovered a cyst in his spinal column that was causing a nerve to impinge upon his lower back.
Evgenia Kanaeva, the most decorated athlete in the history of rhythmic gymnastics, also announced that she was stepping away, and has accepted an offer to become vice president of the Russian Rhythmic Gymnastics Federation.
Kanaeva, 22, won the all-around gold medals at the Beijing and London Games, and she also won a total of 17 medals over four world championships. Her retirement had been assumed since soon after the London Games since she did not immediately go back into training. Later her federation hinted otherwise, saying that coaches were reserving a place for her when she decided to return.
Romanian gymnastics official Irina Deleanu is still locked in a war of allegations with the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) over comments she made in a TV interview after a competition that took place a year ago.
After the test event for rhythmic gymnastics at the London gymnastics venue, Deleanu, the president of the Romanian Rhythmic Gymnastics Federation and a veteran judge, alleged that some of her fellow judges had given preferential treatment to a gymnast from Cyprus at the event, which was also a qualifier for the Olympics. A European technical committee suspended Deleanu from judging for three years, but took no action against other judges or officials. Deleanu last an internal appeal to FIG, but has since taken her case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
U.S. Olympic Trials
With its announcement of six finalist cities bidding for the right to host its Olympic trials in 2016, U.S.A. Swimming is staying with a simple formula: keep the trials in a mid-sized city. For years, that decision was limited by places that had pools with the right range of seats that could be just about filled for a big competition, a notch below the Olympics and a notch above a typical invitational meet. Now, with portable pools that can be built in open outdoor spaces (see Long Beach) or wedged into large arenas (see Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne), that isn't nearly the limiting factor it once was. Still, the finalist cities are all good-sized, but out of the country's largest markets: Greensboro, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Omaha, St. Louis and San Antonio are the cities under consideration. Omaha hosted the trials in 2008 and 2012. Indianapolis played host in 1984, 1992, 1996 and 2000.
Other high-profile sports have dipped their toes into big-city spotlights. USA Track and Field held its Olympic marathon trials in New York (for men) and Boston (for women) in 2008. In years when the Olympics were held in the U.S., the track trials were held in the same stadiums (Los Angeles, 1984; Atlanta, 1996), but USATF has otherwise kept the trials in running-crazed Eugene, Oregon four times since 1976, Sacramento twice, and once each for Indianapolis and New Orleans.
USA Gymnastics has dipped into somewhat larger markets than USA Swimming, choosing Boston twice and Baltimore, Anaheim, Philadelphia and San Jose once each to host its last seven trials. Though U.S. figure skating doesn't have a trials, per se, the team is largely selected by a committee based on performances at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in those years. The championships will be in Boston in 2014 and have been held in Los Angeles in 2002 and Philadelphia in 1998. In the middle, they went to St. Louis in 2006 and Spokane in 2010.