Olympic sports writing: 2004-2015

Selected features and interviews, plus coverage from several Olympics:


Sochi 2014

London 2012 (all Bleacher Report unless noted)

Vancouver 2010: Nordic sports and biathlon (all USA TODAY)

Beijing 2008: Everything, especially soccer (all USA TODAY)

Torino 2006 (USA TODAY)

Athlete interviews (all USA TODAY)

Sochi recap: Nordic combined, team event

Three Nordic combined powers raced together for the bulk of a 20-kilometer relay, with Norway’s Joergen Graabak continuing his breakout Games by holding out for gold. The USA wasn’t able to mount a challenge, rallying to finish sixth.

Date: 20-Feb

Sport: Nordic combined

Event: Team (four jumps determine start intervals for 4x5k cross-country relay)

Medalists: Norway, Germany, Austria

SportsMyriad projections: Germany, Norway, France

How U.S. fared: The USA took silver in this event in 2010, with its Golden Generation at its peak, and followed up with a third-place run at last year’s World Championships. But the team was not great on the large hill. Todd Lodwick was seventh in his group with 99.9 points. Taylor Fletcher also was seventh, continuing his struggles on the hill with 92.5. Bill Demong had a nice one at 108.0, also seventh in his group but keeping pace with the strong jumpers in his group. Bryan Fletcher got 97.2, ninth in the last group.

The team is full of solid cross-country skiers, but those jumps would give them a gap of 1 minute, 52 seconds behind the leaders.

Bryan Fletcher led off the cross-country relay and pulled the USA ahead of Russia into seventh place, but he lost five seconds to the leaders. Todd Lodwick, who sat out the cross-country phase of the individual races to rest his injured shoulder, lost nearly a minute and fell back to eighth.

The bright spot was Taylor Fletcher, who posted the fastest third leg of any of the competitors. He pulled back ahead of Italy into seventh.

Bill Demong, the only U.S. man to win Nordic combined gold, went hard in the final leg despite the great distance. He moved up into sixth and held off the Czech Republic.

What happened: Austria moved into the lead with the best jumps of the second and third rounds — Christoph Bieler and Mario Stecher. But a weaker fourth jump left them behind consistent Germany.

Norway had been back in the pack, but Haavard Klemetsen finished with the best jump of the day.

After the jumps, the time intervals were set: Germany first, Austria seven seconds back, Norway 0:25, France 0:35.

The fleet-footed Magnus Moan brought Norway back into the mix immediately, ailing normal hill champion Eric Frenzel held on for Germany, and the top three hit the first exchange within a second of each other.

That lead pack stayed within a second of each other through the second leg as well, and they put more distance on fourth-place France.

In the third leg, the leaders were still cozy with each other, at one point all standing up and looking like they were out for a nice stroll in the warm weather. They put the hammer down in the last kilometer, with Norway’s Magnus Krog trying to put some distance on the others. But the gap from first to third only grew to 1.7 seconds. France, though, was more than a minute back, far too much for Jason Lamy Chappuis to pull back.

The three contenders in the last leg — Joergen Graabak (Norway) was the large hill winner, Fabian Riessle (Germany) was the large hill bronze medalist, Mario Stecher (Austria) is a six-time Olympian. Through another four kilometers, no one attacked. Could Stecher keep up with the young guys on a final sprint?

Stecher started to make a move on the uphill but couldn’t get away, and the others left him on one of the last turns. Graabak was out front through the stadium, with Riessle on his tail. The German anchor picked the finish lane next to the Norwegian and flung himself at the line, but he was 0.3 seconds behind.

Full results

Sochi recap: Nordic combined, large hill

Is this Nordic combined or short-track? The second Nordic combined event of the Olympics came down to a pack finish, a wreck and some surprising medalists.

Date: 18-Feb

Sport: Nordic combined

Event: Large hill – one jump that determines start times for the 10k cross-country race

Medalists: Joergen Graabak (Norway), Magnus Moan (Norway), Fabian Riessle (Germany)

SportsMyriad projections: Eric Frenzel (Germany), Wilhelm Dinifl (Austria), Jason Lamy-Chappuis (France)

How U.S. fared: Defending champion Bill Demong hasn’t been in winning form over the past couple of years, and he needed a good jump to be a contender. He didn’t get it, going more than 20 meters behind the top guys to start 38th, 2:18 back.

All four U.S. athletes were set to start in a pack — Bryan Fletcher 27th (1:59 back), Todd Lodwick 30th (2:01 back), Taylor Fletcher 35th (2:13) and Demong.

Lodwick, as he did in the normal hill event, opted not to start the cross-country phase. And Taylor Fletcher, as he did in the normal hill, started climbing through the field. He finished 20th, two ahead of brother Bryan. Demong was 31st.

What happened: Germany’s Eric Frenzel was supposedly sick. He didn’t seem sick on his jump, taking the lead. Behind him: Norway’s Haavard Klemetsen (8 seconds back), Austria’s Bernhard Gruber (22), Japan’s Akito Watabe (33), Jason Lamy-Chappuis of Montana via France (33), Norway’s Joergen Graabak (42) and the ever-dangerous Magnus Moan of Norway (45). Lurking: Germany’s Bjorn Kircheisen (1:03).

Grbuer quickly closed the gap, within one second at the 1.5k mark. Lamy-Chappuis and Moan also were surging. After one lap around the 2.5k course, it was a seven-man pack with the top seven from the ski jumping. By 4k, it was 10, with Kircheisen and fellow Germans Fabian Riessle and Johannes Rydzek joining the fun.

That pack stayed together without incident through 7.5k, when Watabe slipped. The silver medalist in the normal hill scrambled to get back in the race.

Frenzel finally fell off the pace on the last lap, surely ailing a little. Kircheisen took out fast on that climb and led at 9k, but the Norwegians shot past him. With five racers attacking the same curve in the stadium, Rydzek tumbled.

Norwegians Graabak and Moan dueled for gold, with Graabak taking it by 0.6 seconds. Then the two Germans, with Riessle 1.6 seconds back and Kircheisen 2.1. The other contenders trickled in 10 seconds later.

Graabak had never won a World Cup event. Riessle matched his best-ever World Cup finish.

The team event is yet to come, and don’t bet against Norway and Germany for the podium.

Full results

Sochi recap: Nordic combined, normal hill

Soft snow, hard race. Eric Frenzel had the best jump and seemed to be toying with the field through much of the cross-country race, finally turning on the turbo for the last 200 meters for the win.

Date: 12-Feb

Sport: Nordic combined

Event: Men’s normal hill (one jump from normal hill, 10k cross-country race)

Medalists: Eric Frenzel (Germany), Akito Watabe (Japan), Magnus Krog (Norway)

SportsMyriad projections: Jason Lamy Chappuis (France), Eric Frenzel (Germany), Mikko Kokslien (Norway)

How U.S. fared: Bill Demong and Todd Lodwick were part of a big medal breakthrough in 2010. They’re back but a bit older and banged up, along with the younger Bryan and Taylor Fletcher. The aim here is a team medal.

Lodwick, the 37-year-old six-time Olympian, had a decent jump. Demong’s was slightly better. Bryan Fletcher, who has a World Cup win, is better at skiing but was still disappointed in his jump. Taylor Fletcher, who has a World Cup podium, also is better at skiing but took himself completely out of the picture with his jump, placing last by a wide margin.

Athletes’ jumps determine when they start the cross-country race. Demong would start 1:33 back, followed quickly by Lodwick (1:34). Bryan Fletcher would start 1:44 back. Taylor Fletcher was all alone, 2:34 back.

Lodwick opted not to race the cross-country stage. Demong pulled across in 24th, 1:49 back. B-Fletcher was a few seconds later in 26th. T-Fletcher passed a lot of people on the course and and placed 33rd, which bodes well for his leg in the all-important team event to come.

What happened: The first jumper, young Russian Evgeny Klimov, sat in first place through 44 jumpers. The contenders, including defending champion Jason Lamy Chappuis, all clustered behind him.

Then came the second-to-last jumped, Japan’s Akito Watabe, who flew past everyone. Literally. He flew 100.5 meters. And then the favorite, Germany’s Eric Frenzel, went 2.5 meters better — a magnificent 103 meters. That gave Frenzel a six-second lead over Watabe and a 30-second lead on the other contenders heading into the race.

The balmy weather, comfortably over 50 degrees (or 10 degrees, for those who prefer Celsius) softened the snow on the race course.

Frenzel let Watabe join him in a two-man lead group. But they weren’t able to put much time on the chase group. Norway’s magnificently named Magnus Moan, who started 48 seconds back, caught up with the contenders and led the chasers — 17 of them, including the major players, to within 20 seconds at the halfway mark.

By 6.5k, the chase group was within 13 seconds, but it was much smaller. Defending champion Jason Lamy Chappuis had fallen off the pace.

But Frenzel and Watabe turned up the pace. Through 9k, the gap was still 12.5 seconds. And still eight or nine skiers were aiming for at least bronze.

Frenzel waited patiently to make his move until the two leaders reached the stadium. Then he blew away from Watabe, leaving time to celebrate as he crossed the finish line. Watabe was still comfortably in silver, 4.2 seconds back. Norway’s Magnus Krog, who started more than a minute back, sprinted to bronze (8.1 seconds back) ahead of Italian contender Alessandro Pittin, who hung his head in that most painful of spots — fourth place, 1.2 seconds behind Krog. Moan was fifth, and the rest of the field trickled in from there.

Full results

2014 medal projections: Jan. 14 update

Time for a few tweaks given the results (and untimely injuries) of late — and when you add it all up, we have a new leader:

Alpine skiing: Lindsey Vonn’s absence shakes things up a bit and pretty well insures the USA won’t come near its total of eight medals in 2010. Ted Ligety (third overall) and Mikaela Shiffrin are still favorites, and Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal (second overall; downhill and super-G leader) is still as dominant as ever.


  • Men’s downhill: Erik Guay (CAN) up to silver, Klaus Kröll (AUT) down to considered, Adrien Theaux (FRA) up to considered
  • Men’s giant slalom: Alexis Pinturault (FRA) up to bronze, Manfred Moelgg (ITA) down to considered
  • Men’s slalom: Mario Matt (AUT) up to silver, Ivica Kostelic (CRO) down to considered
  • Men’s combined: Pinturault up to gold, Ligety up to silver, Svindal up to bronze, Kostelic down to considered
  • Women’s downhill: Vonn out, Maria Hoefl-Riesch (GER) up to gold, Tina Maze (SLO) up to silver, Tina Weirather (LIE) up to bronze, Marianne Kaufmann-Abderhalden (SUI) up to considered
  • Women’s super-G: Vonn out, Anna Fenninger (AUT) up to gold, Tina Maze (SLO) down to silver, Lara Gut (SUI) up to bronze, Julia Mancuso (USA) down to considered
  • Women’s giant slalom: Jessica Lindell-Vikarby (SWE) up to considered
  • Women’s slalom: My medal picks are currently 1-2-4 in the World Cup standings. They’ll stay put.

Biathlon: Andreas Birnbacher (Germany) has been sick, so we won’t knock him out of the projections just yet. Not too many surprises on the men’s side, though France’s relay team needs to improve. The surprise in the women’s competition is the Czech Republic’s Gabriela Soukalova, who’s leading the World Cup standings. France’s Marie Dorin Habert has a ruptured tendon in her ankle, so we’ll remove her from consideration.


  • Women’s sprint: Soukalova (CZE) up to bronze, Olena Pidrushna (UKR) down to considered
  • Women’s pursuit: Soukalova up to silver, Valj Semerenko (UKR) up to bronze, Andrea Henkel (GER) and Pidrushna down to considered

Bobsled: The early-season races in North America have skewed the current standings toward the U.S. and Canadian teams. The men haven’t done as well in Europe. Manuel Machata isn’t getting many opportunities for Germany, and Latvia’s Oskars Melbardis isn’t in great form.


  • Men’s two-man and four-man: Drop Machata from considered
  • Women’s: Elana Meyers (USA) up to silver, Sandra Kiriasis (GER) down to bronze, Cathleen Martini (GER) down to considered, Jamie Greubel (USA) up to considered

Cross-country skiing: Dario Cologna (SUI) is trying to come back from ankle surgery. We’ll leave him in for now. A couple of other skiers have skipped the odd World Cup event or the entire Tour de Ski, so the World Cup standings from this season aren’t that meaningful. One surprise: American Simi Hamilton won a freestyle sprint.


  • Women’s sprint: Denise Herrman (GER) and Ingvild Flugstad Østberg (NOR) up to considered

Figure skating: Most of the pre-Sochi competition is complete aside from the European Championships this week, so the projections won’t change much. The Four Continents will only have a couple of Olympians in action. But qualification and national championships have made things interesting. Ashley Wagner placed fourth, and her inclusion is mildly controversial. Evgeni Plushenko on the fringe of Russia’s plans, Japan’s Miki Ando retired after missing out an Olympic berth, and projected gold medalist Mao Asada was third in Japan’s championships. At least defending gold medalist Yuna Kim won handily in South Korea after skipping the Grand Prix season. Gracie Gold’s score from U.S. Championships would be the highest in the world this year, but would international judges be as generous?


  • Women’s: Gracie Gold (USA) considered. Miki Ando (Japan) out. Considered list now specifying the likely Russian skaters: Adelina Sotnikova and Julia Lipnitskaia

Freestyle skiing: The X Games and World Cup events may still shake things up.

Changes in aerials

  • Men: 2010 World Cup champion Anton Kusnhir (BLR) missed the 2012-13 season and has come back with a win in Deer Valley and another podium. Countryman Alexei Grishin, the 2010 gold medalist, is making a comeback and was third in Deer Valley. They’re up to considered.
  • Women: We’ll see who makes China and Australia teams. USA’s Ashley Caldwell and Emily Cook up to considered.

Changes in moguls

  • Men: Medal contenders are 1-2-3 in World Cup. No change.
  • Women: No change, though Miki Ito (JPN) is trying to come back from a knee injury.

Changes in skicross

  • Men: Dave Duncan (CAN) up to silver, Andreas Matt (AUT) up to bronze, Chris Del Bosco (CAN) down to considered, Filip Flisar (SLO) down to considered
  • Women: Katrin Mueller (SUI) up to considered

Changes in slopestyle

  • Men: Waiting for U.S. team announcement to shake things up.
  • Women: Kaya Turski (CAN) is fighting a knee injury. Devin Logan (USA) up to considered

Changes in halfpipe

  • Men: Watching health of Torin Yater-Wallace (USA). Justin Dorey (CAN) up to considered.
  • Women: Roz Groenewoud (CAN) had — you guessed it — knee surgery. We’ll see how she recovers. Devin Logan (USA) up to considered — yes, in two events

Luge: They’ve run seven of nine World Cup events this season, so that should be enough to give us a clearer picture. Still a whole lot of Germany.


  • Men: David Möller (GER) up to silver, Dominik Fischnaller (ITA) up to bronze, Andi Langenhan (GER) down to considered, Chris Mazdzer (USA) up to considered
  • Women, doubles, relay: No change

Nordic combined: Most medal contenders are having solid seasons, particularly World Cup leader Eric Frenzel (GER) and Jason Lamy-Chappuis (FRA).


  • Normal hill: Mikko Kokslien (NOR) up to bronze, Bernhard Gruber (AUT) down to considered

Short-track speedskating: No change. We’ll keep an eye on the Euro championships and make sure all the picks are healthy, but the major pre-Sochi competitions are long complete.

Skeleton: Feeling a little more bullish on Matt Antoine (USA) but not quite moving him up into the medals.


  • Men: Tomass Dukurs (LAT) up to bronze, Frank Rommel (GER) down to considered
  • Women: Shelley Rudman (GBR) up to bronze, Marion Thees (GER) down to considered

Ski jumping: He used to look like Harry Potter. Then he looked like Trevor Horn. Now he’s back — Salt Lake/Vancouver champion Simon Ammann (SUI) was third in the Four Hills. And 40something Japanese jumper Noriaki Kasai is fourth in the World Cup. In women’s, we’re still holding out hope for the rehabbing Sarah Hendrickson (USA).


  • Men’s large hill: Simon Ammann (SUI) up to bronze, Noriaki Kasai (JPN) up to considered, Anders Jacobsen (NOR) down to considered
  • Women’s: Irina Avvakumova (RUS) up to bronze, Carina Vogt (GER) up to considered, Coline Mattel (FRA) down to considered

Snowboarding: Just did the picks 14 days ago; no point in changing anything until after the X Games.

Speedskating: These picks were also recent, and the European Allround Championships didn’t give us any reason to change.

No changes in curling or ice hockey, and no changes are likely unless we have a sudden wave of injuries or other changes.

2014 medal projections: Nordic combined

Updated Jan. 14

In 2010, USA TODAY dispatched me to Whistler Olympic Park nearly every day. The biggest story I was supposed to follow: The USA looked likely to get its first medal in Nordic combined, the sport in which athletes test themselves on the ski jump and the cross-country course.

They did indeed get that first medal. Then their first team medal. Then their first gold.

And it’s a fun event to watch. The cross-country race start order is determined by the ski jump results. The farther back you are in the ski jump, the longer you have to wait while the leader leaves you in the dust.

The bad news: The USA is nowhere near that strength this time around. Two-thirds of the old guard is still around — Bill Demong and Todd Lodwick put off retirement a little longer — but they’re not top contenders. That said, the team can still be in the mix — Demong, Lodwick and the Fletcher brothers (Taylor and Bryan) were third in the World Championships. Each Fletcher has had a moment or two of World Cup success.

Away we go …


Gold: Eric Frenzel (Germany)
Silver: Wilhelm Dinifl (Austria)
Bronze: Jason Lamy-Chappuis (France)

Also considered: Bernhard Gruber (Austria), Mikko Kokslien (Norway), Akito Watabe (Japan)

2013 World Championship top 8: Frenzel, Gruber, Lamy-Chappuis, Watabe (Japan), Hideaki Nagai (Japan), Denifl, Sebastien Lacroix (France), Magnus Moan (Norway)

2010 Olympic medalists: Bill Demong (USA), Johnny Spillane (USA), Gruber


Gold: Jason Lamy-Chappuis (France)
Silver: Eric Frenzel (Germany)
Bronze: Mikko Kokslien (Norway)

Also considered: Bernhard Gruber (Austria), Alessandro Pittin (Italy), Akito Watabe (Japan)

2013 World Championship top 8: Lamy-Chappuis, Mario Stecher (Austria), Bjoern Kircheisen (Germany), Frenzel, Haavard Klemetsen (Norway), Taihei Kato (Japan), Marjan Jelenko (Slovenia), Christoph Bieler (Austria)

2010 Olympic medalists: Lamy Chappuis, Bill Demong (USA), Alessandro Pittin (Italy)


Gold: Germany
Silver: Norway
Bronze: France

Also considered: Austria, Japan, USA

World Cup Nation Cup 2012-13 top 8: Germany, Norway, Austria, France, Japan, USA, Czech Republic, Slovenia

2013 World Championship top 8: France, Norway, USA, Japan, Austria, Germany, Italy, Finland

2010 Olympic medalists: Austria, USA, Germany


World Cup 2012-13 top 8: Eric Frenzel (Germany), Jason Lamy-Chappuis (France), Akito Watabe (Japan), Bernhard Gruber (Austria), Magnus Moan (Norway), Tino Edelmann (Germany), Mikko Kokslien (Norway), Wilhelm Denifl (Austria)

Wilhelm Denifl (Austria): Career-best eighth in 2013, his 14th World Cup season. Never been to Olympics in all that time. Better on large hill, including third behind Gruber and Frenzel in 2013 World Cup event.

Tino Edelmann (Germany): Several World Championship medals, two in individual events. Top 10 in the last four World Cup seasons.

Eric Frenzel (Germany): 2013 World Cup champion. 2011 World Championships: 1st and 3rd. 2013 Worlds: 1st and 4th.

Bernhard Gruber (Austria): Best World Cup season finish is fourth. But he has an Olympic medal and a World Championship medal.

Jason Lamy-Chappuis (France): American-born. 2010 gold medalist; World Cup champion three straights years (2010-2012). Second in 2013 World Cup. Gold and bronze in individual events in 2013 World Championships.

Björn Kircheisen (Germany): Third in 2003 and 2006 World Cups. Fifth in 2012, 11th in 2013. Three-time Olympian. Several scattered World Championship medals.

Mikko Kokslien (Norway): Second in 2011 World Cup; third in 2012.

Magnus Moan (Norway): Silver and bronze at 2006 Games. Second overall in 2006 and 2009 World Cups; slipped to 12th in 2011 and 2012 but has a few wins.

Alessandro Pittin (Italy): Seventh in 2012 World Cup, buoyed by three straight wins at same venue (normal hill). Competed little in 2013 World Cup season.

Mario Stecher (Austria): Going for fifth Olympics. Individual World Championship silver medals in 1999 and 2013.

Akito Watabe (Japan): Second in 2012 World Cup, third in 2013.

Olympic sports roundup: Aug. 27

What did you miss while you were making Facebook photos superimposing Ted Lange’s face on a hurricane tracking map? Read on.

Basketball: The U.S. Under-17 women didn’t have much trouble with anyone at the World Championships. The 3-on-3 tournament was a little tougher. Literally. After beating France in the final 17-16, Chiney Ogwumike had this to say:

In the end, it’s better to be physical than to play like girls.


– Snowboarding: Already time for 2014 qualifying! And Kelly Clark is dominating the halfpipe.

– Rugby: The U.S. men qualified for the 2013 Sevens Rugby World Cup with a few dominating wins, then lost to Canada in the qualifying final. (The U.S. women had already qualified.)

– Nordic combined and other insane endurance events: Billy Demong won a running, biking, river-crossing and mud-traversing race in Utah.

– Archery: Miranda Leek won the women’s recurve in the SoCal Showdown with an X in the shoot-off.

Wrestling: Zain Retherford won the 63kg (138.75 pound) freestyle at the Cadet World Championships.

The Team USA wrap has more on bowling, beach volleyball, equestrian, baseball, triathlon, water skiing, sprint kayaking and track cycling.