The Americans had themselves an historic outing at the World Nordic Championships in Italy, winning two gold medals and a bronze, and setting themselves up for an Olympic breakthrough next year.
Sarah Hendrickson, the soaring 18-year-old, won the women’s jumping title and will be favored to take the inaugural Games crown. Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins won the women’s cross-country team sprint for the first global gold by either gender while the men earned bronze in the Nordic combined relay for their first podium placement in the event.
The US and Norway, which collected a whopping 19 medals, including eight golds, were the only nations to medal in all three disciplines. Added to the four golds and a bronze that the Yanks earned at last month’s Alpine championships, that brought the haul to eight, one shy of the combined 2009 count.
They could win at least that many at this week’s World Freestyle Championships in Voss, Norway, Knute Rockne’s birthplace. Olympic champion Hannah Kearney will be favored for gold in moguls and Torin Yater-Wallace in halfpipe and Alex Schlopy will defend his slopestyle crown. Also in the running for podium places will be Olympic medalist Bryon Wilson, Pat Deneen, and Heather McPhie in moguls, Belmont native Emily Cook in aerials, and returning medalist Simon Dumont, David Wise, and Maddie Bowman in halfpipe.
No takedown yet
Even if the International Olympic Committee’s executive board decides not to reverse its recommendation to drop the sport from the Olympic program after 2016, the wrestlers still will get an up-or-down vote from the full membership at its annual session in Buenos Aires in September. That will give the global grappling community six months to modernize its rules and do some linked-arms lobbying. “Wrestling can remain on the program,” said Jim Scherr, the former USOC executive director and Olympic athlete who has been named to the international federation’s bureau. “Wrestling has to work hard to do it.” The Americans, Iranians, and Russians are joining forces to make their case and Armen Nazaryan, the Bulgarian national team coach and two-time Olympic greco-roman gold medalist, has vowed to stay on a hunger strike until the European championships begin March 22. If nothing else, his juice fast will help him make weight if he decides to make a comeback . . . Even though Mike Krzyzewski has said he’s not interested in a three-peat as Olympic men’s coach, USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo doesn’t consider the decision irrevocable. “He and I always have to have a final discussion, that’s all,” said Colangelo, who’s planning for a sitdown with Krzyzewski after the college season. With next year’s world championships in Spain on the horizon, the federation would like to have a successor in place this summer. If it wants to go with an NBA coach, Doc Rivers, the star of the 1982 world team, would be one of the front-runners . . . After running away with the Alpine overall women’s title (a record 2,074 points and counting), Slovenia’s Tina Maze has a shot at winning all five discipline titles as well. Maze, who shrugged off an e-mailed death threat last weekend, has clinched the combined, has a huge bulge over Kathrin Zettel in the giant slalom, leads Julia Mancuso by 55 points in the super G, is a point behind out-for-the-season Lindsey Vonn in the downhill, and only 33 behind leader Mikaela Shiffrin in the slalom. While Austria’s Marcel Hirscher leads Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal by only 29 points in the overall men’s chase, he has four technical races left on the schedule to Svindal’s two speed races and figures to retain his title. Svindal, who has clinched the super G crown, is ahead in the downhill standings and Hirscher leads the slalom pack and Ted Ligety the giant slalom.
After sweeping the world all-around speedskating titles again last month with Sven Kramer (a record sixth crown) and Ireen Wust (her fourth), the Dutch will be favored to win at least half of the 14 races at next weekend’s World Cup finale on their home track in Heerenveen, where points will carry a 50 percent bonus. American ace Heather Richardson, the world sprint champion, will be the one to beat in the 1,000 but she’ll be pushed by teammate Brittany Bowe, who won her first Cup race with a track record at last weekend’s stop in Erfurt, Germany. Brian Hansen, coming off his first Cup triumph (in the 1,000), will contend in the 1,500 as will Olympic champion Shani Davis in the 1,000 . . . While the statute of limitations has run out, US speedskater Bridie Farrell did receive satisfaction after accusing Andy Gabel of sexual misconduct that happened when they were teammates in 1997-98. Gabel, who was 33 at the time (Farrell was 15), apologized to her and resigned his positions as short-track commission chairman for the international federation and member of US Speedskating’s Hall of Fame Committee. “I wish I had said something the day it happened,” said Farrell, who came out of a six-year retirement to try to qualify for next year’s Olympic team after three misses . . . After claiming the World Cup team and individual crowns with Noh Jink Yu and Shim Suk Hee, the South Koreans will be looking to go for the double at next weekend’s global short-track speedskating championships in Hungary where the men will be gunning for their 11th title in 12 years and the women will be bidding to reclaim theirs from the Chinese. It’s been a lost season for the Americans, who began the campaign in disarray with a coaching controversy and have only one contender in Olympic medalist J.R. Celski, who could make the award stand in the 500 and 1,000 meters.
Pair gets the call
With John Coughlin and Caydee Denney opting out while he rehabs after December hip surgery, Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim will be the second American pair at next week’s world figure skating championships in London, Ontario, joining new US champs Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir of the Skating Club of Boston. Scimeca and Knierim, who were second at the nationals, originally were named alternates after Coughlin and Denney petitioned onto the team. It’ll be the first time the US has sent two rookie pairs to a pre-Olympic worlds . . . The German lugers ran the World Cup table for the first time since their East Siders did it in 1984, claiming all four crowns. Felix Loch outpointed teammates Andi Langenhan and David Moeller to retain his men’s title. Natalie Geisenberger, who collected her first women’s title, led her country’s 12th consecutive sweep ahead of Anke Wischnewski and Tatjana Huefner, while Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt reclaimed their doubles title ahead of countrymen Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken and the relay completed a perfect season. In all, the Teutons had 60 of a possible 87 podium finishes. While the Americans had one individual medal all season — Julia Clukey’s silver at Lake Placid — they finished third in the relay standings and have a chance at their first Olympic medal since 2002.
Burke willing and able
If USA Hockey asks Brian Burke to re-up as general manager of the Olympic men’s team for Sochi, he’s ready for duty. “I’ll go if they ask me,” says Burke, who was GM in Vancouver, where the Yanks won a surprise silver and now is an Anaheim Ducks scout. “It’s a patriotic thing.” Burke’s star-spangled connection goes back to 1993 when he was GM of the US world team. “When they asked me then I told them, I’ll fold towels,” he said. “I’ll get a Class A license and drive a bus. I owe them everything.” . . . US cyclist Sarah Hammer was a one-woman medal count for her country at the world track championships in Minsk, winning her fifth individual pursuit crown and her first omnium after collecting a couple of silvers at the Olympics . . . The Sochi track, which will be used for bobsled, skeleton and luge, not only is the world’s longest it also has three uphill sections designed to bleed speed. That’s a safety measure adopted in the wake of the 2010 death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili on the Whistler run that was so fast that it was dubbed “The Elevator Shaft.’’ “They want to minimize the danger,” said US bobsled driver Steve Holcomb, who won the Olympic four-man in Whistler.