It’s about 15 months before the Feb. 7, 2014 opening of the next Winter Olympics.
So here are 15 thoughts on winter sports as the full gamut of sports on the program for the Sochi Games get into pre-Olympic-year action this weekend.
1. There is a good chance the groin injury that has delayed Evan Lysacek’s figure skating comeback again will keep him from January’s U.S. Championships. Groin injuries are famous for being hard to cure without total rest. Reigning Olympic champion Lysacek’s real goal is the 2014 Olympic team, and training or competing while injured – even a year away – could jeopardize that.
2. Lysacek withdrew from Skate America in October and decided not to go to Croatia for a Dec. 13-16 competition that would have allowed him to get his blades wet before nationals. So why did he skate in a made-for-TV cancer charity show in North Carolina last week?
3. In answer to No. 2, Lysacek’s agent, Shep Goldberg, told me that even if the skater was feeling ready to compete, the lengthy trip to Croatia could have affected the injury. Goldberg said Lysacek was committed to the Carolina event on a personal level, since his father, Don, is a cancer survivor. And Lysacek did not push himself in the exhibition, doing only two jumps.
4 Two-time Olympic speedskating champion Shani Davis, who has spent more than a decade in elite competition, never had missed a scheduled competition until a groin injury knocked him out of last weekend’s opening World Cup meet in Heerenveen, the Netherlands, according to an email from his mother, Cherie.
5. Brittany Bowe has made an unusual sports transition. An all-Sun Belt Conference basketball player for Florida Atlantic in 2010, she took up speedskating last year and now is a leading member of the U.S. long track women’s team (6th in the 1,000 meters at Heerenveen after career best 5th there a year ago). Bowe, of Ocala, Fla., was a champion inline skater.
6. The addition of Olympic track stars Lolo Jones and Tianna Madison already has made bobsled one of the hottest U.S. stories leading up to the next Olympics. Jones will be back in action Friday in Whistler, B.C., while Madison gets another week off. Both won medals in the season opening race.
7. Reigning 4-man Olympic gold medal driver Steve Holcomb also couldn’t be hotter: two 2-man wins, two 4-man second places in the first two World Cups. In his new biography, But Now I See: My Journey From Blindness to Olympic Glory, Holcomb reveals he made a failed suicide attempt (pills) in 2007 when he thought a degenerative eye disease was about to leave him blind.
8. Looks as if Ashley Wagner will be the only U.S. singles qualifier, male or female, for the Dec. 7-8 Grand Prix figure skating final – the test event for the new Sochi arena. It would be the first time since 2002 the U.S. had just one singles qualifier. Jeremy Abbott and Christina Gao are on the bubble this year, but it likely will be burst by results of this week’s NHK Trophy, where Agnes Zawadzki has a very long shot at qualifying.
9. Making the Grand Prix Final is a dubious reward for U.S. skaters, because getting to Sochi currently is a major and tedious pain requiring at least three flights for anyone not starting in New York or Washington.
10. Reigning Olympic champion Yuna Kim’s appearance at a “B” level competition in Dortmund – her first competition after a season off – will overshadow the Grand Prix Final the same weekend.
11. High school senior Mikaela Shiffrin, just 17, already has proved making the podium last year in just her fifth World Cup slalom race was no fluke by duplicating that third place in the season-opening slalom Nov. 11 in Finland. She’ll be in the spotlight when the White Circus hits Aspen, Colo., this weekend: the second run of Sunday’s slalom is live on NBC Sports Network (2 p.m.) Shiffrin is a young woman for the times: she tweeted between runs in Finland.
12. Funny how things work out. First Lindsey Vonn’s request to compete in the downhill against male skiers at Lake Louise this weekend was turned down by the old boys club at the International Ski Federation, then she was hospitalized two days with intestinal pain, now she is back training for the women’s circuit. Better in her current condition that she doesn’t have to deal with all the hype that would have accompanied a battle of the sexes. Vonn likely will ski women’s World Cup giant slalom Saturday in Aspen.
13. The 2014 U.S. Olympic feel-good story is likely to be skeleton racer Katie Uhlaender, who has finally put the 2009 death of her dad, former major league baseball player Ted, and five surgeries behind her. Uhlaender, who won the world title last year and opened this season with a World Cup victory, races with one of her dad’s baseball cards taped to the sled.
14. Women’s ski jumping, slopestyle skiing and snowboarding, halfpipe skiing, snowboarding parallel slalom, luge team relay and the figure team event debut on the Sochi Olympic program.
15. Sarah Henrickson, 17, of Park City, Utah already is the jumper to watch, having won nine of the 13 events on the inaugural women’s World Cup last season. Henrickson is coming off April knee surgery but is expected to compete in this weekend’s Cup opener at Lillehammer, Norway.