Lindsey Vonn, who sped past limits to top of ski racing (and sometimes flew into safety nets, as she did again in her penultimate race), is coming to a stop

Lindsey Vonn, who sped past limits to top of ski racing (and sometimes flew into safety nets, as she did again in her penultimate race), is coming to a stop

I am not a skier.  So, when I began intermittently writing about the sport in the 1980s, I had no first-hand appreciation of the speeds top Alpine ski racers reached – and the danger that sped along with them.

Television didn’t help, because the head-on camera angle does not provide a frame of reference.  And you could tell me they were hitting 75 miles per hour, but I had no perspective on what that meant until the 1989 World Championships in Vail, Colo.

One day during women’s downhill training, I hiked partway up the side of the final pitch to the finish.  From that vantage point, with the skiers coming past me rather than coming at me, as they did when I stood in the media area at the finish, it was very clear how fast they were moving.  Frighteningly fast.

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Bradie Tennell working to hammer home jumps, repeat national champion mentality

Bradie Tennell working to hammer home jumps, repeat national champion mentality

Bradie Tennell had awakened at 4 a.m., as usual, and arrived at the Twin Rinks Ice Pavilion in Chicago’s northwest suburbs by 6 a.m., as usual. Now it was early afternoon, and the 2018 Olympic team event bronze medalist was on her sixth of seven 30-minute training session of the day.

It is a workload that befits her personality on and off the ice: relentless, no-nonsense, a grinder in a sport where the surface glitz often hides the lunch-bucket labor that figure skaters put in daily on rinks like this one.

Not all of her training days are so intense. Her coach of 11 years, Denise Myers, insists that the 20-year-old Tennell cut back at times to make sure she stays healthy after having had her skating career threatened by back problems in both the 2016 and 2017 seasons. So there are days with reduced jumping and days with no jumping at all and days with fewer sessions and fewer full program run-throughs.

“I like to take as long as I need to get everything done,” Tennell said. “I don’t really count the hours.”

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Proposal to raise minimum age for senior events brings figure skating back to the future

Proposal to raise minimum age for senior events brings figure skating back to the future

Jeroen Prins long has been deeply involved in figure skating, with a wide range of expertise.

Prins, 54, was a national-level skater in the Netherlands who now is an international referee and technical controller in singles, a technical controller in pairs and a judge in ice dance.  He holds several positions in the figure skating section of the Dutch Skating Federation and is a candidate for membership on the International Skating Union’s singles and pairs technical committee.  He is a figure skating commentator for Eurosport Netherlands.

And Prins had been thinking long, hard and deeply about the issue of minimum age in senior figure skating before writing the urgent proposal to raise it to 17 that the Dutch federation submitted to the ISU Congress that begins June 4 in Seville, Spain.

“I has this idea in mind already at the start of this past Olympic season, but I wanted to see how everything unfolded,” Prins said in an email.

What unfolded was the second youngest women’s Olympic champion in history, 15-year-old Alina Zagitova of Russia.  And the top two women (girls?) at the World Junior Championships, also both Russians, were 13 and 14.  And the top three women at the Junior Grand Prix Final, all Russians (the top two were the same as at junior worlds), were 13, 14, 13.

One of those three, world junior champion Alexandra Trusova, did two quadruple jumps in her winning free skate at the world juniors.  Since then, video has been posted of another Russian – Anna Shcherbakova, 14, who did not compete in the 2017 world juniors or the 2017 Junior Grand Prix series – doing a clean quad lutz-triple toe-triple loop combination in practice.

So Prins decided the time was right to ask that the ISU raise the minimum age for seniors in all disciplines from 15 to 17 as of the 2020-21 season, with the two-year wait designed to prevent any 15- or 16-year-olds already in seniors from being forced back to the junior level.

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As Winter Games loom, skier and skater were world's best in an odd 2017

As Winter Games loom, skier and skater were world's best in an odd 2017

The Olympic cycle, like the calendar, has odd years and even years.

The even years, like 2018, include an Olympics, in this case the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

The odd years, like the one that just ended, are not devoid of big events in international sports.  And 2017 was full of them, but the overriding feeling was of a year that was just plain odd – and, at times, depressingly sad.

For the second annus horribilis in a row, athletes have saved Olympic sport from itself and its feckless leaders.  Celebrating their excellence is the best way to express hope for a better 2018.

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Men's figure skating has mess on its hands (and knees, and butts)

Men's figure skating has mess on its hands (and knees, and butts)

The Grand Prix and Challenger Series events ended last weekend, moving this Olympic figure skating season into the national championship phase (the first two of note are Russia, Dec. 19-24 in Saint Petersburg and Japan, Dec. 20-24 in Tokyo.)

There are big questions related to each.  Will injured reigning world champion Evgenia Medvedeva compete in the Russian Championships? Will injured reigning world and Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu be ready for Japanese nationals?

A 2018 Olympic spot for each should be a foregone conclusion, notwithstanding the unanswered questions about eligibility for all Russian athletes.  Given that Medvedeva did not compete at the Sochi Olympics, the epicenter of current Russian doping issues, and given that she has had no doping positives, nothing but injury should keep her from competing in Pyeongchang.

The Grand Prix Series also has left other unanswered questions.  Here are a few involving men’s singles (I’ll get to women, pairs and dance later in the week):

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