Olympic stock watch: Canadian speed skaters up, men's hockey hopes down
Our weekly look at who's rising and falling on the road to Beijing
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Canada's speed skaters continue to rise
Here's who and what is trending up or down after another eventful weekend in winter Olympic sports:
Up: Canada's speed skaters
If there's one point we've tried to hammer home in this newsletter over the last month or so, it's this: after a couple of quieter Olympic cycles, Canada's long track speed skaters are very good again, and they're probably going to win a lot of medals in Beijing this February.
That message was loud and clear this weekend in Calgary, site of the fourth and final long track World Cup meet before the Olympics. Over three days, Canadian skaters racked up eight medals, including a pair by Laurent Dubreuil. The reigning men's 500-metre world champion won gold on Friday in Canadian-record time, then on Sunday ran his 500m podium streak to eight races by taking bronze. Dubreuil will head to Beijing as the World Cup leader in this distance, and likely the favourite to win gold after placing 18th in his Olympic debut four years ago.
Canada should also be favoured for gold in the women's team pursuit after the trio of Isabelle Weidemann, Ivanie Blondin and Valérie Maltais closed out a perfect season by winning in Calgary in Canadian-record time. The squad won all three of its World Cup races this season. There is no women's team pursuit race at the only remaining stop, in March in the Netherlands.
Blondin also won an individual silver in the women's mass start, staying atop the World Cup standings with her third consecutive podium appearance in that event, while Weidemann took silver in the women's 3,000m to take the World Cup lead in the women's long distances category. One caveat: Irene Schouten, who won the first three races of the season at 3,000m or 5,000m and also has a mass start victory, did not make the trip to Calgary as the powerful Dutch team elected to stay home.
Canada's other individual medals in Calgary came from Ted-Jan Bloemen, who took bronze in the men's 5,000, and Connor Howe, who got silver in the men's 1,500 for his first solo World Cup podium. Bloemen, Howe and Jordan Belchos also combined for a bronze in the men's team pursuit.
That makes 24 World Cup medals for Canadian long track speed skaters this season — an average of six per stop. Next up for the team is this week's Four Continents Championships in Calgary. The event is basically the rest of the world's answer to the European championships, which will take place in early January. Races begin Wednesday at 3 p.m. ET and you can watch them all live on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem. Read more about Canada's big weekend in Calgary and watch highlights here.
Down: Mikaël Kingsbury
Perhaps the best way to put the man's greatness in perspective is that it's more newsworthy when he doesn't win gold. That's what happened Saturday in Sweden, where the moguls GOAT in fact did not even make the final round. A week after winning the season opener in Finland, Kingsbury placed a surprising eighth. He did, however, rebound to win the (non-Olympic) dual moguls event on Sunday for his 67th career World Cup victory.
Other Canadian freestyle skiers picking up medals over the weekend were Rachael Karker (silver in the women's halfpipe at Colorado's Copper Mountain), Brendan Mackay (bronze in the men's event at the same venue), Britt Phelan (silver in the first of two women's ski cross events in France) and Marielle Thompson (bronze in the second one). Thompson was the Olympic champ in 2014 and Phelan took silver in '18, so Canada is eyeing multiple medals in this event in Beijing.
Down: Kaillie Humphries
The beginning of December couldn't have gone better for the former star of the Canadian bobsleigh team. After getting sworn in as a U.S. citizen, clearing the way for her to compete for her new country at the Beijing Olympics, Humphries flew back to Europe and won gold in both the two-woman and monobob events at that week's World Cup stop. But maybe the jet lag finally caught up to the two-time Olympic and world champion because she seemed a little off this past weekend in Germany, finishing fifth in the two-woman and 13th in the monobob.
Also taking a small step back was the Canadian duo of Christine De Bruin and Kristen Bujnowski. After grabbing bronze in each of the first three World Cup races of the season (and placing third at the Olympic test event in Beijing), they finished fourth in Germany. They still rank third in the two-woman standings, though, one spot ahead of Humphries.
Another Canadian is one spot ahead of Humphries in the monobob. A week after winning silver for her first World Cup medal as a pilot, Cynthia Appiah took bronze this weekend and now ranks third in the standings. She also placed third at the Olympic test event in Beijing prior to the World Cup season, and hasn't finished worse than fifth in the four World Cup races. She's looking more and more like an Olympic medal contender.
Canada also has a podium hopeful on the men's side in pilot Justin Kripps. The reigning Olympic two-man champion ranks fourth in both that event and the four-man. He won a bronze in the latter this weekend.
Up: Canada's Para nordic skiers
Canada finished the World Para Nordic Skiing World Cup event in Canmore, Alta., with 17 medals. Only Russia, with 65, won more.
The top earner for Canada was Brittany Hudak, who racked up four gold medals — two in cross-country, two in biathlon — and one silver. Natalie Wilke won two gold to go with two silver, while 17-time Paralympic medallist Brian McKeever had a pair of gold of his own.
Down: The chances of NHL players competing at the Olympics
As everyone knows by now, the NHL and its players have an out clause in their agreement with hockey's world governing body that allows them to pull out if COVID-19 conditions make going to Beijing "impractical or unsafe." They have until Jan. 10 to bail without incurring a financial penalty.
On Friday, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said he was "concerned" about "a whole host of issues" involved with going to China at this particular time, but the decision would ultimately be up to the players. No surprise there — it was, after all, the players who pushed for getting back into the Olympics (the league and the owners would just as soon not participate). But it's fair to wonder whether the players' will could be waning.
Some of them are justifiably concerned about China's heavy-handed quarantine rules, which could result in an extended (and extremely unwanted) stay there for someone who tests positive. Then there's the omicron variant, which everyone is still trying to get a handle on. And today the NHL announced that the Calgary Flames' next three games have been postponed after six players were placed in the league's COVID-19 protocol. It's the third time this season that an outbreak has caused the league to postpone multiple games for a team (the Senators and Islanders also went through it).
Last night, Vegas Golden Knights defenceman Alex Pietrangelo — one of three players officially named to the Canadian team back in October — went on record expressing his doubts. Referring to the tough quarantine rules for the Beijing Olympics, he said: "I've got four kids that are under the age of three and a half. For me to be potentially locked up there for five weeks plus the Olympics, that's a long time being away from my family." He added: "I'm not going to make a decision until we get all the answers, because I think those are hard to come by right now."
The first Grey Cup in two years was worth the wait. Coming off a pandemic-erased 2020 season and a choppy 2021 in which scoring was down, the CFL really needed an entertaining title game. After a slow first half last night in Hamilton, that's exactly what it got. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers rallied from a 22-10 fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 33-25 in overtime and win their second consecutive Grey Cup. Hats off to the Bombers, who waited 29 years between championships but are now a dynasty in the making. And spare a thought for Hamilton, whose CFL-worst title drought will now reach 23 years. Read more about the Grey Cup thriller in this story by CBC Sports' Devin Heroux.
Hockey phenom Connor Bedard made Canada's world junior team. He's just the seventh 16-year-old to be named to the squad, and the first since Connor McDavid in 2014. The others are Wayne Gretzky (1978), Eric Lindros (1990), Jason Spezza and Jay Bouwmeester (2000) and Sidney Crosby (2004). Also named to the team yesterday was Shane Wright, the presumptive No. 1 pick in the 2022 NHL draft who was cut last year as a 16-year-old. The world juniors open on Boxing Day and are being held in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alta. Canada, which lost the gold-medal game last year to the United States, is grouped with Finland, the Czech Republic, Germany and Austria. Read more about the Canadian roster here.
A Canadian inadvertently sparked the dramatic/controversial ending to the F1 season finale. As you probably know (because everyone is suddenly into European car racing), Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull's Max Verstappen came into the highly anticipated final race on Sunday tied for first place in the drivers' championship. With a few laps to go, it looked like Hamilton was on his way to winning his fifth consecutive title and record-setting eighth of his career. But a crash by Canadian driver Nicholas Latifi brought out the safety car, allowing Verstappen to pit for fresh tires without losing ground. When the race director decided to allow one more lap of racing after the crash was cleaned up, Verstappen overtook Hamilton to win the race and the drivers' title. Entertaining, for sure, but some serious F1 fans are upset with the seemingly made-up nature of the conclusion. Read more about the drama and watch highlights here.
Coming up on CBC Sports
Basketball Champions League Americas — Edmonton Stingers vs. Real Esteli. This is the first time a team in the Canadian Elite Basketball League will play in the BCLA, a FIBA-sanctioned competition that's similar to soccer's various Champions Leagues. Edmonton earned the right to compete by winning the CEBL title last summer. Watch the Stingers face Nicaragua-based Real Esteli on the latter's home court tonight at 8:30 p.m. ET on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem. Learn more about how the BCLA works and how Edmonton fits in by reading this story by CBC Sports' Myles Dichter.
You're up to speed. Talk to you tomorrow.