No fans: US Olympic speedskating trials set for empty arena

MILWAUKEE (AP) — The U.S. Olympic speedskating trials will be held without fans or media because of the surge in COVID-19 cases.

US Speedskating made the announcement Monday, just two days before the start of the trials at the Pettit National Ice Center in Milwaukee.

The trials, which conclude on Sunday, determine the long-track team that will represent the U.S. at the Beijing Games. The short track squad was set last month at separate trials in Salt Lake City.

The Beijing Olympics are scheduled to begin Feb. 4 despite a startling rise in COVID-19 cases because of the omicron variant.

“It’s vital that we continue to keep a strong focus on the health and welfare of our athletes,” said Ted Morris, executive director of US Speedskating. “Our ability to create a competition bubble provides us with the best situation to protect our athletes while providing them with the opportunity to qualify for the Beijing team at the Olympic trials.”

All media coverage will be done virtually.

“We appreciate the understanding of parents, fans and media so that we can provide the best environment possible for our athletes,” Morris said.

Brittany Bowe, Erin Jackson and Joey Mantia — all from Ocala, Florida — are the leading medal contenders for the American team.

Bowe and Mantia are veterans of the program and looking to make their third Olympics. Bowe won a bronze in team pursuit at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.

Jackson, who competed in her first Olympics four years ago, has emerged as one of the world’s top sprinters, becoming the first Black American woman to win a World Cup title this season.

The short track team includes 2018 Olympians Maame Biney and Ryan Pivirotto. The remaining short trackers will be making their Olympic debuts in Beijing: Kristen Santos, Corinne Stoddard, Julie Letai, Eunice Lee and Andrew Heo.

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