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Alaskans make bids for Olympic teams this week

  • Author: Beth Bragg
    | Sports
  • Updated: January 24, 2018
  • Published January 11, 2018

Keegan Messing of Girdwood practices at the Subway Sports Centre in preparation for this week’s Canadian national figure skating championships. Messing has dual citizenship and hopes to make the Canadian Olympic team. (Bill Roth / ADN)

The Winter Olympics are less than a month away, and so far four Alaska skiers plus a former UAA hockey player have earned trips to South Korea.

The list could grow this weekend.

Girdwood figure skater Keegan Messing gets his shot at making Canada's Olympic team Friday and Saturday in Vancouver, British Columbia, while Anchorage snowboarder Ryan Stassel can enhance his chances of a second Olympic appearance Friday in Snowmass, Colorado.

For Messing to make it, he needs to finish in the top two at the Canadian national championships, where three-time world champion Patrick Chan headlines the men's competition.

For Stassel, a top-three finish at the U.S. Grand Prix would move him closer to an Olympic spot. A victory could possibly clinch a spot on the team.

Four Alaska skiers — including Kikkan Randall, Alaska's first five-time Olympian — have clinched spots on the U.S. Olympic cross-country team.

Randall and three of her teammates on the Alaska Pacific University ski team qualified by virtue of their early season World Cup results. Joining Randall in Pyeongchang will be siblings Sadie Bjornsen and Erik Bjornsen, both members of the 2014 Olympic team, and Rosie Brennan, who will make her Olympic debut.

A few more APU skiers are in the running for spots after posting strong results at the recent U.S. championships at Kincaid Park. The team will be announced in about two weeks.

Gaining a spot on Canada's Olympic hockey team Thursday was Mat Robinson, who was a team captain during his time with the UAA hockey team from 2005-09.

Mat Robinson

Robinson, who is from Calgary, scored 44 points in 143 games for the Seawolves and was a two-time winner of the team's most inspirational player award (2008, 2009). He has played professionally since he graduated in 2009 and has spent the last four seasons in Russia.

Canada won gold medals in 2014 and 2010 with a team loaded with NHL players, but the NHL bowed out of the Olympics after the Sochi Games. That opened the door for players like Robinson, 31, who is one of 13 players on Canada's roster who play in the Kontinental Hockey League, according to the Sporting News.

If Messing can deliver clean skating this week in Vancouver, he could wind up on Canada's Olympic team too.

Keegan Messing practices at the Subway Sports Centre. (Bill Roth / ADN)

Messing, 25, has dual citizenship and began competing for Canada in the 2014-15 season after logging four straight top-10 finishes — but never making the podium — at the U.S. national championships.

Known for programs highlighted by fast, tight spins and four-revolution quad jumps, Messing has been as consistent as any Canadian man this season. He placed fifth at November's NHK Trophy in Osaka, Japan, one of his best international results ever.

In his three previous appearances at the Canadian national championships, Messing placed fifth twice (2017, 2015) and sixth in 2016.

He is among the top contenders heading into the men's short program Friday. Two men will make the Olympic team, and Chan is expected to be one of them.

Keegan Messing talks to coach Ralph Burghart after a recent practice. (Bill Roth / ADN)

While Messing is making his Olympic bid in Vancouver, Stassel will be making his at Colorado's Snowmass ski resort.

Stassel, 25, was one of three Americans to advance to Friday's slopestyle finals. He placed sixth overall in Wednesday's qualifying with a score of 76.5.

Ryan Stassel

Three to four men are expected to make the U.S. slopestyle team; Chris Corning of Colorado has already claimed one spot, and Red Gerard of Colorado — Wednesday's No. 2 qualifier with 88 points — would grab a spot on the team with a podium finish Friday.

Stassel, the 2015 world champion in slopestyle, ranks eighth in the Olympic qualifying points standings. He has a good chance of making the team if he wins Friday. If he doesn't win, his Olympic fate will be decided at the final qualifying competition next week at Mammoth Mountain in California.

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