Star sports columnist Vahe Gregorian takes on five topics every Friday on his blog:
As it happens, U.S. champion and Olympic medal contender Gracie Gold isn’t the only prominent figure skater competing in the Sochi Winter Games to have substantial regional roots.
When I was speaking with local figure skating coach Randy Brilliantine about Gold the other day, he mentioned that he’d heard Gold’s teammate Ashley Wagner had taken lessons at Line Creek Community Center Ice Arena under Jim Mullen.
Sure enough, she did, as Line Creek skating director Amy Fankhauser confirmed on Friday.
“Some kids just kind of have that fire, that look in their eye,” recalled Fankhauser, who was an assistant to Mullen at the time. “She was one of them.”
Fankhauser recalled that Wagner, from a nomadic military family, had trained there for about a year.
But the timing was significant, as the Orange County Register’s estimable Scott Reid wrote last week about the then-6-year-old Wagner, now a resident of Laguna Beach, Calif.
“A little past 5 each morning, Melissa Wagner would place her two children, Ashley and younger brother Austin — still in their pajamas, still asleep — in the backseat of her car at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., before starting the 45-minute drive to a skating rink in Kansas City. After practice, she would make the return drive, getting Ashley back to Fort Leavenworth in time for first grade.
“It was a familiar path of city streets, country roads and freeways cutting through the stark Midwestern landscape, yet as Melissa Wagner drove south on the morning of Feb. 20, 1998, she was unsure of where the long journeys to the rink were ultimately leading her and her daughter, or if it was even going anywhere.
“That morning the coaches interrupted practice to turn on a television so everyone could watch the Olympic women’s free skate in Nagano, Japan. That was when the switch was flipped for Ashley Wagner.
“She was drawn to Tara Lipinski, a skinny American kid not much bigger than Wagner, brimming with energy, confidence and athleticism.
“‘Oh, my gosh she must be so nervous,’” Wagner recalled thinking as Lipinski took the ice on the other side of the world. “And then seeing her jump after jump after jump, getting more excited.”
By the time Lipinski had finished jumping up and down in the kiss and cry after her marks told her she was the youngest Olympic women’s champion in history, Wagner knew.
“That was it for me,” Wagner said. “That’s what I wanted to do. I was really impressionable and Tara was 15 but she looked like she was 12, and so to me it didn’t look like she was that much older and I thought, ‘That’s something I could do.’ That’s when I decided I wanted to go to the Olympics and that I would do everything I could to make that happen.”
Speaking of Gracie Gold, her name has become a part of her story. And don’t think she’s not conscious of every aspect of that.
“I’m glad that you bring that up, because having my name (be) Gracie Gold is definitely a double-edged sword,” she said in a conference call with reporters last month. “There can be wonderful headlines, funny jokes: ‘Gold Getting Gold, Graceful Gold.’
“But there’s the other side, where, ‘Gold Gets Silver, Gold Gets Bronze, Fall From Grace.’ It definitely comes (with) a price, so I guess I have to work on living up to it.”
Perhaps for entirely selfish reasons, I was sad to see the Chiefs release cornerback Dunta Robinson on Friday.
Yes, he had lost a step, and, well, it’s hard to argue with the move itself as the Chiefs seek to ramp up their defensive backfield.
But in my experience with him, he’s one of the rare athletes who was always ready to speak intelligently on about any topic, including even his own struggles. His candor and goodwill will be missed.
Surprising as it might have been to see the Royals last week clear space for Bruce Chen on their 40-man roster by designating valued utility-man Emilio Bonifacio for assignment, a few factors probably informed their thinking.
The versatile Bonifacio could do many things well, but he still generally was going to be the secondary backup (and that’s not a redundancy) option on about any of those: from pinch-running speed and centerfield ability (behind Jarrod Dyson) to power (Justin Maxwell, Danny Valencia) and so on.
And with the offseason additions of outfielder Norichika Aoki and second baseman Omar Infante, the Royals at least are going into spring training with the notion that every starting position is set.
Combine that with the addition of Valencia, and the Royals got the more natural backup, or at least one they’d evidently prefer, for Mike Moustakas at third base.
So, all of that would seem to signal less potential playing time for a man accustomed to playing plenty and carrying a $3.5 million contract.
That in itself would figure to be part of the complicated considerations: Even without his contract, the team’s payroll is around $89 million, which may be about its limit.
It’s probably not a decision the Royals relished, because he had some nice worthy moments for them last season. And it’s a little unclear what their thoughts are about middle-infield relief for shortstop Alcides Escobar and Infante, who played only 118 games last season.
But sometimes the numbers game means tough choices.
Maybe by now, almost two weeks into its investigation, the Columbia Police Department has sorted out about the most bewildering element in the delicate matter of Sasha Menu Courey, the Mizzou swimmer who committed suicide in 2011.
That would be what ESPN called a “videotape” of an alleged 2010 sexual assault of Menu Courey that former MU receiver Rolandis Woodland told ESPN had been misplaced by one of his family members after it had been sent to him, shortly before her suicide, by Menu Courey who had received it from the former girlfriend of one of the alleged assailants.
Each element of this is hard to fathom, particularly the notion of a “videotape” being made and passed around in a cell-phone video world.
It’s also hard to grasp why Woodland told ESPN he confronted teammates over it but didn’t take the tape to authorities at the time “because he wasn’t sure Menu Courey would have wanted that” (ESPN’s words) and could allow it to be left in a place that others could lose it – or even see it.
Moreover, it’s puzzling that in its 16-month investigation of the matter ESPN didn’t clarify this more, starting with the simple nature of what form the “videotape” took.
Maybe it just wasn’t explained well, and perhaps there is an explanation that makes sense.
But it’s still a public mystery even as Columbia police presumably are getting answers, answers we hope ultimately become transparent.