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Six questions leading up to Sochi 2014

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The competition in Sochi starts a year from today, but with nationals and World Cup events happening as we speak, the competition is already heating up. We still don’t know who will compete in the Winter Olympics next February, but here’s a look at some of the top questions we’ll be asking all year.

Can Shaun White Three-peat?
White has won the last two Olympic titles in halfpipe, and the last six X Games titles in superpipe, but it still seems like everyone is nipping at his heels, most notably fourteen-year-old Japanese phenom Ayumu Hirano, who finished with silver in Aspen last month. White will also face Finland’s Markus Milan and America’s Scotty Lago. but we’re sure White will have something new up his sleeve for Sochi.

How well will Lindsey Vonn do in Sochi after the injury?
Questions will linger about Vonn’s conditioning coming off such a serious knee injury – she tore two right knee ligaments and fractured a bone in her shin – but as Christin Cooper told NBC Nightly News on Tuesday, “she’s gonna work as hard as anybody ever has to be in shape to win medals in Sochi.” We expect world champ Tina Maze of Slovenia to inspire her recovery, and expect nothing but the best from Lindsey.

Can Evan Lysacek be the first man to repeat in figure skating singles since 1952?
He can. Absolutely, so long as he’s healthy. The Vancouver champ missed this year’s nationals with a groin injury, but said he’s 100 percent now and ready to make a run for a second gold in Sochi. He’ll likely be facing-off against three-time medalist Yevgeny Plushenko, who recently had back surgery, and a host of worldwide up-and-comers including Javier Fernandez of Spain and new American national champ, Max Aaron.

What about Yuna Kim?
The South Korean star is also looking to repeat, and looked great in Germany back in December, winning gold at her first event in more than eighteen months. She should lock up a spot in Sochi at worlds in March, and definitely looks to shine on the ice again, but Americans Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold, who were both impressive at U.S. nationals last month, might have something to say about that.

How will the Russians do at their first hometown Winter Games?
The Russians have always been one of the most formidable nations at the Winter Games, but disappointed themselves and Vladimir Putin by only winning fifteen medals in Vancouver; and only three gold. They’ll aim for the top of the medal table in Sochi with stars like Plushenko, a hockey team led by NHL stars Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin, speed skater Ivan Skobrev, and just about everyone on cross-country skis.

How on earth can I enjoy the Olympics more?
With more events, obviously. Twelve to be exact, which means there’s 36 more medals to be won (by the U.S.) and an exponential amount of excitement to be had. Here’s the list:

Figure skating: team event.
Snowboarding: men’s and women’s slopestyle, men’s and women’s parallel special slalom
Freestyle Skiing: men’s and women’s slopestyle; men’s and women’s halfpipe
Ski jumping: women’s normal hill
Biathlon: mixed relay
Luge: team relay

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Final three Pyeongchang Olympic men’s hockey spots set to be filled

Anze Kopitar
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The 2018 Olympic men’s hockey field of 12 teams will be complete by the end of this weekend.

The last three spots will go to winners of three round-robin qualifying tournaments in Europe that run from Thursday through Sunday.

The Olympic Channel will stream the action.

The current Olympic men’s hockey groups (world ranking in parentheses):

Group A Group B Group C
Canada (1) Russia (2) Finland (3)
Czech Republic (6) USA (4) Sweden (5)
Switzerland (7) Slovakia (8) Qualifier
South Korea (23 — host) Qualifier Qualifier

Those three qualifiers will be the winners of these three tournaments this weekend:

Tournament 1 Tournament 2 Tournament 3
Belarus (9 — host) Germany (10) Norway (11 — host)
Denmark (13) Latvia (12 — host) France (14)
Slovenia (15) Austria (17) Kazakhstan (16)
Poland (20) Japan (21) Italy (18)

All of the Olympic medal contenders are among the nine nations already in the Pyeongchang field, but a few notables are vying for spots this weekend.

Belarus memorably upset Sweden in the 2002 Olympic quarterfinals and wound up fourth in Salt Lake City. It last competed in the Olympics in 2010. Belarus’ biggest competition in its qualifying tournament may be Slovenia, which won two games at the Sochi Olympics and is led by Los Angeles Kings All-Star Anze Kopitar.

Like Belarus, Germany also last played at the Olympics in 2010. More recently, it beat the U.S. at the World Championship in May, behind New York Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss. To get to Pyeongchang, Germany must top a group that includes host Latvia, which made the last four Olympics and beat Switzerland in Sochi.

Norway hosts the group with the least amount of recent Olympic experience. None of France, Kazakhstan or Italy made either of the last two Olympics. Norway ought to be favored, then, since it reached the 2010 and 2014 Olympics, though it lost every contest at both Winter Games. New York Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello stars for the Norwegians.

It’s unknown whether the NHL will send its players to the 2018 Olympics.

MORE: Canada holds Soviet-like dominance after another world hockey title

Four more Beijing 2008 medalists stripped after doping retests

FILE - In this Aug. 7, 2008 file photo, a protective fence shows a Beijing 2008 logo outside the National Stadium, known as the "Birds Nest", in Beijing. Three Olympic champion weightlifters from China and eight other medalists stand to be stripped of their titles after failing retests of their doping samples from the 2008 Olympics. Chinese gold medalists Cao Lei, Liu Chunhong and Chen Xiexia all tested positive for GHRP-2, which stimulates growth hormone production, while Liu also tested positive for the stimulant sibutramine.
(AP Photo/Petr David Josek, file)
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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — The IOC has stripped four more athletes — including three Russians — of medals from the 2008 Beijing Olympics after their doping samples were retested and came back positive.

A total of six athletes were sanctioned Wednesday by the International Olympic Committee based on reanalysis of their samples with improved techniques. They were among the 98 positive cases recorded in the retesting of samples from Beijing and the 2012 London Olympics.

The IOC says Tatyana Firova was stripped of her silver medal in the women’s 4×400-meter relay after testing positive for turinabol and other steroids. She also had her ninth-place finish in the individual 400m annulled.

Russia had already been stripped of the relay medal earlier this month when Anastasia Kapachinskaya tested positive.

MORE: Russian Olympic medalists gifts include racehorse