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Flame Watch: A Space Odyssey

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This Sochi Winter Olympics Torch Relay begins October 7 in Moscow, and sometime in November the Flame will take a trip into the vacuum of Space.

Said Flame, which will travel to the International Space Station aboard the Russian vessel Soyuz TMA-11M, will be simulated because, you know, science. The Torch will be taken outside for a spacewalk by cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazansky, and then return to earth four days later on Soyuz TMA-09M to continue its trip to Sochi.

The launch of the Russian expedition was actually moved up from November 25 to November 7 to accomodate the Olympic Torch Relay.

But any fan of Flame Watch knows this will actually be the third time the Torch has traveled to Space. In 1976, the Flame was converted to an electronic impulse in Greece, then beamed into space and sent back down to Canada via satellite (again: science). And in 2000 the Torch made a trip aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis ahead of the Sydney Games.

Russia’s goal for 2018 Olympics to top medal standings

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 07:  Bobsleigh racer Alexander Zubkov of the Russia Olympic team carries his country's flag during the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Fisht Olympic Stadium on February 7, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
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Russia’s goal for the 2018 Olympics is to repeat its success from Sochi by topping the medal standings for a second straight Winter Games, the Russian Olympic Committee president reportedly said Thursday.

“Our team finished in the first place of the unofficial medals standings during the Olympics in Sochi,” Russian Olympic Committee president Alexander Zhukov said, according to Russian news agency TASS. “This is why the priority task for the national team is to maintain its leading position at the 2018 Games.”

Zhukov cautioned that there has been a recent decrease in potential medalists, plus no longer having the home-field advantage as it had in Sochi.

Zhukov’s comments came one day before the second part of a World Anti-Doping Agency-commissioned report investigating Russian doping allegations is to be published.

In May, The New York Times reported that dozens of Russian athletes, including 15 Sochi medalists, were on a state-run doping program leading into the 2014 Winter Games.

So far, no Russian medalists have been found guilty of cheating for the Sochi Olympics.

In Sochi, Russia earned 33 medals and 13 golds. The next highest totals were 28 medals by the U.S. and 11 golds by Norway.

The last time the Winter Games were in East Asia, Russia placed third in total medals and golds behind Germany and Norway at Nagano 1998.

MORE: Russian Olympic champion to oversee RUSADA

Bob McKenzie: ‘It doesn’t look like the NHL is going to South Korea’

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If the status quo doesn’t change, the NHL will likely decide in January not to send players to the 2018 Olympics, insider Bob McKenzie said on NBCSN on Wednesday night.

The NHL Board of Governors is meeting in Florida on Thursday and Friday, and the Olympics are expected to be discussed, but no decision on NHL participation in Pyeongchang is expected.

“Absent some new X-factor that comes into the equation, something that changes up the minds of the governors or other people involved in this Olympic decision, it doesn’t look like the NHL is going to South Korea,” McKenzie said. “But that decision won’t be made until probably January.”

The International Ice Hockey Federation recently met with hockey federations, which asked about a Plan B should the NHL not participate in the Olympics for the first time since 1994.

“There was no real answer, don’t worry, we’ll cross that bridge if we come to it,” McKenzie said. “There are some federations who believe that it’s going to be absolute chaos. For the very simple reason that if you think the National Hockey League doesn’t want to shut down its league, neither do a lot of the European leagues, whether it be Sweden or Finland, Czech Republic, Russia, you name it.”

Earlier this fall, the world’s second-best league — the KHL in Russia — said it planned to take its usual break and release players for the Olympics like it has done for recent Winter Games. KHL rosters for its 29 teams include double-digit Canadians and double-digit Americans, some with NHL experience.

An official from Sweden’s top league said in October that it had not decided if it will take an Olympic break and was following the discussions between the NHL and IIHF.

Finland’s top league said in October that it was planning to take a break in its season to send players to the Olympics, but a final decision had not been made.

NCAA rules allow players to leave their programs for Olympic tryouts and the Games themselves. One active NCAA player competed in the 2014 Olympics — Bowling Green’s Ralfs Freibergs, who missed two college games that season to participate in Sochi for Latvia.

“If the NHLers aren’t going, it could be the wild, wild, west,” McKenzie said. “Try and find a player anywhere to represent your country.”

MORE: 2018 Olympic men’s hockey groups set