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Flame Watch: Sochi confirms Olympic Torch spacewalk

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Sochi CEO Dmitry Chernyshenko confirmed Monday that this year’s record-breaking Relay will include a handoff out in the vacuum of space.

“Nobody has done this before. The spacewalk by two Russian cosmonauts with the Sochi 2014 Olympic torch will be an historic moment in the history of the Olympic torch relay,” Chernyshenko said. “I want to thank the Federal Space Agency for its support which will enable us to take the Sochi 2014 OlympicTorch Relay to the final frontier.”

The Torch will ride to the International Space Station aboard the Soyuz TMA-11M spaceship on November 7, and then Russia cosmonauts Sergei Ryazansky and Oleg Kotov will take it out for a spacewalk sometime during their mission, which was moved up from a few weeks from November 25 in order to accommodate the historic Relay.

Of course, for safety reasons, Chernyshenko stressed that the Flame won’t be lit during its trip.

But while the spacewalk is certainly unique, this will actually be the third time the Torch has traveled outside of Earth’s atmosphere. In 1976, the Flame was converted to an electronic impulse in Greece, then beamed into space and sent back down to Canada via satellite – science! And in 2000 the Torch made a trip aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis ahead of the Sydney Games.

This year’s relay, which starts October 7, will take 123 days, stretch more than 50,000 miles and include more than 14,000 Torchbearers before it lands in Sochi for the Opening Ceremony on February 7.

Patrick Chan plans to retire after 2018 Olympic season

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Olympic silver medalist Patrick Chan said he plans to make the 2017-18 figure skating season his last, as expected.

“Yes, I have many projects lined up ahead after my competitive career,” Chan told media Wednesday.

Chan, at 25, is arguably young enough to keep skating beyond the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, which would be his third Winter Games.

But the three-time world champion (2011, 2012, 2013), who is currently coach-less following the surprise resignation of Kathy Johnson earlier this month, is in awe of the jumps that younger skaters are throwing.

“Honestly, just look at [Japanese] Shoma’s [Uno] quad flip,” Chan joked with media. “That’s enough of an answer to just be like, yeah, this is my time. I’m going to leave on a high.”

Chan earned silver at the 2014 Olympics behind Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu, then took one season off from competition.

He returned last year, beating Hanyu at Skate Canada but finishing a disappointing fifth at the world championships after a disastrous free skate. That marked his worst worlds finish since his debut in 2008 as a 17-year-old.

Chan said before last season’s worlds that his performance there would determine whether he continued skating through the 2018 Olympics.

“I’m at a disadvantage now, technically,” Chan said in March. “I’m competing against men who are doing five quads between the short program and the long program, and I’m at three between the two programs. Who would ever imagine that three wasn’t enough for some people?”

Chan remains the best Canadian skater. He won his eighth national title last year.

Chan will make his Grand Prix series debut at Skate Canada the last weekend of October, against a field that again includes Hanyu.

MORE: 2018 U.S. Figure Skating Championships host set

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