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Men’s figure skating preview: Can Patrick Chan end ‘Canadian curse’?

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SOCHI, Russia – If the pressure to win an Olympic gold medal wasn’t enough for 22-year-old Patrick Chan, the Canadian has a long-standing curse that many are expecting him to break here Friday night in the men’s free skate, as well.

Four Canadians before him have won a combined nine world championships gold medals, but none of them have come away with that coveted Olympic gold, dating back to Brian Orser’s infamous loss to American Brian Boitano in 1988. The “Canadian curse,” it’s called.

That Chan is the three-time reigning world champion should make things easier, not harder, but his wins bring Canada’s world gold haul to 12 in total, but can he be the first to come away with an Olympic gold?

RELATED: Chan: Plushenko has ‘earned his spot’ in Sochi

“Chan is the heavy favorite because he’s won everything up to these Games,” said 2010 Olympic champion Evan Lysacek, a contributor for the “TODAY Show.” “So we’ll see if he can keep it together. But they always talk about the curse on the world champion going into the Olympics, and that could weigh on him. I sure hope not, though.”

Chan hopes not, as well. Below, a breakdown on the men’s singles event, from Chan’s chances to a rising star known as Yuzuru Hanyu, Spain’s unlikely star, a Russian legacy continued and two American longshots.

Chan’s Chances
Pressure was mounted on the slight shoulders of an 18-year-old Chan at the 2010 Vancouver Games after the Canadian had been a silver medalist at the World Championships the year before. But the teenager was hobbled by injury, and later admitted to being hobbled by the pressure of the home crowd. He finished fifth.

Since then, however, the quad-jumping, Detroit-based skater has been virtually unbeatable, winning the World Championships in 2011, 2012 and 2013 and capturing gold in 11 of 16 international competitions he’s entered. The Ottawa native set a world record score in November, but has otherwise struggled over the last twelve months, including at the most recent Worlds, where he fell twice in the free skate and barely hung on to gold, a win that detractors pinned to the “Chan-flation” of his scores.

He again struggled in the short program of last week’s team event (in which Canada won silver), placing third behind Hanyu and Plushenko in that segment of the event.

“Chan knows that his team short program score was reflective of the errors that he made out on the ice,” said Lysacek, who ended his attempt at a comeback for Sochi in December. “That was uncharacteristic for Patrick, especially in the short program. It might be good for him in the sense that he feels like he didn’t waste it, or leave his best skating in the team event. Chan has been very vocal about the individual medal – he wasn’t worried about the individual event – he wants that gold on his own.”

Brian’s Boys
The pair of skaters who are most likely to challenge Chan for the gold medal happen to train in Canada, where Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu and Spaniard Javier Fernandez live and work in Toronto with former world champion Orser, who helped Yuna Kim to her record-breaking gold medal at the Vancouver Games.

Hanyu has been a teenager on the rise over the last two years, the world junior champion in 2010 capturing his second straight national gold this past year and, at 19, winning the all-important Grand Prix Final in December, winning a gold over Chan for the first time in his career.

RELATED: Hanyu wants to make history | Fernandez skates for Spain

“Hanyu has burst onto the scene in a big way by beating Chan at the Grand Prix Final,” Lysacek said. “But he’s been very consistent and was far and away the best in the team short program and has been looking the best in practice. He’s young. I don’t know if he’s not feeling pressure or he’s just so good at dealing with it but it’ll be interesting to see how he takes that momentum from the team event into the individual competition.”

While Hanyu had the team event to get warm, two-time European champion Fernandez did not. The 22-year-old has been a breakout star for Spain, moving to the U.S. five years ago to train in New Jersey before joining forces with Orser – and in effect, Hanyu – after placing 17th at the Vancouver Games.

“Javier is in that mix,” Lysacek added. “There are just so many top-ranked guys, this is a deep field. This is going to come down to who can perform on the Olympic stage.”

Plushenko’s Final Push
A skater that has proved himself time and time again on the Olympic stage is 31-year-old Yevgeny Plushenko, who helped Russia to a team-event gold medal by performing solidly in both programs, particularly the free skate – which he won.

Petrenko has a record-tying four Olympic medals to his name, including individual podiums in Salt Lake (silver), Torino (gold) and Vancouver (silver). While he’s not favored to nab a medal here, he checked off every box he needed to in the team event, hitting his quadruple jumps and bringing the Russian crowd into his performances.

RELATED: Olympics’ opening night belonged to Yevgeny

“Everyone is talking about Yevgeny Plushenko and speculating whether he’ll be able to keep his condition up through the team and individual events,” said Lysacek, who beat Plushenko for gold in Vancouver. “In the team event he won the free skate, and you can’t really argue with that because it’s the more physically demanding of the two.”

American Longshots
At 28 and 19, American hopes Jeremy Abbott and Jason Brown at the opposite end of the Olympic spectrum, Abbott saying he’ll call it a career after this season and Brown expressing hope to skate in not one but two more Games.

While Abbott has all the tools to be in medal contention, but has famously froze on the international stage. The four-time national champion was ninth at the Vancouver Games and hasn’t placed inside the top five at the World Championships in four appearances.

RELATED: Abbott moves out of Village for ultimate focus

“Jeremy had a really good skate at Nationals,” Lysacek said. “A short program like he had in Boston would put him in the mix; it would put him in the skating final group.”

Brown, however, lacks a quad jump and will need to be near-perfect in both his programs to help him contend. He’d need a near-repeat (or even better) of his viral performance of his “Riverdance” free skate from Nationals last month.

“For Jason, overall, he has the capability to post a high score, but I don’t know if it will be with the top guys in the world,” Lysacek said. “He’s fresh on the international scene and a newcomer here, but either way it’s great experience for Jason.”

Keep an Eye On
Japan has the best depth of any team in the world, with Tatsuki Machida and Daisuke Takahashi joining Hanyu in the men’s event. Takahashi was a bronze medalist at the Vancouver Games, and – like Abbott – has the tools to score big when he’s on.

Yan Han, an 18-year-old from China, could be in the mix, as well, as could Denis Ten, the 2013 world silver medalist who has dealt with injury this season. Michal Brezina is coached by former Olympic champion Viktor Petrenko and Brian Joubert, a former world champion, competes in his swan song competition at age 29.

The Last Word
“If everyone skates their best, it would come down to Hanyu and Chan,” Lysacek said. “They are so different and I think the judges really like that. It’s hard to compare them because they have different strengths and very few key weaknesses. It’s all so complex what the judges are looking for. They’re both aggressive, fast skaters, but I would say that Chan overall has more finesse and valuable experience. If it comes down to the Grades of Execution like it did in Vancouver, in that case I would have to give it to Chan.”

Lindsey Vonn, Mikaela Shiffrin criticize crash-filled World Cup race

Lindsey Vonn of the United States, who refused the start, talks to reporters in the finish area during the women's alpine combined Super-G race of the Alpine Skiing World Cup, in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, Friday, Feb. 24, 2017. (Alessandro della Valle/Keystone via AP)
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CRANS MONTANA, Switzerland (AP) — Lindsey Vonn wasn’t about to risk another injury, and neither was Mikaela Shiffrin.

Vonn and Shiffrin, along with some of their American teammates on the World Cup tour, pulled out of the Alpine combined race on Friday because of dangerous conditions on the course. The first three racers all crashed, and one was taken away on a stretcher with a knee injury.

“For me I’ve had so many injuries, I don’t need to risk anything today,” Vonn said. “A lot of the other athletes and coaches were asking me to put pressure on everyone to try to cancel the race because it’s too dangerous and I did my best but I just pray that no one else gets hurt today. I think it was a smart decision for our team to pull out of the race.”

Shiffrin also called the conditions dangerous and said the International Ski Federation (FIS) didn’t listen to athletes who raised concerns, according to Swiss newspaper Blick.

After Ilka Stuhec, Tessa Worley and Denise Feierabend all fell at nearly the same point in the opening super-G portion of the combined race, the event was postponed and the start was lowered.

Stuhec and Worley were able to restart, but Feierabend could not because of her injury. Worley then crashed again on her second attempt.

Federica Brignone, who was second after the super-G portion, won the race, overtaking first-run leader Stuhec in the slalom. Michaela Kirchgasser was third. Full results are here.

Vonn said the race shouldn’t have gone ahead at all after several of the forerunners — including American teammate Julia Mancuso — crashed while testing the course as the snow began to melt in changeable weather conditions.

“First and foremost, if all of the forerunners are crashing and not finishing that’s a sign that something’s wrong,” Vonn said. “The forerunners are there for a reason. Julia was one of the forerunners, she told them and they didn’t listen.

“No. 2: Listen to the representatives. Sofia (Goggia) told them that it was not acceptable to race, but they didn’t listen and now Denise probably blew her knee out because no one listened.”

The 32-year-old Vonn missed nearly two seasons of competition after injuring her right knee in Austria in 2013. She hurt the same knee in her comeback.

Vonn returned to competition last month after nearly a year out with knee and arm injuries.

“The problem is a lot of times people mistake our opinions as just whining,” Vonn said. “We’re women and we’re whining and we just need to suck it up and race, and that’s not the case. Probably more than half or the field has been injured before … it’s unfortunate that the FIS doesn’t listen to us.”

The U.S. ski federation announced that its team of Vonn, Shiffrin, Laurenne Ross, Jacqueline Wiles, Breezy Johnson and Stacey Cook would not compete. But Wiles, Cook and Johnson did start, with only Johnson finishing the opening leg. She was in 36th place after the super-G.

Shiffrin, the overall World Cup leader, holds more than a 300-point lead in the standings over Stuhec and Goggia, the next active challengers. Defending overall champion Lara Gut, in second place, is out for the rest of the season after injuring her knee while training between runs of the combined event at the world championships in St. Moritz two weeks ago.

Goggia was also among the 16 skiers who did not finish the super-G.

Friday’s race was rescheduled from Altenmarkt-Zauchensee, Austria. There is another combined race scheduled for Sunday, with a super-G on Saturday.

“It has to be everyone looking out for the most important thing, the athletes’ safety,” Vonn said. “I realize if the race is cancelled people lose money and the fans, I understand all of the politics, but there is no ski racing and there is no politics if we don’t have safe athletes.”

MORE: Stenmark to Vonn: ‘Don’t beat my record too early’

Anna Veith ends season early as Austrian injuries pile up

ST MORITZ, SWITZERLAND - FEBRUARY 07:  Anna Veith of Austria reacts at the finish during the Women's Super G during the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships on February 7, 2017 in St Moritz, Switzerland.  (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)
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Austrian Anna Veith, the best female Alpine skier in 2014 and 2015, will undergo left knee surgery Tuesday, ending an abbreviated comeback season following right knee surgery 16 months ago.

“This surgery is the only chance to continue living my dream. To ski the way I want to do it, competing and being part of the Olympics again,” was posted on Veith’s social media Friday, adding that she was skiing with pain due to patellar tendon problems.

The 27-year-old won super-G gold and giant slalom silver at the Sochi Olympics, then the World Cup overall title a month later and the following season.

Veith then had a drawn-out comeback from tearing the ACL and patellar tendon in her right knee in an Oct. 21, 2015 crash. She missed all of the 2015-16 campaign and was slow to return to form this season.

Her best finish was 19th in her first six races, but then Veith placed third in the last super-G before the world championships earlier this month. At worlds, she failed to finish the super-G and was 22nd in the giant slalom, two years after winning both events.

Veith is the third Austrian women’s star to bow out due to injury this year, following 2016 World Cup giant slalom champion Eva-Maria Brem and Cornelia Huetter, the top Austrian in last season’s World Cup overall standings in seventh place.

MORE: Stenmark to Vonn: ‘Don’t beat my record too early’