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What to watch on Day 11 of Sochi Olympics

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Here’s a look at the compelling events, athletes and storylines of the Sochi Olympics on Tuesday, Feb.  18. A complete list of every Tuesday event can be found here.

WHAT TO STAY UP LATE FOR …

Women’s giant slalom, 12:30 a.m./4 a.m. ET CLICK HERE TO WATCH FIRST RUN | SECOND RUN

At last, Mikaela Shiffrin makes her Olympic debut. The 18-year-old Vail native begins with her secondary event, but one she could definitely win a medal in, potentially gold.

She finished sixth at the 2013 World Championships and has taken two giant slalom podiums and four top-10s in five starts this season.

This race is missing 2013 world champion Tessa Worley and contender Tina Weirather due to injuries. The favorite may just be Austrian Anna Fenninger, who won the super-G here and has been top five in the giant slalom each of the past three World Cup seasons.

Slovenian Tina Maze dominated giant slalom during her record-shattering 2012-13 season but ranks ninth in the discipline this season. Swedes Jessica Lindell-Vikarby and Maria Pietilae Holmner are ranked Nos. 1 and 2 this season and looking for their first Olympic medals.

2006 Olympic giant slalom champion Julia Mancuso is also in the field, but she’s better suited to speed events.

Men’s snowboard cross, 1:30 a.m. ET CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

This event was postponed Monday due to heavy fog and will now skip seeding races and begin with elimination rounds.

A new Olympic champion will be crowned at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. The only men’s gold medalist the event has ever known, American Seth Wescott, did not make the Olympic Team.

The U.S. sends four other men, including Nate Holland, who was fourth at the 2010 Olympics, Nick Baumgartner, Trevor Jacob and Alex Deibold.

The top international contenders include Australia’s Alex “Chumpy” Pullin, who has played in a reggae band named “Love Charli,” and Austrian Markus Schairer. They were the top two finishers at the 2013 World Championships.

Men’s hockey qualification playoff, Slovenia-Austria, 3 a.m. ET CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

The winner of this No. 8-9 matchup gets top overall seed Sweden in the quarterfinals. Neither Austria nor Slovenia has ever won an Olympic hockey medal and both went 1-2 in group play, not posing a threat to the power nations.

In fact, Slovenia is in its first Olympic hockey tournament. Its star, Anze Kopitar, exited a game against the U.S. on Sunday feeling ill but is expected back in the lineup.

WHAT TO WAKE UP EARLY FOR …

Biathlon, men’s 15km mass start, 5:30 a.m. ET CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

This is the third straight day organizers will try get the last men’s individual event of the Olympic biathlon program in. Fog pushed it back on both Sunday and Monday.

Ole Einar Bjoerndalen is expected to take aim at the solo record for most Winter Olympic medals for the third time after his opening gold in the 10km sprint.

Bjoerndalen, 40, has been stuck on 12 career medals, finishing fourth in the 12.5km pursuit and 34th in the 20km individual event. He is not a medal favorite here (but Norway is in later relays). France’s Martin Fourcade is the star, looking for his third straight gold.

Speed skating, men’s 10,000m, 7 a.m. ET CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

The Netherlands could sweep a speed skating event for the fourth time at Adler Arena. They did so a year ago in this grueling race at the World Single Distance Championships, also at Adler.

Two-time Olympic 5000m champion Sven Kramer is the heavy favorite, just as he was in 2010, when he infamously failed to change lanes on a late lap and was disqualified after finishing with the fastest time.

His biggest competition is thought to come from countrymen Jorrit Bergsma, who beat Kramer at 2013 worlds, and Bob de Jong, 37, who has won a medal of every color in this event dating to 1998.

If somebody is to break up the orange party, it will likely be Belgian Bart Swings or South Korean Lee Seung-hoon, who won the 2010 Olympic title after Kramer’s DQ.

The U.S. contingent is Emery Lehman and Patrick Meek.

Nordic combined large hill, 10km portion, 7 a.m. ET CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

Americans Bill Demong and Bryan and Taylor Fletcher look to improve upon finishing 24th, 26th and 33rd in the normal hill event last Wednesday.

Demong is the defending Olympic champion here but is not considered a medal threat. The favorite to succeed him was German Eric Frenzel, the normal hill gold medalist, but he is out with a virus. (UPDATE: Frenzel ended up entering)

That opens up the gold-medal picture a bit. Two contenders are the normal hill silver and bronze medalists, Japan’s Akito Watabe and Norway’s Magnus Krog.

Men’s hockey qualification playoff, Russia-Norway, 7:30 a.m. ETCLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

Russia was the top team to miss out on an automatic quarterfinal berth, so they’ll have to take care of the lowest-ranked team out of 12 to earn its quarters berth against Finland.

It shouldn’t be troubled by Norway, which has lost all seven of its Olympic games in Vancouver and Sochi.

Ilya Kovalchuk missed part of Sunday’s game due to injury and sat out at least part of practice Monday to rest, according to the Russian coach.

WHAT YOU CAN’T MISS DURING THE DAY …

Women’s bobsled runs 1 and 2, 10:15 a.m. ET CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

The first two of four runs to determine medals will take place at Sanki Sliding Center.

The race for gold is expected to come down to defending champion Kaillie Humphries of Canada and American Elana Meyers. They were separated by one point this World Cup season — Humphries taking the overall standings 1,629 to 1,628.

Meyers will drive USA-1 with Olympic track champion Lauryn Williams as her push athlete. Williams, in her first season bobsledding, could become the second person to win golds at a Summer and Winter Games.

USA-2 driver Jamie Greubel is also in the medal mix, paired with push athlete Aja Evans. USA-3 is driven by Jazmine Fenlator with two-time Olympic hurdler Lolo Jones. Fenlator and Jones have an outside shot at a medal.

Men’s hockey qualification playoffs, Czech Republic-Slovakia, 12 p.m. ET CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVESwitzerland-Latvia, 12 p.m. ETCLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

The Czech Republic-Slovakia winner will advance to play the U.S. in the quarterfinals. Surely, the U.S. wouldn’t mind playing 10th seed Slovakia a second time following a 7-1 drubbing in their opening game.

The seventh seed Czechs, led by grizzleds Jaromir Jagr and Petr Nedved, lost by a combined three goals to Sweden and Switzerland in group play.

No. 6 Switzerland will be favored against No. 11 Latvia, with the winner getting Canada in the quarterfinals. Switzerland beat Latvia 1-0 in group play.

The Swiss gave Canada all sorts of trouble in group play at the 2010 Olympics, forcing a shootout before falling 3-2. In this tournament, Swiss goalie Jonas Hiller has given up zero goals in playing two of three group-play games.

Men’s ski halfpipe final, 12:30 p.m. ET CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

David Wise, married with a daughter in Reno, Nev., is the three-time reigning Winter X Games champion, 2013 world champion and favorite for gold should he make it through qualifying in this debut event.

The field behind Wise includes several skiers with medal aspirations, including American Torin Yater-Wallace, who was second to Wise at the 2013 X Games and World Championships. Yater-Wallace missed the rest of the Olympic selection events after breaking two ribs in a Dec. 14 crash, a few weeks after suffering a collapsed lung. The other Americans are Aaron Blunck and Lyman Currier.

Canada’s Justin Dorey and Mike Riddle and France’s Kevin Rolland and Thomas Krief are also in the medal picture.

U.S. Olympic Committee to hire infectious disease specialists for Zika

Christ the Redeemer
AP
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The U.S. Olympic Committee will hire two infectious disease specialists to advise potential Olympians who are worried about the Zika outbreak in Brazil.

USOC CEO Scott Blackmun sent a letter Wednesday to all possible Olympians, acknowledging the growing worries over the virus.

“I know that the Zika virus outbreak in Brazil is of concern to many of you,” Blackmun wrote. “I want to emphasize that it is to us, as well, and that your well-being in Rio this summer is our highest priority.”

The letter goes on to spell out much of the information that’s already been relayed by the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The virus is spread by mosquitoes. About 20 percent of those infected display mild symptoms, including body aches and rash. But pregnant women and those considering getting pregnant have greater reason for concern because the virus can cause microcephaly, a birth defect marked by an abnormally small head.

In an interview with Sports Illustrated earlier this week, U.S. soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo said if the Olympics were being held now, she wouldn’t go.

Blackmun told The Associated Press that Solo’s comments “made us realize we need to provide concise and accurate info for our athletes.”

At least one of the two infectious disease specialists will be a woman, Blackmun said.

In addition to those two hires, the USOC will post updates to its website at USOC.org/RioTravelUpdates.

The USOC’s decision to hire the specialists was first reported by USA Today.

The letter, addressed to prospective members of the 2016 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic delegation, says “no matter how much we prepare … there will always be risk associated with international competition. Each country, each venue and each discipline will present different risks and require different mitigation strategies.”

Blackmun said the USOC is monitoring the frequent updates regarding Zika. The letter makes note that “rapid testing to determine if an individual is infected is expected in the near future.”

“First and foremost, we want to make sure our athletes have accurate information because they’re concerned,” Blackmun said. “Based on what we know now, the primary threat is to unborn children.”

MORE: Zika won’t stop Olympics; only war has done that, historian says

Alex Morgan scores 12 seconds into U.S. Olympic qualifying romp (video)

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Alex Morgan wasted no time igniting the U.S. women’s soccer team’s Olympic qualifying campaign.

The striker scored the first of her two goals 12 seconds into the Americans’ CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament-opening 5-0 rout of Costa Rica on Wednesday in Frisco, Texas.

It’s believed to be the fastest goal in U.S. Soccer history, according to U.S. Soccer.

“I think we shocked Costa Rica’s confidence a little bit,” Morgan said on NBC Sports Live Extra. “We’ve been working on that play, so I’m glad that we executed it perfectly.”

Crystal DunnCarli Lloyd and Christen Press also scored for the Americans, who are ranked No. 1 in the world. Costa Rica is ranked No. 34.

“Overall, we brought the fight,” Lloyd said on Live Extra. “We’ve got to put this one to bed and move on.”

The first three goals came in the first 15 minutes.

GOAL VIDEOS: Dunn | LloydMorgan’s second | Press

The U.S. is in one of two CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament groups with Costa Rica, Mexico (ranked No. 26) and Puerto Rico (No. 108).

It plays Mexico next on Saturday at 4 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Live Extra. Mexico crushed Puerto Rico 6-0 earlier Wednesday.

The top two nations per group will advance to the tournament semifinals, and the Feb. 19 semifinal winners advance to the Rio Games in August.

The U.S. is heavily favored to qualify for Rio, where it would go for its fourth straight Olympic title. The next-best North American team is ranked No. 11 (Canada, which is in the opposite CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament group).

If the U.S. and Canada win their respective groups, they would not have to play each other to qualify for the Olympics.

The U.S. roster for Olympic qualifying includes 13 of the 23 players from the World Cup, led by Olympic champions Morgan, Lloyd and Hope Solo, who blanked Costa Rica on Wednesday.

All 15 matches of the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament will be streamed live on NBC Sports Live Extra.

MORE: No Olympics for Messi, but another Argentine star striker possible

2016 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship Schedule

Frisco, Texas – Toyota Stadium
Houston, Texas – BBVA Compass Stadium
Times U.S. Central (U.S. Eastern in parentheses)

FIRST ROUND
Group A: USA, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Costa Rica
Group B: Canada, Guatemala, Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana

Wednesday, Feb. 10 (Frisco)
Mexico 6, Puerto Rico 0                                 5 p.m. (6 p.m.)
USA 5, Costa Rica 0                                    7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.)

Thursday, Feb. 11 (Houston)
Guatemala vs. Trinidad & Tobago                  5 p.m. (6 p.m.)
Canada vs. Guyana                                           7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.)

Saturday, Feb. 13 (Frisco)
Costa Rica vs. Puerto Rico                              12:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m.)
USA vs. Mexico                                                 3 p.m. (4 p.m.) NBCSN at 9:30 p.m. ET

Sunday, Feb. 14 (Houston)
Guyana vs. Guatemala                                     12:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m.)
Trinidad vs. Canada                                          3 p.m. (4 p.m.)

Monday, Feb. 15 (Frisco)
Mexico vs. Costa Rica                                       5 p.m. (6 p.m.)
USA vs. Puerto Rico                                          7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.) LIVE on NBCSN

Tuesday, Feb. 16 (Houston)
Trinidad & Tobago vs. Guyana                         5 p.m. (6 p.m.)
Canada vs. Guatemala                                      7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.)

SEMIFINALS

Friday, Feb. 19 (Houston)
Group B winner vs. Group A runner-up          4:30 p.m. (5:30 p.m.) ***
Group A winner vs. Group B runner-up          7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.) ***

FINAL

Sunday, Feb. 21 (Houston)
Semifinal winners                                            4 p.m. (5 p.m.) NBCSN at 11 p.m.

***USA’s semifinal, should the USA advance, will air LIVE on NBCSN