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Figure skating preview: Yuna Kim, Yulia Lipnitskaya, Mao Asada lead the way

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SOCHI, Russia – Once again the Olympics comes down to the ladies’ figure skating event in the closing days, and once again the ladies won’t disappoint in a dramatic flurry of sequins, Salchows and on-ice storylines that are brought to life – this year, in particular – with plenty of drama.

Defending Olympic gold medalist and reigning world champion Yuna Kim is the favorite in many books, but also a largely unknown entity after having not competed in the Grand Prix season in the lead-up to Sochi, instead only skating at a small event in Croatia in December, and then the South Korean National Championships last month.

The runner-up to Kim four years ago, Mao Asada factors into the medal conversation should she bring her patented (and unmatched) triple Axel to the table, while a 15-year-old Russian named Yulia Lipnitskaya has already captured the imagination of the host country, winning the ladies’ portion of the inaugural figure skating team event.

And Americans Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold – fifth and sixth, respectively – at the World Championships a year ago, are outside hopes for the podium.

Below, a full rundown of the ladies’ event, set to begin Wednesday night at the Iceberg Skating Palace and concluding Thursday.

American trio
It’s highly unlikely that there will be a gold for Gold – or for Wagner – though the American women, along with 15-year-old Polina Edmunds, bring a strong presence for Team USA onto Olympic ice in Sochi.

Gold has improved significantly since placing sixth at the World Championships last March, joining forces with legendary coach Frank Carroll in September and then winning the U.S. Championships in January, registering the event’s highest-ever overall score.

“The women’s field is so packed this year with veterans and young Russians,” Gold, 18, told reporters leading up to the Olympics. “I definitely think that I have a chance at winning a medal. It’s about who’s going to focus and leave everything out on the ice.”

The same goes for 22-year-old Wagner, who has long been a top-five contender in the world ranks but was fourth at the U.S. Championships, a performance that brought about doubts of her ability to perform under Olympic pressure in Sochi. She was clean yet tentative in the team competition short program, where Gold was a bit stronger in the free skate for the U.S.

“I feel like technically Gracie has a really good shot at the podium,” said Tara Lipinski, the 1998 Olympic champion and a NBC Sports commentator. “When there’s pressure involved, it changes a lot of performances. Ashley is coming back as a little bit of an underdog. It might set her up nicely, actually.”

Edmunds was the surprise at Nationals, where she skated in her first senior event and vaulted herself to second place. The San Jose-based skater has the triple-triple combination like Gold and Wagner, and will be skating in her first-ever senior international in Sochi.

“The fact that this is her first senior international doesn’t really change anything,” said Edmunds’ coach, David Glynn. “Even though this is the Olympics, what she has to do on the ice is the same.”

Podium posturing
Can Yuna Kim do the same as she did in 2010 and make figure skating history? She leads an internationally eclectic list of names that could top the podium, and if she wins a second straight Olympic gold she’ll be just the third woman in history to do so, and the first since Katarina Witt did so in 1984 and 1988.

“Yuna is just so secure with who she is on the ice because she’s been through everything in her career, and that makes her exude confidence,” Lipinski said. “It’s what sets her apart from all the others.”

Asada, the Japanese 23-year-old who was second to Kim four years ago, will look to swap places with the South Korean here. Asada won three gold medals on the international circuit this fall, utilizing her rare triple Axel (no other top woman even tries the jump) as her biggest weapon. Asada re-tuned her skating after the Vancouver Games, re-building her jumps from the ice up and suffering through two seasons of poor finishes as a result.

There have been no poor results for 15-year-old Lipnitskaya, who won two Grand Prix events this fall and the Russian National Championships in December. The lithe, ballet-like skating of the uber-flexible Lipnitskaya is what helped her win the ladies’ portion of the new team event, though no other medal contender skated both programs. (Yuna Kim didn’t participate at all.)

“Lipnitskaya is just so well organized and thoughtful out on the ice,” said Lipinski, who won her Olympic gold at 15 in Nagano. “If you look at the peak process for an athlete in a season, it’s working out perfectly for Yulia. Winning the team event portion sets her up really nicely for singles.”

Fringe fighters
Four years ago as the Sochi Olympics were being promoted across Russia, Adelina Sotnikova was the face of the Games for figure skating. Now 17, the teen is playing second fiddle to Lipnitskaya, but still brings a strong resume to the ice and – if she skates lights out – can be in the medal conversation.

The same goes for 27-year-old veteran Carolina Kostner. The Italian veteran has a flowing style that few others can match in their programs, though the 2012 world champion hasn’t been able to rise to the occasion at the Olympics, placing ninth in 2006 and then crashing to 16th in Vancouver.

Also keep an eye on: Akiko Suzuki and Kanako Murakami of Japan; Valentina Marchei of Italy and Canada’s Kaetlyn Osmond.

What to watch for
The aforementioned triple-triple is big for every lady on the ice, usually performed at the beginning of both the short program and free skate. It’s especially important for Wagner, who struggled on the combination at the U.S. Championships last month.

The crowd will play a major part in the competition, as it has roared for Russian skaters throughout the Games. Lipnitskaya and Sotnikova both skate in the final group Tuesday night, and will be looking for an extra boost inside the boisterous Iceberg Skating Palace.

How will Yuna Kim fair? That will be on everyone’s mind as the 2010 Olympic champion takes to the ice. She said it herself on Tuesday after practice: “I’m not as good as I was four years ago.” But will she be good enough to win gold?

Paris 2024 Olympic bid logo unveiled on Arc de Triomphe

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Paris 2024
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The Paris 2024 Olympic bid logo was unveiled at the Arc de Triomphe at 20:24 (8:24 p.m.) on Tuesday.

The logo is a representation of the number 24 and a modern interpretation of the Eiffel Tower.

Paris, seeking to host the Olympics on the 100-year anniversary of its second time holding the Games, is bidding against Budapest, Los Angeles and Rome.

Paris hopes to become the second city to host the Olympics three times, joining London.

International Olympic Committee members will vote to choose the 2024 Olympic host city in September 2017.

MORE: 2024 Olympic bidding coverage

 

Paris 2024

Two years to Pyeongchang: Updates on Sochi Olympic medalists

The Army Capt. Fogt will go back on active duty in May, heading to Fort Huachuca in Arizona. He expects to spend six months there and then around a year and a half “wherever the Army sends me.”
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The Winter Olympic cycle reaches its halfway point this month, with Tuesday marking the two-years-out date from the Pyeongchang 2018 Opening Ceremony, the first Winter Games held in South Korea.

With that in mind, here’s what the 2014 U.S. Olympic medalists have been up to in the last two years:

Sage Kotsenburg (Gold, Snowboard Slopestyle): One of the surprise Sochi champions finished fifth at the 2015 Winter X Games and 10th at last month’s edition in Aspen. Kotsenburg, who made the X Games slopestyle podium once in seven tries, said he would like to compete in both slopestyle and the new event of big air in Pyeongchang.

Jamie Anderson (Gold, Snowboard Slopestyle): The first female U.S. Olympic medalist in Sochi placed second at the 2015 and 2016 Winter X Games, doing so in the most recent edition two months after breaking her collarbone.

Kaitlyn Farrington (Gold, Snowboard Halfpipe): Announced her retirement on Jan. 15, 2015, after a doctor told her she can never snowboard again due to a congenital spine condition she learned of in fall 2014. Farrington will be the first Olympic women’s halfpipe champion who will not attempt to defend her title.

Joss Christensen (Gold, Ski Slopestyle): A dog bit him while in Sarajevo shooting a ski film in 2014. He needed 30 to 40 injections, including rabies and tetanus shots. Christensen came back to earn his first X Games medal, a silver, in 2015, and finished ninth last month.

Meryl DavisCharlie White (Gold, Figure Skating): The first U.S. Olympic ice dance champions haven’t competed since Sochi but haven’t retired, either. White said in October they would probably have to return no later than halfway through the 2016-17 season if the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Games are their target.

David Wise (Gold, Ski Halfpipe): Wise and his wife welcomed their second child in summer 2014. In competition, he followed up his three straight X Games titles from 2012 through 2014 with a fourth-place finish in 2015 and an eighth last month, when he competed after separating his collarbone the week before.

Ted Ligety (Gold, Alpine Skiing): The man known as Mr. GS finished the 2014 Olympic season by earning his fifth World Cup giant slalom season title on a tiebreaker. He three-peated as World giant slalom champion last year, but injuries have slowed him on the World Cup circuit, including a January torn ACL that ended his current season.

Maddie Bowman (Gold, Ski Halfpipe): Ran her X Games winning streak to four with victories the last two years, coming back after knee surgeries in May 2014 and February 2015.

Mikaela Shiffrin (Gold, Alpine Skiing): The youngest Olympic slalom champion ran her World Cup slalom title streak to three in 2014 and 2015. She also repeated as World champion last year. This season, Shiffrin suffered an MCL tear and bone fracture in a Dec. 12 crash but hopes to return to competition Monday.

Devin Logan (Silver, Ski Slopestyle): Fourth and seventh at Winter X Games the last two years. Logan, who also competes in ski halfpipe, returned after dislocating a shoulder at the Dew Tour Mountain Championships in December.

Gus Kenworthy (Silver, Ski Slopestyle): Earned his first X Games Aspen medals, silver in ski halfpipe and ski slopestyle, in January after coming out as gay Oct. 22.

Noelle Pikus-Pace (Silver, Skeleton): Retired after her emotional silver medal in Sochi.

Andrew Weibrecht (Silver, Alpine Skiing): Earned his first career World Cup podium in his 117th start on Dec. 5 and added a second Jan. 22 after coming back from a 2014 preseason crash and concussion.

Elana Meyers Taylor (Silver, Bobsled): Became the first U.S. woman to pilot a World Championships-winning bobsled last February. Sidelined by long-term concussion effects in December but won in her World Cup return Saturday.

Lauryn Williams (Silver, Bobsled): Announced her retirement Feb. 12, 2015, after coming back from Sochi to do four World Cup races that season.

U.S. Women’s Hockey Team (Silver): Exacted revenge from rival Canada by winning the 2015 World Championship, 7-5, after squandering a 5-2 lead. Sochi stars Hilary KnightMeghan Duggan and goalie Jessie Vetter were part of that team. Amanda Kessel sat out nearly two years after Sochi due to a concussion she sustained before the Winter Games and returned to play for the University of Minnesota last Friday.

U.S. Men’s Short Track Speed Skating Team (Silver): From the 5000m relay team, Eddy Alvarez and Jordan Malone retired, with Alvarez moving up the Chicago White Sox minor-league system. J.R. Celski took the 2014-15 season off, returned this season, suffered a knee injury at the U.S. Championships in January and was not on the announced team for the remaining World Cups and World Championships this winter. Chris Creveling continues to compete.

Hannah Kearney (Bronze, Moguls): Retired after tying the record for most World Cup moguls victories with her 46th on March 16 and earning the World Cup season title.

Jeremy Abbott (Bronze, Figure Skating): Changed his plans to retire after the 2013-14 season after placing a career-best-matching fifth at the March 2014 World Championships. Was fifth at the 2015 U.S. Championships and chose to take the 2015-16 season off from competition.

Gracie Gold (Bronze, Figure Skating): Fifth at the March 2014 Worlds, fourth at the 2015 Worlds and reclaimed her U.S. title last month. Expects 2018 to be her final Olympic run.

Ashley Wagner (Bronze, Figure Skating): Seventh at the March 2014 Worlds, captured her third U.S. title in January 2015 and then was fifth at the March 2015 Worlds. Along with Gold and Polina Edmunds, hopes to become the first U.S. female singles skater to earn an Olympic or Worlds medal since 2006 at this year’s Worlds in Boston next month.

Marissa CastelliSimon Shnapir (Bronze, Figure Skating): Ended their pairs partnership after placing 11th at the March 2014 Worlds. Castelli now skates with Mervin Tran, and they finished third at the U.S. Championships last month. Shnapir paired with DeeDee Leng last season, after which he retired.

Julia Mancuso (Bronze, Alpine Skiing): Cut her 2014-15 season short due to hip pain and the underwent surgery in November, keeping her out for the entire 2015-16 season.

Erin Hamlin (Bronze, Luge): Fourth and eighth at the 2014 and 2015 World Luge Championships, after becoming the first U.S. Olympic singles medalist in Sochi. Hamlin won her first two-run World Cup race on Dec. 5 in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Kelly Clark (Bronze, Snowboard Halfpipe): Second to teenage sensation Chloe Kim at the 2015 Winter X Games and fifth this year, her worst finish in nine years.

Nick Goepper (Bronze, Ski Slopestyle): Won his third straight X Games ski slopestyle title in 2015 and was 11th this year.

Matthew Antoine (Bronze, Skeleton): Fourth in last year’s World Cup standings and sixth this year. Struggled with depression after Sochi, almost walking away from the sport.

Bode Miller (Bronze, Alpine Skiing): Competed once since Sochi, severing his right hamstring tendon in a 2015 World Championships super-G crash. Sitting out this season and called a sixth Olympics at age 40 in 2018 “really unlikely” before saying there’s a “good likelihood” he races again.

U.S. Men’s Bobsled Team (Bronze, Two-Man and Four-Man): Steven Holcomb piloted a sled to a World Cup podium finish for the first time in nearly two years with a win Jan. 8. The 2010 Olympic four-man champion was slowed last season by a torn Achilles from Sochi and this season by a quadriceps strain that rendered him unable to push his sled. Fellow two-time Sochi bronze medalist Steven Langton retired, as did four-man bronze medalist Curt Tomasevicz. Army Capt. Chris Fogt, also part of the four-man team, said in April 2014 he expected to spend at least the next two years on active duty.

Alex Deibold (Bronze, Snowboard Cross): Eliminated in the semifinals and quarterfinals of the 2014 and 2015 Winter X Games.

Jamie Greubel Poser (Bronze, Bobsled): Made the podium in 10 straight World Cup races in 2015 and 2016 and looks to earn her first World Championships medal on Saturday.

Aja Evans (Bronze, Bobsled): Said in Sochi she would switch to heptathlon and later had ACL surgery.

MORE: 16 Olympic sports events to watch in 2016 (before the Rio Games)