Yuzuru Hanyu. AP Photo.

Worlds preview: Hanyu goes for double gold after Sochi

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This week the reigning Olympic figure skating champion Yuzuru Hanyu looks to become the first man to win a World Championship gold medal in the same year he stood atop the Olympic podium since 2002.

Hanyu, the 19-year-old from Japan who held on to win gold in Sochi last month against three-time world champion Patrick Chan, will try to win a double gold in 2014 and become the first man to do so since Russian Alexei Yagudin in 2002.

The Championships will be without its three-time and reigning champion in Chan, the Canadian who faltered to a silver medal in Sochi and is sitting out these Worlds to rest and recuperate in looking towards his uncertain future.

The men’s event gets underway Wednesday morning (EST) in Saitama, Japan, and concludes on Friday.

More: Full Worlds schedule and streaming times | Entry list

The World Championships, often a depleted field following the Olympics, will be without silver medalist Chan, bronze winner Denis Ten (out with injury), sixth place winner Daisuke Takahashi (a bronze medalist in 2010) and American Jason Brown, who placed ninth.

The U.S. will send reigning national champion Jeremy Abbott (12th in Sochi) and 2013 U.S. champ Max Aaron, who missed out on the Sochi Games by one spot in January.

“Watching my teammates that I thought I was going to go to the Olympics with on TV was the hardest part,” the 22-year-old Aaron told NBCSports.com in a phone interview last week. “That was really tough for me.”

Aaron was seventh at Worlds in 2013 and was seen to be given a vote of confidence by the U.S. Figure Skating Association when selected for Worlds over Brown following Nationals.

More: World Figure Skating Championships pairs preview

The U.S. needs Abbott and Aaron to combine for a 13th-place finish overall to recover a third spot on the international stage, which the U.S. men haven’t had since the 2011 World Championships.

Abbott, who announced this would be his last season prior to the U.S. Championships, said a third spot was not his focus.

“Of course everyone wants the three spots but it’s nobody’s focus,” said the 28-year-old, who had his best Worlds finish in 2010 when he placed fifth following the Vancouver Games. “Everyone wants to do the best that they can do. The two of us are definitely good enough to get back the three spots. Max is very talented and I think I’m capable enough that the two of us combined can do that.”

But Aaron said a third spot will be at the forefront of his mind when he takes to the ice in Saitama.

“I knew that third spot was going to make a difference going into the Olympic year, but we came up a little short,” Aaron said referring to the two U.S. spots the team had for Sochi. “Unfortunately that person was me.”

Hanyu will skate before a figure skating-mad fan base in Japan after becoming the first man in the country’s history to win an Olympic gold medal as well as Japan’s only figure skating medal in Sochi.

He fell twice in his free skate performance at the Iceberg Skating Palace, but the favorite Chan wasn’t better, Hanyu holding on for gold in a competition that was riddled with mistakes and falls.

Without Chan and Ten in the mix, Spain’s Javier Fernandez (fourth at the Sochi Olympics) will be figured into the medal mix after winning the bronze at the same event a year ago and seen to have given up a medal in Sochi.

Other Sochi competitors will factor into the medal conversation along with Hanyu, Fernandez, Abbott and Aaron. Japan’s Tatsuki Machida was fifth at the Olympics, Han Yan of China was seventh, German Peter Liebers was eighth and Michal Brezina of the Czech Republic placed 10th.

Russia will send 18-year-old Maksim Kovtun, the teenager who beat Yevgeny Plushenko at the Russian Championships in December but was skipped over for the veteran for the country’s lone men’s spot in Sochi. Plushenko helped Russia to gold in the team event before pulling out of the individual event, facing ridicule domestically.

“I think people are a lot more relaxed having gone through the Olympics and I think it makes for a really good competition,” said Abbott, who had two disastrous short programs (in the team and individual events) in Sochi before skating mistake-free in the long program. “In 2010, there were some amazing performances and I think this year is going to be no different. It’s still a world-class competition and you’re going to get world-class performances.”

Aaron said it was too early to tell, but that he’d like for Saitama to be the first step in the long road to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

“I can’t look that far ahead,” said the 2014 U.S. bronze medalist. “I have to take it season by season, day by day. I’m focused on what I need to do and the task at hand.”

While Abbott didn’t put a placement expectation on his Worlds effort, Aaron was more forthcoming.

“I’m shooting for a medal to be honest,” he said. “I want those clean performances and I’m hopefully coming away with that third spot for the U.S.”

Icenetwork.com will provide live coverage for subscribers. The men’s short program is set for Wednesday morning (2:45 a.m. EST) and the free skate will take place Friday (4 a.m. EST). NBC will air a World Championships recap show April 13 from 3-6 p.m. ET.

U.S. adds another medal at cross-country skiing worlds

LAHTI, FINLAND - FEBRUARY 26:  Jessica Diggins (L) of USA celebrate with team mate Sadie Bjornsen winning 3rd place in the Men's and Women's Cross Country Team Sprint Final during the FIS Nordic World Ski Championship on February 26, 2017 in Lahti, Finland.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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Cross-country skiers Jessie Diggins and Sadie Bjornsen made it three medals for the U.S. at the world championships on Sunday.

Diggins and Bjornsen earned bronze in the team sprint event, 18.38 seconds behind winner Norway and 12.8 seconds behind silver medalist Russia. Diggins and Kikkan Randall previously earned silver and bronze in the individual sprint on Thursday.

It’s the first worlds where the U.S. has earned medals in multiple cross-country events.

On Sunday, Diggins lunged at the line to beat Sweden to third place by a fifth of a second.

“I was double poling like a maniac,” Diggins said, according to the U.S. Ski Team. “I skied the downhill the best I knew how and was able to draft her and get into my own lane with the best line — I took the inside lane so I knew I would be able to pick my track going into the final 100 meters. Then I just double poled my heart out.”

Bjornsen fell after completing the second exchange and was struck in the face by Russian Yulia Belorukova‘s ski, but was able to continue.

The team sprint is a 6×1.3km relay, with each country’s skiers alternating to race three legs each. It will be contested at the 2018 Olympics in the freestyle technique. Sunday’s event was classic skiing, marking the first American medal in worlds in the classic technique since the two disciplines were established.

Russia won the men’s team sprint after a dramatic last-lap crash wrecked the chances of the two leading teams.

Norway’s Emil Iversen was fighting for the lead with Finland’s Iivo Niskanen but they collided as the Finn moved to overtake on the inside of the final bend.

Sergei Ustyugov took the win for Russia, overtaking Italian Federico Pellegrino on the final stretch to win by 2.2 seconds. Niskanen recovered to take third, 6.5 seconds further back.

It was the second win in two days for Ustyugov, who also won Saturday’s skiathlon, and his third medal of the championships.

Ustyugov’s teammate for Sunday’s race, Nikita Kryukov, said the win was “revenge for Sochi,” a reference to the 2014 Winter Olympics, when Finland beat Russia to gold in the men’s team sprint in front of a Russian home crowd.

Also Sunday, Germany won the men’s team Nordic combined normal hill event. The Germans dominated the ski jumping to take a 44-second advantage into the 4x5km cross-country ski stage, and preserved that margin to win by 41.7 seconds from Norway.

Austria won a close battle with Japan to take third, 22 seconds behind the Norwegians.

It was Germany’s second gold medal in Nordic combined at the world championships after Johannes Rydzeck led a 1-2-3 finish in the men’s individual normal hill event Friday.

The Germans added another gold medal with a dominant victory in the mixed team ski jumping.

They led after each of the eight rounds and racked up a winning score of 1035.5 points, with strong jumps from Markus Eisenbichler, who set the longest jump at 99.5 meters, and the newly crowned women’s world champion Carina Vogt.

Austria was second on 999.3 and Japan third on 979.7.

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MORE: ‘Worst skier alive’ makes it to cross-country worlds after deportation

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Germany, with tie for gold, sweeps four-man bobsled medals to close worlds

INNSBRUCK, AUSTRIA - FEBRUARY 05:  Francesco Friedrich, Candy Bauer, Martin Grothkopp and Thorsten Margis of Germany compete during the final run of the 4-man Bobsleigh BMW IBSF World Cup at Olympiabobbahn Igls on February 5, 2017 in Innsbruck, Austria.  (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images For IBSF)
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With a tie for four-man gold, Germany notched the first-ever men’s bobsled medal sweep at an Olympics or world championships on Sunday.

Francesco Friedrich and Johannes Lochner tied for the four-man world title with identical times after four runs of 3:14.10 in Koenigssee, Germany. Countryman Nico Walther took bronze, .16 behind.

The top American was 2010 Olympic champion Steven Holcomb in fifth. Holcomb was .01 out of bronze going into the fourth and final run but ended up. 18 behind Walther.

“This is really hard to swallow for these guys,” U.S. coach Brian Shimer said, according to U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton. “Holcomb’s team is starting to show signs of greatness, and they’ve come a long way for such a young push crew, and Holcomb continues to get back to his old self after a couple of years of injuries. I know he’s got to be really disappointed, but this race showed we’re taking a big step in the right direction.”

Germany completed a dominant world bobsled and skeleton championships by taking eight of the 15 medals in Olympic-program events. Last weekend, Friedrich earned his fourth straight world title in two-man bobsled.

Earlier Sunday, Latvian Martins Dukurs won his fifth skeleton world title in the last six editions. Dukurs, who settled for silver at the 2010 and 2014 Olympics, beat German Axel Jungk by .37 after four runs in Koenigssee.

“I was really lucky, especially my fourth run was awful,” said Dukurs, who held on despite having the fourth-fastest third and fourth runs. “But that’s the past, luckily for me also the other guys made mistakes.”

Russian Olympian Nikita Tregybov took bronze. Olympic bronze medalist Matthew Antoine was the top American in seventh.

“I’m disappointed, seventh isn’t what I came here to achieve,” Antoine said, according to U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton. “I don’t think I slid all that poorly, but I didn’t push very well, and on a track like this, you can’t give up that much at the start and expect to have a good result. The reality is that I’m an Olympic medalist and results like this don’t mean anything to me.”

The race lacked one of the PyeongChang Olympic favorites, South Korean Yun Sung-bin, who skipped worlds to get more training time in South Korea.

The rest of the top bobsledders and skeleton sliders will join Yun in South Korea in March for training and the final World Cup stop at the 2018 Olympic venue.

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MORE: Germany dominates women’s skeleton worlds