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.

Tommie Smith, John Carlos set to join Team USA at White House

FILe - In this Oct. 16, 1968, file photo, U.S. athletes Tommie Smith, center, and John Carlos stare downward while extending gloved hands skyward during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner after Smith received the gold and Carlos the bronze for the 200 meter run at the Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City. Australian silver medalist Peter Norman is at left. Smith and Carlos, the American sprinters whose raised-fist salutes at the 1968 Olympics are an ageless sign of race-inspired protest, will join the U.S. Olympic team at the White House next week for its meeting with President Barack Obama. Smith and Carlos were sent home from the Olympics after raising their black-gloved fists in a symbolic protest during the U.S. national anthem. They called it a ``human rights salute.''
The USOC asked them to serve as ambassadors as it tries to make its own leadership more diverse. (AP Photo/File)
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the American sprinters whose raised-fist salutes at the 1968 Olympics are an ageless sign of race-inspired protest, will join the U.S. Olympic team at the White House next week for its meeting with President Barack Obama.

Smith and Carlos were sent home from the Olympics after raising their black-gloved fists in a symbolic protest during the U.S. national anthem. They called it a “human rights salute.”

USOC CEO Scott Blackmun asked them to serve as ambassadors as the federation tries to bring more diversity to its own ranks. They will join the team at the White House next Wednesday, then later that evening at an awards celebration in Washington.

The sprinters have been referenced frequently in the recent protests, spurred by Colin Kaepernick, during national anthems at NFL games. One player, Marcus Peters of the Chiefs, raised his own black-gloved fist before Kansas City’s season opener.

“I think Tommie and John have played an important and positive role in the evolution of our attitudes about diversity and inclusion, not only in the United States but around the world,” Blackmun said Friday night at a dinner to celebrate the U.S. performance in Brazil this summer.

MORE: Usain Bolt says he received offers to play wide receiver in the NFL (video)

Wilson Kipsang: I am very focused on the marathon world record

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The men’s marathon world record has been broken five of the last nine years at the Berlin Marathon.

Kenya’s Wilson Kipsang, who broke the world record at the 2013 Berlin Marathon, believes that he can do it again on Sunday, when the race will stream live on the NBC Sports app beginning at 2:30 a.m. ET.

“I’ve trained well and, three years down the line from my world record here, I feel good and believe I have the potential to attempt the world record once more,” he said at today’s press conference, according to the IAAF. “Running at the top level, there is a lot of wear and tear on the body, especially when you are running for a time, but I am very focused on the world record.”

Kipsang clocked 2 hours, 3 minutes, 23 seconds when he broke the world record in 2013. A year later, fellow Kenyan Dennis Kimetto lowered it to 2:02:57 on the same course. Kimetto will not race in Berlin this year.

Kipsang will be challenged by Kenyan compatriot Emmanuel Mutai, who has the fastest time (2:03:13) in the field, and Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele.

Bekele is a three-time Olympic track champion and the 5000m and 10,000m world-record holder, but acknowledged that his marathon personal best of 2:05:04 places him a distant fourth in the field.

“I consider my personal best of 2:05 to be slow compared to the best runners,” he said. “I want to run as fast as I can on Sunday and beat my best.”

MORE: Berlin Marathon to live stream on NBC Sports app