Katie Ledecky

Pan Pacific Championships women’s events preview

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Missy Franklin must overcome the Australians at home and a troublesome back. Katie Ledecky may only be able to measure herself against her own world records.

The Pan Pacific Championships, which begin Thursday in Gold Coast, Australia, include a total of two women who have won individual Olympic titles. They are Franklin and Ledecky, the last two World Swimmers of the Year.

The year’s biggest international meet — including swimmers from top non-European nations — was expected to test the 19-year-old Franklin more than the 17-year-old Ledecky. But the trials were expected to come during competition, not before it. Franklin’s status is in doubt due to a back injury seen at practice Tuesday.

If she is able to swim, Franklin faces stiff competition in all of her individual events. At least one Australian has been faster than Franklin this year in the 100m and 200m freestyles and the 100m and 200m backstrokes.

Plus, Ledecky beat Franklin in the 200m free at the U.S. Championships two weeks ago.

Pan Pacs men’s preview

Ledecky’s path to Gold Coast glory includes fewer obstacles. She’s the fastest woman this year in the fields of the 200m free (by .41), 400m free (by 5.61 seconds), 800m free (by 8.76 seconds) and 1500m free (by 36.03 seconds).

Ledecky is also entered in the 100m free, where she was 13th in preliminary heats at Nationals. That’s the next event where she could join the world’s elite with progress.

Pan Pacs is not only the biggest international meet of 2014, but will also help determine who makes the U.S. team for the 2015 World Championships in Kazan, Russia.

The key for U.S. swimmers will be to see who has the top two times per event over finals races from Nationals and Pan Pacs. The top two make the 2015 Worlds team in each of those Olympic events. The top four (and perhaps fifth and sixth) in the 100m free and 200m free make it to Worlds for relays.

Franklin could swim poorly due to her back — or not swim at all — and still have a chance to make the 2015 World Championships team based on her times from Nationals.

The top U.S.-Australia showdowns will come in the sprint freestyles and relays. Sisters Cate and Bronte Campbell are the fastest women in the fields of the 50m and 100m free.

The Campbells were half of a quartet that broke the 4x100m free relay world record at the Commonwealth Games on July 24. The Aussies are deep in the 100m and 200m free and will be superior to the U.S. in at least two medley relay legs if Franklin is out or not in form.

The Aussies will also be motivated, at home, to reverse the results of the 2013 World Championships, where they took silver behind the U.S. in all three women’s relays.

Here’s the full schedule of women’s events in Gold Coast:

Thursday (prelims 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday; finals 5 a.m. ET)

200m freestyle
100m backstroke
200m butterfly
800m freestyle

Friday (prelims 8 p.m. ET on Thursday; finals 5 a.m. ET)

100m breaststroke
100m freestyle
400m individual medley
4x200m freestyle relay

Saturday (prelims 8 p.m. ET on Friday; finals 5 a.m. ET)

100m butterfly
400m freestyle
200m backstroke
4x100m freestyle relay

Sunday (prelims 8 p.m. ET on Saturday; finals 5 a.m. ET)

1500m freestyle
200m individual medley
50m freestyle
200m breaststroke
4x100m medley relay

Phelps a vocal leader in Australia

WATCH LIVE: Big Air at Fenway — 8:30 p.m. ET

Fenway Big Air
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Fenway Park will host some of the world’s best freeskiers in the one-of-a-kind Big Air at Fenway, live on NBC Sports Live Extra on Friday night.

Big air skiers will descend from a ramp that’s four times higher than the Green Monster inside the hallowed Boston Red Sox home.

Ski big air is most like slopestyle of the current Olympic disciplines, except skiers get one jump per run.

WATCH LIVE: Big Air at Fenway — 8:30 p.m. ET

On Thursday, Canadian Max Parrot and American Julia Marino won the snowboard big air competitions at Fenway Park.

Big Air at Fenway coverage will conclude with an NBC show on Saturday at 5 p.m. ET.

MORE: Olympic champ suffers concussion at Big Air at Fenway practice

Lillehammer Youth Winter Olympics open with homages to 1994

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In an homage to the Lillehammer 1994 Winter Olympics, Princess Ingrid Alexandra of Norway lit the Lillehammer Youth Winter Olympic cauldron to cap the Opening Ceremony on Friday night.

The princess’ father, Crown Prince Haakon, lit the 1994 Olympic cauldron in a very similar fashion (video here). Princess Ingrid Alexandra was born in 2004.

The Opening Ceremony, held outdoors at a ski jump (same venue as 1994) in sub-freezing temperatures, included a speech from International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach.

“I’m just a little bit too old to compete in the YOG,” Bach said, urging listeners to use the hashtag #IloveYOG during the nine-day Winter Games.

The ceremony included Olympic legends, such as 2010 figure skating gold medalist Yuna Kim and eight-time Olympic cross-country champion Bjorn Daehlie carrying the Olympic flag.

Marit Bjoergen, a 10-time Olympic medalist cross-country skier, handed the Olympic flame to the princess.

NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra will air coverage of the Opening Ceremony on Saturday at 12:30 a.m. ET, plus daily coverage throughout the Winter Games. A full broadcast schedule is here.

MORE: Two years to Pyeongchang: Updates on U.S. Olympic medalists from Sochi