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Winter Champions Series debuts on NBC, NBCSN on Saturday

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In a first for the United States Olympic Committee, a single-day, three-sport event dubbed the Team USA Winter Champions Series will take place across the U.S. on Saturday on NBC, NBCSN and NBCSports.com.

Things kick off on NBC at 2:30 p.m. ET with the big air snowboarding event at the U.S. Grand Prix from Copper Mountain, Colo.

Big air features riders looking to stomp one clean landing after a cab- or cork-infused, backflipping, frontflipping, rodeo-ing, McTwistingly jaw-dropping jump, and is the newest event to be added to snowboarding for the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games.

Sochi Olympic slopestyle champion Jamie Anderson is expected to compete in the big air event. Also, look for 2014 U.S. Olympic Snowboard Team member Chas Guldemond, as well as Julia Marino, winner of the Big Air at Fenway competition earlier this year.

Following snowboarding on NBC, the best women’s lugers in the world race in the fifth World Cup event of the season on the track used for the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics in Park City, Utah. Germany’s Olympic gold and silver medalists , Natalie Geisenberger and Tatjana Huefner, are first and second, respectively in this season’s World Cup standings.

Both arrive in Utah hoping to pick up their second win of the season. Also in the top 10 World Cup standings, Emily Sweeney and three-time Olympian and Sochi bronze medalist Erin Hamlin, will compete for the U.S.

Headlining the Winter Champions Series is the first of a two-game series between the United States and Canada in women’s hockey. The two teams face off at the USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Michigan at 4:30 p.m. ET and the game can be seen on NBCSN or streamed on NBCSports.com.

Both teams could have a big name returning to their rosters after lengthy absences from their national teams.

For the U.S., Amanda Kessel could wear the red, white and blue for the first time since the Sochi Olympic Games. She was part of a 37-player training camp from which the U.S. roster for the two-game series is to be picked.

Kessel’s life in hockey was nearly cut short when she struggled with lingering symptoms from a pre-Games concussion after she got home from Sochi. After benching her career for nearly two years, Kessel reunited with her University of Minnesota team in February, and would help lead the Golden Gophers to their second-consecutive national championship, and this spring she became the highest-paid player in the National Women’s Hockey League after signing a one-year deal with the New York Riveters.

Canada gets its Olympic goalie back. Shannon Szabados comes back after her time in net helped win back-to-back Olympic golds for Canada in 2010 and 2014. Szabados spent the previous two seasons playing in the men’s South Professional Hockey League in the U.S., with the Columbus Cottonmouths. This will be her first time wearing the maple leaf jersey at a game since making 27 saves and holding off an attacking U.S. squad 3-2 in overtime in Sochi for gold.

After hockey on NBCSN at 7:00 p.m. ET catch additional luge coverage of the men’s singles World Cup competition. Watch current World Cup leader, and reigning two-time Olympic champion, Felix Loch of Germany compete in men’s luge against the likes of Team USA’s Tucker West. West arrives in Park City hot off his second trip to the top of the World Cup podium this season after setting a track record in Whistler.

The action on Copper Mountain continues for a second day at the U.S. Grand Prix on Sunday in Colorado with snowboarding and freestyle skiing halfpipe finals. Coverage starts at 2 p.m. ET on NBC.

MORE: U.S. Olympians to receive $37,500 per gold medal in PyeongChang

Day Event Network Time (ET)
Saturday Snowboard Big Air — Copper Mountain NBC 2:30-4:30 p.m.
Luge World Cup — Park City NBC 2:30-4:30 p.m.
Women’s Hockey — U.S. vs. Canada NBCSN 4:30-7 p.m.

Yuzuru Hanyu opens Olympic season with record score

Yuzuru Hanyu
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A sore knee didn’t hold Yuzuru Hanyu back. A record score to open his Olympic season.

The Olympic and world champion from Japan hit a pair of quadruple jumps in his short program at the Autumn Classic, a lower-level event in Montreal.

He was rewarded with 112.72 points, the highest short program score recorded under the 13-year-old judging system. Video is here.

It looked like a home competition for Hanyu.

Upon finishing, he bowed toward one set of bleachers (maybe a dozen rows) at the Sportsplexe Pierrefonds. More than two dozen Japanese flags made it hard to see most of the faces.

He bettered Javier Fernández, a two-time world champion and training partner, by 11.52 points. Fernández also landed two quadruple jumps to tally 101.2.

Full scores will be here upon the conclusion of the short program. The free skate is Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. A live stream is here.

Hanyu now owns the three highest short program scores under the 13-year-old system. The other two were set in the 2015-16 season.

Showdowns like Hanyu-Fernández are usually reserved for, at the earliest, the Grand Prix series in late October and November.

Hanyu and Fernández are very familiar with each other, having shared a coach in Canadian Brian Orser, the 1988 Olympic silver medalist, since 2012. They train in Toronto.

In that time, Hanyu became the first Japanese man to win an Olympic title (and the second teen from any nation to do it). He followed it up with world titles later in 2014 and this year.

Fernández achieved unfathomable success for a Spanish skater — world titles in 2015 and 2016, overtaking Hanyu in the free skate both times.

In PyeongChang, Hanyu can become the first man to repeat as Olympic champion since Dick Button in 1952. Fernández can become the third Spaniard to earn a Winter Olympic medal of any color in any sport, and the first since 1992.

The figure skating season continues next week with Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany, the final Olympic qualifying competition. North Korea could clinch its first spots in any sport for the Olympics in the pairs event.

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USOC letter assures Olympians about South Korea security

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The U.S. Olympic Committee’s security chief sent a letter to potential Winter Olympians saying there are no indications that recent developments between the U.S. and North Korea have compromised security in South Korea.

The letter, obtained by The Associated Press shortly after it was sent Friday, makes no suggestion that the U.S. is considering skipping the PyeongChang Winter Games for security reasons.

But Chief Security Officer Nicole Deal does write that provocations that have been volleyed between the United States and North Korea are likely to persist for the foreseeable future, and “should not be dismissed as insignificant nor feared as precursors of an inevitable conflict.”

The letter comes at the end of a week in which France’s sports minister suggested the country’s athletes would stay home if security could not be guaranteed.

The International Olympic Committee, trying to calm concerns, reiterated that in conversations with high-level officials in China and South Korea, none have expressed doubt about the Winter Games proceeding as scheduled, next February.

The USOC also sent out a public statement Friday from CEO Scott Blackmun.

“We will continue to work with our State Department and local organizers to ensure that our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe,” he said.

The letter, sent to athletes, national governing bodies and other Olympic leaders in the United States, said the USOC’s security division is operating as “business as usual for our security planning and preparations.”

Deal writes that the USOC is reviewing crisis management plans that address a range of potential scenarios “to ensure our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe.”

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