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17 Olympic sports events to watch in 2017

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There are no Olympics in odd-numbered years, but a large majority of major sports will hold world championships in 2017. Plus, there’s that key date of Sept. 13 that could impact the Olympic movement for many years to come.

A look at 17 Olympic sports events to watch in 2017:

1. World Luge Championships
Innsbruck, Austria, Jan. 26-29

Germany swept the gold medals in Olympic events again at the 2016 World Championships, but U.S. sliders continue to gain ground. Erin Hamlin won the first U.S. Olympic singles medal in Sochi and has since been part of a group of sliders to make World Cup podiums, including Emily Sweeney, Summer Britcher, Chris Mazdzer, Tucker West and the doubles team of Matt Mortensen and Jayson Terdiman.

2. Winter X Games
Aspen, Colo., Jan. 26-29

The world’s best winter action sports stars will jostle for Olympic favorite status at their biggest annual gathering. The event could include Chloe Kim, a 16-year-old who won the last two women’s snowboard halfpipe titles, and Shaun White, who was controversially missing from last year’s X Games for the second time this millennium. Other potential PyeongChang stars with X Games experience include freeskiers Maddie BowmanGus Kenworthy and Kelly Sildaru and snowboarders Jamie Anderson, Sage Kotsenburg and Mark McMorris.

3. World Alpine Skiing Championships
St. Moritz, Switzerland, Feb. 6-19

In 2015, the World Alpine Skiing Championships brought together the greatest collection of U.S. Alpine talent in history. Those skiers since went very separate ways. Mikaela Shiffrin is the only U.S. Olympic medalist with a World Cup podium finish this season, and she has seven of them (with six wins). Lindsey Vonn, Julia Mancuso and Ted Ligety have all missed substantial time in the last two years due to injuries. And Bode Miller will not be racing in St. Moritz, but he’s not quite done yet.

VIDEO: Vonn details most painful injury of career

4. World Biathlon Championships
Hochfilzen, Austria, Feb. 6-19

The recent Russian doping problems have impacted biathlon more than most sports, but the stars to watch remain the same. France’s Martin Fourcade was 2.8 seconds shy of sweeping the four individual events at 2016 Worlds. Motivated, he’s already won seven of the first eight World Cup events this season. Norway’s Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, owner of a record 13 Winter Olympic medals, continues to contend at age 42. He earned four medals at 2016 Worlds and ranks fourth in this season’s overall standings. He’s married to Belarus’ Darya Domracheva, a three-time 2014 Olympic champion who is competing in January for the first time since March 2015 after a break due to mononucleosis and childbirth.

5. World Single Distance Championships
Gangneung, South Korea, Feb. 9-12

The 2018 Olympic venue will host speed skating’s biggest competition of the year. The U.S. team memorably flopped in Sochi, but only the Netherlands has earned more medals at the last two world championships combined. Brittany Bowe and Heather Bergsma lead the U.S. charge, while Shani Davis gears up for one more Olympic run.

6. World Bobsled and Skeleton Championships
Koenigssee, Germany, Feb. 13-26

This event was originally awarded to Sochi, but the recent reports of Russian doping violations (and boycott threats) saw them stripped and handed to the world’s sliding sports power in Germany. The U.S. has medal threats in every event. The biggest story in the sport may be the rise of South Korea, which boasts World Cup winners in two-man bobsled and men’s skeleton, though the South Koreans aren’t focused on Koenigssee but PyeongChang.

MORE: Olympic skeleton champion suspended

7. World Nordic Skiing Championships
Lahti, Finland, Feb. 22-March 5

World champions will be crowned in cross-country skiing, ski jumping and Nordic combined. Eyes could be on Norwegian champion skiers who have dealt with different challenges since Sochi — Petter Northug (jail sentence), Marit Bjoergen (pregnancy) and Therese Johaug (suspension) — provided they make it to Lahti.

8. World Freestyle Skiing and Snowboard Championships
Sierra Nevada, Spain, March 7-19

This will award more medals in Winter Olympic sports events than any other global competition in 2017. Though some top snowboarders and freeskiers are usually absent, the aerials and moguls results in particular will be telling for PyeongChang medal predictions. In 2018, the U.S. could be in line to earn more Olympic medals in aerials than moguls for the first time since 1998.

9. World Short Track Championships
Rotterdam, Netherlands, March 10-12

Short track is a national sport in South Korea, so it will be among the hottest tickets at the PyeongChang Winter Games. The world championships will provide a glimpse into where the Olympic host nation’s athletes stand relative to the rest of the world. If Olympic medals were awarded based on current World Cup standings, five different South Koreans would make individual podiums across the six events.

10. World Figure Skating Championships
Helsinki, March 29-April 2

The competition will determine how many spots each nation earns in each discipline at the PyeongChang Olympics. The U.S. men and women will be under scrutiny to grab the maximum three Olympic berths. To do that, the two best American results per event must add up to no greater than 13 (if, say, Ashley Wagner finished sixth and Gracie Gold seventh). The U.S. entries for worlds will be named after the national championships in Kansas City from Jan. 19-22.

MORE: New U.S. skating star performed at 2010 U.S. Champs at age 10

11. World Women’s Hockey Championship Final
Plymouth, Mich., April 7

The U.S. and Canada have played in all 17 world championships gold-medal games, so let’s just jump ahead to the final day of the event. The rivalry story is a familiar one. Canada has dominated the Olympics (four straight titles). The U.S. has dominated worlds (six of the last seven titles). The winner in Plymouth becomes the PyeongChang 2018 favorite.

12. World Aquatics Championships
Budapest, July 14-30

These will be the first worlds or Olympics since 1998 with neither Michael Phelps (retired) nor Ryan Lochte (suspended). The headliners should be Olympic champions Katie Ledecky, Katinka Hosszu, Ryan Murphy, Adam Peaty and Kosuke Hagino.

13. World Beach Volleyball Championships
Vienna, Austria, July 28-Aug. 6

Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross were unable to take Olympic gold, but perhaps their first world title together will come in 2017. Both players have captured world crowns with their previous partners (Misty May-Treanor and Jennifer Kessy), but Walsh Jennings’ shoulder injury hampered them at the 2015 Worlds, where they were bounced in the round of 16.

14. World Track and Field Championships
London, Aug. 4-13

Usain Bolt has said he will retire after this season (but maybe compete in 2018), so worlds sets up to be his final global championship meet. It also shapes up to be a farewell of sorts for Mo Farah, who is expected to switch to the marathon, and possibly Ashton Eaton, who may retire in 2017 but definitely won’t compete in the 2020 Olympics.

MORE: Bolt says why he won’t unretire like Michael Phelps

15. 130th IOC Session
Lima, Peru, Sept. 13-17

IOC members are scheduled to vote to choose the 2024 Olympic host city on Sept. 13. The finalists are Budapest, Los Angeles and Paris, with LA seeking to end the longest U.S. break between hosting Olympics since 1960. The IOC president has not ruled out awarding the 2024 and 2028 Olympics this year, with LA and Paris both reported as strong 2024 candidates.

16. World Gymnastics Championships
Montreal, Oct. 2-8

A new queen of gymnastics should be crowned, as it appears Olympic all-around gold and silver medalists Simone Biles and Aly Raisman will not compete in 2017. It’s unknown when Final Five teammates Gabby Douglas and Laurie Hernandez will return, or if Douglas comes back at at all.

There is no team event at worlds this year, so the all-around crowns will be the most coveted. Biles won the last three world titles on the women’s side, while Japan’s Kohei Uchimura took the last six men’s titles. There’s no reason to believe Uchimura won’t go for No. 7.

17. U.S. Olympic Curling Trials
Omaha, Nov. 12-19

The first athletes named to U.S. Winter Olympic teams are typically curlers. The Olympic Trials for PyeongChang are again held early in the winter sports season. The U.S. is in position to qualify men’s, women’s and mixed doubles teams for PyeongChang at the world championships in March and April. Mixed doubles makes its Olympic debut in 2018.

VIDEO: PyeongChang 2018 Olympic venue tour

USOC supports athletes expressing themselves after anthem protests

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PARK CITY, Utah — The U.S. Olympic Committee supports American athletes expressing themselves at winter sports events leading up to the PyeongChang Olympics.

Some MLB, NFL and WNBA players kneeled and remained in locker rooms during the national anthem at games over the weekend.

USOC CEO Scott Blackmun was asked Monday if the USOC would support American athletes peacefully protesting during the national anthem this fall and winter at pre-Games competition.

“I think the athletes that you see protesting are protesting because they love their country, not because they don’t,” Blackmun said at a pre-Winter Games media summit. “We fully support the right of our athletes and everybody else to express themselves. The Olympic Games themselves, there is a prohibition on all forms of demonstrations, political or otherwise. And that applies no matter what side of the issue you’re taking, no matter where you’re from. … But we certainly recognize the importance of athletes being able to express themselves.”

Blackmun was correct to reference the Olympic Charter, which states that “no kind of demonstration … is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”

Blackmun mentioned Tommie Smith and John Carlos‘ raised-fist salute at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, which got them kicked out of the Games.

The USOC has since honored Smith and Carlos. They visited the White House last year with the Rio Olympic team.

“That was a seminal moment not only for the Olympic Movement, but for the U.S. Olympic team,” Blackmun said of the 1968 podium gesture. “Our stance on this has been fairly clear. We certainly recognize the rights of the athletes to express themselves.”

Olympic hopefuls were peppered with questions about possible protests at the media summit.

“One of the proudest parts of being an American is the ability to have freedom of speech,” four-time Olympian Julia Mancuso said. “I really look up to athletes who take a stand for what they believe in. I really believe as athletes that compete for Team USA, when it comes to the Olympics, I like to think it’s a special event. Not like the NFL or pro sports teams that compete every weekend. For us, it’s every four years. I’m proud for athletes that stand up for what they believe in if they really want to have a message to get out. But I like to think of us all as patriotic.”

Elana Meyers Taylor, a two-time Olympic bobsled medalist, is the daughter of a U.S. Marine who served in Kuwait and spent summers in the 1980s playing at Atlanta Falcons training camps.

She said any decisions on demonstrations or whether she attends a post-Olympics Team USA White House visit come secondary to her pursuit of making the Olympic team this winter.

“I can’t afford to focus on what I would do in that situation or how I would react,” Meyers Taylor said, adding that anything would be a “game-time decision.” “Maybe the social climate changes a little bit [before the Olympics]. … There’s a lot to consider.”

Aja Evans, a 2014 Olympic bobsled bronze medalist, the sister of former NFL defensive tackle Fred Evans, did not say that she would follow the football players’ lead.

“I honor and commend anyone that does that,” Evans said. “My way of showing my stance is to continue to try to be a positive influence for my city, for my country. I’m representing Team USA the best way I can.”

NCAA hockey players Troy Terry and Jordan Greenway, both prospective Olympians with the NHL not participating, said they didn’t envision taking a knee during the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

“I’ve always stood for the national anthem,” Greenway said. “I always will.”

Olympic freestyle skiing medalists Maddie Bowman and Gus Kenworthy have said they plan to skip the traditional Team USA post-Olympic White House visit due to the current presidential administration. Figure skater Ashley Wagner, too, said she would not go if she had to choose today.

Kenworthy said he was shocked that President Donald Trump believed that athletes kneeling during the national anthem disrespected the flag.

“Those people [servicemen and women] are fighting for the freedom to express their beliefs,” Kenworthy said. “I feel proud to be from a country where we have the right to be able to kind of say what we feel, speak up for what we believe in. I feel that people kneeling before a game is actually quite admirable.”

Kenworthy didn’t rule out a personal demonstration at the Olympics, should he qualify again, but knows he could be stripped of a medal for doing so.

“I’m not saying that I would want to be dictated by fear, and if I was to get a medal and be too scared that it would be taken away from me,” he said. “I think that there’s a way to do things in a way that’s not going to sabotage yourself. You can stand up for something and not throw yourself under the bus.”

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U.S. Olympic men’s hockey player from 2006 has shot at PyeongChang

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PARK CITY, Utah — Though no active NHL players will be in PyeongChang, veteran NHL forward and free agent Brian Gionta could very well play for his second U.S. Olympic team in February.

A USA Hockey official confirmed Monday that the 2006 Olympian Gionta “has a very decent opportunity” to be part of the 2018 Olympic team.

That came in response to a Buffalo radio report that Gionta said it’s looking good for him to play for Team USA.

Gionta, 38, played 15 NHL seasons through last year but is currently unsigned as the NHL preseason continues. The U.S. Olympic team of 25 players named around Jan. 1 is likely to include very few, if any, players with Gionta’s experience.

Gionta was seen at the Rochester (N.Y.) AHL club’s practice Monday (but not taking part), according to media in that area. Gionta could play for an AHL club and be eligible for PyeongChang. USA Hockey wants prospective Olympians to be active in the AHL, NCAA or a European league.

Gionta’s agent has not responded to a request for comment on his Olympic prospects on Monday. Earlier in the summer, Gionta’s agent said that the skater was considering the Olympics.

Gionta led the 2006 U.S. Olympic team with four goals. The Americans lost in the quarterfinals to Finland, their worst Olympic result over the last four Winter Games.

That came during Gionta’s most productive NHL season — 48 goals (sixth in the league) and 41 assists for the New Jersey Devils.

Another Olympian — Ryan Malone from 2010 — embarked on a comeback this preseason and could pursue the Olympics. He has been in camp with the Minnesota Wild. If he doesn’t make the Wild, Malone could play on an AHL contract and be eligible for the Olympics.

USA Hockey confirmed that other players in the potential Olympic pool — at some 100 players at the moment — include Nathan Gerbe. Gerbe, a 30-year-old forward, played 394 NHL games between the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes from 2008-16 before joining the Swiss League.

Another is goalie Ryan Zapolski, who ranks third in the KHL in goals-against average this season.

John-Michael Liles, a 2006 Olympic defenseman and unsigned NHL veteran, is not interested in continuing his career in a non-NHL league to be considered for the Olympics, USA Hockey said.

U.S. general manager Jim Johannson said this summer that he was interested in some players who “have a rich history in the NHL and with USA Hockey that we think could potentially really help this roster.” Johannson wouldn’t name names then.

Johansson said a “long list” of potential players for the final 25-man roster must be submitted in September.

A U.S. team of primarily European-based players will take part in a tournament in November in Germany. That roster is expected to be named in October.

The U.S. staff will also look at NCAA and AHL players ahead of naming the PyeongChang team.

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