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Ato Boldon to bring fresh eyes to NASCAR

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Ato Boldon likes speed. And cars. NASCAR? Well, the four-time Olympic medalist is about to find out.

The retired Olympic sprinter and NBC Olympic analyst will join NBC Sports Group’s NASCAR broadcast team as a features contributor beginning next week. His NASCAR on NBC debut will be July 1 during coverage at Daytona International Speedway.

It’s going to be an eye-opening experience for Boldon, who in an interview with The Associated Press admitted he could name “maybe 10” NASCAR drivers. When asked to list them, he came up with three: the late Dale Earnhardt, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Burton, the retired driver and current NBC analyst.

Sam Flood, executive producer for NBC’s NASCAR telecasts, isn’t worried.

“Ato is a curious guy and I want someone who loves cars, but is also from a different sports world,” Flood said. “I want a fish out of water to show what NASCAR is all about.”

Boldon joined NBC Sports Group in 2007 and is now the network’s lead track and field analyst. He represented Trinidad and Tobago in the Olympics and is a four-time medalist in the 100 meters and 200 meters.

It was during his coverage of last year’s Olympics in Rio that Boldon first expressed curiously about NASCAR to Flood. The producer had Boldon attend the November season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

At Daytona next week, Boldon will report on what makes NASCAR fans loyal to their drivers while hanging out in the track infield. He will also examine NASCAR’s earlier days of racing on Daytona Beach.

“I don’t think until you have been in a (race) car, you understand how difficult it is,” Boldon said. “People go, ‘Oh, yeah, big deal, they drive fast and they turn left. I do that every day on my commute.’ But I don’t think people get a sense of how difficult it is. I went around that track with Jeff Burton and there was so much going on, just to keep that car wheels down and to keep it off the wall. I couldn’t imagine doing that with another 30 cars, competing for space.

“It really created an appreciation, and the same thing I say about my sport, ‘The pros make it look easy,’ and it is not.”

Boldon loves cars, but has become an environmentalist and given up gasoline-fueled cars. He has made the full transition to driving electric cars, which meant turning in a Porsche for a Tesla four years ago.

The only cars he currently owns are electric, and Boldon is a little nervous that the attraction to the sights and sounds of NASCAR might lead him into a dealership to check out a $200,000 McLaren 570S he’s been eyeing.

“I feel like I am going to be around these NASCAR races, and the sound is half of the thrill, and I’m going to go out and buy something that completely does not make financial sense in any way,” Boldon said.

Boldon will also report from Bristol Motor Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway and Homestead. NBC plans to use him as a hauler driver, a member of Joe Gibbs Racing’s pit crew and will give him the wheel of NBC Sports’ on-track car to experience the horsepower and track banking.

“My hope is that people who never really thought of themselves as NASCAR fans will get something from my exposure to it. I am going in there completely wide-eyes and completely open to all possibilities,” Boldon said.

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Green Bay Packers pull another Olympic sport TD celebration

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We’re halfway to a decathlon of Olympic sport touchdown celebrations over the last two seasons.

After the hurdles, the long jump, the bobsled and the relay came the race walk on Sunday.

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams, once part of a three-man bobsled team, led three other teammates in a race walk after scoring in Sunday’s loss to the Carolina Panthers. (Adams later left the game with a concussion.)

Adams won the race walk, which was much, much shorter than the standard Olympic distances of 20km and 50km, over teammates Jordy NelsonRandall Cobb and Geronimo Allison.

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Canada in control of hockey rivalry going into Olympics

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Four years ago, the U.S. women’s hockey team rode a four-game winning streak over rival Canada into the Olympics, then lost both games in Sochi, including a gut-wrenching overtime final.

This time, Canada goes into the Winter Games having won four straight.

The Canadians beat the Americans 2-1 in overtime in Edmonton on Sunday night, taking their pre-Olympic series 5-3 overall.

“I don’t think it was our best performance,” Canada coach Laura Schuler said. “There’s still more work to do.”

The Canadians were led by their stalwarts — captain Marie-Philip Poulin scored in regulation, Sochi gold medalist Jennifer Wakefield scored 26 seconds into overtime and longtime goalie Shannon Szabados stopped 34 of 35 shots.

Hilary Knight netted the U.S. goal, with Maddie Rooney making 24 saves.

“The goal for us is to be hitting on all cylinders in February,” U.S. coach Robb Stauber said.

The U.S. appeared to be in that kind of form until about two weeks ago.

Before this losing streak, the U.S. had a 12-4 record against Canada since the start of 2015, including taking the last three world championship finals.

At one point, the U.S. won six straight games over a 12-month stretch, its longest streak over Canada since it famously won eight straight going into the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics then lost the gold-medal game.

Canada also beat the U.S. in their last four meetings before the 2006 Olympics and five straight going into the 2010 Olympics.

The U.S. Olympic team will be announced Jan. 1. The national-team roster is at 25 players (22 skaters, three goalies), but the Olympic roster is 23 (20 skaters, three goalies).

“Can’t live in the past, can’t live in the future, so tonight we were worried about this game,” U.S. captain Meghan Duggan said, according to the Canadian Press. “We weren’t looking ahead to February.”

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