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Norway’s crazy curling pants tapped for third Olympics after close call

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The Pants are on the path to PyeongChang.

Norway’s curling federation named Thomas Ulsrud‘s rink — known for its flashy pants at the 2010 and 2014 Winter Games — as its Olympic curling team.

That’s provided Ulsrud and Co. finish in the top four at the European Championships in November.

That shouldn’t be a problem. Ulsrud earned medals at the last 10 European Championships, including making the final eight times.

If Ulsrud’s rink finishes between fifth and seventh place at Europeans, it will have a playoff with the other top Norwegian team for its Olympic spot.

The Olympic announcement was a relief for Ulsrud. The other top Norwegian team — skipped by Steffen Walstad, who is 17 years younger than Ulsrud — played well of late and is immediately behind Ulsrud in worldcurl.com’s standings.

“It must have been a really tuff [sic] choice for our federation as we now for the first time in about 10 years have 2 top teams in Norway,” was posted on Team Ulsrud’s Facebook page.

Earlier this month, Walstad’s rink became the first Norwegian team to make the final of a Grand Slam (one of seven major annual tournaments played in Canada).

What’s more, Walstad beat Ulsrud at last season’s Norwegian Championships, earning the nation’s berth at the world championship.

Walstad struggled at worlds, going 5-6, which marked Norway’s worst record at an Olympics or worlds since 2007. Ulsrud had won world gold in 2014 and silver in 2015.

At the Olympics, Ulsrud was fifth in Sochi and earned silver in Vancouver, where The Pants first gained fame.

From NBC Olympic Research:

Shortly before the Vancouver Games, Norway’s national Olympic committee outfitted Thomas Ulsrud’s squad with rather dull, all-black uniforms for the tournament. Ulsrud’s teammate Christoffer Svae, an enterprising 31-year-old from Oslo, thought the team should be more patriotic and purchased several checkered pairs of pants with the Norwegian colors of red, blue and white. As soon as the Norwegians took the ice for their first game, the pants were an immediate sensation. Most major international news agencies interviewed the team and a Facebook fan page developed nearly half a million followers.

Ulsrud turns 46 next month. In PyeongChang, he will be older than any previous Olympic medal-winning skip.

The Olympic favorite is whichever team emerges from Canada’s Trials or Sweden’s Niklas Edin‘s rink. Three different men skipped Canada to gold at the last three Olympics. Two different men skipped Canada to the last two world titles.

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MORE: U.S. qualifies for Olympics in every curling event

Olympic ski cross champion suffers serious knee injury

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Canadian Marielle Thompson, the reigning Olympic and World Cup ski cross champion, ruptured an ACL and MCL in a training crash in Switzerland.

Alpine Canada did not say when the accident happened or what Thompson’s chances are of returning to defend her Olympic title in PyeongChang.

Thompson flew from Switzerland to Vancouver for an MRI that confirmed the injury.

“I’ll be making a plan with my team moving forward and when the time is right getting back on the ski cross course stronger than ever,” Thompson said in a press release.

Thompson, 25, tore a meniscus in January 2015 and returned to competition 11 months later. She won seven of the 13 World Cup races last season.

Other Olympic medal contenders include Swede Sandra Näslund and Swiss Fanny Smith.

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Nathan Chen leads Yuzuru Hanyu at Grand Prix opener (video)

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U.S. champion Nathan Chen hopes to become comfortable in this spot this season — ahead of reigning Olympic and world champion Yuzuru Hanyu in the standings.

The 18-year-old Chen landed two quadruple jumps in his short program at the opening Grand Prix event in Moscow, taking a 5.69-point lead over Hanyu going into Saturday’s free skate.

Two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva of Russia topped the women’s short program with 80.75 points (one tenth off her world record).

Full Rostelecom Cup results are here.

Chen’s tally — 100.54 points — is the second-highest short of his flourishing international career. It would have been higher if not for two of his three jumping passes receiving negative grades of execution for wonky landings.

The Japanese megastar Hanyu fell on his final jump, a triple toe loop, on Friday. No matter, Winnie the Pooh bears rained down on the ice from the adoring crowd, many of whom traveled from Japan.

Hanyu scored 94.85 points, one month after breaking his world record short program score with 112.72 points in a small event in Canada.

“Today I made some mistakes in my short program, but overall it didn’t feel bad,” Hanyu said, according to the International Skating Union.

Hanyu, though he is the current PyeongChang favorite, has never won his season-opening Grand Prix event in seven tries.

Chen has now outscored Hanyu, who is four years older, in four of their last eight head-to-head skates.

Hanyu was better in the two biggest programs at last season’s world championships. Chen placed sixth at worlds in April, perhaps gassed at the end of his first senior season while competing on duct-taped skates.

In the women’s standings, Medvedeva topped Olympic bronze medalist Carolina Kostner of Italy by 6.13 points.

American Mirai Nagasu landed a triple Axel that was called under rotated and fell on her other two jumping passes. She ended up ninth, two spots behind U.S. bronze medalist Mariah Bell.

In the short dance, two-time world medalists and U.S. champions Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani tallied 77.30 points.

The siblings lead by .97 over Russians Yekaterina Bobrova and Dmitry Soloviyev going into the free dance.

Russians are one-two in pairs. World bronze medalists Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov lead Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov by 5.49.

All of the free skates are Saturday, live on Olympic Channel. A full schedule is here.

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Rostelecom Cup
Men’s Short
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 100.54
2. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 94.85
3. Dmitriy Aliyev (RUS) — 88.77
11. Grant Hochstein (USA) — 67.56

Women’s Short
1. Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 80.75
2. Carolina Kostner (ITA) — 74.64
3. Wakaba Higuchi (JPN) — 69.60
7. Mariah Bell (USA) — 63.85
9. Mirai Nagasu (USA) — 56.15

Short Dance
1. Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) — 77.30
2. Yekaterina Bobrova/Dmitry Soloviyev (RUS) — 76.33
3. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 71.32
7. Rachel Parsons/Michael Parsons (USA) — 59.41

Pairs Short
1. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 76.88
2. Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov (RUS) — 71.39
3. Valentina Marchei/Ondřej Hotárek (ITA) — 68.48
7. Marissa Castelli/Mervin Tran (USA) — 54.37