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Yevgeny Plushenko makes PyeongChang predictions, talks figure skating evolution

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Yevgeny Plushenko, understandably, is quite pleased with what men’s figure skating looks like these days.

The Russian great, who helped usher in the quadruple jump era, watched at the season-opening Grand Prix event in Moscow as the last four men to skate each attempted at least three quads in their long programs.

“I’m so happy,” Plushenko told NBC Olympics’ Rachel Lutz in a sitdown interview Monday. “Because you remember 2010, nobody landed quads [other than me]. Not one. Nobody. I landed only myself, I landed short program and long program, and I lost [to American Evan Lysacek at the Vancouver Olympics]. You know? I would like to say for these such great athletes – men’s skaters – they move figure skating way forward. Right now, all quadruples. Nathan Chen, first skater ever [to do] five quadruples [in one program]. That’s awesome. That’s great, because figure skating, yes it’s theater, this is ballet, musical, yea? But of course it’s sport. That’s extreme, the sport is quadruples. So I’m grateful they move forward, way forward.”

Plushenko made a rare trip to the U.S. to perform in an ice show at Chelsea Piers in New York City, his first on-ice appearance in the States in 11 years.

Not everyone is thrilled with the quad arms race in men’s skating. Notably, three-time world champion Patrick Chan. But Plushenko has always commanded attention.

The Russian is one of two skaters in any discipline to earn four Olympic medals. He announced his retirement on March 31 at age 34.

Plushenko, whose last competition was the Sochi 2014 team event, now coaches Sochi women’s singles gold medalist Adelina Sotnikova, who will not defend her title in PyeongChang.

As for active skaters, Plushenko tapped Japanese Yuzuru Hanyu for gold.

That would mean Hanyu would accomplish the feat that Plushenko coveted in 2010 — becoming the first repeat Olympic men’s champion since Dick Button in 1952.

“[Hanyu] don’t need five quads, six quads,” Plushenko said, referencing the number of four-revolution jumps the likes of teenagers Chen and Shoma Uno are planning in free skates. “He need three quadruples. Maybe two [Salchows] and one toe loop. And that’s it.”

Hanyu has the total package that would allow him to win with fewer quads. If he skates clean.

Plushenko also liked Chen, Uno and two-time world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain as Olympic podium contenders.

“[Chen has] great, great, great, great technique,” Plushenko said. “So four, four skaters can be on the podium.”

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Skylar Diggins-Smith has the opportunity to fill USA Basketball’s need

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Skylar Diggins-Smith said making the U.S. Olympic team is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This is her second chance.

An ACL tear derailed her Rio 2016 hopes. That happened in a WNBA game on June 28, 2015.

Though Diggins-Smith was among 25 Olympic finalists named in January 2016, she didn’t return to game action until that May, four weeks after the 12-woman Olympic team was chosen.

The 27-year-old guard said she’s played for USA Basketball for 12 years, since before her standout Notre Dame career that led to her current stint with the Dallas Wings (formerly Tulsa Shock).

“This is the most clear my mind has been,” with USA Basketball, Diggins-Smith said from training camp in Seattle on Tuesday, ahead of a Thursday exhibition against China at Key Arena (10 p.m. ET, usab.com/live).

Signs point to Diggins-Smith making her major international tournament debut at September’s FIBA World Cup, the quadrennial world championship event.

Though Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi‘s surprising returns crowd the backcourt, the other Olympic gold medalist guard, Lindsay Whalen, retired from the national team.

Diggins-Smith’s play last season, her first full campaign back from the ACL tear, boosts her case. She made the All-WNBA First Team.

She also made the first team in 2014. That year, Diggins-Smith was among the final cuts for the world championship team less than a week before the tournament.

“Every time I come to USA Basketball, I think you have a tendency to kind of overthink,” Diggins-Smith said Tuesday. “You just want to do the right thing, don’t really want to make mistakes. … You want to do the right thing, and you press a little bit.”

USA Basketball has stressed finding its next stalwart point guard following five-time Olympian Teresa Edwards, three-time Olympian Dawn Staley (now the U.S. head coach) and the 37-year-old Bird, eyeing her fifth Olympics in 2020.

“Give me three guards that have separated themselves from everyone else in the WNBA to put themselves at the same level as Sue, Diana, Lindsay Whalen,” then-U.S. coach Geno Auriemma said after the Olympic team was named in April 2016. “You really start to look around and, you go, that is a huge question that has to be answered.”

“Obviously, there’s a need,” Staley said in February, listing point guards other than Bird at that camp.

The first name Staley mentioned was Diggins-Smith, for what it’s worth.

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USA Track and Field to honor 1968 Olympic team on 50th anniversary

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USA Track and Field begins a campaign this week to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Olympic team.

Members of the Mexico City Games team, one of the greatest track and field teams in history, will be honored at high-profile events the remainder of the year.

The campaign, “1968-2018: Celebrating Athletic Achievement and Courage,” culminates with a “Night of Legends” reunion in December at the USATF Annual Meeting in Columbus, Ohio, also attended by current U.S. stars.

The 1968 Olympic team is most remembered for Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who took gold and bronze in the 200m and were sent home after raising their black-gloved fists in a human rights salute during the national anthem.

The team also included gold medalists Bob Beamon (long jump), Dick Fosbury (high jump), Al Oerter (discus), Wyomia Tyus and Jim Hines (100m), Lee Evans (400m), Madeline Manning Mims (800m), Willie Davenport (110m hurdles), Bob Seagren (pole vault), Randy Matson (shot put), Bill Toomey (decathlon) and the men’s and women’s 4x100m and men’s 4x400m.

“The legacy of the greatest track & field team to ever be assembled is still felt 50 years later,” USATF CEO Max Siegel said in a press release. “These Olympians persevered through athletic challenges and social injustices, maintaining their composure and dignity when others may have fallen. It is USATF’s honor to pay homage to their achievements and bring the team together for an epic celebration at our Annual Meeting.”

U.S. track and field athletes will compete at two meets on NBC Sports and NBC Sports Gold this weekend — the Drake Relays and Penn Relays.

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WATCH: NBC Olympics documentary on 1968 Olympics