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100 days until Paralympics: 10 U.S. athletes to watch

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The Paralympics begin in 100 days, and the U.S. team is sure to include many medal contenders.

A look at 10 of them as the March 9 Opening Ceremony draws near … 

Andrew Kurka, Alpine Skiing
Led the U.S. at last season’s world championships with downhill gold, giant slalom silver and super-G bronze. Starting at age 8, won six Alaska state wrestling titles before an ATV accident at age 13 severely damaged three vertebrae in the middle of his spinal cord. Made the Sochi Paralympic team but did not compete after breaking his back in a training run crash. Also competes as a bodybuilder.

Alana Nichols, Alpine Skiing
The first U.S. woman to win gold at both the Summer and Winter Games announced in August the end of a three-year retirement from Alpine skiing. The 34-year-old had not raced since earning silver and bronze medals at her second Winter Games in Sochi.

Danelle Umstead, Alpine Skiing
Earned three combined bronze medals in 2010 and 2014 in the visually impaired classification with husband Rob as her guide. The 45-year-old has said PyeongChang will be her final Games. Every day she listens to an audio recording of sounds of the PyeongChang downhill course from start to finish (along with Rob’s commands) that she took at last year’s test event.

Aaron Pike, Biathlon/Cross-Country Skiing
Competed in the last three Paralympics — London 2012 and Rio 2016 in track and field and Sochi 2014 in biathlon and cross-country. Pike, 30, has never won a medal at the Paralympics or worlds in any sport but was fourth and fifth in two biathlon events at last season’s worlds.

Oksana Masters, Biathlon/Cross-Country Skiing
Masters has become one of the world’s most versatile athletes after being born in Ukraine with defects believed to be caused by the Chernobyl disaster and bouncing from orphanage to orphanage for seven years before being adopted by a single mother in New York. A Paralympic medalist in rowing (2012) and cross-country skiing (2014) but lacks gold. Masters also raced in road cycling at Rio 2016, taking fourth- and fifth-place finishes. She starred at last season’s Nordic worlds, bagging four gold medals and one bronze between biathlon and cross-country skiing. As is boyfriend Pike, trying to become the second American to earn an Olympic or Paralympic medal in biathlon (Andy Soule, 2010 Paralympics).

Steve Emt, Curling
Leader of the already-named U.S. Paralympic curling team of five athletes. The 46-year-old played briefly in two basketball games for the University of Connecticut in the 1993-94 season as a walk-on. Emt, paralyzed in a 1995 car accident, skipped the U.S. to a seventh-place finish at last season’s world championship.

Steve Cash, Hockey
Longtime goalie for the U.S. national team. Played all but 15 minutes of the U.S.’ five games in 2010 and didn’t allow a goal on 33 shots, including a penalty shot in the gold-medal game. Posted another three shutouts in 2014, including in the gold-medal game against Russia.

Declan Farmer, Hockey
The 20-year-old Princeton student broke U.S. records for goals (12) and points (18) at a single world championship last season. At 16, shared the U.S. leads with three goals and five points in Sochi.

Amy Purdy, Snowboarding
Instrumental in getting her sport added to the Paralympics for Sochi, then took bronze in snowboard cross at the Games. Spent eight days in the hospital last November with rhabdomyolysis. Returned to take bronze in banked slalom at worlds in February. Banked slalom will make its Paralympic debut in PyeongChang. Also was runner-up on “Dancing with the Stars” in 2014 and performed at the Rio Paralympic Opening Ceremony.

Evan Strong, Snowboarding
Strong, who was raised in Maui, led a U.S. snowboard cross podium sweep in Sochi. He then took silver at last season’s worlds. Originally a skateboarder who got his first sponsor at age 13. Switched to snowboarding after a drunk driver struck him head-on on his motorcycle at age 17, requiring his left leg to be partially amputated.

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NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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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Yuzuru Hanyu to miss Japan Figure Skating Championships

Yuzuru Hanyu
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Yuzuru Hanyu, the reigning Olympic and world figure skating champion, will miss his national championships this week due to ankle and knee injuries suffered in a Nov. 9 practice fall, according to Japanese media citing the Japan Skating Federation.

Hanyu can (and very likely will) be named to Japan’s three-man Olympic team despite missing nationals.

Hanyu has reportedly been off the ice for more than one month since the fall.

“It is an important selection competition, and the Olympics are a big goal, so with that in mind we would like to think things through together,” Japan Skating Federation director Yoshiko Kobayashi said last week, according to Kyodo News.

Hanyu, who turned 23 on Dec. 7, fell on a quadruple Lutz attempted and then favored his right ankle in a Nov. 9 practice at a Grand Prix event (video here).

He skated the run-through for his free skate, although he elected not to do any more jumps.

“I have been told by the doctor that I need 10 days of complete rest,” Hanyu said in a statement on Nov. 12, according to Kyodo. “Following that, it will take three to four weeks to return and get back to where I was.”

Hanyu and world silver medalist Shoma Uno are favored to lead Japan’s Olympic men’s figure skating team. The third spot is likely to go to Takahito Mura or Keiji Tanaka.

Hanyu competed twice this season.

He posted a world-record short program score in his debut at a small September event in Canada, but struggled to fifth place in the free skate and finished second overall behind two-time world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain.

He then finished second to U.S. champion Nathan Chen at the first Grand Prix event of the season in Moscow in October.

Chen is the only undefeated male singles skater this season.

Hanyu won four straight national titles before missing last season’s event with the flu.

He was still named to Japan’s team for worlds, where he won his second title in four years.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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