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How did two-time world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford become ‘underdogs’?

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Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford have been a pairs team for Canada since 2010. From the beginning of their partnership, they knew they had something special. In their first tryout, Radford recalled he nearly cried because he was struck with the realization they were going to be really good. Duhamel described their partnership as one between soulmates: “It’s Meagan and Eric’s chemistry, which may not be a romantic chemistry. It may not be a brother and sister type of chemistry. But it’s special, and it belongs only to us,” she said.

NBCOlympics.com: Who are Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford?

They found much success in their partnership: seven Canadian national pairs titles, the Grand Prix Final gold in 2014, Four Continents gold in 2013 and 2015, plus back-to-back world championship gold medals in 2015 and 2016.

At the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Duhamel and Radford helped Team Canada win a silver medal in the team event. In the pairs event, they placed seventh. That finish is partly fueling their drive toward PyeongChang.

Duhamel and Radford ran into trouble in the 2016-17 season, despite still capturing medals. They earned a bronze at the Grand Prix Final, silver at Four Continents, and finished seventh at the world championships.

“Everything that we’ve been able to win, every accolade has a special meaning and a special memory attached to it, no matter how big the competition or how small it is,” Duhamel told NBCOlympics.com when asked to compare the significance of each medal in their trophy cases. “There are some bronze medals and silver medals that we were disappointed with in the moment, but they have so much value because of the lessons that they taught us for the rest of the seasons and the years that were to follow.”

NBCOlympics.com: Canada announces Olympic figure skating team

Following those world championships, Radford revealed some of his off-ice struggles. During the break between Four Continents and Worlds, he didn’t feel refreshed or motivated. Working with a sports psychologist helped ease those thoughts. Radford also experienced numbness and loss of control in his hip due to a herniated disk in his lower back. The pair changed the layout of their programs at Worlds in order to accommodate his injury.

Alarm bells were ringing by June. (But so were wedding bells, when Radford proposed to boyfriend Luis Fenero in Spain)

It was time to choose their Olympic season music; being an important year, they wanted their music to have the most impact as possible. They went with a cover of U2’s “With or Without You” for the short program and a Muse medley for the free skate.

They also changed up their coaching staff that summer. Bruno Marcotte stayed on as head coach with the team in Montreal (he’s also Duhamel’s husband) and Julie Marcotte, Bruno’s sister, remained as choreographer. Duhamel and Radford added Florida-based John Zimmerman as a coach and added John Kerr as a choreographer, too.

Duhamel and Radford came into the Olympic season under the radar, on the advice of 2002 Olympic pairs champion David Pelletier from Canada.

Last winter, Pelletier was on the phone with Radford and told him the best thing the team could do would be to finish sixth or seventh at Worlds, to ease some of the pressure off them.

As Radford recalled: “He said ‘You know what would be the best thing for you? If you were to go to Worlds and come sixth or seventh. And then you fly under the radar and you come back and you win the Olympics.’ And when we came seventh at the worlds, I thought ‘Oh my god, he actually said seventh place.’”

It’s working, according to Duhamel.

“I think that we’re kind of the underdogs this season,” Duhamel said, though added that they’re trying to live in each moment and not get ahead of themselves.

They began the season at the Autumn Classic, a Challenger Series event. They picked up a silver medal there, before going to win Skate Canada, their first Grand Prix of the season. They earned a bronze in November’s Skate America.

When they were looking towards the Grand Prix Final, Duhamel said of their rivals, “We’ll let the Chinese and the Germans and the Russians feel the pressure. We’re gonna keep working hard, keep our head down, and hopefully we’ll be able to deliver in the moment when it matters the most.”

At the Grand Prix Final, they earned another bronze. The pair from Germany won, like Duhamel predicted, while the Russians surprisingly finished fourth and fifth in the six-team field. The two Chinese teams were second and sixth. They already held the most national titles in history for a Canadian pair team at six, but they pushed the boundary further in January to win their seventh and officially qualify for their second Olympic team.

NBCOlympics.com: Meet Team USA: Figure skating

“At this point, we’ve already achieved more than we’ve ever dreamed in this sport. The opportunity is ahead of us to achieve even more and we don’t take that for granted. We’re definitely very proud of ourselves with everything we’ve been able to accomplish in the sport.” Radford said in November.

The team sees the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics as their “grand finale.” They want to leave Olympic ice knowing they created a special moment.

“You never know that it’s going to happen until you hit that ending position and everything worked and you’re like, ‘Oh my god, we did it! How did that just happen?’” Radford said. “Of course, it’s what we imagine, what we hope for, every competition. Not only was it an incredible moment for us but we also got to, I think, create a special moment for thousands of other people as well.”

Duhamel echoed those sentiments.

“You can feel that energy from the audience and the energy between us,” she said. “It’s a pretty obvious thing, but invisible thing. We can usually feel it and that’s what we’re striving for this season with the two programs that we have.”

Additional reporting by Seth Rubinroit.

Andre De Grasse’s return headlines Drake Relays on NBC Sports

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Andre De Grasse believes he could have entered the Drake Relays as the world champion in the 100m and 200m. Instead, he watched those finals last August. One from his hotel room. The other on replay on social media.

De Grasse, the Rio Olympic 100m bronze medalist and 200m silver medalist, will race for the first time in nine months at the Drake Relays in Des Moines, Iowa, on Saturday as part of NBC Sports’ weekend track and field coverage.

NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold will air live coverage of the Drake Relays and Penn Relays.

Friday
Penn Relays: 5-6 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold

Saturday
Penn Relays: 12:30-3 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold
Drake Relays: 3-5 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold

The Canadian De Grasse is the Drake Relays headliner, racing for the first time since suffering a grade 2 right hamstring strain four days before last year’s worlds in London.

De Grasse faces a Drake field that includes six other men who have broken 10 seconds, but of them only U.S. Olympian Mike Rodgers (9.85) has a better personal best than De Grasse’s 9.91 from the Rio Olympic final.

Rodgers, a decade older than De Grasse, hasn’t broken 10 seconds in his last 28 wind-legal races, according to Tilastopaja.org.

The field is not of much concern for De Grasse.

“I’m not looking for a specific time or anything,” he said Monday. “Just looking to get my legs under me, get the rust off, see what I can do and go from there.”

De Grasse said in a recent CBC interview that he’s been training for five months since the injury. He remembers the thoughts as he watched the world championships, starting with Usain Bolt‘s relegation to bronze in his last individual race won by Justin Gatlin‘s late surge.

“I knew that it could have been anybody’s race; [silver medalist Christian] Coleman could have won, Bolt could have won or Gatlin,” De Grasse said Monday. “When I watched it, I was surprised because usually Bolt would usually catch [up to win]. Coleman was out in front. You couldn’t really see where Gatlin was. Usually, Bolt would come back at the end. It looked like, for sure, that would happen. It looked like from my view that Coleman won. When I saw the replay, Gatlin kind of just snuck in there. … I was definitely surprised of the outcome. … I wish I could have been in it, but there’s going to be more opportunities for me.”

(De Grasse said he has not recently spoken with Bolt or “anybody in track in a while.” Last July, De Grasse’s coach was quoted saying that his sprinter was “booted out” of a race per Bolt’s wishes, which De Grasse later denied in a report, calling Bolt a legend.)

Gatlin’s winning time was 9.92 seconds into a .8 meters/second headwind. De Grasse failed to break 10 seconds in all five of his wind-legal 100m races last season, but he did run 9.69 with a mammoth 4.8 meters/second tailwind a month and a half before worlds.

Then came the world 200m final five days later. De Grasse said he had never heard of surprise winner Ramil Guliyev of Turkey. Guliyev won in 20.09, the slowest Olympic or world gold-medal time since 2003.

“I ran against all of those guys before and felt like I was capable of winning a race like that if I wasn’t injured,” De Grasse said. “To be honest, I had never heard of most of those guys in the 200m final except for I think a couple of guys, Wayde van Niekerk and [Nethaneel] Mitchell-Blake from Great Britain.”

De Grasse’s goals this season include breaking the Canadian 100m record of 9.84 (shared by Bruny Surin and Donovan Bailey, the latter’s time a then-world record at the 1996 Olympics). He would like to lower his 200m personal best of 19.80 from Rio.

He wants to win a Diamond League trophy for being the best man over 100m or 200m through the season. The 100m remains his preferred distance (“That’s the glory event.”).

De Grasse said he plans to race most of the Diamond League schedule, starting with the first two meets in Doha and Shanghai the next two weeks. De Grasse and Coleman are slated for a head-to-head at a Diamond League meet in London in July.

No matter what De Grasse does this season, he does not believe he can wrestle the mantle of world’s fastest man from Gatlin or Coleman.

“You can’t say off this year that you’re the fastest man in the world,” De Grasse said, noting it’s the only year in the quadrennium without a global championships. “You’ve got to wait until next year to do that.”

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U.S. snowboarder Brock Crouch seriously injured in avalanche

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U.S. snowboarder and surfer Brock Crouch was buried alive for five minutes in an avalanche before being rescued with three broken vertebrae, according to an older brother’s Instagram and USA Surfing.

Crouch, 18, “was swept off an 80-foot cliff,” by the avalanche while snowboarding in Canada, according to USA Surfing, adding that he fractured his T12, L1 and L2 vertebrae.

Images of Crouch holding a thumbs-up and peace sign lying in a hospital bed were posted on his Instagram Story on Tuesday.

“I was riding with Brock two days ago when he took a nasty ride in an avalanche down multiple rock bands due to a cornice failure resulting in him being buried for about 4 or 5 minutes,” was posted on snowboarder John Jackson‘s Instagram on Tuesday. “Crazy how a situation like this can surprise you so quickly. I’m so glad the whole crew performed a rockstar rescue and Brock is strong enough to handle what he went down.”

Crouch was in the running to make the PyeongChang Olympic team in big air and slopestyle but missed the four-man roster. He won the Olympic slopestyle test event in South Korea in 2016.

Can’t explain how happy I am to see this guy! @brockcrouch you are a soldier! I was riding with Brock two days ago when he took a nasty ride in an avalanche down multiple rock bands due to a cornice failure resulting in him being buried for about 4 or 5 minutes. Crazy how a situation like this can surprise you so quickly. I’m so glad the whole crew performed a rockstar rescue and Brock is strong enough to handle what he went down. Especially thankful for our pilot Josh, who didn’t waste a second in the situation. I was so impressed with this kids talent while we were riding all morning and know he will come back with a fury to continue getting after it. Love you bud, and massive prayers for that body to heal quickly! #extreme18 will be back! Although might have to change the m.o. to #nasty19 👊 #toughasnails

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