Patrick Chan
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Team event opens PyeongChang figure skating tonight

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GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — The only thing missing from Canadian figure skater Patrick Chan’s resume is an Olympic gold medal.

He’s won three world championships. Two grand prix finals. Twice he’s stood on the second step of an Olympic podium, an infuriating few inches from what would be the pinnacle of his career.

So even though the 27-year-old Chan is focused on the men’s competition at the Pyeongchang Games, he is also aware of the tremendous opportunity presented by the team event. It begins Friday with Canada favored to win gold after finishing second in its debut four years ago at the Sochi Games.

“The medal is what you make of it,” Chan said, when asked whether a team gold medal would in some way be lesser than an individual gold. “It may not be the same for every skater or another teammate, but for me at this point in my career, anything at this point is a bonus.”

Indeed, the way skaters are approaching the team competition varies widely.

There are those from Canada, the U.S. and the Olympic Athletes from Russia that are eyeing gold, or at least a spot on the podium. It’s an opportunity to start the Olympics on a high, and potentially build up momentum they can carry into the rest of the games.

NBCOlympics.com: Chan prioritizes team event as last chance at gold

Then there are those from France and Italy, countries that have medal hopefuls in individual events but not enough depth across the four disciplines to realistically compete for a team medal.

For them, it’s a chance to work out the kinks in a competitive environment, fine-tuning their own programs for what really matters in the coming days.

“We’re really focused on our personal event,” said Guillaume Cizeron, who with Gabrielle Papadakis are two-time ice dance world champions and among the favorites in that competition.

“I feel like the team event is a great opportunity for team spirit and what the games represent,” Cizeron said, “but our main focus is obviously the individual event.”

The powerhouse nations certainly seem to be putting more emphasis on the team event.

They’ve been closely guarding their lineups all week, a unique bit of gamesmanship for an otherwise individual sport, and have waited until the last possible moment to announce who will skate each event.

There is strategy in putting together the lineup — some individuals are better in short programs and others excel in the free skate. Plus, the pairs teams that are medal contenders must be cognizant of the fact that their individual event begins two days after the team event finishes.

NBCOlympics.com: Watch the team event (8 pm ET)

“We know that our country isn’t in the favorites to medal, so it makes things different,” Papadakis said. “Our main goal is the individual event. It may be different if we were going for a medal.”

Ten nations have qualified for the team competition, and each will send out skaters in each of the four disciplines in the short program. They receive points based on their finish — so margin of victory doesn’t matter — with the top five teams advancing to the free skate.

Medals will be awarded Monday after the final discipline, the ladies’ free skate.

“It was so much fun to be able to be part of the team event in Sochi, to compete as a team and not just as an individual athlete,” said Canada’s Kaetlyn Osmond, a medal contender in the individual event.

“I’m focusing on my own programs,” she said, “but to have the team atmosphere in the kiss-and-cry, and the podium, it’s so incredible. And to be able to compete more times at the Olympics, I’m definitely not going to argue against it. I just love the team aspect of it.”

Her teammate, Gabrielle Daleman, was part of the Canadian team that won silver in Sochi.

NBCOlympics.com: Daleman’s road to PyeongChang included surgery, bullying

“It was a completely new event for all of us,” Daleman said. “One night we were standing on the podium and the next night we were competing again. We had just won a medal, we just competed. It was weird. But I think we’ll be more ready, ready to compete as much as necessary.”

That appears to be the prevailing sentiment to the team competition.

Sure, it doesn’t carry quite the same prestige as individual events, and only a handful of nations will truly take it seriously. But the opportunity to compete in the Olympics is rare, and few skaters are willing to throw away the chance to have that feeling one more time.

“We are a beautiful team that has been competing together for so many years. Most of us are 30 and we are very proud of that,” Italy’s Carolina Kostner said. “Most of us have seen each other grow up, basically, and support each other along the years with changes and everything.

“So we’re actually quite motivated to take it on together,” Kostner added. “I’m very excited and very honored to represent my country.”

 

How Arianna Fontana quietly skated into short track history

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Arianna Fontana is silently one of the greatest short track skaters in Olympic history.

Her numbers at the Games speak for themselves; one gold, two silver, and five bronze. Those eight total medals make her the most decorated female short track skater by two medals, and tie her with legends Apolo Ohno and Viktor Ahn for most Olympic medals ever won by a short track skater.

But it is her numbers outside the Olympic stage that really call attention to her Olympic success. She is a 14-time world medalist, which is no small feat, but her podium appearances are spread over a 12-year competitive career. Someone like Elise Christie, for example, has won 12 world championships medals in just five years. And also unlike Christie, Fontana has never won an overall title.

But Christie struggled on the sport’s biggest stage in both Sochi and PyeongChang, and has yet to win her first Olympic medal. Fontana, on the other hand, has become such a consistent podium presence over the last two Games that she almost makes it look easy.

Before retiring from competition, Ohno won 21 world medals, eight of them gold. Ahn, still competing but not one of the athletes invited to competed at the PyeongChang Olympics as an Olympic Athlete from Russia, has to date has won 35 world medals, 20 of which were gold.

Fontana does not come from a short track power like South Korea or China, perhaps another reason why she is not more notorious.

Most of her medals are bronze, which could be used as a strike against her, but just ask Lindsey Vonn how hard she worked to get hers this year.

Fontana’s first medal came at the 2006 Torino Olympics, when she helped the Italian women to bronze in the 3000m relay at just 15 years old. Fontana earned her first individual medal, a bronze in the 500m, four years later in Vancouver.

But in Sochi, she exploded, making the podium in three out of four events: the 500m, where she won silver, and the 1500m and 3000m relay, where she picked up two more bronzes.

“I thought I was going to win a gold medal in Sochi but I still don’t have that,” Fontana said to the ISU in early 2017. “That’s there up in my mind and sometimes it comes out and says, ‘Hey, you still miss me? So come get me!'”.

But after the 2014-15 season, Fontana’s desire for gold was eclipsed by something else: burnout.

“I was pretty tired mentally. My body was ready to race again but my mind was not. It was hard for me. After the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, I had some doubts about whether to keep skating or not,” Fontana said to the ISU. “Maybe it would have been better to take that year right after the Olympic Games off, but I decided to keep going. It is not that I regret it, but I had some hard times that season.”

She stayed active during her time off, learning how to box, which eased the transition back to skating.

Her pursuit for gold was what motivated her comeback, and in 2018 Fontana got what she came back for.

“When I saw I was first, I was just yelling and started crying. I worked for four years and the last four months were really hard for me. I was really focused on getting here in the best shape ever,” Fontana said after earning the 500m Olympic title.

“I was chasing it and finally I got it.”

In addition to her 500m gold medal, Fontana also added a 1000m bronze and 3000m relay bronze.

Fontana has spoken about retirement, but has not made a definitive decision. She will only be 31 years old by the time 2022 rolls around, so she could feasibly add to her medal haul if she competes. What she has made clear is that when she does leave the sport she hopes to become a personal trainer.

Whenever she does retire Fontana should be considered not only one of the greatest Italian athletes or greatest short track skaters, but also one of the greatest Winter Olympians.

How to watch Closing Ceremony of 2018 Winter Olympics

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Another Olympics is in the books.

The PyeongChang Closing Ceremony will cap off the 2018 Winter Games Sunday morning, beginning at 6 a.m. ET / 3 a.m. PT with a live stream of the events.

Jessie Diggins has been named the U.S. flag bearer after an incredibly gutsy performance to take home the country’s first-ever gold medal in Cross-Country.

How, when and where to watch the Closing Ceremony

Stream LIVE on NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app: Sunday at 6 a.m. ET / 3 a.m. PT (Stream here)

The live stream will feature all the sights and sounds of the Closing Ceremony without any commentary.

Watch on TV: Sunday at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT on NBC (Stream here)

The Olympic figure skating commentating trio of Tara Lipinski, Johnny Weir and Terry Gannon will host the Closing Ceremony on NBC in primetime beginning at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT.

“It’s a huge honor and privilege,” Lipinski said. “I’m so excited to embark on this new and exciting adventure and bring the Closing Ceremony to the U.S.”

“This is a glorious and unexpected experience that I can’t wait to get fancy for!” Weir said.

Mike Tirico – NBC’s primetime host throughout the PyeongChang Games – hosted the Closing Ceremony for Rio in 2016 alongside Ryan Seacrest and Mary Carillo.

Tirico and Katie Couric hosted the PyeongChang Opening Ceremony in South Korea two weeks ago.

Sunday night’s primetime edition of the Closing Ceremony will also feature simulstreams on NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app. (Stream here)