Hannah Kearney

What to watch on Day 1 of Sochi Olympics

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Here’s a look at the compelling events, athletes and storylines of the Sochi Olympics on Sat., Feb. 8.

(For a complete list of Day 1 live streamed events, click here)

WHAT TO STAY UP LATE FOR …

Men’s snowboard slopestyle, 12:30 a.m. ET (semis), 3:45 a.m. ET (finals) CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE EVENT LIVE

The first gold-medal winner of the Olympics will be crowned at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. It will not be Shaun White, who pulled out of slopestyle Wednesday (but is still scheduled to go for his third straight halfpipe gold Tuesday).

Canada has a shot to sweep the podium, which the nation has never done before at a Winter Games. It’s led by Winter X Games champion Max Parrot, the top qualifier from Thursday. Sebastien Toutant won the 2013 European X Games and also qualified directly into the 12-man final.

Then there’s Mark McMorris, the 2012 and 2013 X Games champion who was the prohibitive favorite one  month ago. Then he broke a rib at the X Games and did not qualify for the final. He’ll go in the semifinals, where 21 men compete to lock up the remaining four spots in the final.

The three Americans — Chas Guldemond, Sage Kotsenburg and Ryan Stassel — are also in the semifinals.

The top medal threats to Canada are Norway’s Stale Sandbech and Finland’s Roope Tonteri, the 2013 world champion, and Peetu Piiroinen, the 2010 Olympic halfpipe silver medalist. Piiroinen is trying to become the first snowboarder to win medals in multiple disciplines.

Women’s hockey: U.S.-Finland, 3 a.m. ET (Live on NBCSN)CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE EVENT LIVE

The reigning world champion Americans open the women’s hockey tournament with a test. Finland handed the U.S. a 3-1 defeat on Nov. 8 at the Four Nations Cup in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Finland was led then as it is now by goalie Noora Raty, who stopped 58 of 59 shots in Lake Placid and backed the University of Minnesota to the 2013 NCAA Championship.

This could be the closest game the U.S. plays outside of a Feb. 12 date with Canada and a probable gold-medal game against Canada. Canada plays Switzerland on Saturday at 10 a.m.

The U.S., Canada, Finland and Switzerland make up one of two four-nation groups. They are the top four nations in the world and are guaranteed spots in the playoff round regardless of group results.

WHAT TO WAKE UP EARLY FOR ….

Men’s speed skating 5000m, 6:30 a.m. ETCLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

Dutch superstar Sven Kramer is the clear favorite to repeat as Olympic champion here. He hasn’t lost a 5000m at a major international meet since taking silver at the 2006 Olympics at age 19.

It could be the first of three gold medals in Sochi for Kramer, the best distance skater of his generation and one of the greatest-ever across all distances.

Kramer could lead a Dutch sweep if Jorrit Bergsma and Jan Blokhuijsen are in form. Bergsma is engaged to American skater Heather Richardson.

The best U.S. hope, Jonathan Kuck, is paired with Kramer. Russia has a medal contender in Ivan Skobrev.

WHAT YOU CAN’T MISS DURING THE DAY …

Figure skating, team event, 9;30 a.m. ET (Live on NBCSN, ice dance, women’s short, pairs free) CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

The U.S. will need to rebound if it’s to win a medal in this new Olympic event. Jeremy Abbott and Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir put it in a tie for fifth (but seventh for all intents and purposes) out of 10 nations Thursday.

That puts more pressure on world champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White to win the short dance over Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada.

Ashley Wagner then makes her Olympic debut in the women’s short program. She won’t have to deal with Yuna Kim (South Korea isn’t entered), but Mao Asada, Yulia Lipnitskaya and Carolina Kostner won’t make it easy.

If the U.S. is in the top five as expected after the short programs, it will advance to free skates. The first of four free skates, pairs, concludes Saturday night’s session. Castelli and Shnapir will look to improve upon their fifth-place showing from the short program there.

The team event ends with the men’s, ice dance and women’s long programs on Sunday.

Here are the standings after Thursday’s programs:
1. Russia — 19 points
2. Canada — 17 points
3. China — 15 points
4. Japan — 13 points
5. Germany/France/U.S. — 10 points

Men’s luge, 9:30 a.m. ETCLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

German Felix Loch is the favorite as luge begins with the first two of four total runs over two days. Loch will begin a quest to become the third man to win back-to-back Olympic luge titles, joining legends Georg Hackl and Armin Zoeggeler.

Zoeggeler, the 2002 and 2006 Olympic champion, is trying to become the first athlete to win a Winter Olympic medal in six straight Games.

He’s also in the medal mix along with countryman Dominik Fischnaller, German David Moller and Russian Albert Demtschenko, who is in his record seventh Winter Olympics.

Chris Mazdzer, who took second in a pair of World Cups this season, is the top U.S. hope. No American has ever won an Olympic singles luge medal.

Medals won’t be determined Saturday, but a major mistake in either run could take a slider out of the running for the podium Sunday.

Women’s moguls final, 1 p.m. ETCLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

Hannah Kearney is a heavy favorite to bring home the first U.S. gold medal of the Olympics. That’s exactly what she did four years ago in Vancouver, where she upset Canadian Jenn Heil and made up for tearfully washing out of 2006 Olympic qualifying.

Kearney was the top qualifier into the final from Thursday and is trying to become the first freestyle skier to win multiple Olympic gold medals. Freestyle skiing has been in the Olympics since 1992.

Her biggest threats are Canadian sisters Chloe, Justine and Maxime Dufour-Lapointe.

American Eliza Outtrim also made the final, while Heather McPhie must compete in another round of qualifying earlier Saturday to make the 20-woman final. The fourth American, Heidi Kloser, crashed in training and missed qualification.

Shelby Houlihan shatters American 5000m record

Shelby Houlihan
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Shelby Houlihan chopped 10.52 seconds off her own American 5000m record, clocking 14:23.92 at a Bowerman Track Club intrasquad meet in Portland, Ore., on Friday night.

Houlihan, who was 11th in the Rio Olympic 5000m, has in this Olympic cycle improved to become one of the greatest female distance runners in U.S. history.

She first broke Shannon Rowbury‘s American record in the 5000m by 4.47 seconds in 2018. In 2019, she broke Rowbury’s American record in the 1500m by 1.3 seconds in finishing fourth at the world championships in 3:54.99.

On Friday, Houlihan and second-place Karissa Schweizer both went under the American record. Schweizer, 24 and three years younger than Houlihan, clocked 14:26.34, staying with Houlihan until the winner’s 61-second final lap.

“I knew Karissa was going to try to come up on me and take the lead. She does that every time,” Houlihan told USATF.tv. “I had decided I was not going to let that happen.”

Houlihan improved from 41st to 12th on the world’s all-time 5000m list, 12.77 seconds behind Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba‘s world record.

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Can T.J. Oshie, other established Olympic hockey stars hold on for 2022?

T.J. Oshie
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T.J. Oshie will be 35 years old during the next Winter Olympics. Jonathan Quick will be 36. Now that the NHL is one key step closer to returning to the Winter Games, the question surfaces: which 2014 Olympians will have a difficult time returning to rosters in 2022?

Oshie was the last of the 14 forwards chosen for the U.S. Olympic team for Sochi, beating out Bobby Ryan and Brandon Saad, in part for his shootout prowess.

In group play against Russia, Oshie was memorably tapped by U.S. head coach Dan Bylsma six times in a shootout, including all five in the sudden-death rounds. Oshie beat Sergei Bobrovsky four times, including the game winner.

“After I went out for my third attempt, I figured I was going to keep going,” Oshie said, according to USA Hockey. “Each time I would look up to see what [Bylsma] had to say, and he would just give me a nod every time. I kind of started laughing toward shot five and six because it was getting kind of ridiculous.”

Oshie became known as “T.J. Sochi” on social media. President Barack Obama congratulated him on Twitter. The U.S. eventually lost to Canada in the semifinals and Finland in the bronze-medal game.

When the NHL chose not to send its players to the PyeongChang Winter Games, it may have spelled the end of Oshie’s Olympic career.

Consider that the oldest forward on the 2014 U.S. Olympic team was 29, six years younger than Oshie will be come 2022. A recent Olympic roster prediction from The Hockey Writers put Oshie in the “Just Missed Out” list.

NBC Sports NHL analyst Pierre McGuire has Oshie among the finalists for the last forward spots in his early U.S. roster prediction.

“I wouldn’t discount T.J. Oshie because shootout is still part of it,” McGuire said. “He still has his shootout moves, even though he’s not getting any younger.”

Quick, the unused third goalie in 2010, played 305 out of 365 minutes in net for the U.S. in Sochi. He was coming off a Stanley Cup in 2012 and en route to another one in 2014.

Since, he was sidelined by a knee injury that required surgery. He remains the Los Angeles Kings’ No. 1 goalie, which almost automatically puts an American in the Olympic roster discussion these days.

“Somebody like Jonathan definitely merits consideration just because of his achievement level over time, but I think he’d be the first person to tell you injuries have definitely affected him,” McGuire said of Quick, looking to become the second-oldest U.S. goalie to play in the Olympics after Tom Barrasso in 2002. “It’s not going to be easy for him.”

The U.S. could bypass Quick for three Olympic rookies in 2022. Connor Hellebuyck, John Gibson and Ben Bishop have superior save percentages and goals-against averages and more games played than Quick since the start of the 2018-19 season.

A wild card is Spencer Knight, the 19-year-old No. 1 from the world junior championships who last year became the highest-drafted goalie since 2010 (No. 13 to the Florida Panthers). Knight would break defenseman Bryan Berard‘s record as the youngest U.S. Olympic hockey player in the NHL era.

The Canadian roster has traditionally been deeper than the U.S. The talent is overwhelming at center, led by Sidney CrosbyConnor McDavidPatrice Bergeron and Nathan MacKinnon. The Canadians must get creative if the likes of veterans Jonathan Toews and John Tavares will join them in Beijing.

Toews, then 21, was the best forward at the 2010 Vancouver Games and Canada’s only one on the all-tournament team. While Toews’ last NHL All-Star selection was in 2017, his last two seasons have been his best in terms of points per game since 2011.

“The one thing that Canada is very good at, they do it extremely well, they select players that fit roles,” McGuire said, noting Mike Richards shifting to the wing during the 2010 Olympics. “When you look at the overwhelming depth that Canada has, that’s going to be the thing that’s going that’s going to be very interesting to watch to see how it plays out at center.”

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