Preview: Felix out to “Loch” up another Olympic luge title

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All races can be seen live online. TV listings can be found here.

EVENT SCHEDULE
Today – Men’s singles, 9:30 a.m. ET
Sunday – Men’s singles, medal event, 9:30 a.m. ET
Feb. 10 – Women’s singles, 9:45 a.m. ET
Feb. 11 – Women’s singles, medal event, 9:30 a.m. ET
Feb. 12 – Doubles, medal event, 9:15 a.m. ET
Feb. 13 – Team relay, 11:15 a.m. ET

TV SCHEDULE
Tonight – Midnight-1 a.m. ET, NBC
Sunday – 8:30 a.m. ET, LIVE on NBCSN (also on NBC’s daytime coverage starting at 2 p.m. ET)
Feb. 10 – 11:15 a.m. ET, NBCSN (also on NBC’s late night coverage starting at 12:05 a.m. ET)
Feb. 11 – 3-5 p.m. ET, NBC
Feb. 12 – 2-3 p.m. ET, NBCSN (also on NBC’s late night coverage starting at 12:05 a.m. ET)
Feb. 13 – 12:05-1:05 a.m., NBC

MORE: Luger acknowledges, even embraces his sport’s risks

U.S. OUTLOOK
Former world champion Erin Hamlin will lead an American squad that has never been able to claim a singles medal in Olympic luge. She’ll look to erase a disappointing 16th-place result in Vancouver, and she’s one of just three returning members from those Games – Chris Mazdzer and Christian Niccum being the others. Among the men, Mazdzer could make some noise; he recently capped off a fifth-place World Cup season that saw him earn two medals (silver at both Whistler, B.C. and Park City, Utah).

INTERNATIONAL OUTLOOK
Defending Olympic men’s luge champion Felix Loch is the favorite, but the 24-year-old German still will likely have to turn back challenges from a pair of “old men” in Italy’s five-time Olympic medalist Armin Zoeggeler – still very competitive at 40 years old – and Russia’s Albert Demtschenko, who’s the same at 42. Germany also has the favorite in the women’s category with Natalie Geisenberger, the 2013 world champion and a bronze medalist in Vancouver.

NEW EVENT – THE TEAM RELAY

Each country enters a woman’s sled, a man’s sled, and a doubles sled and runs them in sequence from the starting point. When the competitor finishes a run, he or she must tap a special touch pad that opens the starting gate for the next leg.

The lowest combined time will determine the Olympic champions and medalists, and if there’s a tie, each sled will get the same medal.

French Open: Karolina Pliskova, top player sans Slam, again exits early

Karolina Pliskova
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No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova exited yet another Grand Slam in the early stages, falling to 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia in the second round at Roland Garros on Thursday.

Ostapenko, whose only match wins at the French Open before this week came in her title run three years ago, bounced the big-serving Czech 6-4, 6-2.

Pliskova put fewer than half of her first serves in play, while Ostapenko fired 27 winners to 19 unforced errors. Pliskova was on the ropes in her first round, too, needing three sets to get past an Egyptian qualifier.

“Maybe same level as the match before, but of course [Ostapenko] is much better player,” Pliskova said. “Not much to say about this match.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Later Thursday, top-ranked Novak Djokovic had a second straight win ceding just five games, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 over Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis. Djokovic undefeated in 2020 save his U.S. Open default for smacking a ball that inadvertently struck a linesperson, next gets Colombian lucky loser Daniel Elahi Galán.

Nobody else in Djokovic’s half of the draw at the start of the tournament made a French Open semifinal before.

Pliskova is the highest-ranked player of either gender (No. 4) without a Grand Slam title, yet hasn’t made it past the fourth round at a major since the 2019 Australian Open.

She’s played six Slams as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, one shy of Caroline Wozniacki‘s total before she broke through at the 2018 Australian Open and two shy of Simona Halep‘s total before she won the 2018 French Open.

Ostapenko, meanwhile, is having a very different career.

She won the 2017 Roland Garros title, two days after turning 20, while ranked 47th. She hasn’t gotten past the third round of a major since 2018 Wimbledon, including first-round French Open exits the last two years, and is back down to No. 43 in the WTA rankings.

“It’s hard to compare with 2017. As I said, it was like three years ago, and I was much younger, and also I was fearless. Nobody knew me,” Ostapenko said. “The world doesn’t stop with winning only one Grand Slam. Of course I want to achieve more, and I want to be back in top five, top 10.”

She dropped just nine games in four sets this week.

Ostapenko gets 87th-ranked Spaniard Paula Badosa in third round. Badosa dispatched 2018 French Open runner-up Sloane Stephens 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.

MORE: Serena Williams ‘struggling to walk’

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Figure skating’s Grand Prix fields look very different this season

Nathan Chen
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Before Nathan Chen is expected to go for a historic fifth straight U.S. figure skating title in January, he will, in a first, compete against most of his top countrymen later this month.

Fields for the Grand Prix Series, figure skating’s autumn international circuit, were published Thursday. As expected, every top skater entered will compete in his or her home country, or nearest to where he or she trains, and in one of the six events.

Traditionally, skaters compete in two of the six events and are scattered among competitions in the U.S., Canada, France, Russia, China and Japan based on world rankings.

But the International Skating Union restricted travel this season due to the coronavirus pandemic. Skaters are limited to compete locally. And the Grand Prix Final at the conclusion of the Grand Prix Series has been postponed from its scheduled December setting in Beijing.

That means that Chen vies for a record-tying fourth straight Skate America crown in Las Vegas in three weeks against a field mostly made up of countrymen, including Olympic teammate Vincent Zhou and U.S. bronze medalist Tomoki Hiwatashi.

In all, there are eight U.S. men entered in Skate America, 11 women (including past national champions Bradie Tennell and Gracie Gold), six pairs and nine ice dance couples (including U.S. champions Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue), plus some skaters from other nations who train in the U.S.

Traditionally, a country has no more than three entries per discipline at a Grand Prix event.

GRAND PRIX FIELDS: Men | Women | Pairs | Ice Dance

Sochi Olympian Jason Brown, who trains in Toronto, is entered in Skate Canada the week after Skate America.

Two-time U.S. women’s champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough for the Grand Prix Series until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

All of the reigning Olympic champions are absent from the series.

Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan previously announced he wouldn’t compete due to virus-related travel risks. Russian Alina Zagitova extended her indefinite break from competition dating to last autumn, rather choosing to participate in a skating-themed TV series.

Ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada retired. The German pairs’ team of Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot last competed in the 2018 Olympic season.

Instead, the headliners include Chen, the two-time world champion undefeated since placing fifth in PyeongChang. And a deep crop of Russian teenage women, all of course entered in the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow in November.

MORE: Brian Orser reacts to Yevgenia Medvedeva’s coaching switch

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