Yuzuru Hanyu

What to watch on Day 7 of Sochi Olympics

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Here’s a look at the compelling events, athletes and storylines of the Sochi Olympics on Friday, Feb. 14. A complete list of every Friday event can be found here.

WHAT TO STAY UP LATE FOR …

Men’s super combined, 1 a.m./6:30 a.m. ET — CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

Americans Bode Miller and Ted Ligety could both win medals in this event, which starts with one downhill run in the morning and concludes with an afternoon slalom. Miller is the defending Olympic champion. Ligety is the reigning world champion and also won the 2006 Olympic combined (which was one downhill and two slaloms).

If Miller wins a medal, he will move into solo second on the all-time Olympic Alpine medals list with six, trailing Norway’s Kjetil Andre Aamodt, who won eight. Ligety seeks his second Olympic medal.

The top international contenders include Croatia’s Ivica Kostelic, 34, who is the reigning Olympic and world silver medalist. He is also the older brother of Janica Kostelic, the most decorated female Olympic Alpine skier ever who is retired. Don’t lose sight of France’s Alexis Pinturault, either. Both Kostelic and Pinturault will be behind after the downhill.

Even speed racer Aksel Lund Svindal has a shot here. He better be faster than Miller, Ligety and Kostelic in the downhill though. Much faster.

Men’s hockey, Czech Republic-Latvia, 3 a.m. ET CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

The Czechs and Latvians both lost their openers, so both teams are looking to avoid being the last-place team in Group C.

This is a meeting of three guys who used to face each other in the NHL in the 1990s — Jaromir Jagr (41, Czech), Petr Nedved (42, Czech) and Sandis Ozolinsh (41, Latvia).

WHAT TO WAKE UP EARLY FOR …

Men’s hockey, Sweden-Switzerland, 7:30 a.m. ET  CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

This matchup is for the top spot in Group C after two games. The Swedes are coming off a 4-2 win over the Czechs, while the Swiss blanked the Latvians 1-0 behind Jonas Hiller.

The Swiss have opted not to start Hiller though. Instead, they will go with Reto Berra of the Calgary Flames.

Regardless, Sweden is the favorite here as it hopes to follow a path to its third straight gold at a European Olympics (if we’re counting Sochi as a European Games).

WHAT YOU CAN’T MISS DURING THE DAY …

Figure skating men’s free skate, 10 a.m. ET CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

As expected, the top two men in the short program were Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu and Canada’s Patrick Chan. Hanyu leads Chan by 3.97 points after breaking his own record with a 101.45-point short program.

Hanyu and Chan are both looking to become their nations’ first Olympic men’s figure skating champions.

American Jason Brown, is in sixth place but just .98 of a point behind third-place Javier Fernandez of Spain. Brown, who will skate last, could become the youngest Olympic figure skating medalist since Viktor Petrenko in 1988.

The other American, Jeremy Abbott, struggled in his short program for the second straight Olympics and is in 15th, far out of the medal picture.

Russian Yevgeny Plushenko, a four-time Olympic medalist, withdrew prior to his short program with a back injury Thursday.

Women’s skeleton runs 3 and 4, 10:40 a.m. ET CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

Americans Noelle Pikus-Pace and Katie Uhlaender could both win medals here, but gold will be very tough to grab.

Great Britain’s Lizzy Yarnold leads by .44 of a second after two of four runs. She’s the World Cup season champion and looking to make it two straight women’s skeleton golds for Great Britain after Amy Williams’ 2010 title.

Pikus-Pace, who had limited training this week due to a back injury, is in second place. She finished fourth in 2010, retired, had her second child and returned for a final Olympics.

Russian Elena Nikitina came from nowhere for third place Thursday, .55 back of Yarnold. Nikitina, 21, has one career World Cup podium and would be the youngest skeleton medalist since 1928.

Uhlaender is .14 behind Nikitina. She is the 2012 world champion and the silver medalist on this track in a World Cup event last year but hasn’t been better than sixth in any World Cup this past season, missing time due to post-concussion effects.

The first two runs of men’s singles will precede the women.

Men’s hockey, Canada-Austria, 12 p.m. ET CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE | Norway-Finland, 12 p.m. ETCLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

Canada eased into the Olympics by beating Norway 3-1 on Thursday. Austria shouldn’t pose any threat, either, in its first Olympic men’s hockey tournament since 2002.

The key will be how Roberto Luongo fares in net after Carey Price beat the Norwegians. You have to think the man named starter for the group finale against Finland will be in the driver’s seat to stay there for the bracket-round games.

Like Canada, Finland should be able to dispose of Norway. It scored eight times on 52 shots against Austria, making up for Tuukka Rask giving up four goals on 20 shots. Finland matched its highest goal output since 1992.

Canada and Finland will likely be playing for Group C supremacy Sunday.

Women’s aerials finals, 2:30 p.m. ET CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

China is the world’s deepest nation in aerials, which shouldn’t be shocking given the gymnastics nature of the flipping, twisting event.

It sends the 2010 Olympic silver medalist, 2013 world champion and two other women who have won World Cup events this season into qualification in the early evening.

The top 12 women overall advance to the first round of finals at 2:30. The top eight from there will go to the second final, and the final four to the last final.

Australia boasts the defending Olympic champion in Lydia Lassila, one of three non-Chinese women to make a World Cup podium in five events this season.

The U.S. has two-time Olympian Ashley Caldwell and three-time Olympian Emily Cook. Caldwell, back from two torn ACLs, was second at the first World Cup event this season.

2021 Burton U.S. Open snowboarding event canceled

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The Burton U.S. Open, snowboarding’s most storied event, canceled its 2021 competition due to uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

“The truth is, we just can’t be sure it will be safe from a public health standpoint for us to host the event in 2021,” a statement read.

The U.S. Open, held since 1982, is usually around the first weekend in March, making it the season-ending event for many riders. Halfpipe champions include Shaun WhiteChloe KimKelly Clark and Ross Powers, who also earned Olympic gold medals.

Other 2020-21 winter sports events affected by the coronavirus pandemic include figure skating’s Junior Grand Prix. The first two stops of that eight-event series, scheduled for late August and early September in Canada and Slovakia, have been canceled.

The Italian Winter Sports Federation, which is due to put on the February 2021 World Alpine Skiing Championships in Cortina d’Ampezzo, made a formal request on Monday to postpone the event until March 2022, one month after the next Winter Olympics in Beijing. The International Ski Federation (FIS) council will decide July 1.

MORE: Takeaways from abbreviated 2019-20 winter sports season

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Kara Eaker eschews fear, back on balance beam to resume Olympic quest

Kara Eaker
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Kara Eaker hasn’t qualified for an Olympics yet, but she is already part of a historic club of U.S. gymnasts. The list goes, most recently, Eaker, Simone BilesKyla RossAly RaismanNastia LiukinShawn JohnsonShannon Miller and Dominique Dawes.

Those are the women who qualified for back-to-back balance beam finals at the sport’s highest level: Olympics or world championships. For Eaker (pronounced like acre), they came in her first two years as a senior gymnast in 2018 and 2019 (Biles and Johnson are the only other U.S. women to do that in the last 25 years.)

This was supposed to be Eaker’s Olympic year, but the coronavirus pandemic postponed the Games to 2021, after her Missouri high school graduation. It also kept her out of the gym for nearly two months until the GAGE Center reopened last week in Blue Springs, near Kansas City.

It was the longest Eaker had been off a regulation beam (and out of the gym) since she could remember. She began competing at age 5.

Eaker’s mom, Katherine, said her daughter never feared the four-inch-wide beam, but Eaker said the thought of returning last week “was definitely kind of scary at first.” That is, until one of her coaches eased her back with basics and work on a floor beam, one that’s not raised as high as the four feet you see in competition.

“By the time we were ready, and she was comfortable putting us back up there, it wasn’t scary,” Eaker said. “It felt normal.”

Eaker, adopted from a Chinese orphanage around age 1 in 2003 (her parents’ travel then delayed by SARS), excels on the senior elite stage with a level of normalcy.

Which is not entirely normal in this sport. She lives with her family, 10 minutes from her world-class gym. She still attends regular high school. She’s committed to continue gymnastics at the University of Utah after the Tokyo Olympics.

“I started out in dance, actually,” said Eaker, whose hobbies include robotics and calligraphy. “A little, little girl with the stuffed animal, twirling around in the dance room. And then we had our little recital and I just wasn’t … I couldn’t do the standing in front of an audience kind of thing.”

Her mom believes it was around Christmas. Eaker was 3 or 4.

“She just froze like a deer in the headlights, and all the other girls froze, too, because they were used to following her,” Katherine said. “Then she tried gymnastics. We had to drag her out [of the gym]. From then on, it was always, she’s first one in, last one out. Still is.”

The family, including Eaker’s father, Mark, retired Navy and a flight engineer, and younger sister, Sara, moved three times within Missouri in part to get Kara closer to GAGE to pursue what would eventually become an Olympic dream.

Gymnastics meets were appointment TV before Eaker entered kindergarten. She watched the Beijing Olympics, or perhaps an even earlier meet, while dancing around the living room in a leotard. Sometimes she mimicked the gold medalists by doing back bends. She continued to watch Beijing highlights, with Liukin and Johnson, on replay on YouTube.

Back at the gym, Eaker developed with the help of her coaches, plus future University of Nebraska gymnast Catelyn Orel, her “gym mom” under the GAGE program to pair older and younger athletes. Orel was a state champion on beam. Eaker proved a natural, too.

“A lot of the girls would get up there and have trouble balancing, but she just always seemed to do it just like she was on the floor,” her mom said. “She’s never really had a fear. Some girls get up there and are nervous. She just never seemed to be that way.”

In 2018, Eaker was 15, old enough to start competing on the senior level with the likes of Biles. Exactly 10 years after she would have watched Johnson win the Beijing Olympic beam title, Eaker finished second on beam at nationals behind Biles. She was invited to the world championships team selection camp, where she had the top beam score and placed sixth in the all-around. Six gymnasts would be chosen by a committee to travel to the world championships.

Eaker didn’t expect to make the team. In a large meeting with coaches and staff, the roster was announced. Eaker made it as the youngest member.

“It was a goal, but there were so many other girls and it was my first year as a senior,” she said. “I was very happy and surprised to make that team.”

Eaker again won beam at the 2019 World Championships selection camp. If Eaker endured adversity those first two years, it came at worlds.

In 2018, she fell on her mount in the beam final. The rest of her routine was medal-worthy gymnastics. She waited an eternal three minutes for her score, which placed her sixth. Eaker’s routine from the team final earlier that week would have earned silver.

In 2019, Eaker again qualified for the eight-woman beam final. The U.S. federation submitted an inquiry on her qualifying score, contesting a lower start value given to her. That backfired. Judges lowered Eaker’s score even more upon review, which took her out of the final. However, another gymnast who had qualified later withdrew due to injury. Eaker was back in the final, where she placed fourth.

She was asked afterward what she would take away from the meet.

“Just the experience of it all,” she said, composed. “How it makes me feel. How to use that [in the future].”

In 2021, Eaker will have to prove to a selection committee that she can be reliable on all four apparatuses. The Olympic team event size is four — with three gymnasts going per apparatus in the Olympic final — down from five in 2016, putting a greater emphasis on the all-around. Eaker could also be a candidate for one separate spot in individual events only.

“I definitely want to be seen as a great beam worker, but I also need to be a great all-arounder because they’re going to be looking at not just your one event,” said Eaker, who was third in the all-around at the 2019 Worlds selection camp. “You have to be able to benefit the team with your other events, even if they aren’t as strong as your [best] one.”

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