Alex Ovechkin

What to watch on Day 8 of Sochi Olympics

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Here’s a look at the compelling events, athletes and storylines of the Sochi Olympics on Saturday, Feb. 15. A complete list of every Saturday event can be found here.

WHAT TO STAY UP LATE FOR …

Women’s super-G, 2 a.m. ET — CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

This is the final women’s speed event of the Olympics and possibly Julia Mancuso’s last really great shot at an Olympic medal.

Mancuso won bronze in the super combined and finished eighth in the downhill. A medal in the super-G would give her five total, matching Bode Miller’s record for U.S. Alpine skiers.

This has been Mancuso’s best discipline since the Vancouver Olympics yet one she has not won an Olympic medal in. Mancuso was the No. 3, 2 and 2 super-G skier the previous three years before her noted struggles on tour this season.

Her biggest competition will come from Olympic super combined champion Maria Hoefl-Riesch, downhill gold medalists Tina Maze and Dominique Gisin and bronze medalist Lara Gut and Liechtenstein’s Tina Weirather, who was on crutches earlier this week.

Men’s hockey, Slovakia-Slovenia, 3 a.m. ET CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

These two similarly sounding yet not bordering nations will play at the Olympics for the first time, both looking to recover from opening-day defeats.

Slovenia, which features Los Angeles Kings forward Anze Kopitar, is coming off a 5-2 loss to Russia on Thursday. Slovakia, which finished fourth at the 2010 Olympics, was trounced 7-1 by the U.S.

Both teams are likely to feed into the “qualification playoff” round rather than an automatic quarterfinal berth out of group play.

WHAT TO WAKE UP EARLY FOR …

Short track speed skating, men’s 1000m final, 7:20 a.m. ETCLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

J.R. Celski looks to improve upon his fourth-place finish in the 1500m here, should he make the A final. He finished eighth in the 1000m at the 2010 Olympics and earned a third at a World Cup event in Kolomna, Russia, in November.

The biggest threats will be similar to the 1500m — Canada’s Charles Hamelin, Russia’s Viktor Ahn and any South Koreans.

The women’s 1500m final will take place 13 minutes before the men’s 1000m, but no Americans are expected to be a part of it. US Speedskating has yet to win a medal at these Olympics.

Men’s hockey, U.S.-Russia, 7:30 a.m. ET CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

This is probably the biggest event of the Olympics without a medal at stake. The U.S. and Russia (or the Soviet Union/Unified Team) will play an Olympic men’s hockey game for the sixth time since the Miracle on Ice and for the first time on Russian ice.

Here are their results since 1980:
1988: Soviet Union 7, U.S. 5 (group play)
1992: Unified Team 5, U.S. 2 (semifinals)
2002: U.S. 2, Russia 2 (group play)
2002: U.S. 3, Russia 2 (semifinals)
2006: Russia 5, U.S. 4 (group play)

Jonathan Quick will start his second straight game in goal after stopping 21 of 22 Slovakian shots Thursday.

The winner of this game goes into the driver’s seat for an automatic spot in the quarterfinals. The loser still has a shot, too, but it will be tougher.

Speed skating, men’s 1500m, 8:30 a.m. ET CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

Shani Davis looks to rebound from a startling eighth-place finish in the 1000m Wednesday, an event in which he had won 2006 and 2010 Olympic gold.

Davis is the two-time defending silver medalist in the 1500m, the reigning world silver medalist and the 2013-14 World Cup leader.

Yet this is a fairly open race among Davis, the Netherlands’ Stefan Groothuis, Kjeld Nuis and Koen Verweij and Russians Denis Yuzkov and Ivan Skobrev.

The Dutch have won all three men’s speed skating golds so far and will be favored in the final two events, the 10,000m and team pursuit. Only the U.S. in 1932, Norway in 1936 and Eric Heiden in 1980 have swept all the men’s speed skating golds, but there were five or fewer events at all of those Winter Games.

Men’s skeleton runs 3 and 4, 9:45 a.m. ET CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

A U.S. man will likely win an Olympic skeleton medal for the first time since Jim Shea’s gold in 2002.

John Daly and Matthew Antoine are in third and fourth, respectively, after two of four runs Friday. Russian Aleksander Tretiakov leads Latvian Martins Dukurs by .56 of a second.

Dukurs, the World Cup champion each of the last five seasons, is staring at his second straight Olympic silver medal after he was upset by Canadian Jon Montgomery in 2010. He is .56 of a second behind Tretiakov.

Daly, who was 17th at the 2010 Olympics, is 1.03 seconds behind Dukurs and .26 better than Antoine. Daly has never won a World Cup or World Championships medal, so this could really be the race of his life.

WHAT YOU CAN’T MISS DURING THE DAY …

Men’s hockey, Sweden-Latvia, 12 p.m. ET CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE | Switzerland-Czech Republic, 12 p.m. ETCLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

These are the final games in Group C. Sweden has already booked a spot in the quarterfinals with 4-2 and 1-0 wins over the Czech Republic and Switzerland. Latvia is the minnow of this group and should pose no threat, even with Henrik Zetterberg out of the Olympics.

The winner of the Swiss-Czech game has a chance at an automatic quarterfinal spot. The Czechs beat Latvia 4-2 on Friday behind two goals from Jaromir Jagr, 41. The Swiss have played two 1-0 games, losing the latest to Sweden on Friday.

Ski jumping, men’s large hill, 12:30 p.m. ET CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

Poland’s Kamil Stoch, who won the normal hill Sunday, flew a field-best 136m in training Friday from a lower gate position and appears to be the favorite again here.

Swiss Simon Ammann, the four-time Olympic champion, posted a 132m jump in training after finishing 17th in the normal hill.

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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