Ted Ligety

What to watch on Day 12 of Sochi Olympics

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Here’s a look at the compelling events, athletes and storylines of the Sochi Olympics on Wednesday, Feb. 19. A complete list of every Wednesday event can be found here.

WHAT TO STAY UP LATE FOR …

Men’s giant slalom, 2 a.m./5:30 a.m. ET CLICK HERE TO WATCH FIRST RUN | SECOND RUN

American Ted Ligety’s favorite status here has fallen under some question given his results so far at these Games — 12th in the super combined and 14th in the super-G, two events in which he won gold at the 2013 World Championships but had little World Cup success.

Still, the giant slalom is Ligety’s specialty. He won the World Cup season title in the event four of the last six seasons, though he ranks third so far this season.

Ligety’s primary competition will come from Austrian Marcel Hirscher and Frenchman Alexis Pinturault, the two men who rank above him in the World Cup standings.

Don’t count out Bode Miller, who won silver in the giant slalom at the 2002 Olympics.

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

Sweden earned the top quarterfinal seed after winning all three of its group games. It gets a Slovenian team playing with house money, in its first Olympic tournament having never placed better than 13th at a World Championships.

Sweden has won the last two Olympics held on European ice and will look to ride goalie Henrik Lundqvist into a semifinal against Russia or Finland.

WHAT TO WAKE UP EARLY FOR …

Women’s curling semifinals, Canada-Great Britain, 5 a.m. ETCLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE | Sweden-Switzerland, 5 a.m. ET CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

Canada, skipped by Jennifer Jones, became the first woman’s nation to go undefeated in round-robin play. The top seed, it drew reigning world champion Great Britain, skipped by Scot Eve Muirhead.

Sweden is the two-time defending Olympic champion and world silver medalist, while Switzerland took fourth in Vancouver.

Cross-country skiing, women’s team sprint, 6:45 a.m. ETCLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

This is probably the last good chance for the U.S. to win its second-ever Olympic cross-country medal, joining Bill Koch’s silver from 1976.

Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins won the 2013 World Championship in the team sprint. Diggins is replaced by Sophie Caldwell this year.

Norway and Sweden figure to be the toughest competition. Norway starts eight-time Olympic medalist Marit Bjoergen, while Sweden is not using Charlotte Kalla, who won one gold and two silvers in three of the first four cross-country events.

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

This figures to be the closest quarterfinal. Finland scored 14 goals in its first two games before falling to mighty Canada in overtime. The Finns won medals in 2006 and 2010 and are the best never to win an Olympic hockey gold, if you don’t count Russia as separate from the Soviet Union and Unified Team.

Russia has looked far less impressive than Finland, struggling on the power play and posting underwhelming victories against nations that weren’t considered medal contenders.

Speed skating, women’s 5000m, 8:30 a.m. ET CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

This is the final individual speed skating event and thus the last chance the Netherlands gets to win multiple medals in one event.

The Dutch female superstar, Ireen Wuest, will look to win her fourth medal of these Games. If she does so, she’s in great shape for five given the Netherlands is the gold-medal favorite in the team pursuit. Five medals would match the most medals won by an athlete at one Winter Games.

Wuest will be paired with defending Olympic champion Martina Sablikova, who has won the last nine World Cup and World Championship 5000m races dating to November 2010.

Also in this race, German Claudia Pechstein, in her sixth Olympics at age 41, will look to win her 10th career medal and become the most decorated female Winter Olympian ever.

WHAT YOU CAN’T MISS DURING THE DAY …

Biathlon mixed relay, 9:30 a.m. ET CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

Ole Einar Bjoerndalen takes aim at the solo record for most Winter Olympic medals for the third time here. The mixed relay is a new Olympic event, and one where Norway should like its chances.

The Norwegians send Bjoerndalen and Emil Hegle Svendsen, both individual gold medalists in Sochi, and Tora Berger and Tiril Eckhoff, silver and bronze medalists.

If Norway wins gold, Bjoerndalen will tie retired Norwegian cross-country skier Bjorn Daehlie for the most career Olympic gold medals (eight) with one more men’s relay to go Saturday.

The other contenders figure to be the Czech Republic, France and Russia.

Curling men’s semifinals, Sweden-Great Britain, 10 a.m. ET CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE | Canada-China, 10 a.m. ET CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

Canada is the only 2010 medalist still alive, looking to defend its gold medal with a different rink this time around. Canada is the No. 2 seed, drawing third seed China and its star skip, Liu Rui. China was sixth at the 2013 World Championships and has never won an Olympic men’s medal.

The top seed is Sweden, which went 8-1 in round-robin play and is the 2013 world champion. Great Britain knocked the pants off Norway in a tiebreaker game Monday to stay alive.

Figure skating, women’s short program, 10 a.m. ET CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

The notables start with American Polina Edmunds (11:28 a.m. ET), defending Olympic champion Yuna Kim (12:24 p.m.) and U.S. champion Gracie Gold (1:05) before the final group.

The night will be capped by Russian breakout Yuliya Lipnitskaya (1:47), Italian Carolina Kostner (1:54), two-time U.S. champion Ashley Wagner (2) and Japan’s Mao Asada (2:20).

Yuna, expected to retire after Sochi, is skating in an international competition for the first time in more than two months. She’s hoping to become the first woman to win two figure skating golds since Katarina Witt in 1984 and 1988.

Lipnitskaya could be her biggest obstacle. The 15-year-old could become the youngest Olympic figure skating champion since Tara Lipinski in 1998.

The key for Asada, the 2010 Olympic silver medalist, will be hitting her triple Axel.

Gold and Wagner are the top hopes to bring the U.S. its first women’s figure skating medal since Sasha Cohen’s silver in 2006.

Women’s bobsled runs 3 and 4, 11:15 a.m. ET CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

Elana Meyers and Lauryn Williams held a .23 lead over 2010 Olympic champion Kaillie Humphries of Canada after the first two runs Tuesday.

Meyers, a 2010 bronze medalist as a brakewoman, looks to win the first U.S. women’s bobsled gold medal since Jill Bakken and Vonetta Flowers prevailed in the event’s debut in 2002.

Williams, a three-time track and field Olympian, looks to become the second athlete to win Summer and Winter Olympic gold medals.

The second U.S. sled, driven by Jamie Greubel, was in third place after the first two runs, .49 ahead of an upstart fourth-place Belgian sled.

USA-3, with Jazmine Fenlator and Lolo Jones, was 11th.

Men’s hockey quarterfinals, Canada-Latvia, 12 p.m. ET CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE | U.S.-Czech Republic, 12 p.m. ETCLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

The winners of these games will play each other in the semifinals Friday.

Canada has the easier path after Latvia upset Switzerland on Tuesday. The Latvians, whose roster includes 41-year-old former NHL All-Star Sandis Ozolinsh, have already made it farther than it had in the last three Olympics. The Canadians have named Carey Price their starting goalie over Roberto Luongo, who backed them to a gold medal in 2010.

The U.S. will play the Czech Republic, an opponent that would have given it nightmares 15 years ago. But the Czechs are no longer the power they were in the Dominik Hasek era, despite knocking off 2010 fourth-place nation Slovakia on Tuesday. Jonathan Quick will start in goal for the U.S. after getting the third group-play game off.

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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