Yuna Kim

What to watch on Day 13 of Sochi Olympics

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Here’s a look at the compelling events, athletes and storylines of the Sochi Olympics on Thursday, Feb. 20. A complete list of every Thursday event can be found here.

WHAT TO STAY UP LATE FOR …

Nordic combined team event, 3 a.m./6 a.m. ET CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE EVENT LIVE

The U.S. won silver in this four years ago. Half of the four-man team is back, including the only U.S. individual Olympic Nordic combined champion, Bill Demong, and Todd Lodwick. Lodwick is in his U.S. Winter record sixth Olympics. They’re joined by brothers Bryan and Taylor Fletcher.

It would be a surprise to see the Americans return to the podium, given their best individual finish in two events here is 20th.

Germany and Norway are the favorites for gold.

WHAT TO WAKE UP EARLY FOR …

Men’s ski cross final, 5:41 a.m. ETCLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

Ski cross, essentially snowboard cross on skis, debuted at the 2010 Olympics. The U.S. fielded two men four years ago, veteran Olympic Alpine skiers Daron Rahlves and Casey Puckett, who were eliminated before the quarterfinals.

American John Teller is a better medal threat this year, having been in the top 12 of the World Cup standings the last four seasons and won a bronze medal at the 2013 World Championships.

Canadian Chris Del Bosco is a good story, having fallen in the 2010 final shortly before the finish while in medal position. Other medal favorites include World Cup leader Swede Victor Oehling Norberg and 2010 silver medalist Austrian Andreas Matt.

Women’s curling gold-medal game, Canada-Sweden, 8:30 a.m. ETCLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

Canadian Jennifer Jones hasn’t lost in 10 games, including taking out reigning world champion Brit Eve Muirhead in the semifinals Tuesday. No women’s rink has gone undefeated at a Winter Olympics since women’s curling debuted at the Olympics in 1998.

Sweden beat Canada in the 2010 Olympic final, but that included two different rinks. The Swedes have won the last two Olympic golds.

WHAT YOU CAN’T MISS DURING THE DAY …

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

Defending champion Yuna Kim restored order in the short program, posting 74.92 points for a slim .28 lead over Russian surprise Adelina Sotnikova.

The other Russian, 15-year-old team event sensation Yuliya Lipnitskaya, fell to fifth, nearly 10 points back of Kim and nine behind third-place Carolina Kostner of Italy.

All three Americans have varying shots at a medal — Gracie Gold (fourth), Ashley Wagner (sixth) and Polina Edmunds (seventh).

2010 Olympic silver medalist Mao Asada has no shot at a medal. She’s in 16th place after falling on a triple Axel on Wednesday.

Here are start times for notable skaters Thursday:

Mao Asada — 11:41 a.m. ET
Polina Edmunds — 12:42 p.m.
Yuliya Lipnitskaya — 1:06
Carolina Kostner — 1:14
Adelina Sotnikova — 1:22
Gracie Gold — 1:30
Ashley Wagner — 1:38
Yuna Kim — 1:46

Women’s hockey gold-medal game, U.S.-Canada, 12 p.m. ET CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

The two bitter rivals will face off for the fourth time in five Olympic gold-medal games dating to women’s hockey’s Olympic debut in 1998. Canada has won the last three Olympic gold medals, rendering the current U.S. roster devoid of gold-medal experience.

The U.S. beat Canada in Ottawa for the World Championship in April and won a pre-Olympic series 4-3. Canada, under new coach Kevin Dineen, beat the U.S. 3-2 in a group-play game Feb. 12.

Expect this one to be tight and tense and tears to be shed once it’s all over.

Women’s ski halfpipe final, 12:30 p.m. ET CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

The U.S. looks to sweep the first Olympic ski halfpipe golds with Maddie Bowman, the two-time reigning Winter X Games champion, going two days after David Wise took the men’s event.

Bowman’s primary competition figures to come from world champion Swiss Virginie Faivre as well as Canadian Roz Groenewoud, who has won medals at the last five X Games.

Americans Angeli VanLaanen and Brita Sigourney are also medal threats.

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Arnie the Terminator: Aussie rival to Katie Ledecky an unlikely swim story

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In August 2016, a 15-year-old Australian swimmer named Ariarne Titmus followed the Rio Olympics as she prepared to fly to Maui for the Junior Pan Pacific Championships.

Titmus paid special attention to her best events, the 200m, 400m and 800m freestyles. Katie Ledecky swept them, breaking two of her own world records.

“I remember watching her races thinking, like, this chick is nuts,” Titmus told NBC Sports in Australia early this year. “She’s just doing stuff that no one’s gonna get near.”

Three years later, Titmus stunned Ledecky at the world championships, chasing down the American in the last 50 meters of the 400m freestyle. She became the first woman to beat Ledecky in a distance race in seven years and a bona fide rival one year from the Tokyo Games.

Ledecky at first attributed her late fade to tight and tired legs. Then she spent seven hours the next day in a South Korean emergency room with what she believed was a stomach virus.

“She was sick,” said Dean Boxall, Titmus’ South African-born coach, “and we happened to pounce.”

Titmus’ time — 3:58.76, a personal best by .59 — was slower than Ledecky’s wins at her previous three major international meets — Rio Olympics, 2017 Worlds and 2018 Pan Pacific Championships.

“It wasn’t a good swim by Arnie,” said Boxall, a vocal coach known to shout Ledecky’s name in practices. “And I know it wasn’t a good swim by Katie. Definitely not. But there was things that Arnie did in that race I was pleased with, and there was a lot of things that she did that I was not happy with at all.”

The Olympic postponement to 2021 gives Titmus and Boxall another year to work on those inefficiencies down in Brisbane. Another year to mature, to turn 20 years old before the Games.

“I try not to dwell on that [beating Ledecky] too much,” Titmus, sometimes called “the Terminator” by Australian press, said of the world championships, where she also out-split Ledecky in the 4x200m free relay and took bronze behind the American in the 800m free. “Next year’s the big one at the Olympics.”

Nowhere is swimming closer to a national sport than in Australia, but none of its Olympic champion Dolphins hail from Tasmania, an island 150 miles south of the mainland.

Notable Tasmanian sports persons include cricketer Ricky Ponting, retired NASCAR driver Marcos Ambrose and woodchopping world champion David Foster, but no listed swimmers.

Stephanie Rice, the last Australian female swimmer to win an individual Olympic title in 2008, visited “Tassie,” the state a little bigger than West Virginia, nearly a decade ago. She met a young Titmus, who still remembers what Rice scribbled: “Be the best you can be.”

“I say it’s my favorite quote,” Titmus said. “She wrote it on my shirt, so it has to be my favorite quote.”

Titmus was born a week before the Sydney Olympics — “She loved watching Thorpie,” her mom said — and grew up on 16 acres of country land. The family — parents Steve and Robyn and younger sister Mia — had horses, a trampoline and a swimming club just down the road in Launceston.

They also had an indoor pool (areas of Tasmania approach freezing in the winter). One evening more than 15 years ago, Robyn was chopping vegetables and peered to see her elder daughter, then a toddler without formal swim lessons, doing the breaststroke.

“We didn’t know anybody at the swimming club,” said Steve, a longtime TV journalist. “And we turned up and said, hi, we’re the Titmuses. We’ve got a daughter called Ariarne, and she wants to race. Tuesday nights they had club night, and she jumped in the water, and away she went.”

Titmus wasn’t the fastest at first, but by the time she won a third Australian junior title, she became too big for the Apple Isle.

“[My coach] said, look, you can’t really do anything else down here,” Titmus remembered. “There’s no one for you to train with. There’s no one for you to race. It’s all up in Queensland. And he said, if you really want a shot at this, you should really move.”

The family relocated to Brisbane when she was 14 or 15, following Titmus’ coach.

We packed up the car, got on the boat, sailed to Melbourne,” said Robyn, a former national-level track sprinter. “We even stopped at Albury on the way for a training session because the coach she had at the time was a hard task master.”

Right around that time, she first met Boxall while with the Australian junior national team.

“I originally thought this guy is nuts,” Titmus said. “He gave us this speech about the New Zealanders or something were trying to be better than us. His veins were popping. It was crazy. I was like, I’m never ever going to have a coach like him.”

Boxall became her coach about a year later.

“I’ve got great athletes here that hurt themselves, and they enjoy going through the pain,” he said, “but you want to try and get that little bit extra from someone. You have to actually go there with them a little bit.”

In a sitdown, on-camera interview, Boxall first told how he met Titmus, his first impression of her and a bit about their relationship. He first mentioned Ledecky, umprompted, when asked the fourth question, about Titmus’ progression.

Boxall noted that Titmus swam the 400m freestyle in 4:09.81 at the August 2016 Junior Pan Pacific Championships.

“Ledecky went 3:56:46,” Boxall said, correctly noting Ledecky’s Rio Olympic world record to the hundredth, “so we’re 13 seconds off [at] that stage.”

Titmus raced Ledecky for the first time at the 2017 Worlds and finished fourth in the 400m, closing the gap to six seconds. In 2018, she took second to Ledecky at Pan Pacs, 1.16 seconds behind, becoming the first Australian to break four minutes in the event.

At 2019 Worlds, Boxall needed to be alone during the 400m free final. He left the Australian team box and snuck into a VIP area. As Titmus reeled Ledecky in, Boxall stood up and ran.

“Like a shot of adrenaline,” he said. “I couldn’t contain myself, but I was calmer as I’d ever been as well.

“That’s the first race that Arnie has raced Katie and actually was in the race. … Prior to that, it was just Katie.”

Titmus swam 10 seconds faster than when Boxall first compared her to Ledecky in August 2016.

“She’s 2.4 seconds off [Ledecky’s] world record,” Boxall said. “We know what the benchmark is, and we’re still a long way off.”

Titmus recorded the eighth-fastest 400m freestyle in history. Ledecky owns the top seven times.

“The greatest thing apart from obviously winning, I think, [is] being able to actually race someone who has been on her own for so long,” Titmus said. “I find it so crazy that now I’m in this situation where she’s my main rival.”

Scroll down the list, and you’ll see that the top 27 times in history (aside from the now-banned suit era) are shared by Ledecky (23) and Titmus (four).

“She’s certainly special,” Boxall said of his pupil. “Special enough? We’ll see.”

MORE: Simone Manuel’s experiences shape her voice for change today

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Collin Morikawa jumps into projected Olympic golf field

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Collin Morikawa would not have qualified outright for the Tokyo Olympics had they been held this summer. Now, after winning the PGA Championship, he is third overall in global qualifying for the Tokyo Games in 2021.

Morikawa, a 23-year-old who took the same number of PGA Tour starts to win his maiden major as Tiger Woods (29), went from an alternate for the expected four-man U.S. Olympic team to No. 2 among Americans in the early qualifying standings, according to golf rankings guru @VC606 on Twitter.

Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed are the other Americans in qualifying position, according to @VC606.

Morikawa, whose father is of Japanese descent, turned professional in June 2019 and made his first 22 cuts, a feat bettered only by Woods.

The 23-year-old could become the youngest U.S. Olympic male golfer since 1904 (important note: golf was not part of the Olympic program from 1908 through 2012). Come next summer, he will still be younger than all but seven men from the Rio Olympic golf field of 60, according to Olympedia.org.

Olympic golf qualifying standings will fluctuate significantly. There are five major championships left in the qualifying window, starting with the U.S. Open in September and finishing with next summer’s U.S. Open, both airing on NBC Sports.

How tough will it be to make the U.S. Olympic team? Consider that the three Americans to win majors in 2019 — Woods, Brooks Koepka and Gary Woodland — are currently not in Olympic qualifying position.

The U.S. has seven of the top nine in the Official World Golf Ranking, which is calculated differently than Olympic qualifying.

MORE: Nosferatu is golf’s Olympic rankings guru. Who is he?

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