Steve Holcomb

What to watch on Day 15 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. 22. A complete list of every Saturday event can be found here.

WHAT TO WAKE UP EARLY FOR …

Alpine skiing, men’s slalom, 7:45 a.m. ET/11:15 a.m. ETCLICK HERE TO WATCH FIRST RUN | SECOND RUN

The final Alpine skiing event includes three Americans — giant slalom champion Ted Ligety, David Chodounsky and Nolan Kasper — but it would be a surprise to see any of them win a medal.

The favorites are led by Austrian Marcel Hirscher, who is the reigning world champion and leading the World Cup standings for a third straight season.

Germany’s Felix Neureuther could pose a threat, skiing after being involved in a car accident on his way out of Munich this week. So could rising Norwegian Henrik Kristoffersen, 19, who won the last World Cup slalom in Schladming, Austria, on Jan. 28.

Hirscher was fourth in the Olympic giant slalom, Neureuther eighth and Kristoffersen 10th.

Speed skating, men’s and women’s team pursuit, 8:30 a.m. ET CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

The U.S. has been shut out of speed skating medals for the third time in Olympic history and is done at the Adler Arena.

The Dutch, though, are favored to cap their dominance in the final two events.

Sven Kramer leads the men’s team seeking to better disappointing bronze medals in 2006 and 2010. They blew out France and Canada by a combined 20 seconds in the quarterfinals and semifinals Friday. The Dutch men get South Korea in the gold-medal final.

The women have semifinals and finals left to go. The Netherlands beat the U.S. in a quarterfinal and will get Japan in the semis. Russia and Poland are in the other semifinal.

If the Netherlands women wins their semifinal (or win the bronze-medal matchup), Ireen Wuest will finish the Olympics with five medals, matching the Winter Olympic single-Games record. Wuest would be the only athlete at the Sochi Olympics to win five medals.

The Netherlands could win eight of the 12 speed skating events in Sochi and 23 of 36 total medals awarded.

WHAT YOU CAN’T MISS DURING THE DAY …

Biathlon, men’s 4×7.5km relay, 9:30 a.m. ET CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

Ole Einar Bjoerndalen will go for one more record in the final biathlon event. He’s part of the Norwegian team in the running for gold.

If Norway wins, Bjoerndalen will capture his ninth career gold medal, breaking the tie for most career golds with retired Norwegian cross-country skier Bjorn Daehlie. Bjoerndalen already broke Daehlie’s total medals record, notching Nos. 12 and 13 here.

This will be Bjoerndalen’s record 27th and final career Winter Olympic event. France, Russia, Austria and the Czech Republic should also contend.

Men’s hockey bronze-medal game, U.S.-Finland, 10 a.m. ETCLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

The U.S. must regroup after a 1-0 loss to Canada if it wants to win its first men’s hockey medal outside of North America since 1972.

It was the U.S. that knocked Finland out of the 2010 Olympics in the semifinals, so there should be plenty of motivation. What was iffy as of Friday night was the status of Finland goaltender Tuukka Rask, who missed a semifinal loss to Sweden with the flu.

Finland is hoping to win its sixth men’s hockey medal over the last eight Olympics. The Finns have never won an Olympic hockey gold.

The U.S. has not won an Olympic men’s hockey bronze medal since 1936.

Four-man bobsled, runs 1 and 2, 11:30 a.m. ET CLICK HERE TO WATCH EVENT LIVE

American Steven Holcomb will begin defense of his Olympic title with the first two of four total runs. The final two runs will be Sunday.

Holcomb, who won bronze in the two-man Monday, has been dealing with a calf injury this week, slowly ramping up his fitness in training runs. He was fourth and sixth in the final two of six training runs Friday.

The fastest sleds in training have been driven by Russian Aleksander Zubkov, the two-man champion, Latvian Oskars Melbardis, Britain’s John Jackson and Germany’s Max Arndt and Francesco Friedrich.

Germany, long a bobsled powerhouse, has yet to win a bobsled medal at these Olympics.

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Maria Sharapova appears set to miss Tokyo Olympics

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Maria Sharapova, who would have a difficult time qualifying for the Olympics next year, committed to play an event in California the week of the Tokyo Games.

Sharapova is scheduled to play World Team Tennis matches in California during the Olympic tennis events in late July, according to a press release. Sharapova’s longtime agent hasn’t responded to a message seeking confirmation that she is ruling out the Tokyo Games.

Sharapova, 32 and the 2012 Olympic silver medalist, was barred from the Rio Games due to her 15-month meldonium suspension in 2016 and 2017. That alone could rule her ineligible for Tokyo, given the World Anti-Doping Agency’s sanctions against Russia on Monday.

Sharapova is ranked No. 131 after a season shortened by shoulder surgery. She would have to be among the top four ranked Russian women after the French Open in June for possible automatic Olympic qualification. She is currently the 14th Russian.

Olympic eligibility rules include minimum participation requirements in Fed Cup, which Sharapova hasn’t done in this Olympic cycle, though exceptions can be made.

Sharapova’s passion for the Olympics is well documented.

She carried the Russian flag into the London 2012 Opening Ceremony and carried the Olympic flame into Fisht Stadium at the Sochi 2014 Opening Ceremony, where she worked for NBC Olympics.

“It was the one thing that my parents allowed me to watch on TV late into the evening was the Olympics,” Sharapova said in 2017. “I grew up watching figure skating and hockey and a little bit of tennis. … Just capturing the Opening Ceremonies and seeing all the countries and the little hats that they wore, and I, as a little girl, I just imagined that maybe it would be me. But I never, ever thought that I would be carrying the flag.

“I received that [flag] honor in a text message, which is a very Russian way of communicating. I originally thought it was a joke, a big fat joke. Then I showed it to my mother, and she [said], no, they probably wouldn’t joke like that.”

In February 2016, Sharapova entered a Fed Cup tie, despite saying she was injured, in order to receive Olympic eligibility. One month later, her failed drug test was announced.

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Russia banned from Olympics, world champs for 4 years; athletes could compete as neutrals

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Russia is banned from the next two Olympics and other major sports events for four years, though its athletes could still compete without representing the country if cleared by anti-doping authorities.

Russia’s hosting of world championships in Olympic sports also face being stripped after the World Anti-Doping Agency executive committee approved a full slate of recommended sanctions for tampering with a Moscow laboratory database.

Russian athletes will be allowed to compete in major events — including world championships — only if they are not implicated in positive doping tests or their data was not manipulated, according to the WADA ruling. “In this circumstance, they may not represent the Russian Federation,” according to a WADA release.

“While I understand the calls for a blanket ban on all Russian athletes whether or not they are implicated by the data, it was the unanimous view of the CRC [compliance review committee], which includes an athlete, that in this case, those who could prove their innocence should not be punished, and I am pleased that the WADA ExCo [executive committee] agreed with this,” WADA CRC chairman Jonathan Taylor said.

There are 145 unnamed athletes within WADA’s “target group of most suspicious athletes” from 2012-15 who would not be allowed to compete at the Olympics, Taylor said, adding that it’s possible those names will be made public. About one-third of them are still active.

Russia’s anti-doping agency can appeal the decision within 21 days. Russia previously signaled it would appeal the ruling.

“The decision will come into effect only when it becomes final ie when either RUSADA accepts it or it is upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport,” a WADA spokesperson said in an email.

Russia avoided blanket bans for the Rio and PyeongChang Olympics after a state-run doping program was exposed by media and WADA investigations after Russia hosted the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

Approved Russian athletes competed as neutrals — “Olympic Athletes from Russia” — including in team sports in PyeongChang. Those Russians combined to earn two gold medals (figure skater Alina Zagitova and men’s hockey) and 17 overall, compared to the leading 33 Russia earned at the Sochi Olympics before medals were stripped for doping.

“Will Russian athletes be accepted as Olympic Athletes from Russia?” during the ban, Taylor said. “No, they are neutral athletes, which means not representatives of any country. Not representatives of Russia.”

Going forward, “they cannot use the name of the country in the name of the team,” WADA president-elect Witold Bańka told The Associated Press.

Two of the 168 Russians who competed in PyeongChang failed drug tests and were punished for doping.

More recent evidence shows that Russian authorities tampered with a Moscow laboratory database to hide hundreds of potential doping cases and falsely shift the blame onto whistleblowers, WADA investigators and the International Olympic Committee said last month. “Flagrant manipulation” of the Moscow lab data was “an insult to the sporting movement worldwide,” the IOC said last month.

“Russia was afforded every opportunity to get its house in order … but it chose instead to continue in its stance of deception and denial,” WADA president Craig Reedie said.

Russia will be allowed to participate in the Youth Olympics in Lausanne, Switzerland, that open Jan. 9.

WADA’s inability to fully expel Russia from the Tokyo Olympics and 2022 Beijing Winter Games frustrated the doping watchdog’s vice president.

“I’m not happy with the decision we made today. But this is as far as we could go,” said Linda Helleland, a Norwegian lawmaker who serves on WADA executive committee and has long pushed for a tougher line against Russia. “This is the biggest sports scandal the world has ever seen. I would expect now a full admission from the Russians and for them to apologize on all the pain all the athletes and sports fans have experienced.”

Although the IOC has called for the strongest possible sanctions, it wants those sanctions directed at Russian state authorities rather than athletes or Olympic officials.

“To allow Russia to escape a complete ban is yet another devastating blow to clean athletes, the integrity of sport and the rule of law,” USADA CEO Travis Tygart said in a statement. “And, in turn, the reaction by all those who value sport should be nothing short of a revolt against this broken system to force reform.”

Russia’s Olympic champion women’s handball team is currently competing at the world championships in Japan. Its next match is Tuesday against Montenegro. Russia has been the scheduled host for the world luge championships in Sochi in mid-February.

The “major sports” events that fall under WADA’s sanctions do not include European Championships or other non-world championships events such as tennis’ upcoming Australian Open.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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TIMELINE: Russia’s recent history of sports doping