Cal favored to make history at Collegiate Rugby Championship

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The University of California eyes an unprecedented third straight Collegiate Rugby Championship (CRC) title in Philadelphia this weekend, live on NBC, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.

“Cal’s going to be the favorite,” said NBC Sports rugby sevens analyst Brian Hightower, a former U.S. National Team captain. “I think they’ve actually got a stronger team this year than they did last year. They’re so deep, and in my opinion that’s the reason why they’ve won this tournament back to back is because they can go to their bench and pick somebody who can offer quality time.”

NBC will have coverage Saturday from 3-4:30 p.m. ET, followed by NBCSN from 4:30-6. On Sunday, NBCSN will broadcast from 2-4 and NBC from 4-6, including the championship game. Live Extra will stream all of the NBC and NBCSN broadcasts.

In 2014, Cal defeated Kutztown 24-21 in the CRC title game, after beating Life University 19-17 in the 2013 final.

Cal, Kutztown and Life are among 20 schools split into five groups that will play round-robin games Saturday (games consist of seven-minute halves and a two-minute halftime). The five group winners plus the top three second-place teams advance to the championship knockout rounds Sunday.

Cal will be without injured stalwart Russell Webb, who played on the 2013 and 2014 championship teams and ranks third on the school’s career sevens appearances list.

Rugby sevens makes its Olympic debut in Rio de Janeiro next year. The U.S. men’s and women’s national teams will try to clinch Olympic berths at continental tournaments in Cary, N.C., in June.

That means that 2011 and 2012 champion Dartmouth will miss star Madison Hughes at the Collegiate Rugby Championship, as he is part of the U.S. player pool focused on Olympic qualifying. He’s not the only CRC alum to graduate to national team duty.

“Based on the track record, you have to look at this tournament if you’re going to pluck some American players off the sevens pitch and put them in the national team pipeline,” Hightower said. “There’s no better place than here.”

U.S. rugby wins its first Sevens World Series tournament title

Sam Girard, Olympic short track champion, surprisingly retires at age 22

Sam Girard
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Sam Girard, who avoided a three-skater pileup to win the PyeongChang Olympic 1000m, retired from short track speed skating at age 22, saying he lost the desire to compete.

“I leave my sport satisfied with what I have accomplished,” Girard said in a press release. “This decision was very well thought through. I am at peace with the choice that I’ve made and am ready to move onto the next step.”

Girard and girlfriend and fellow Olympic skater Kasandra Bradette announced their careers end together in a tearful French-language press conference in Quebec on Friday.

Girard detailed the decision in a letter, the sacrifices made to pursue skating. Notably, moving from his hometown of Ferland-et-Boilleau, population 600, to Montreal in 2012. His hobbies had been of the outdoor variety, but he now had to drive an hour and a half from the training center just to go fishing.

In PyeongChang, Girard led for most of the 1000m final, which meant he avoided chaos behind him on the penultimate lap of the nine-lap race. Hungarian Liu Shaolin Sandor‘s inside pass took out South Koreans Lim Hyo-Jun and Seo Yi-Ra, leaving just Girard and American John-Henry Krueger.

Girard maintained his lead, crossing .214 in front of Krueger to claim the title. He also finished fourth in the 500m and 1500m and earned bronze in the relay.

“My first Olympics, won a gold medal, can’t ask for more,” he said afterward.

Though Girard was already accomplished — earning individual silver medals at the 2016 and 2017 Worlds — he came to PyeongChang as the heir apparent to Charles Hamelin, a roommate on the World Cup circuit whom Girard likened to a big brother. Girard earned another world silver medal this past season.

Hamelin, after taking individual gold in 2010 and 2014, left PyeongChang without an individual medal in what many expected to be his last Olympics. However, he went back on a retirement vow and continued to skate through the 2018-19 season.

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MORE: J.R. Celski explains decision to retire

Maia, Alex Shibutani extend break from ice dance competition

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Brother-sister ice dance duo Maia and Alex Shibutani will not compete next season, the Olympic bronze medalists announced via U.S. Figure Skating on Friday.

“We’re healthier and stronger than we were after the Olympics, and we’re continuing to push ourselves,” Maia Shibutani said in a press release.

“We’ve continued to skate a lot, and we feel like we’ve benefited from some time away to create in different environments and focus on experiences that can help us grow,” Alex said.

The “Shib Sibs” won the U.S. title in 2016 and 2017. They won their first world medal in 2011 (bronze) before reaching the world podium again in 2016 and 2017 with silver and bronze, respectively.

They most recently competed at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, where they earned bronze both individually and in the team event.

Maia and Alex Shibutani are now the second ice dance medalists from PyeongChang to announce they’ll sit out at least part of next season. Gold medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada will tour instead this fall and are not expected to return to competition.

The siblings haven’t stayed away from the ice entirely in their break from the sport, though — they’ve also been touring and performing in shows.

The Shibutanis became the second set of siblings to earn Olympic ice dance medals after France’s Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay in 1992.

MORE: How Gracie Gold landed in Philadelphia, thoughts competitive return

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