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16 Olympic sports events to watch in 2016 (before the Rio Games)

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The coming year will be Rio Olympics-focused, but the Opening Ceremony is still 219 days away.

In the meantime, enjoy these 16 Olympic sports events:

1. U.S. Figure Skating Championships
Jan. 21-24, St. Paul, Minn.

The head-to-head between the last two U.S. women’s champions, Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold, is the most anticipated competition. Wagner, 24 and a three-time winner, can become the oldest U.S. women’s champion since Maribel Vinson in 1937.

2. Winter X Games
Jan. 28-31, Aspen, Colo.

In snowboard halfpipe, two-time Olympic champion Shaun White is expected to compete, looking to better his fourth-place finish from last year. Chloe Kim, who became the youngest Winter X Games champion last year, could vie for the women’s title with three-time Olympic medalist Kelly Clark.

3. World Luge Championships
Jan. 30-31, Königssee, Germany

U.S. lugers could be in line for a banner championships if the early World Cup season is any indication. Olympians Erin HamlinSummer Britcher and Chris Mazdzer all won World Cup races this fall.

4. World Single Distance Speed Skating Championships
Feb. 11-14, Kolomna, Russia

Americans Brittany Bowe and Heather Richardson have traded World Cup victories and world records this season. Richardson is the reigning World 500m champion, while Bowe defends 1000m and 1500m titles. Shani Davis took the men’s 1000m crown last season but hasn’t won a World Cup race since March 2014.

5. World Bobsled and Skeleton Championships
Feb. 12-21, Igls, Austria

Questions abound for U.S. bobsleds with no men making the podium so far this World Cup season and reigning World champion Elana Meyers Taylor dealing with long-term concussion effects. Likewise, the best U.S. skeleton World Cup finish this season is eighth.

6. U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials
Feb. 13, Los Angeles

The top three finishers in the men’s and women’s 26.2-mile races will make the Olympic team. Meb Keflezighi, a 2004 Olympic silver medalist and Boston and New York City Marathon winner, could become at age 40 the oldest U.S. Olympic runner ever, according to sports-reference.com.

7. Alpine Skiing World Cup Finals
March 16-20, St. Moritz, Switzerland

The last races of the season could decide crystal globes awarded to the top skiers in each discipline and the overall standings. Lindsey Vonn goes into 2016 in second place in the women’s overall, chasing Swiss Lara Gut.

8. World Women’s Hockey Championship
March 28-April 4, Kamloops, B.C.

The U.S. and Canada have met in all 16 previous finals, with Canada holding a 10-6 edge. The U.S. can capture its third straight World title, however, in Kamloops.

9. World Figure Skating Championships
March 30-April 2, Boston

Can U.S. singles skaters, with a home-ice advantage, end podium droughts? The men are in their longest drought in nearly 40 years, since Evan Lysacek took gold in 2009. The women are in their longest drought since World War I, with the last medals coming in 2006 (Kimmie MeissnerSasha Cohen).

10. U.S. Olympic Wrestling Trials
April 8-10, Iowa City

One Olympic spot per weight class is up for grabs at the University of Iowa. Olympic champion Jordan Burroughs ought to be heavily favored, while another London gold medalist, Jake Varner, will have to beat World champion Kyle Snyder to make it to Rio. Also in action should be World champions Adeline Gray and Helen Maroulis.

11. World Men’s Hockey Championship
May 6-22, Russia

The U.S. took bronze behind loaded Canadian and Russian teams in 2015 at a tournament that takes place during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which alters rosters. The U.S. last won a World title in 1933, not counting Olympic crowns that doubled as World titles.

12. U.S. Olympic Diving Trials
June 18-26, Indianapolis

The top two per individual event and synchronized event winners could make the Rio team, provided the U.S. qualifies for berths at the FINA World Cup in February. David Boudia, who in London became the first U.S. Olympic men’s platform champion in 24 years, will be favored in both individual and synchro platform.

13. U.S. Olympic Men’s Gymnastics Trials; Women’s P&G Championships
June 23-26, St. Louis

The five-man U.S. Olympic gymnastics team will be determined after the trials, with the first- and second-place finishers in the all-around potentially clinching automatic berths. All five 2012 Olympians — Jacob DaltonJonathan HortonDanell LeyvaSam Mikulak and John Orozco — are Rio hopefuls.

14. U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials
June 26-July 3, Omaha, Neb.

The top two finishers in each final make the Olympic team. Michael PhelpsRyan LochteMissy Franklin and Katie Ledecky will have busy schedules, looking to make it to Rio in multiple individual events plus relays.

15. U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials
July 1-10, Eugene, Ore.

The top three finishers in each final make the Olympic team, provided the athletes have met Olympic qualifying times and marks. Key athletes include Allyson Felix and Justin Gatlin with chances to make the Olympic team in mutliple sprints.

16. U.S. Olympic Women’s Gymnastics Trials
July 8-10, San Jose, Calif.

The trials all-around champion will clinch one of five Olympic team spots. The other four will be chosen shortly after the trials finish on July 10. Three-time World all-around champ Simone Biles and Olympic gold medalists Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman are favored to make the cut.

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Emily Sisson a U.S. Olympic marathon trials favorite, thanks to Ireland

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Emily Sisson didn’t think she would become a professional runner until her last year of college. Now, at 28, she goes into the U.S. Olympic marathon trials as a contender for one of three Tokyo spots, if not the overall favorite.

“I’ve only done one marathon, so I definitely don’t feel like I’m an experienced marathoner,” Sisson said by phone last week from her Arizona base. “That’s the one question mark I’ve had all build-up.”

Predicting a marathon can be a crapshoot, but a Podiumrunner.com experts panel pegged Sisson to win. She is younger than any female U.S. Olympic marathoner since Anne Marie Lauck in 1996 (though fellow contender Jordan Hasay is a month younger).

Confidence stems from last April 28. Sisson clocked the second-fastest debut marathon in U.S. women’s history, a 2:23:08 on a windy day in London, where the early pace was slow. She finished sixth — behind five East Africans. She crossed 3:25 ahead of sometimes training partner and mentor Molly Huddle, also a headliner at trials in Atlanta on Feb. 29 (12 p.m. ET, NBC).

“We wanted to run faster,” Sisson said that day in London. “There’s a lot of room for improvement.”

Sisson later mentioned a pre-race scare on the “Keeping Track” podcast. She tripped over a carpet jogging back from a bathroom, banged both knees 15 minutes before the start and got checked out physically by a chiropractor and mentally by her husband, who has a master’s degree in mental health counseling.

Sisson then covered the final half of that marathon alone, a foreign feeling for the longtime track runner. At one point, she thought about having never before run more than 23 miles.

Her mind could have also wandered to sports memories that led her to the world’s strongest marathon: Attending a 1999 Women’s World Cup match and seeing her hero, Mia Hamm. As a soccer-playing teenager, being asked by a friend to join a track relay team. Or being told during a record-breaking high school career that she was reminiscent of 2004 Olympic marathoner Jen Rhines.

Sisson, whose dad ran and mom did gymnastics at the University of Wisconsin, transferred after one year in Madison to Providence. She had a best NCAA Championships finish of fourth going into her last year. Before that final season, Sisson was prepared to leave competitive running once her NCAA eligibility exhausted in pursuit of an MBA.

“I had been going through a bit of a funk with running,” she said. “I was getting a little tired.”

Things changed the summer before her senior year. She vacationed with then-boyfriend/now-husband Shane Quinn, a fellow Providence runner, in Quinn’s native Ireland. At one point, they altered training, ditching tempo runs for local road races. Sisson never before competed on the roads. She doesn’t remember the distances being exact. She does remember winning.

“That was a new, fun thing that kept the sport kind of fresh for me,” she said. “You finish, and you go into a local pub and have sandwiches.”

Providence coach Ray Treacy put Sisson in more road races that fall. The opportunity was right. She had no cross-country eligibility left while she readied for the winter and spring track seasons. She went on to win the 2015 NCAA Indoor and Outdoor 5000m, a springboard to the pros (while still going after the MBA).

Sisson was set back by injury in 2016 and placed 10th in the Olympic trials 10,000m. She kept training under Treacy, and perhaps just as important, with Huddle, the American record holder at 10,000m. Huddle, seven years older than Sisson, made her marathon debut after the Rio Olympics.

“Emily really looks up to her and is inspired by her,” Treacy said. “Molly has helped her out in numerous ways in training. … Making sure she’s not going overboard with the training, not running too fast. She kind of keeps her under control.”

Sisson made the last two world championships teams in the 10,000m, but Treacy thought marathon since 2015. They signed her up for the 2019 London Marathon, in part because Huddle was going to race it as her third career 26.2-miler. And in part to get Sisson ready for the Olympic trials in 10 months’ time.

The build-up was better than ideal. Sisson ran the second-fastest half marathon in U.S. history (on a record-eligible course) in January. She became the third-fastest U.S. woman all-time at 10,000m in March.

Come April, Treacy was impressed again just by watching Sisson after she crossed the London finish line in what would be the second-fastest marathon for a U.S. woman in 2019.

“It didn’t look like it took anything out of her,” Treacy said. “She recovered really fast. Within minutes, she was feeling pretty good. That was a good sign.”

Sisson returned home to Quinn and their golden retriever, Desmond, who has 1,400 Instagram followers. She skipped a fall marathon to compete in the 10,000m at track worlds in Doha, placing a respectable 10th.

The recent marathon build-up for trials went just as well, if not better, than the training for London.

“I’m definitely putting a bit of pressure on myself with this one,” Sisson said. “But at the same time, I don’t get caught up in so much what other people say. I don’t really read the articles about who’s the favorite or what chance you have of making the team.”

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Brigid Kosgei beaten as another world record smashed in Nike shoes

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Ethiopian Ababel Yeshaneh broke the half marathon world record by 20 seconds, beating new marathon world-record holder Brigid Kosgei in the United Arab Emirates on Friday.

Nike-sponsored runners lowered the men’s and women’s marathon and half marathon records since September 2018, each appearing to race in versions of the apparel giant’s scrutinized Vaporfly shoes.

Yeshaneh, a 28-year-old who finished 14th in the 2016 Olympic 5000m, clocked 1:04:31 for 13.1 miles to better Kenyan Joyciline Jepkosgei‘s world record from 2017.

Kosgei, a 26-year-old Kenyan, also came in under the old world record but 18 seconds behind Yeshaneh.

Kosgei took 81 seconds off Paula Radcliffe‘s 16-year-old women’s marathon world record on Oct. 13, clocking 2:14:04 to win the Chicago Marathon.

Nike Vaporfly shoes, including the prototypes worn by Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge when he ran a sub-two-hour marathon, were deemed legal by World Athletics’ new shoe regulations last month, according to Nike.

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MORE: Galen Rupp, after tumult, finds familiarity before Olympic trials