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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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Tessa Virtue, Scott Moir retire from ice dance competition

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Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the most decorated Olympic figure skaters in history, announced their retirement late Tuesday. They’re done competing in ice dance, and their upcoming Canadian tour will be their last together.

“After 22 years, it feels like the right time to step away from the sport,” Virtue said in a video. “This is so personal and emotional for both of us.”

“It just feels for us like it’s the right time to say goodbye while we’re still loving and enjoying the sport as much as we always have been,” Moir said. “This is my first selfie video, and I’m not going to cry. What a beautiful ride it’s been.”

The news was expected.

Virtue and Moir last competed in PyeongChang, earning golds in ice dance and the team event to bring their total to five medals (three golds) and break the record for most Olympic medals in the sport (buoyed by the addition of the team event in 2014).

“It definitely feels like [this is our last Olympics],” Moir said on TODAY in PyeongChang, hours after their ice dance gold. “If it is, this is a great way for us to go out. … It feels right. It feels like a good end.”

Virtue, 30, and Moir 32, teamed in elementary school. Moir, a hockey player, followed brother Danny into dance, pairing with his first partner at 8 and then with Virtue and 9.

Virtue hit the ice at age 6 because she didn’t want to be the only one in her class who couldn’t skate during a field trip. When she was 7, she was paired with Moir through Moir’s aunt Carol, who coached both as singles skaters. Two years in, Virtue attended Canada’s National Ballet School for a summer before choosing to stick with skating.

That decision ultimately led to one of the greatest careers in Canadian sports history.

They earned a junior world title in 2006, the first of eight Canadian titles in 2008 and, in 2010, the biggest of all — home gold at the Vancouver Winter Games despite Moir messing up the steps at the end of their free dance. They faced the wrong way in their final pose.

“Scott just said thank you to me and just said look around us, take this in,” Virtue said on NBC as the final couples skated.

“I had to be positive because I messed up,” Moir later joked.

Virtue and Moir developed a rivalry with American training partners Meryl Davis and Charlie White, with whom they traded world titles in the Sochi Olympic cycle. In Russia, the Americans edged the Canadians for the title by 4.53 points.

Moir waited until the arena emptied, returned to the rink and kissed the ice. Many thought it was a goodbye to the Olympics.

Two years later, they announced a comeback, saying they still had the fire and wanted to take advantage of one more chance to go to the Games. They won all but one of their competitions in those last two seasons, including the Olympics by a slim .79 of a point over French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron.

Now they join the other Canadian champions of their generation — Patrick ChanKaetlyn Osmond and Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford — in leaving the competitive arena for good.

“We spent 22 years coasting around the outside of the rink, hanging out together, making programs, trying to just soak up our sporting experiences,” Virtue said. “We still can’t believe people care.”

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MORE: Keegan Messing explains decision to hold up Japanese flag

Keegan Messing ‘glad’ to have held Japanese flag for Yuzuru Hanyu

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Yuzuru Hanyu heard Japan’s national anthem at the medal ceremony for his season-debut event on Saturday. But didn’t see a flag.

That’s when the bronze medalist, Keegan Messing of Canada, “took initiative” and unfurled the Japanese flag so Hanyu could honor it at the Autumn Classic in Ontario.

While there were plenty of fans of the Japanese skater in the crowd holding their own flags, none were hoisted above the ice like in some competitions.

Messing took it upon himself to hold up the Japanese flag that was hanging from a flagpole behind the medal podium.

Messing explained his decision following the interaction:

That was just actually instinct, honestly. When they said that we’re gonna play the anthem for the winner, I looked out and I realized there was no flag ready. A couple of the spectators had a flag but so I decided to hold up a flag because if I were in that place, I would’ve liked to have a flag presented at that time. That’s why I did it. I felt like that’s what I would’ve wanted so I went ahead and took initiative and I did it. I’m very happy I did. It felt good to do. I’m glad.

Hanyu is next expected to compete on the Grand Prix circuit, again in Canada in October and at NHK Trophy in Japan in November.

Messing’s assignments are Skate America in October and Cup of China in November.

The next time Hanyu’s and Messing’s paths could cross is at December’s Grand Prix Final, should they both qualify.

MORE: Yuzuru Hanyu wins Autumn Classic

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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