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Winter Champions Series debuts on NBC, NBCSN on Saturday

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In a first for the United States Olympic Committee, a single-day, three-sport event dubbed the Team USA Winter Champions Series will take place across the U.S. on Saturday on NBC, NBCSN and NBCSports.com.

Things kick off on NBC at 2:30 p.m. ET with the big air snowboarding event at the U.S. Grand Prix from Copper Mountain, Colo.

Big air features riders looking to stomp one clean landing after a cab- or cork-infused, backflipping, frontflipping, rodeo-ing, McTwistingly jaw-dropping jump, and is the newest event to be added to snowboarding for the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games.

Sochi Olympic slopestyle champion Jamie Anderson is expected to compete in the big air event. Also, look for 2014 U.S. Olympic Snowboard Team member Chas Guldemond, as well as Julia Marino, winner of the Big Air at Fenway competition earlier this year.

Following snowboarding on NBC, the best women’s lugers in the world race in the fifth World Cup event of the season on the track used for the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics in Park City, Utah. Germany’s Olympic gold and silver medalists , Natalie Geisenberger and Tatjana Huefner, are first and second, respectively in this season’s World Cup standings.

Both arrive in Utah hoping to pick up their second win of the season. Also in the top 10 World Cup standings, Emily Sweeney and three-time Olympian and Sochi bronze medalist Erin Hamlin, will compete for the U.S.

Headlining the Winter Champions Series is the first of a two-game series between the United States and Canada in women’s hockey. The two teams face off at the USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Michigan at 4:30 p.m. ET and the game can be seen on NBCSN or streamed on NBCSports.com.

Both teams could have a big name returning to their rosters after lengthy absences from their national teams.

For the U.S., Amanda Kessel could wear the red, white and blue for the first time since the Sochi Olympic Games. She was part of a 37-player training camp from which the U.S. roster for the two-game series is to be picked.

Kessel’s life in hockey was nearly cut short when she struggled with lingering symptoms from a pre-Games concussion after she got home from Sochi. After benching her career for nearly two years, Kessel reunited with her University of Minnesota team in February, and would help lead the Golden Gophers to their second-consecutive national championship, and this spring she became the highest-paid player in the National Women’s Hockey League after signing a one-year deal with the New York Riveters.

Canada gets its Olympic goalie back. Shannon Szabados comes back after her time in net helped win back-to-back Olympic golds for Canada in 2010 and 2014. Szabados spent the previous two seasons playing in the men’s South Professional Hockey League in the U.S., with the Columbus Cottonmouths. This will be her first time wearing the maple leaf jersey at a game since making 27 saves and holding off an attacking U.S. squad 3-2 in overtime in Sochi for gold.

After hockey on NBCSN at 7:00 p.m. ET catch additional luge coverage of the men’s singles World Cup competition. Watch current World Cup leader, and reigning two-time Olympic champion, Felix Loch of Germany compete in men’s luge against the likes of Team USA’s Tucker West. West arrives in Park City hot off his second trip to the top of the World Cup podium this season after setting a track record in Whistler.

The action on Copper Mountain continues for a second day at the U.S. Grand Prix on Sunday in Colorado with snowboarding and freestyle skiing halfpipe finals. Coverage starts at 2 p.m. ET on NBC.

MORE: U.S. Olympians to receive $37,500 per gold medal in PyeongChang

Day Event Network Time (ET)
Saturday Snowboard Big Air — Copper Mountain NBC 2:30-4:30 p.m.
Luge World Cup — Park City NBC 2:30-4:30 p.m.
Women’s Hockey — U.S. vs. Canada NBCSN 4:30-7 p.m.

Canadian ice dancers overcome hair-raising wardrobe malfunction

Piper Gilles, Paul Poirier
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Ice dancer Piper Gilles‘ hair got caught in partner Paul Poirier‘s costume during the Canadian Championships rhythm dance, but the couple still posted the top score in Mississauga, Ontario, on Friday.

As they spun together, Gilles’ hair appeared to catch on one of Poirier’s shirt buttons. It stayed that way for about five seconds as the couple nearly came to a stop before Poirier untangled it. What was Gilles thinking?

“Crap, crap, crap, crap, crap, crap,” she said later. “It’s probably more swear words to that, but crap at that moment.

“It was like one of those pure panic moments, like, what do I do? Do we stop? Do we keep going? Paul’s like, just keep moving.”

Gilles and Poirier scored 88.86 points, taking an 11.6-point lead into the free dance.

The couple eyes their first national title after finishing second or third seven times in the last eight years behind Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje.

Gilles and Poirier rank fifth in the world this season.

The panicky moment Friday was reminiscent of the PyeongChang Olympics, where French ice dancer Gabriella Papadakis‘ dress strap broke, exposing her breast. Papadakis and partner Guillaume Cizeron took silver and have been undefeated since.

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Allison Schmitt opens 2020 in fast form, bidding to join U.S. Olympic legends

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Allison Schmitt, after failing to qualify for world championships teams, revealing a battle with depression and taking nearly two years off competition post-Rio, has a chance to swim at her fourth Olympics this summer. And to do it in an individual event for the first time since 2012.

Schmitt won the 200m freestyle in 1:56.01 at the Tyr Pro Swim Series stop in Knoxville, Tenn., on Friday night.

The time would have ranked second among Americans in 2019 behind Katie Ledecky. Ledecky is not swimming in Knoxville, but the 2012 Olympic champion and American record holder Schmitt beat Simone Manuel by 1.24 seconds.

“Wish I could say I was tapered, would make it feel a lot easier,” Schmitt said on NBCSN. “Getting better every time I jump in the water and swim in finals.”

Schmitt’s time marked her fastest outside of a major summer meet since the 2012 London Games. She’s bidding to become the third U.S. woman in her 30s to swim an individual event at an Olympics, joining 12-time medalists Dara Torres (who swam in her 40s) and Jenny Thompson.

Full Knoxville results are here. Broadcast coverage of the meet continues Saturday at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

Swimmers are preparing for June’s Olympic trials, where the top two per individual event qualify for the Tokyo Games, plus extra 100m and 200m free swimmers for relays.

In other events Friday, 18-year-old Carson Foster took the men’s 200m free in 1:47.74, beating the U.S.’ top 400m freestyler, Zane Grothe, by 1.33 seconds.

Foster, younger than any U.S. Olympic male swimmer since a group including Michael Phelps in 2000, is better known for his individual medleys. But the 200m free offers up to six Olympic spots when including the 4x200m free relay.

“Any event where there’s more spots on the line this summer is an event I want to train for,” said Foster, who ranked outside the top 10 in the U.S. in the 200m free in 2019 and beat a field Friday that included none of the six fastest.

Annie Lazor won the 100m breaststroke in 1:06.68, a time congruent with her No. 2 ranking in the U.S. last year behind Olympic champion and world-record holder Lilly King. King, who trains with Lazor, is not competing in Knoxville.

In the 100m butterfly, 29-year-old Amanda Kendall upset top-ranked American Kelsi Dahlia in 57.65 seconds. Regan Smith, the fastest backstroker in history, was second in a personal-best 57.86, followed by Dahlia.

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