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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.

Sam Mikulak to retire from gymnastics after Tokyo Olympics

Sam Mikulak
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Sam Mikulak, the U.S.’ top male gymnast, said he will retire after the Tokyo Olympics, citing a wrist injury and emotional health revelations during a forced break from the sport due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It does sound like some pretty crazy news, but there’s a lot of factors that go into it,” Mikulak said in a YouTube video published Sunday night. “I’ve had a lot of time to think about it during quarantine.”

The 27-year-old is a two-time Olympian, six-time U.S. all-around champion and the only active U.S. male gymnast with Olympic experience.

Mikulak said he noticed significant wrist inflammation last year that was temporarily healed by a November cortisone shot. But during quarantine, the wrist worsened even though he wasn’t doing gymnastics. He took a month off from working out, but the wrist didn’t heal.

He thought for a time that he might not return to gymnastics at all. A doctor told him he would need cortisone shots for the rest of his career.

“At that point, it was really made for me that this has to be my final year of gymnastics because I don’t want to ruin myself beyond this sport,” Mikulak said.

Mikulak also noted realizations from the forced time out of the gym. He learned that he’s much less stressed while not doing gymnastics, a sport he began at age 2. Mikulak’s parents were gymnasts at Cal.

“For so long, I’ve been sacrificing, and I’m sick of it,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to being able to be free from gymnastics and being able to do all these things that I’ve been putting off in my life for so long.”

Mikulak realized a career goal in 2018 when he earned his first individual world championships medal, a bronze on high bar. He wants to cap his career with a first Olympic medal in Tokyo, then, perhaps, become a coach or open his own gym.

Mikulak recently got engaged to Mia Atkins, and they got another puppy, Barney.

“Everything I’ve done in gymnastics is enough for me right now,” said Mikulak, who plans to document the next year on YouTube. “I was actually somewhat happy that I was able to come to that type of decision because for so long I felt like gymnastics really wasn’t going to be fulfilling until I’ve gotten my Olympic medal. And during quarantine, I had this whole revelation where, you know what, I am happier than I’ve ever been in my entire life, and I’m not doing gymnastics, so even if I don’t accomplish these goals, I am still going to be so damn happy.”

MORE: Simone Biles’ closest rival chases comeback

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April Ross, Alix Klineman complete perfect, abbreviated AVP season

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April Ross and Alix Klineman consolidated their position as the U.S.’ top beach volleyball team, completing a sweep of the three-tournament AVP Champions Cup on Sunday.

Ross, a two-time Olympic medalist, and Klineman won the finale, the Porsche Cup. They won all 12 matches over the last three weekends, including the last 14 sets in a row, capped with a 21-18, 21-17 win over Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil in Sunday’s final.

“It feels like we’re midseason in a normal year,” Ross said on Amazon Prime. “I can’t believe it’s over.”

The AVP Champions Cup marked the first three top-level beach volleyball tournaments since March, and a replacement for a typical AVP season due to the coronavirus pandemic. The setting: on the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center parking lot without fans and with many health and safety measures.

AVP is not part of Olympic qualifying. It’s unknown when those top-level international tournaments will resume, but Ross and Klineman, ranked No. 2 in the world, are just about assured of one of the two U.S. Olympic spots.

According to BVBinfo.com, they’re 10-0 combined against the other top U.S. teams — Claes and Sponcil and triple Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat, who are likely battling for the last U.S. Olympic spot.

Walsh Jennings and Sweat, who do not play on the AVP tour, have a lead for the last spot more than halfway through qualifying, which runs into June.

Earlier in the men’s final, Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb kept 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena from sweeping the Champions Cup. Bourne and Crabb prevailed 21-17, 15-21, 15-12 for their first AVP title since teaming in 2018.

Bourne, who went nearly two years between tournaments from 2016-18 due to an autoimmune disease, and Crabb redeemed after straight-set losses to Dalhausser and Lucena the previous two weekends. Crabb guaranteed a title on Instagram days before the tournament.

“Those guys are the best in the world, and they make you look bad at times, but we’re relentless,” Bourne said on Amazon Prime. “You’re going to have to play the best volleyball in the world to beat us every time.”

Bourne and Crabb, Dalhausser and Lucena and Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb (Trevor’s younger brother) are battling for two available U.S. Olympic spots in Tokyo.

MORE: Team Slaes looks to end Kerri Walsh Jennings’ Olympic career

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