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17 Olympic sports events to watch in 2017

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There are no Olympics in odd-numbered years, but a large majority of major sports will hold world championships in 2017. Plus, there’s that key date of Sept. 13 that could impact the Olympic movement for many years to come.

A look at 17 Olympic sports events to watch in 2017:

1. World Luge Championships
Innsbruck, Austria, Jan. 26-29

Germany swept the gold medals in Olympic events again at the 2016 World Championships, but U.S. sliders continue to gain ground. Erin Hamlin won the first U.S. Olympic singles medal in Sochi and has since been part of a group of sliders to make World Cup podiums, including Emily Sweeney, Summer Britcher, Chris Mazdzer, Tucker West and the doubles team of Matt Mortensen and Jayson Terdiman.

2. Winter X Games
Aspen, Colo., Jan. 26-29

The world’s best winter action sports stars will jostle for Olympic favorite status at their biggest annual gathering. The event could include Chloe Kim, a 16-year-old who won the last two women’s snowboard halfpipe titles, and Shaun White, who was controversially missing from last year’s X Games for the second time this millennium. Other potential PyeongChang stars with X Games experience include freeskiers Maddie BowmanGus Kenworthy and Kelly Sildaru and snowboarders Jamie Anderson, Sage Kotsenburg and Mark McMorris.

3. World Alpine Skiing Championships
St. Moritz, Switzerland, Feb. 6-19

In 2015, the World Alpine Skiing Championships brought together the greatest collection of U.S. Alpine talent in history. Those skiers since went very separate ways. Mikaela Shiffrin is the only U.S. Olympic medalist with a World Cup podium finish this season, and she has seven of them (with six wins). Lindsey Vonn, Julia Mancuso and Ted Ligety have all missed substantial time in the last two years due to injuries. And Bode Miller will not be racing in St. Moritz, but he’s not quite done yet.

VIDEO: Vonn details most painful injury of career

4. World Biathlon Championships
Hochfilzen, Austria, Feb. 6-19

The recent Russian doping problems have impacted biathlon more than most sports, but the stars to watch remain the same. France’s Martin Fourcade was 2.8 seconds shy of sweeping the four individual events at 2016 Worlds. Motivated, he’s already won seven of the first eight World Cup events this season. Norway’s Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, owner of a record 13 Winter Olympic medals, continues to contend at age 42. He earned four medals at 2016 Worlds and ranks fourth in this season’s overall standings. He’s married to Belarus’ Darya Domracheva, a three-time 2014 Olympic champion who is competing in January for the first time since March 2015 after a break due to mononucleosis and childbirth.

5. World Single Distance Championships
Gangneung, South Korea, Feb. 9-12

The 2018 Olympic venue will host speed skating’s biggest competition of the year. The U.S. team memorably flopped in Sochi, but only the Netherlands has earned more medals at the last two world championships combined. Brittany Bowe and Heather Bergsma lead the U.S. charge, while Shani Davis gears up for one more Olympic run.

6. World Bobsled and Skeleton Championships
Koenigssee, Germany, Feb. 13-26

This event was originally awarded to Sochi, but the recent reports of Russian doping violations (and boycott threats) saw them stripped and handed to the world’s sliding sports power in Germany. The U.S. has medal threats in every event. The biggest story in the sport may be the rise of South Korea, which boasts World Cup winners in two-man bobsled and men’s skeleton, though the South Koreans aren’t focused on Koenigssee but PyeongChang.

MORE: Olympic skeleton champion suspended

7. World Nordic Skiing Championships
Lahti, Finland, Feb. 22-March 5

World champions will be crowned in cross-country skiing, ski jumping and Nordic combined. Eyes could be on Norwegian champion skiers who have dealt with different challenges since Sochi — Petter Northug (jail sentence), Marit Bjoergen (pregnancy) and Therese Johaug (suspension) — provided they make it to Lahti.

8. World Freestyle Skiing and Snowboard Championships
Sierra Nevada, Spain, March 7-19

This will award more medals in Winter Olympic sports events than any other global competition in 2017. Though some top snowboarders and freeskiers are usually absent, the aerials and moguls results in particular will be telling for PyeongChang medal predictions. In 2018, the U.S. could be in line to earn more Olympic medals in aerials than moguls for the first time since 1998.

9. World Short Track Championships
Rotterdam, Netherlands, March 10-12

Short track is a national sport in South Korea, so it will be among the hottest tickets at the PyeongChang Winter Games. The world championships will provide a glimpse into where the Olympic host nation’s athletes stand relative to the rest of the world. If Olympic medals were awarded based on current World Cup standings, five different South Koreans would make individual podiums across the six events.

10. World Figure Skating Championships
Helsinki, March 29-April 2

The competition will determine how many spots each nation earns in each discipline at the PyeongChang Olympics. The U.S. men and women will be under scrutiny to grab the maximum three Olympic berths. To do that, the two best American results per event must add up to no greater than 13 (if, say, Ashley Wagner finished sixth and Gracie Gold seventh). The U.S. entries for worlds will be named after the national championships in Kansas City from Jan. 19-22.

MORE: New U.S. skating star performed at 2010 U.S. Champs at age 10

11. World Women’s Hockey Championship Final
Plymouth, Mich., April 7

The U.S. and Canada have played in all 17 world championships gold-medal games, so let’s just jump ahead to the final day of the event. The rivalry story is a familiar one. Canada has dominated the Olympics (four straight titles). The U.S. has dominated worlds (six of the last seven titles). The winner in Plymouth becomes the PyeongChang 2018 favorite.

12. World Aquatics Championships
Budapest, July 14-30

These will be the first worlds or Olympics since 1998 with neither Michael Phelps (retired) nor Ryan Lochte (suspended). The headliners should be Olympic champions Katie Ledecky, Katinka Hosszu, Ryan Murphy, Adam Peaty and Kosuke Hagino.

13. World Beach Volleyball Championships
Vienna, Austria, July 28-Aug. 6

Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross were unable to take Olympic gold, but perhaps their first world title together will come in 2017. Both players have captured world crowns with their previous partners (Misty May-Treanor and Jennifer Kessy), but Walsh Jennings’ shoulder injury hampered them at the 2015 Worlds, where they were bounced in the round of 16.

14. World Track and Field Championships
London, Aug. 4-13

Usain Bolt has said he will retire after this season (but maybe compete in 2018), so worlds sets up to be his final global championship meet. It also shapes up to be a farewell of sorts for Mo Farah, who is expected to switch to the marathon, and possibly Ashton Eaton, who may retire in 2017 but definitely won’t compete in the 2020 Olympics.

MORE: Bolt says why he won’t unretire like Michael Phelps

15. 130th IOC Session
Lima, Peru, Sept. 13-17

IOC members are scheduled to vote to choose the 2024 Olympic host city on Sept. 13. The finalists are Budapest, Los Angeles and Paris, with LA seeking to end the longest U.S. break between hosting Olympics since 1960. The IOC president has not ruled out awarding the 2024 and 2028 Olympics this year, with LA and Paris both reported as strong 2024 candidates.

16. World Gymnastics Championships
Montreal, Oct. 2-8

A new queen of gymnastics should be crowned, as it appears Olympic all-around gold and silver medalists Simone Biles and Aly Raisman will not compete in 2017. It’s unknown when Final Five teammates Gabby Douglas and Laurie Hernandez will return, or if Douglas comes back at at all.

There is no team event at worlds this year, so the all-around crowns will be the most coveted. Biles won the last three world titles on the women’s side, while Japan’s Kohei Uchimura took the last six men’s titles. There’s no reason to believe Uchimura won’t go for No. 7.

17. U.S. Olympic Curling Trials
Omaha, Nov. 12-19

The first athletes named to U.S. Winter Olympic teams are typically curlers. The Olympic Trials for PyeongChang are again held early in the winter sports season. The U.S. is in position to qualify men’s, women’s and mixed doubles teams for PyeongChang at the world championships in March and April. Mixed doubles makes its Olympic debut in 2018.

VIDEO: PyeongChang 2018 Olympic venue tour

A century later, Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori can bring Japan Olympic tennis to forefront

Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori
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When Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori take the courts at the Tokyo Olympics, perhaps together, they will be doing so 100 years after tennis players won Japan’s first Olympic medals in any sport.

Tennis is not usually one of the handful of marquee competitions at the Games, in part because it is one of the sports whose biggest event is not the Games themselves.

“We have been playing for these Grand Slams, and I think that’s why we train for,” Nishikori said at the U.S. Open in August, when asked to compare the meaning of winning one of tennis’ four annual majors to earning a medal at a home Olympics. “That’s going to be the biggest goal to winning Grand Slams.”

Yet the term “Grand Slam” had not been conceived — for golf or tennis — at the time of the 1920 Antwerp Games. There, Ichiya Kumagae earned silvers in singles and doubles with Seiichiro Kashio to become the first Japanese Olympic medalists.

Kumagae was Japan’s first notable international tennis player, reaching the 1918 U.S. Open semifinals (then called the U.S. National Championships) and beating Bill Tilden in the final of the 1919 Great Lakes Championships.

Kumagae, born in 1890, had not seen a tennis racket or ball until his 20s, according to Roger W. Ohnsorg‘s “The First Forty Years of American Tennis.”

“He came here to America in 1916, the possessor of a wonderful forehand drive and nothing else,” Tilden wrote in “The Art of Lawn Tennis.” Kumagae was listed by Ohnsorg as 5 feet, 3 inches, 134 pounds and requiring glasses at all times. Later in 1922, Kumagae’s engagement to the daughter of a wealthy politician was published as a news brief in The New York Times.

Nearly a century later, Nishikori and Osaka brought more Japanese tennis breakthroughs. Nishikori became the first Asian man to reach a Grand Slam singles final at the 2014 U.S. Open. Last year, Osaka became the first Japanese singles player to win a Grand Slam, also at the U.S. Open.

This past June, Japan’s annual Central Research sports survey (1,227 people, age 20+) put Nishikori and Osaka as its respondents’ fourth- and sixth-favorite athletes, past or present. Baseball players Ichiro (retired), Shohei Ohtani and Shigeo Nagashima (long retired) and figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu rounded out the top five.

Osaka’s U.S. Open title was voted the top sports moment of Emperor Akihito’s reign from 1989 to April 30, beating Ichiro’s retirement and Hanyu’s repeat Olympic crown in PyeongChang. Perhaps there was some recency bias.

Akatsuki Uchida, a tennis journalist from Japan, said that Nishikori’s U.S. Open final was a bigger moment for Japanese tennis than Osaka’s win over Serena Williams, though.

“Tennis at that time [in 2014] was not broadcast in Japan,” she said at the U.S. Open. “Media coverage of tennis was decreasing before Kei made that final. For most of Japanese, not tennis fans, but ordinary people, it came from out of nowhere. … He became like an overnight sensation. Since then, the situation of tennis in Japan changed dramatically.

“If [Osaka] wins the title before Kei won the title here, it could have been way bigger, but since Kei made the final before Naomi, it made Naomi’s achievement, still a big deal, less surprising.”

Another key difference: Nishikori spent the majority of his childhood in Japan, while Osaka’s family, with a Haitian father and Japanese mother, moved to the U.S. when she was 3 years old.

Osaka has dual citizenship, but Japanese law requires one to be chosen over the other by the 22nd birthday. Osaka turned 22 last month, before which she confirmed what most had assumed, that she picked Japan.

Uchida was unsure whether Osaka and Nishikori could propel tennis at the Tokyo Games into a greater spotlight among 33 total sports.

“But if Kei and Naomi played mixed doubles, that would be a big thing,” she said.

Nishikori has already reportedly said he plans to enter singles and doubles in Tokyo, the latter with Ben McLachlan, Japan’s top doubles player. McLachlan was born in New Zealand and in 2017 switched representation to Japan, his mother’s birth nation.

But Nishikori did not rule out adding mixed doubles.

“Very hot, very humid, playing singles and two doubles, I don’t know if I can,” he said before the U.S. Open. “I haven’t think too much yet, honestly. I don’t know. I will talk to Naomi later.”

Nishikori smiled as he brought up Osaka’s name at the end of his answer to a question that didn’t mention her. Later in the tournament, Osaka was told Nishikori’s thoughts.

“I would definitely play with him,” said Osaka, who in 2016 was the highest-ranked eligible player not to make the Rio Olympic field. “I just — I would actually need to practice doubles for the first time in my life. Because you cannot play mixed doubles with Kei Nishikori and lose in the first round of the Olympics in Tokyo. That would be the biggest — like, I would cry. I would actually cry for losing a doubles match. Yeah, definitely I think that that would be so, like, historic in a way. And I would love to do it, but I need to practice my doubles.”

MORE: Simona Halep, Nadia Comaneci and the genesis of a Romanian friendship

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Another Jesse Owens Olympic gold medal being sold

Jesse Owens
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One of Jesse Owens‘ four 1936 Olympic gold medals will be put up for sale next week by Goldin Auctions.

Owens triumphed in the face of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany at the Berlin Games, taking the 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and long jump.

This could be the second Owens gold to be sold in recent years, after one was auctioned in 2013 for $1,466,574, the highest price ever for a piece of Olympic memorabilia.

Two more were said to be put up for auction in 2017, but there are no widespread reports of sales actually happening.

This gold medal was gifted by Owens to John Terpak, a U.S. Olympic weightlifter in 1936 and 1948, after Terpak helped Owens garner speaking engagements, according to Goldin. The previous gold that sold for $1.4 million was gifted by Owens to a different friend.

Terpak died in 1993 and passed the medal on to his son and daughter, who consigned it to Goldin.

The medal is part of Goldin Auctions’ Holiday Auction from Monday through Dec. 7 on GoldinAuctions.com. The listings also include Tommy Lasorda‘s autographed lineup card from the 2000 Olympic baseball gold-medal game.

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Images via Goldin Auctions:

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