Jim Paek
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South Korean Olympic hockey coach: My expectation is gold

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South Korea men’s hockey coach Jim Paek is, in a sense, ignoring the Olympic host nation’s long odds at the PyeongChang Winter Games.

“My expectation is gold, absolutely,” Paek, a two-time Stanley Cup winner with the Pittsburgh Penguins, said Wednesday, according to Yonhap News Agency. “Why do we even play if we don’t prepare to win the gold? In order for us to be successful, we have to think and act like an elite team. Win or lose, I don’t have the crystal ball. But I know we’ve prepared extremely hard for the last three years.”

Paek, the first South Korean-born NHL player, was hired almost exactly three years ago to develop the men’s program into a respectable Olympic team.

Paek replaced a coach who guided South Korea at a low-tier 2014 World Championship tournament to an 0-5 record with a minus-20 goal differential.

This year, the South Koreans won four of five games in the same tournament with a mix of native Koreans and naturalized Canadians. Their top defenseman and goalie, both Canadian-born, had brief NHL stints.

They received promotion to the top-level world championship for the first time next year.

“We’ve earned [our way] into that elite level of hockey,” Paek said, according to Yonhap. “We understand that it’s a different world, but we’re going to try to make them chase us. I believe we can do that.”

Still, South Korea is the lowest-ranked nation in the 2018 Olympic tournament at 21st overall, six spots below the next lowest, Slovenia. They’re grouped in PyeongChang with Canada, the Czech Republic and Switzerland, three nations ranked in the top seven in the world.

“I hope Canada thinks [it can win handily] so we can slide in there and beat them,” Paek said with a smile, according to Yonhap.

The South Koreans should benefit from the NHL not participating in the Olympics for the first time since 1994. They will also learn from joining Canada, Russia, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic in a pre-Olympic tournament in Russia in December.

“If we lose by 100 goals or whatever before the Olympics, that’s OK,” Paek said, according to Yonhap. “You have to fail in order to get better.”

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Emmanuel Korir nearly falls, comes back to win 800m at Pre Classic

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Kenyan Emmanuel Korir overcame getting tripped with 200 meters left to win the 800m on the first day of the Prefontaine Classic on Friday.

Korir was leading when Botswana’s Nijel Amos‘ spike clipped his leg. Korir stumbled, took six steps inside the rail and ceded the lead to Amos, the 2012 Olympic silver medalist.

But Korir overtook Amos on the final straight, winning in 1:45.16, .35 ahead of Amos. The race lacked double Olympic champion and world-record holder David Rudisha, who hasn’t raced since July 4 due to injury.

Korir, 22, ran the fastest 800m in the world last year but was eliminated in the semifinals at the world championships.

Full Pre Classic results are here.

In other events, world champion Sam Kendricks beat the last two Olympic champions in the pole vault, clearing 5.81 meters.

Surprise Rio Olympic gold medalist Thiago Braz of Brazil no-heighted at Pre for a second straight year in his first outdoor meet in 10 months. London Olympic champ and world-record holder Renaud Lavillenie didn’t fare much better, exiting at 5.71 meters for fifth place. Lavillenie still holds the top clearance in the world this year of 5.95 meters.

Rio gold medalist Thomas Röhler led a German javelin sweep, throwing a meet record 89.88 meters. World champion Johannes Vetter, who was second with an 89.34-meter throw, still ranks No. 1 in the world this year at 92.70.

In the two-mile, Ethiopian Selemon Barega upset Olympic 5000m silver medalist Paul Chelimo, outsprinting the American and clocking 8:20.01. Chelimo was second in 8:20.91.

The Pre Classic continues Saturday on NBC and NBC Sports Gold with streaming coverage starting at 2:50 p.m. ET.

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Allyson Felix withdraws from Prefontaine Classic

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Allyson Felix withdrew on the eve of the Prefontaine Classic and will miss Saturday’s anticipated 400m showdown with Olympic champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo and world champion Phyllis Francis.

No reason was given by the meet director at a Friday press conference, according to media in Eugene, Ore.

Felix, a nine-time Olympic medalist and 16-time world outdoor championships medalist, was scheduled to race on the top international level for the first time since Aug. 20. She has raced in smaller meets this season, most recently last Friday.

This is the one year in the four-year cycle without an Olympics or world outdoor championships, making the Diamond League, and the Pre Classic in particular, marquee meets.

“In the 19 years that I’ve been running track, I’ve never taken a break,” the 32-year-old Felix said in an Instagram video Thursday after an intense training session but before her name was taken off Saturday’s start list. “Never had a year where I took it easy. … Now that this is kind of a year without a championship, I’ve had to force myself to have a different approach because my goal is 2020. … To be able to be at my best when it counts, I think that means not having as intense of a year as I usually do. Being a competitor and an athlete, that’s something that I struggle with. … This year, that’s what I’m really trying to force myself to do is have quality races, quality over quantity. … So, if you guys don’t see me at as many of the races as I usually run, don’t worry, I’m fine, I’m just challenging myself to be smarter.”

Felix will miss the Pre Classic for the second time in the last nine years. She was absent in 2016 with an ankle injury.

The USATF Outdoor Championships are in one month.

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