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U.S. Olympic team full of surprises, stars; what’s left for PyeongChang

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Nearly half of the U.S. Olympic team was named last week. After several surprises, a few more big names look to clinch their spots in the coming days.

NBC’s coverage of the PyeongChang Winter Games begins in exactly one month on Feb. 8.

Here’s a look at where the U.S. Olympic team stands:

It will end up including more than 200 athletes. One week ago, there were 44 qualified athletes.

Now, there are 127 qualified athletes (full list here), including the entire figure skating and speed skating teams, plus the bulk of the hockey teams.

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Key storylines from qualifiers so far:

Nathan Chen (figure skating): The only undefeated male singles skater this season won by a whopping 40 points at nationals with seven quadruple jumps between two programs. The 19-year-old will go up against Japanese stars Yuzuru Hanyu and Shoma Uno as the medal favorites in PyeongChang.

Bradie Tennell (figure skating): Largely an unknown a few months ago, Tennell leaned on consistent jumping to win her first U.S. title, one year after placing ninth at nationals. She is unquestionably the best U.S. woman, but an individual Olympic medal will be a tall ask. She ranks 14th in the world this season.

Adam Rippon and Mirai Nagasu (figure skating): These two veterans told incredible comeback stories to make the team. Rippon, at 28, is the oldest U.S. Olympic rookie singles skater since 1936. The only man to win two world junior titles waited eight years to make it to the Games. He barely qualified, being placed on the team over runner-up Ross Miner after placing fourth at nationals.

Nagasu won her first national title at age 14 in 2008. Then she finished fourth at the 2010 Olympics. She was third at the 2014 Nationals but left off that Olympic team for fourth-place Ashley Wagner. Nagasu wiped away the tears and added a new jump this season, becoming the second American after Tonya Harding to land a triple Axel in international competition. That move helped her get second at nationals and return to the Olympics.

Mikaela Shiffrin (Alpine skiing): Shiffrin became the youngest Olympic slalom champion in Sochi at age 18. She’s since blossomed into the world’s best all-around skier, including winning six of the last seven World Cup races. Shiffrin is now favored for three gold medals in PyeongChang, which would match the record for an Alpine skier at one Winter Games.

New-look hockey teams: The U.S. men’s hockey team includes no NHL players for the first time since 1994. That means a roster mixed with collegians, minor-leaguers and guys playing for European-league teams. The captain is Brian Gionta, the leading goal scorer on the 2006 Olympic team who is currently without a club team.

The U.S. women return 10 Olympians, but there are many changes from the team that lost to Canada in an overtime Olympic final four years ago. The new coach is 1990s NHL goalie Robb Stauber. All three goalies are rookie Olympians. The final two cuts were veterans from Sochi and several world championship teams.

Breaking barriers: Ghana-born 17-year-old Maame Biney is the first African-American woman to make an Olympic short track speed skating teamErin Jackson, a former roller derby skater, became the first African-American woman to make a long-track speed skating Olympic team, four months after picking up the sport full-timeJordan Greenway, a Boston College junior, is the first African-American hockey player to make the Olympic team.

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Athletes who surprisingly missed the Olympic team:

Ashley Wagner (figure skating): The three-time U.S. champion and 2016 World silver medalist finished fourth at the national championships last week. She was left off the three-woman Olympic team by a selection committee that didn’t feel she had strong enough results the past year to merit bumping one of the top three finishers from nationals.

Jason Brown (figure skating): The only man with Olympic experience at this year’s nationals had a disastrous free skate. Brown fell from third to sixth and out of the PyeongChang picture. The bubbly Brown was a sensation four years ago with his “Riverdance” free skate and was hoping to perform to the “Hamilton” soundtrack in South Korea.

Alex Carpenter (hockey): The last forward cut from the U.S. women’s hockey team. Carpenter, the daughter of longtime NHL forward Bobby Carpenter, led the U.S. with four goals in Sochi and scored the 2016 World Championship final game-winning goal in overtime against Canada. She played in the last four world championships.

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Remaining qualifying storylines:

Shaun White (snowboarding): The rest of the Olympic snowboarding team will be determined at qualifiers the next two weekends. White, the 2006 and 2010 halfpipe gold medalist, finished fourth in Sochi. Rededicated, he’s in strong position to automatically qualify at one of the last two qualifiers, despite needing 62 face stitches after a preseason crash. Even if he struggles, there is a safety net. The last spot on the team is chosen by a committee, and White certainly has a strong resume to state his case.

Lindsey Vonn (Alpine skiing): There’s no doubt the 33-year-old is going to PyeongChang. She can officially clinch her spot as early as this weekend with her first World Cup races since a holiday break. Known for crashing and winning, Vonn has done both this season and remains a favorite to become the oldest female Olympic Alpine medalist.

Gus Kenworthy (freestyle skiing): The world’s best freeskier hopes to make the Olympic team in both halfpipe and slopestyle (should be four men in each event). But it’s not an easy task. In slopestyle, Kenworthy is going up against two Olympic medalists (Joss Christensen and Nick Goepper), the world champion (McRae Williams) and another Sochi Olympian in Bobby Brown.

In halfpipe, Sochi gold medalist David WiseTorin Yater-Wallace and Alex Ferreira already have wins in qualifiers, and Winter X Games champ Aaron Blunck is also ahead of Kenworthy in the early qualifying standings.

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Beatrice Chepkoech crushes steeplechase world record (video)

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Kenyan Beatrice Chepkoech crushed the 3000m steeplechase world record by eight seconds at a Diamond League meet in Monaco on Friday.

Chepkoech clocked 8:44.32, easily beating Olympic champion Ruth Jebet‘s mark of 8:52.78. Coincidentally, the IAAF confirmed Friday that Bahrain’s Jebet, who was born in Kenya, has been suspended the last five months after testing positive for EPO.

Between Jebet and Chepkoech, the steeple world record has come down 14 seconds since the Rio Games. Chepkoech began competition running in 2011 and didn’t concentrate on the steeplechase until 2016.

“I was thinking maybe I can break 8:50, but not at all was I dreaming about 8:44,” Chepkoech said, according to meet organizers.

Chepkoech, 27, was best-known for missing the first water jump in the 2017 World Championships final, retracing her steps and recovering to finish fourth. That helped lead the way to the stunning U.S. one-two finish with Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs.

In Friday’s race, Frerichs broke Coburn’s American record by clocking 9:00.85 for second place.

Full Monaco results are here. The Diamond League moves to London for a two-day meet Saturday and Sunday (broadcast/stream info here).

In other Monaco events, Caster Semenya clocked her second-fastest 800m of all time to extend her near-three-year win streak. The Olympic and world champion clocked 1:54.60. Semenya’s personal best is still .97 shy of the world record.

“Today wanted to break 1:54 but maybe next time,” Semenya said. “I was not thinking about the world record today and actually it is not on my mind.”

A pursuit of the 35-year-old mark will be impacted severely if an IAAF rule limiting testosterone in female middle-distance runners goes into effect next season as scheduled. Semenya is challenging it to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Noah Lyles won the 200m in 19.65 seconds, the world’s fastest time since Usain Bolt‘s last world title in 2015. Lyles, the U.S. 100m champion, remained undefeated in outdoor 200m races since finishing fourth at the Olympic Trials as an 18-year-old.

Lyles did a somersault when introduced before the race and a standing back flip celebrating afterward.

Olympic champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo won the 400m in the world’s fastest time in nine years — 49.97 seconds — edging world silver medalist Salwa Eid Naser of Bahrain. Naser, 20, ran 49.08, destroying her Asian record of 49.55, but lost for the first time in nearly one year.

Botswana’s Nijel Amos ran the world’s fastest 800m since the epic 2012 Olympic final, clocking 1:42.14 against a field that did not include injured world-record holder David Rudisha.

Marie-Josée Ta Lou of the Ivory Coast won a deep 100m in 10.89 seconds, confirming she is currently the world’s fastest woman. Ta Lou also has the fastest time in the world this year of 10.85 and hasn’t lost over 100m in 2018. The race lacked world champion Tori Bowie, while Olympic champion Elaine Thompson was third in 11.02.

Kenyan Timothy Cheruiyot took the 1500m in the fastest time in the world since the 2015 Monaco meet — 3:28.41. Cheruiyot, who came to Monaco with the world’s top three times this year, edged world champion Elijah Manangoi (3:29.64).

Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen, 17, was fourth in 3:31.18, taking 2.54 seconds off the U18 world record and nearly six seconds off his personal best, according to the IAAF. U.S. Olympic champion Matthew Centrowitz was seventh in 3:31.77, his fastest time since Monaco 2015.

World silver medalist Soufiane El Bakkali became the first steeplechaser to break eight minutes in three years. The Moroccan won in 7:58.15, while U.S. Olympic silver medalist Evan Jager was second in 8:01.02.

Two-time Olympic champion Christian Taylor beat Cuban-born Portuguese rival Pedro Pablo Pichardo in the triple jump, leaping 17.86 meters.

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Suspect confesses to Denis Ten killing

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MOSCOW (AP) — One of two men detained in Kazakhstan on suspicion of killing Olympic figure skating medalist Denis Ten has confessed, authorities said Friday.

Prosecutor Berik Zhuyrektayev said in a televised statement that Nuraly Kiyasov “confessed his guilt in the presence of an attorney” while being questioned over the 25-year-old skater’s death Thursday in the Kazakh city of Almaty.

The prosecutor didn’t give further details of what exactly Kiyasov had said.

Police have also detained 23-year-old Arman Kudaibergenov in connection with Ten’s death, which has prompted national mourning. Authorities released a picture of the disheveled-looking man being held by masked men wearing body armor and camouflage uniforms.

Ten was stabbed after a dispute with people who allegedly tried to steal a mirror from his car in his home city of Almaty. He died in hospital of massive blood loss from multiple wounds, the Kazinform news agency said.

Prosecutors are treating his death as murder.

Kazinform reported that Kiyasov was taken to the scene of the crime under heavy security Friday as part of the investigation.

Ten’s bronze in Sochi in 2014 made him Kazakhstan’s first Olympic medalist in figure skating. He also won the Four Continents Championships in 2015 and was a world silver medalist in 2013.

He struggled with injuries in recent years and could only finish 27th at the PyeongChang Olympics.

Ten had been working on a script in recent months which the Kazakh-Russian director Timur Bekmambetov said Friday would now be turned into a movie.

“We’re definitely going to try to realize his idea and shoot a film dedicated to this multi-talented person,” Bekmambetov said in comments released by Kazakhstan’s embassy to Russia. “In his 25 years, Ten managed to do very much and had grand plans which he would surely have put into practice because he was a real hard worker.”

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