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Ilya Kovalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk lead Russia Olympic men’s hockey roster

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Russia’s men’s hockey roster is easily the most decorated of the 12 nations in the Olympic tournament.

It’s headlined by Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk, two NHL All-Stars now playing in the KHL and headed to their fifth Winter Games together. That’s a Russian/Soviet hockey record.

Russia’s team won’t be called “Russia” of course.

It is the Olympic Athlete from Russia team since the Russian flag and color scheme have been barred from PyeongChang as part of the nation’s doping sanctions.

The 25 players on the team announced Thursday all hail from Russia’s KHL, the world’s second-best league behind the NHL.

Fifteen players are from SKA Saint Petersburg, eight are from CSKA Moscow and two from Metallurg Magnitogorsk.

But several previously played in the NHL and are talented enough to be playing in that league if they wanted — Kovalchuk, Datsyuk and defenseman Slava Voynov, who left the NHL in 2015 after an indefinite suspension for a domestic violence charge for which he spent two months in jail.

Russia immediately became the favorite for gold in PyeongChang when the NHL announced April 3 that it would not send its players to the Olympics for the first time since 1994.

The full roster:

Goaltenders: Vasily Koshechkin, Ilya Sorokin, Igor Shestyorkin.

Defensemen: Slava Voynov, Vladislav Gavrikov, Artyom Zub, Andrei Zubarev, Bogdan Kiselevich, Alexei Marchenko, Nikita Nesterov, Dinar Khafizullin.

Forwards: Sergei Andronov, Alexander Barabanov, Mikhail Grigorenko, Nikita Gusev, Pavel Datsyuk, Ilya Kablukov, Sergei Kalinin, Kirill Kaprizov, Ilya Kovalchuk, Sergei Mozyakin, Nikolai Prokhorkin, Ivan Telegin, Vadim Shipachyov, Sergei Shirokov.

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MORE: Full Olympic hockey schedule

Hirscher leads by 0.56 seconds after first run in World Champs slalom

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Marcel Hirscher swept into the finish area and wagged his finger triumphantly in front of the camera.

The message was clear: The ski king is back.

The Austrian produced an emphatic response to relinquishing his giant slalom title two days earlier at the world championships by taking a 0.56-second lead after the first run of the slalom on Sunday.

Only Alexis Pinturault of France was within a second of Hirscher, who was on course to win a record-tying seventh career gold medal at the worlds.

Marco Schwarz of Austria was in third place, 1.22 seconds off the lead.

Hirscher, the seven-time overall World Cup champion, showed no ill-effects from the cold that has been affecting him this week. After the giant slalom on Friday, he said he would be going straight back to bed to rest up for the slalom.

He looked in good working order on Sunday.

As the third skier on the course, Hirscher took 1.70 seconds off No. 2 starter Henrik Kristoffersen, who beat Hirscher to GS gold on Friday, and more than two seconds off Clement Noel, who came to the worlds in form after wins in Wengen and Kitzbuehel.

Save for Hirscher crashing, only Pinturault looks capable to denying the Austrian a third slalom gold at the worlds — something only the great Ingemar Stenmark has achieved. Pinturault was only 0.06 seconds behind Hirscher at the third checkpoint but he went wide at the first turn on the final descent and lost half a second.

“I’m still in the fight,” Pinturault said, “and still have a chance in the second leg. That’s the essential (thing).”

Daniel Yule of Switzerland was 0.28 behind Hirscher at the last split before falling at the start to the final descent.

Hirscher also won the slalom at the 2013 and 2017 worlds. A seventh career gold at the worlds would tie the men’s record held by compatriot Toni Sailer from the late 1950s.

Austria, a storied Alpine skiing nation, needs Hirscher to deliver in the final event to avoid finishing the world championships without a gold medal for the first time since Crans Montana, Switzerland, in 1987. The women’s team has already finished with no medals and that hasn’t happened since Schladming, Austria, in 1982.

Watch an encore presentation of the first run on NBCSN at 7:00 a.m. ET. The second and deciding run can be seen live starting at 8:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold.

Mikaela Shiffrin proving she’s in league of her own

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There are ski racers, and then there is Mikaela Shiffrin.

NBC Sports essayist Tim Layden calls Shiffrin the “rarest creature,” a prodigy who continues to get better with age.

Shiffrin’s stardom took off with her heart-stopping slalom gold medal in the 2014 Olympics. It looked like she would ascend to an even higher level four years later in PyeongChang when she claimed a gold medal in the giant slalom, but then she lost a battle with her nerves and failed to win a medal in the slalom. She did capture a silver in the combined event.

That Olympic disappointment has fueled her historic World Cup season. She became the youngest skier to pass the 50 win mark. She broke the women’s career record for slalom victories, and she became the first skier ever to win four-straight world championship titles in a single event.

A true prodigy indeed.