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Where have figure skating’s rivalries gone?

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Vincent Zhou is well-versed in the rivalry between American Brian Boitano and Canadian Brian Orser — the “Battle of the Brians” at the 1988 Calgary Olympics.

That’s because Boitano was an “inspiration” to Zhou, who fell in love with figure skating by watching footage of the two-time world champion on YouTube. And these days, Boitano is a sounding board for Zhou, a fellow Bay Area native helping him navigate the Olympic experience.

So, yes, Zhou has heard all about Boitano’s showdown with Orser at the Calgary Games, when his hero won a back-and-forth battle by the narrowest of margins to win gold.

It remains one of the best and most beloved rivalries in figure skating. Especially now, when rivalries are hard to find.

As the sport’s elite prepares for the Pyeongchang Games next week, there are about half a dozen medal hopefuls in each discipline, which should create exciting and unpredictable competition. But it also means there is no head-to-head rivalry — no Harding vs. Kerrigan, Kwan vs. Lipinski, Yagudin vs. Plushenko — that fans can seize on when they tune in to coverage from South Korea.

“There’s so many great skaters capable of being on the top of the podium, I wouldn’t say there’s a great rivalry that stands out,” Zhou said. “But all the variables and unpredictability makes for just as much excitement and anticipation as a great rivalry would.”

You can bet the networks are banking on it.

In truth, there hasn’t been a memorable rivalry in figure skating in years. With the quick turnover of top talent, the rise of Russian skaters and the sport’s diminished profile in non-Olympic years, it becomes difficult to cultivate a head-to-head rivalry.

The closest thing in recent years happened at the 2010 Vancouver Games, when South Korean star Yuna Kim edged Japan’s Mao Asada for the gold medal. The fact that South Korea and Japan have an intense rivalry in many sports elevated the tension, but it also limited the rivalry’s global appeal.

There were few American and European fans, for example, that latched onto the matchup of Asian icons.

It certainly wasn’t like another rivalry made famous in Calgary, one between Debi Thomas of the U.S. and Katarina Witt of East Germany. Each picked music set to the French opera Carmen, adding a little zest to Witt’s eventual gold medal-performance. (Thomas settled for bronze.)

“You know, it’s interesting. I think those times are missed, and I think rivalries are needed to propel the sport to a different level,” said Boitano, now a TV personality. “People love cheering for a skater from their own country and they love the rivalries, and back in our day, before the (Berlin) wall came down, Katerina Witt was an enigma. It wasn’t just a battle of people but countries as well.

“I think that was an aspect of it,” Boitano continued, “but the main reason we’re not able to produce rivalries is no one wins consistently.”

In most sports, that kind of parity is a good thing.

There hasn’t been a repeat World Series champion since the Yankees in 1999 and 2000, and the NFL has become the popular sport in the U.S. in part because of the belief it has cultivated that every team has a chance — even though the Patriots seemingly always end up in the Super Bowl.

In figure skating, every discipline is wide open. And while that’s good for the competition itself, it makes it difficult for the casual fan — the every-four-years fan — to find a rooting interest.

“Going into an Olympic year, it’s not the five-time or six-time national champion like Michelle Kwan competing against a rival. The public hasn’t had a chance to grow to love them, follow them, think they know them and root for them,” Boitano said. “I really think it’s an issue of not being able to follow someone up the ranks for their entire career.”

Those inside the sport beg to differ, of course. There is a constant battle for resources, support and sponsorship, and that can make rivalries between compatriots some of the fiercest.

“We’re all friends,” American ice dancer Madison Hubbell said, “but we want what they have. That kind of competitiveness is more intense with your own national competitors, whereas world competitors, we see each other a couple times a year. We all want to win. But there’s a little more focus on how each of us skates individually. It seems more personal.”

As intense as those rivalries might be, they don’t generally resonate with fans — not like a rivalry between nations, or individuals that have gone head-to-head over years.

That raises the question: Does figure skating need a good rivalry to ramp up the interest?

Good luck finding a consensus.

“We have real depth with our skaters,” Boitano said. “It’s really choosing apples and oranges, and it really depends on that week for them. That creates for a very interesting competition. It just doesn’t create a lot of rivalries.”

U.S. falls to Sweden in men’s hockey worlds semifinals

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The U.S. men’s hockey team could not end the drought.

The Americans, whose only title at a standalone world championship came in 1933, saw their gold-medal hopes extinguished in a 6-0 loss to Sweden in Saturday’s semifinals in Denmark.

Viktor Arvidsson (two goals, including an empty-netter), Magnus Paajarvi, Patric Hornqvist, Mattias Janmark and Adrian Kempe all beat U.S. goalie Keith Kinkaid. The Vancouver Canucks’ Anders Nilsson became the first goalie to shut out the U.S. in their ninth game.

Sweden, eyeing a repeat world title, will play Switzerland in Sunday’s gold-medal game. The Swiss upset Finland in the quarterfinals and Canada 3-2 in Saturday’s later semifinal. Switzerland has never won an Olympic or world title.

The U.S. plays Canada for bronze Sunday. The U.S. earned bronze in 2013 and 2015 and hasn’t finished higher than third since its last silver medal in 1950.

The U.S., with all NHL players save one on its roster, reached the final four for the fourth time in six years. The Olympic team made up of non-NHL players lost to the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals in PyeongChang.

Patrick Kane headlines a U.S. roster that also includes NHL All-Stars Johnny GaudreauDylan Larkin and Cam Atkinson.

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Katie Ledecky crushes 200m freestyle field in Indianapolis

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Katie Ledecky made it three wins in three days in Indianapolis, taking the 200m freestyle by 2.64 seconds at the Pro Series meet on Friday.

Ledecky clocked 1:55.42, which ranks third in the world this year. The two fastest swimmers, Canadian Taylor Ruck and Australian Ariarne Titmus, were not in Friday’s race.

Earlier in the meet, Ledecky smashed her 1500m freestyle world record by five seconds on Wednesday and swam the second-fastest 400m free in history on Thursday.

Her 200m free on Friday, while 1.69 seconds off her personal best from the Olympics, came an hour after she placed third in a 400m individual medley.

“I’m pretty happy with it coming off the 400m IM,” Ledecky said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA.

Full meet results are here. The meet finishes Saturday, with Ledecky entered in the 200m individual medley and 800m freestyle. NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app will air live coverage at 7 p.m. ET.

Also Friday, 12-time Olympic medalist Ryan Lochte competed for the first time this spring, placing fourth in the 200m free and 100m butterfly at a meet in Atlanta. Lochte is scheduled for three meets in four weeks, including his first Pro Series meet since the Rio Olympics and his 10-month suspension in Santa Clara, Calif., next month.

Swimmers are preparing for the U.S. Championships in July and Pan Pacific Championships in August, the two meets that will determine the 2019 World Championships team.

An hour before her 200m free, Ledecky placed third in the 400m IM, an event she doesn’t swim at major meets. Melanie Margalis, fourth in the 200m IM at the 2016 Olympics and 2017 Worlds, and NCAA champion Ella Eastin went one-two in personal-best times.

Ledecky clocked 4:38.88, 1.93 seconds behind Margalis and .45 behind her Stanford teammate Eastin. Ledecky’s time was her third-fastest ever in the 400m IM, trailing her personal best of 4:37.93.

In other events, world champion Chase Kalisz won the men’s 400m IM by 6.54 seconds in 4:10.55, the second-fastest time in the world this year behind his own 4:08.92 from March 2.

Simone Manuel took the 50m free in 24.59, the fastest time by an American this year. Manuel is the Olympic silver medalist and world bronze medalist in the splash and dash. Australian Cate Campbell has the fastest time in the world of 23.78, but she’s not in Indianapolis.

Eight-time Olympic medalist Nathan Adrian won the men’s 50m free in 21.97, well off Brit Pen Broud‘s fastest time this year of 21.30. Neither Proud nor world champion Caeleb Dressel were in the field.

World bronze medalist Jacob Pebley prevailed in a 200m backstroke that lacked Olympic champ Ryan Murphy. Pebley clocked 1:57.03, 1.18 seconds off his fastest time this year.

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