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How did two-time world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford become ‘underdogs’?

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Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford have been a pairs team for Canada since 2010. From the beginning of their partnership, they knew they had something special. In their first tryout, Radford recalled he nearly cried because he was struck with the realization they were going to be really good. Duhamel described their partnership as one between soulmates: “It’s Meagan and Eric’s chemistry, which may not be a romantic chemistry. It may not be a brother and sister type of chemistry. But it’s special, and it belongs only to us,” she said.

NBCOlympics.com: Who are Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford?

They found much success in their partnership: seven Canadian national pairs titles, the Grand Prix Final gold in 2014, Four Continents gold in 2013 and 2015, plus back-to-back world championship gold medals in 2015 and 2016.

At the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Duhamel and Radford helped Team Canada win a silver medal in the team event. In the pairs event, they placed seventh. That finish is partly fueling their drive toward PyeongChang.

Duhamel and Radford ran into trouble in the 2016-17 season, despite still capturing medals. They earned a bronze at the Grand Prix Final, silver at Four Continents, and finished seventh at the world championships.

“Everything that we’ve been able to win, every accolade has a special meaning and a special memory attached to it, no matter how big the competition or how small it is,” Duhamel told NBCOlympics.com when asked to compare the significance of each medal in their trophy cases. “There are some bronze medals and silver medals that we were disappointed with in the moment, but they have so much value because of the lessons that they taught us for the rest of the seasons and the years that were to follow.”

NBCOlympics.com: Canada announces Olympic figure skating team

Following those world championships, Radford revealed some of his off-ice struggles. During the break between Four Continents and Worlds, he didn’t feel refreshed or motivated. Working with a sports psychologist helped ease those thoughts. Radford also experienced numbness and loss of control in his hip due to a herniated disk in his lower back. The pair changed the layout of their programs at Worlds in order to accommodate his injury.

Alarm bells were ringing by June. (But so were wedding bells, when Radford proposed to boyfriend Luis Fenero in Spain)

It was time to choose their Olympic season music; being an important year, they wanted their music to have the most impact as possible. They went with a cover of U2’s “With or Without You” for the short program and a Muse medley for the free skate.

They also changed up their coaching staff that summer. Bruno Marcotte stayed on as head coach with the team in Montreal (he’s also Duhamel’s husband) and Julie Marcotte, Bruno’s sister, remained as choreographer. Duhamel and Radford added Florida-based John Zimmerman as a coach and added John Kerr as a choreographer, too.

Duhamel and Radford came into the Olympic season under the radar, on the advice of 2002 Olympic pairs champion David Pelletier from Canada.

Last winter, Pelletier was on the phone with Radford and told him the best thing the team could do would be to finish sixth or seventh at Worlds, to ease some of the pressure off them.

As Radford recalled: “He said ‘You know what would be the best thing for you? If you were to go to Worlds and come sixth or seventh. And then you fly under the radar and you come back and you win the Olympics.’ And when we came seventh at the worlds, I thought ‘Oh my god, he actually said seventh place.’”

It’s working, according to Duhamel.

“I think that we’re kind of the underdogs this season,” Duhamel said, though added that they’re trying to live in each moment and not get ahead of themselves.

They began the season at the Autumn Classic, a Challenger Series event. They picked up a silver medal there, before going to win Skate Canada, their first Grand Prix of the season. They earned a bronze in November’s Skate America.

When they were looking towards the Grand Prix Final, Duhamel said of their rivals, “We’ll let the Chinese and the Germans and the Russians feel the pressure. We’re gonna keep working hard, keep our head down, and hopefully we’ll be able to deliver in the moment when it matters the most.”

At the Grand Prix Final, they earned another bronze. The pair from Germany won, like Duhamel predicted, while the Russians surprisingly finished fourth and fifth in the six-team field. The two Chinese teams were second and sixth. They already held the most national titles in history for a Canadian pair team at six, but they pushed the boundary further in January to win their seventh and officially qualify for their second Olympic team.

NBCOlympics.com: Meet Team USA: Figure skating

“At this point, we’ve already achieved more than we’ve ever dreamed in this sport. The opportunity is ahead of us to achieve even more and we don’t take that for granted. We’re definitely very proud of ourselves with everything we’ve been able to accomplish in the sport.” Radford said in November.

The team sees the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics as their “grand finale.” They want to leave Olympic ice knowing they created a special moment.

“You never know that it’s going to happen until you hit that ending position and everything worked and you’re like, ‘Oh my god, we did it! How did that just happen?’” Radford said. “Of course, it’s what we imagine, what we hope for, every competition. Not only was it an incredible moment for us but we also got to, I think, create a special moment for thousands of other people as well.”

Duhamel echoed those sentiments.

“You can feel that energy from the audience and the energy between us,” she said. “It’s a pretty obvious thing, but invisible thing. We can usually feel it and that’s what we’re striving for this season with the two programs that we have.”

Additional reporting by Seth Rubinroit.

David Boudia adjusts diving event, goal for world championships

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David Boudia earned diving medals at his last three world championships and the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, but that was on the platform. He competes on the global stage on the springboard for the first time at worlds this week.

“I don’t have a lot of high hopes,” Boudia, who is still learning the springboard after switching to it in the last year, said in a phone interview from South Korea, where he begins competition Wednesday (TV schedule here). “But I think my biggest goal is to walk away with an Olympic spot.”

An Olympic spot not necessarily for himself, but for the U.S.

Boudia, a 30-year-old father of three, and any other American will clinch 2020 Olympic quota spots by placing in the top 12 in their respective individual events this week. Those spots, and any others earned at later competitions in the next year, will be filled at trials in June in Indianapolis.

NBC Sports analyst Cynthia Potter believes Boudia, who left the sport to sell homes in 2017 and came back and suffered a concussion off the platform in 2018, can meet his goal of making Friday’s 12-man final in Gwangju.

“He would have to dive well, but not better than he’s been diving,” she said. “His springboard is really well-timed, rhythmic, and he’s for a long time known how to go into the water without making a splash.”

But challenging Rio Olympic gold and silver medalists Cao Yuan of China and Jack Laugher of Great Britain, plus defending world champion Xie Siyi of China would be very tough.

Boudia lacks their degrees of difficulty, for now. He hopes to switch out two of his six dives before his first competition of 2020, though he could insert one of them should he make the world final.

“I need a good six months, so from August to December is when we’re kind of really drilling the fundamentals of learning those new dives and getting them perfected,” he said.

Boudia rallied to beat Rio Olympic springboard diver Michael Hixon for the title in May at nationals, where the top two per event earned world berths. But Boudia competed there with about a month of competition dive practice, about half as long as he would prefer.

“Hix and I are going to have a lot of training to do if we want to be even close to cracking that top five,” at worlds, Boudia said in May, according to TeamUSA.org.

Boudia is the lone U.S. diver to earn an individual world medal in an Olympic diving event since 2009.

The U.S. produced breakthroughs at worlds so far. Sarah Bacon became the first American woman to earn a world title since 2005, taking the non-Olympic 1m springboard event. Murphy Bromberg and Katrina Young bagged bronze in synchronized platform, ending a decade-long medal drought in any synchro event.

But Boudia’s goal must be shared among the whole team — as many top-12 finishes individually and top three in synchro events to gobble up Tokyo 2020 quota spots. The U.S. failed to qualify full teams for the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

“Getting in the top 12 in the four individual Olympic events is the big deal right now,” Potter said. “Whether you are on the awards stand or not, that would be icing on the cake for a lot of these divers.”

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Anita Wlodarczyk, one of track and field’s most dominant, sidelined

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Poland hammer thrower Anita Wlodarczyk, the only woman to win the last five combined Olympic and world titles in a track and field event, will not go for a fourth straight world championship this fall.

Wlodarczyk had season-ending, arthroscopic left knee surgery on Monday, according to Polish media citing her coach.

Wlodarczyk, 33, has the top 15 throws on the IAAF’s all-time list, and 27 of the top 29. Her world record of 82.98 meters (scribbled on her leg pre-op) is 11 and a half feet farther the second-best woman in history. She originally took silver at the 2012 Olympics and 2013 Worlds but was upgraded to gold after Russian Tatyana Lysenko was stripped for doping.

Wlodarczyk won a reported 42 straight finals between 2014 and 2017, then suffered three losses in 2018 and two so far this year in three lower-level meets before the operation.

Americans DeAnna Price and Brooke Anderson rank Nos. 1 and 2 in the world this year. A U.S. woman has never finished in the top five of an Olympic or world championships hammer throw, which debuted at worlds in 1999 and the Olympics in 2000.

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