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Emil Hegle Svendsen joins list of Norway Olympic star retirements

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In the last week, three Norwegians who won a combined 36 Winter Olympic medals announced retirements.

The latest came in a tearful news conference on Monday.

Biathlete Emil Hegle Svendsen ended his career at age 32 after four Winter Games and eight medals, plus 21 world championships medals (including 12 golds).

Svendsen said it was “actually a huge pleasure” to retire, that he “needed a little time after the Olympic Games season because I often felt that the spark could come back. But I wasn’t close to [getting it back],” according to The Associated Press.

Svendsen’s farewell came after the two most decorated Winter Olympians of all time — biathlete Ole Einar Bjørndalen and cross-country skier Marit Bjørgen — announced their retirements last week.

Svendsen would come to be billed as “The Prince” and heir to the throne of “The King” Bjørndalen, who is 12 years older. Svendsen was 20 years old when he debuted at the Olympics in 2006 with a sixth-place finish in the mass start.

He blossomed into the World Cup overall champion in 2009-10, a season where he took individual and relay Olympic gold, plus silver in the sprint in Whistler, B.C.

Svendsen dominated the 2013 World Championships with a pair of individual golds, two more relay golds and an individual bronze medal. His Sochi Olympics didn’t start well — ninth, seventh and seventh in his first three events — but he won the mass start in a photo finish over French rival Martin Fourcade.

Svendsen is also remembered for shocking struggles in the last event in Sochi — the men’s relay. He was given the lead to anchor the Norwegian quartet, and a chance for Bjørndalen to earn his record-breaking ninth career Winter Olympic title. But Svendsen missed three targets, and Norway fell from first to fourth.

Svendsen went into PyeongChang believing it would be his final Olympics. Again, he made up for poor early finishes (10th, 18th and 20th) by making the mass-start podium (bronze). He then earned silver medals in the relays.

“It’s a good idea that all such decisions are taken based on the feeling you have, and that is that I’m in the dessert in my career,” Svendsen said last fall, according to NBC Olympic Research.

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Javier Fernandez, Alina Zagitova highlight action at European Championships

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Spain’s Javier Fernandez competes for what is expected to be the final time this weekend at the European Figure Skating Championships in Minsk, Belarus. Olympic champion Alina Zagitova of Russia is also looking to defend her title in the ladies’ field.

NBC Sports Gold’s “Figure Skating Pass” will live stream every program starting on Wednesday, and NBCSN and NBC will also have coverage.

MORE: Schedule/ How to watch

Men

Fernandez, the 2018 PyeongChang bronze medalist, owns six European titles. No man since Austrian Karl Schaefer – who won eight consecutive European titles beginning in 1929 – has won as many straight titles as Fernandez. Fernandez traded world titles during the last Olympic quadrennial with his training partner Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan. They both train in Toronto under Brian Orser.

Also in the field are Michal Brezina from the Czech Republic, who most recently finished fourth at the Grand Prix Final at age 28, and three Russian men: Mikhail Kolyada, Maxim Kovtun, and Alexander Samarin.

Ladies

Reigning Olympic gold medalist Zagitova could lead a Russian podium sweep at the 2019 European Championships with teammates Stanislava Konstantinova and Sofia Samodurova.

The competition-within-the-competition at Europeans is also notable: Russia will not choose their World team until after the event. For example, two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva is not competing at Europeans, and 2015 world champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva was already told to train for Worlds despite not competing at Europeans.

Pairs

French pair Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres will try and buck a trend at Europeans, where teams representing Russia or the Soviet Union have won 47 of the last 54 titles. Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov are looking for a three-peat, though have been inconsistent so far this season and recently returned to last season’s short program.

James and Cipres missed out on bronze by 0.01 points at the 2018 Europeans, and could become the first French pair to win the event since 1932. The last non-Russian team to win Europeans was Germany’s Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy in 2011.

Ice dance

Three-time world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France should coast to the gold medal in Minsk for a fifth consecutive title. Other dance teams have won more European titles, but no team has ever won five in a row.

The rest of the podium is more unclear. The Italians, Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri, will likely split the difference between the two Russian teams – who have their own domestic battle to contend with: Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov and Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin.

As a reminder, you can watch the European Championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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How to watch the European Figure Skating Championships

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Javier Fernandez returns to competition for probably a final time with his eyes on a seventh title at the European Figure Skating Championships in Minsk, Belarus Jan. 23-27.

Olympic champion Alina Zagitova looks for a second European title in the ladies’ field, while two couples from France look to top the podiums in the dance and pairs’ fields.

NBC Sports Gold’s “Figure Skating Pass” will live stream every program from Minsk starting Wednesday with the ladies’ short program.

NBCSN and NBC will also have coverage throughout the weekend.

Preview: Javier Fernandez, Alina Zagitova highlight Europeans

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European Figure Skating Championships broadcast schedule (all times Eastern)

Wednesday

Ladies’ short program: 3 a.m. (GOLD) begins at 4:30 p.m. on NBCSN

Pairs’ short program: 10:45 a.m. (GOLD)

 

Thursday

Men’s short program: 4 a.m. (GOLD) begins at 7 p.m. on NBCSN

Pairs’ free skate: 11 a.m. (GOLD), begins at 11 p.m. on NBCSN

 

Friday

Rhythm dance: 3:30 a.m. (GOLD) begins at 2 p.m. on NBCSN

Ladies’ free skate: 10 a.m. (GOLD) begins at 6 p.m. on NBCSN

 

Saturday

Men’s free skate: 3:15 a.m. (GOLD) begins at 11 a.m. on NBCSN

Free dance: 8:25 a.m. (GOLD)

 

Sunday

Ladies’ and men’s free skate: 1:30 p.m. on NBC