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World Championships men’s preview: Can Nathan Chen defend his world title?

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Nathan Chen last competed at January’s U.S. Championships, where he won his third consecutive national title.

He put together two of the best performances of his career at nationals, though he has yet to do a clean short program internationally this season. Whether Chen is able to defend his 2018 world title in Saitama, Japan from March 18-24 will likely depend on hitting his short program.

As the old skating adage says, you can’t win a competition based on a short program, but you can lose it.

Unlike some of the other competitors he’ll face in the field, Chen, a Yale University freshman spending his spring break at the world championships, is rested. He hasn’t competed since January, opting to sit out February’s Four Continents Championships. That said, he remains undefeated this season.

His biggest challengers:

Yuzuru Hanyu, Japan

Credentials: Two-time Olympic gold medalist (2014, 2018); two-time world champion (2014, 2017)

Hanyu won both of his Grand Prix assignments in the fall, despite taking a hard practice fall Nov. 17 at the Grand Prix Russia. He withdrew from the subsequent Grand Prix Final and also missed the Japanese national championships.

“I was doing everything I could to make the national championships, so I’m very disappointed that I cannot participate,” Hanyu said in a statement at the time, according to Japanese media. “I will make an effort to return to competition as soon as the pain and limitations are gone.”

At a press conference before the world championships, Hanyu said, “I can’t say my injury has healed completely, but I feel I’ve been able to bring myself to a level that is acceptable to me…I’ve done 120% of what I could do in Toronto,” according to a translation posted online.

The latest news from Japan is that Hanyu says he is “100 percent.”

When NBCSports.com/figure-skating spoke to his coach, Brian Orser, in January, he said his pupil’s focus was on Worlds.

Worth noting: The intangible factor of competing on home ice, especially in a country that loves skating as much as Japan does, will play a factor Hanyu. He won his first world title in Saitama in 2014.

Shoma Uno, Japan

Credentials: Olympic silver medalist (2018), two-time world silver medalist (2017, 2018), 2019 Four Continents Champion

The Four Continents title Uno won in Anaheim, Calif. in February might’ve been his ultimate breakthrough. Fighting through a sprained ankle, Uno earned the highest free skate score recorded this season to win his first ISU Championship title. He is the Olympic silver medalist, two-time Worlds silver medalist, and he has been on the podium at the Grand Prix Final four times — though never in the top spot. Uno figures to be in the podium mix.

Worth noting: Like Hanyu, Uno will also be competing on home ice.

The U.S. men:

U.S. silver and bronze medalists Vincent Zhou and Jason Brown will join Chen in Saitama.

Zhou won a bronze at Four Continents, his most recent competition. Since then, he told reporters on a conference call, he’s been working toward more clean landings on his jumps. He has been penalized for under-rotations throughout this season.

Brown wasn’t at his best at Four Continents, where he notched a fifth place finish. This season, he moved away from his longtime coach to join Orser’s camp, where he trains alongside Hanyu and South Korea’s Cha Jun-Hwan. Brown says he is steadily improving and taking it day-by-day, keeping his eye more on the 2022 Olympic Games than this season’s results. He’s beloved in Japan and even started learning Japanese a few years ago.

Honorable mention: When Jin Boyang is on, he’s a threat, just like Russia’s Mikhail Kolyada. Both could become vulnerable if they start to make mistakes, though. Cha grabbed a bronze medal at the Grand Prix Final, and Czech skater Michal Brezina and Canada’s Keegan Messing were also in the Final. Italy’s Matteo Rizzo most recently claimed the European bronze medal, stamping him as one to watch as well.

MORE: How to watch the World Figure Skating Championships

As a reminder, you can watch the world 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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Hayley Wickenheiser is 7th woman elected to Hockey Hall of Fame

Hayley Wickenheiser
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Hayley Wickenheiser, arguably the greatest female hockey player of all time who retired in 2017, will be the seventh female player in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The six-time Canadian Olympian (once in softball) was elected in her first year of eligibility. Wickenheiser is joined by Sergei Zubov, who earned gold at the 1992 Albertville Games with the Unified Team, two-time Czech Olympic medalist Václav Nedomanský and 1980s and ’90s NHLer Guy Carbonneau, among others.

The induction ceremony is Nov. 18 in Toronto.

Wickenheiser is the fifth Canadian female player elected after Angela James (2010), Geraldine Heaney (2013), Danielle Goyette (2017) and Jayna Hefford (2018). Americans Cammi Granato (2010) and Angela Ruggiero (2015) are also Hall of Famers.

Wickenheiser, now the Toronto Maple Leafs’ assistant director of player development, earned four golds and one silver in the first five Olympic women’s hockey tournaments. She played 23 years for the Canadian national team, earning seven world titles and being named Olympic tournament MVP in 2002 and 2006.

She also carried the Canadian flag at the Sochi 2014 Opening Ceremony and recited the Athletes’ Oath at the Vancouver 2010 Opening Ceremony. She was elected to the International Olympic Committee Athletes’ Commission in 2014.

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Breaking provisionally added for 2024 Olympics

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Breaking (don’t call it break dancing) was provisionally added to the Olympics for the 2024 Paris Games.

The IOC also announced Tuesday that skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were provisionally added to the 2024 Olympic program. Those three sports will debut at Tokyo 2020 but were not assured places on the Olympic program beyond next year.

“They contribute to making the program more gender balanced and more urban, and offer the opportunity to connect with the younger generation,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in a press release. “The proposed sports are in line with these principles and enhance Paris 2024’s overall dynamic Games concept, which focuses on inclusivity, inspiring a new audience and hosting socially responsible Games.”

The IOC Executive Board will make the final decision on the Paris 2024 event program in December 2020, but no more sports can be proposed for inclusion. That means baseball and softball, which return to the Olympics next year, will not be on the 2024 Olympic program. Those sports can still be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

Breaking debuted at the Youth Olympics last year, where the U.S. did not have any athletes. Sergei “Bumblebee” Chernyshev of Russia and Ramu Kawai of Japan took gold medals.

Breaking had never previously been up for a vote for Olympic inclusion, but the World DanceSport Federation is recognized by the IOC.

Teenagers, some of whom went by nicknames like Bad Matty, Senorita Carlota and KennyG, went head-to-head in dance battles at the Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires last year. They performed on a mat atop an outdoor basketball court to a musical beat and emcees.

Judges determined winners using six criteria: creativity, personality, technique, variety, perfomativity and musicality.

“Breaking (also called b-boying or b-girling) is an urban dance style,” according to the Youth Olympics. “The urban dance style originated during the mid 1970s in the Bronx borough of New York City.”

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