Pyeongchang Winter Olympics 2018: Previewing What to Watch for on Day 12

Beau Dure@duresportFeatured ColumnistFebruary 20, 2018

Pyeongchang Winter Olympics 2018: Previewing What to Watch for on Day 12

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    One of the biggest days of the Winter Olympics in on tap in this midweek special.

    We have seven medal events, not including the women's hockey bronze-medal game.

    We have traditional favorites: the women's downhill and the women's figure skating short program.

    We have new events such as ski cross (men's heats and finals) and snowboarding big air, with the men taking their qualifying turns on the big ramp that flings them into the soccer/ski jumping stadium. 

    And we have the last day of round-robin curling, where both U.S. teams have playoff chances.

    Here are the storylines to follow.

         

    To watch live Olympics coverage, including the events detailed below, visit NBC's Olympics site. Reminder: South Korea is 14 hours ahead of Eastern Time, so an event that takes place Wednesday morning in Pyeongchang will be on Tuesday night in the U.S.

Can Mirai Nagasu Upset the Field with a Triple Axel?

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    Bernat Armangue/Associated Press

    Only three women have ever landed a triple axel—a 1260 in snowboarding terminology. Midori Ito did it in 1992. Mao Asada did it in 2010 and 2014.

    Then, American Mirai Nagasu did it in the free skate in the team event, helping USA clinch bronze. Check out the video.

    It's a high-risk move, as her wipeout in training earlier this week showed. But it's high-reward. And it's her best shot at challenging for the medals in a women's competition in which the Americans are not medal favorites. On the list of the best scores of the season, the top U.S. skater is U.S. champion Bradie Tennell at 14th. Nagasu is 23rd. (The good news: A lot of those skaters failed to make the Japanese team or the Olympic Athletes from Russia team, thanks to roster limits.)

    So Nagasu, who was fourth in the 2010 Olympics but missed out on the Games in 2014, has every reason to go for it in the short program (8 p.m. ET) and again two days later in the free skate.

Can Lindsey Vonn Add Downhill Gold?

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    Christophe Ena/Associated Press

    One challenger is out of the way for Lindsey Vonn as she seeks a second downhill gold (9 p.m. ET): Mikaela Shiffrin decided not to compete in this event, focusing instead on the super combined, where she can put her slalom skills to use.

    But ski events are rarely sure things. Even Shiffrin can be beaten in the slalom, though being ill probably didn't help Shiffrin this year. Vonn has to deal with plenty of competition here: Italy's Sofia Goggia leads Vonn in the World Cup downhill standings, and Liechtenstein's Tina Weirather has a bronze medal from the super-G in South Korea on top of strong form from the World Cup.

    Still, a healthy Vonn is always among the favorites. In six World Championship downhills, she has one gold among four medals, and she has never finished lower than fifth. In her last 100 World Cup downhills, dating back to 2004, she has 42 wins, 16 second-place finishes and six third-place finishes. She failed to finish 10 of those races. 

    And this isn't ancient history. She won her last three World Cup downhills before these Olympics. 

    Tune in early. Weirather runs third, Goggia fifth, Vonn seventh.

    Then stay tuned. Snowboarder/super-G gold medalist Ester Ledecka isn't entered in the downhill, but we've all learned our lesson about declaring a winner early. The medalists will probably come from the first 20 skiers, but we'll stick with it just to be sure.

U.S. Men Take on Czech Republic in Hockey Quarterfinals

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    The Americans are starting to find the goal.

    Ryan Donato scored his third and fourth goals of the tournament, and he drew a penalty that set up a power play on which USA scored, as this mix of college players and Europe-based pros beat Slovakia, 5-1.

    Next up: The other half of the former Czechoslovakia, the Czech Republic. The Czech team should be more of a challenge, having won its group with a shootout win over Canada. NHL fans will recognize captain Martin Erat, and the team has 15 players from the KHL.

    The USA-Czech Republic game is the first (10:10 p.m. ET) of the quarterfinals. The Olympic Athletes from Russia will have their men's and women's teams in action at the same time (2:40 a.m. ET), with the men facing Norway in the quarterfinals and the women facing Finland for the bronze medal. The remaining men's quarterfinals (7:10 a.m. ET) feature Canada vs. Finland and Sweden vs. Germany.

Who Can Navigate the Chaos of Ski Cross?

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    Pontus Lundahl/Associated Press

    You've seen the chaos of snowboard cross. Now add a few more sliding surfaces. And poles.

    Welcome to ski cross, which was added to the Winter Olympics in 2010. Take a look at a wild quarterfinal from Sochi, which required a photo finish between three horizontal skiers.

    If you think this event is custom-made for Americans, you'd be surprised. This event hasn't been in the X Games for a couple of years, and no Americans are entered here.

    So you can opt for North American pride and cheer for the Canadians, including 2011 world champion Christopher Del Bosco. You could root for the majesty of Filip Flisar's mustache, but he appears to have grown a full beard now. Or just enjoy it on its own merits. 

    The day starts with seeding runs (9:30 p.m. ET), moves on to the early knockout rounds (11:15 p.m.) and whittles the field down to the final (12:30 a.m.). 

Both U.S. Curling Teams Take Last Shot at Playoffs

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    Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press

    John Shuster is on a tear.

    The U.S. skip hit a clutch shot in an extra end to beat powerhouse Canada, 9-7. Then he shot a ridiculous 97 percent as USA beat Switzerland, 8-4.

    Shuster's team now stands at 4-4 with one game left in round-robin play against Britain (12:05 a.m. ET). If the U.S. men win that game, they should move into the tiebreakers with an opportunity to earn a berth in the four-team playoffs. (We say "should" because there's a chance they would miss out based on the convoluted tiebreaker rules. But if they beat Britain, they'll have head-to-head wins over two of the teams that would be tied at 5-4, so their chances would be quite good.)

    The U.S. women are in a similar situation. Nina Roth's team is 4-4 with one game to play against Sweden (6:05 a.m. ET). But Roth's destiny isn't in her own hands.

    Japan and Britain are currently tied for third with 5-3 records. If they both win, USA is eliminated.

    Another complication: While USA would win the head-to-head tiebreaker against Britain and China (4-4), it lost to Japan and Canada (3-4).

    The ideal situation for USA: Canada beats Britain and then loses to Olympic Athletes from Russia. But then Canada would be out, which might be a national tragedy.

Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall Pursue Elusive Nordic Medal

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    Lars Baron/Getty Images

    Yes, you've heard this story several times in these Olympics. The U.S. women have never won an Olympic medal in cross-country skiing. And Jessie Diggins has come so close so many times. She reached the finals of the individual sprint and finished sixth. She was fifth in two other individual races, the 15-kilometer skiathlon and the 10-kilometer freestyle. Then fifth again in the relay.

    She has one more good shot in the team sprint, in which teams of two trade laps around a 1,300-meter course. And she's teaming up with someone else who has World Championship medals and plenty of World Cup successes, Kikkan Randall.

    Men and women will alternate here in the semifinals (3 a.m. ET; the U.S. women are scheduled to go at 3:25 a.m.) and the finals (5 a.m. ET).

Will Germany Spoil USA-Canada Grip on Women's Bobsled Podium?

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    Michael Sohn/Associated Press

    We thought the women's bobsled event would come down to a shootout between the two North American friends and rivals, USA's Elana Meyers Taylor and Canada's Kaillie Humphries. Meyers Taylor has been on the podium for the last five World Championships and the last two Olympics. Humphries is the back-to-back defending Olympic champion.

    Then maybe USA's Jamie Greubel Poser would repeat her bronze-medal performance from the last Olympics and the last World Championships, and we'd have a North American sweep again.

    Germany begs to differ.

    After two of the four runs, the surprise leader is Mariama Jamanka, a Gambian-German athlete who only took up the sport in 2013 and has never won a World Cup or World Championship race (excluding the team event). Then it's Meyers Taylor, 0.07 seconds back. Then a second German sled, piloted by occasional World Cup winner Stephanie Schneider, 0.30 seconds back. 

    Greubel Poser (0.32 seconds back) and Humphries (0.34) are certainly close to the medal positions.

    Jamaica is 18th.

U.S. Women Have Another Shot at Ending Speedskating Slump

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    The U.S. medal drought in long-track speedskating isn't as long as the drought in women's cross-country skiing. Overall, USA hasn't won a medal since 2010. The U.S. women haven't been on the podium since Chris Witty and Jennifer Rodriguez did it on home ice in 2002.

    Heather Bergsma and Brittany Bowe shockingly failed to earn a medal in Sochi four years ago. This year has been a replay. Bowe has been close. Bergsma has not.

    But they've given themselves a chance in the team pursuit. They advanced from the quarterfinals to reach the final four.

    The semifinal (6 a.m. ET) against the Netherlands will be difficult, to say the least. If USA can pull off an upset there, that clinches a medal. If not, USA will race for bronze (7:52 a.m. ET).