What to watch in winter Olympic sports this weekend
X Games, marquee downhill race highlight the slate as Beijing approaches
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Things are slowing down, but not stopping, as the Olympics draw near
With the opening ceremony in Beijing just two weeks away, the winter Olympic sports calendar is tapering off as athletes get ready for their trips to China (and try to avoid contracting COVID). But there are still some interesting events happening this weekend. Here's what you should know:
Winter X Games: Canadian contenders galore
Several Canadians who will challenge for Olympic medals in snowboarding and freestyle skiing are competing at the annual snow-sports festival in Aspen, Colo., which runs today through Sunday. The list includes snowboard stars Mark McMorris (a two-time Olympic bronze medallist in slopestyle and the reigning men's world champion in big air), Laurie Blouin (the reigning women's big air world champ and an Olympic slopestyle silver medallist in 2018) and Max Parrot (a 2018 Olympic slopestyle silver medallist and the runner-up to McMorris in the men's big air at last year's worlds).
All three are expected to compete in both big air and slopestyle at the Olympics, though Parrot is only doing the big air at the X Games. Blouin got things off to a good start today by taking bronze in slopestyle for the second year in a row.
One big-name Canadian snowboarder is absent from Aspen. Seb Toutant is preparing to defend his Olympic men's big air gold medal in Beijing after winning the inaugural event four years ago. He went on to capture a slopestyle silver at the 2021 world championships, and is slated to compete in both events in Beijing.
Canada's Olympic freestyle skiing team has not yet been named, but the hopefuls competing this week in Aspen are Evan McEachran (men's slopestyle, big air), Megan Oldham (women's slopestyle, big air), Max Moffatt (men's slopestyle, knuckle huck), Teal Harle (men's big air), Édouard Therriault (men's big air), Noah Bowman (men's superpipe) and Elena Gaskell (women's big air). See the full X Games schedule here.
Alpine skiing: Hope for a Canadian surprise?
Since Kerrin Lee-Gartner's magical downhill victory in Albertville in 1992, Canada has won just two Olympic medals in alpine skiing — a downhill bronze by Ed Podivinsky in '94 and a super-G bronze by Jan Hudec in 2014. The chances for a podium in Beijing don't look great either, with no Canadians ranked in the top 20 of the men's or women's World Cup overall standings.
That's not to say there's no hope. Among the 13 alpine skiers named to the Canadian Olympic team today, two stand out as being the most capable of stealing a medal in Beijing.
Jack Crawford, 24, has yet to reach the podium at the highest level of the sport, but he's come awfully close at some prestigious events. He placed fourth in the combined at last year's world championships and was sixth in today's World Cup downhill on the Streif course in Kitzbuehel, Austria — the most dangerous and revered run in all of alpine skiing. Last week, Crawford finished fifth in the super-G on the famous Lauberhorn mountain in Wengen, Switzerland. A year ago, he was sixth in the super-G at Kitzbuehel.
Crawford currently ranks 22nd in the men's overall standings, ninth in the super-G and 20th in the downhill. He'll compete in another downhill on the Streif on Sunday at 7:30 a.m. ET. It's the final men's "speed" race (that means downhill or super-G) before the Olympics.
Marie-Michele Gagnon is the top Canadian in the women's World Cup overall chase, ranking 35th. She's 12th in the downhill and 20th in super-G. Last season, the 32-year-old won a World Cup super-G bronze and placed sixth in that event at the world championships. She was fifth in last week's World Cup downhill in Austria. This weekend in Italy, Gagnon will compete in a downhill Saturday at 5:30 a.m. ET and a super-G Sunday at 5:45 a.m. ET.
Ski cross: Canadians laying low
Canada has enjoyed a ton of success in this sport since it was added to the Olympics in 2010, winning four of the six gold medals — including all three women's. The 2018 Games were especially good, with Kelsey Serwa and Brittany Phelan winning gold and silver, respectively, in the women's event and Brady Leman capturing gold in the men's.
Today, Canada named the eight athletes tasked with continuing its Olympic ski cross dominance. The group is headlined by Leman and Marielle Thompson, who won women's gold in 2014 and a world title in 2019. She appears to be fully recovered from a knee injury suffered last March, reaching the podium in four of her seven World Cup starts this season, including a victory in December. Thompson ranks third in the women's World Cup standings — one spot ahead of Phelan, who was also named to the Olympic team. Fifth-place Hannah Schmidt made it too, along with seventh-place Courtney Hoffos. That's incredible depth on the women's side.
Joining Leman on the men's side is reigning World Cup champion Reece Howden, who has slipped to 16th in the standings after reaching just one podium so far this season; Kevin Drury, who ranks eighth; and Jared Schmidt (Hannah's brother), who's 29th. Kris Mahler, who scored a surprising World Cup victory last week in Alberta, didn't make the cut.
The final World Cup stop before the Olympics is happening this weekend in Sweden, which is hosting men's and women's events Saturday at 5:15 a.m. ET and another set Sunday at 7 a.m. ET. No Canadians made the trip, though. They're doing everything they can to avoid COVID-19 with their flights to China approaching.
How to watch:
With the exception of the X Games, which are on TSN, everything mentioned above is being live-streamed on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem. Those platforms are also showing the luge World Cup season finale, figure skating's Four Continents Championships (Olympians are skipping this one as they prepare for Beijing) and a World Rugby Sevens Series event in Spain (the Canadian men's and women's teams are competing).
Rugby sevens action is also being broadcast on the CBC TV network on Saturday from 1-2 p.m. ET and Sunday from 1-2 p.m. in your local time. Saturday's Road to the Olympic Games show on the CBC TV network features women's and men's downhills and ski cross. Watch it from 2-6 p.m. ET. Sunday's show features the women's super-G and the second men's downhill. Watch it from 2-4 in your local time. See the full CBC Sports broadcast and streaming schedule here.
Canada could have two singles players in the round of 16 at the Australian Open. No. 14 seed Denis Shapovalov got there today with a four-set win over 23rd-seeded American Reilly Opelka. This is Shapovalov's first time reaching the fourth round at the Aussie Open. He'll face a tough opponent: No. 3 Alexander Zverev of Germany, who won gold at the Tokyo Olympics last summer. Felix Auger-Aliassime can join Shapovalov in the round of 16 tonight when the No. 9 seed takes on No. 24 Dan Evans of Great Britain. Their match will start sometime after 1 a.m. ET. There was a big upset in the women's tournament today as defending champion Naomi Osaka got bounced in the third round by Amanda Anisimova, a 20-year-old American ranked 60th in the world. Read more about today's most interesting results and watch highlights here.
Canada captured its first gold medal of the World Para Snow Sports Championships. A week after taking bronze in the slalom, Tyler Turner won the men's snowboard cross event today in Lillehammer, Norway. Fellow Canadian Lisa Dejong took silver in the women's event, bringing Canada's medal count to 12 through nine days of competition. Read more about today's medals and watch highlights here.
The NFL playoffs are about to get serious. Last week's wild-card round was fun and all, but a couple of teams clearly did not belong (looking at you, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh) while a couple we thought were good (New England and Arizona) got blown out by an average of 26 points. They're all gone now, and the top seeds in each conference (Green Bay and Tennessee) are joining in off a bye. The Titans kick things off Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET vs. a Cincinnati team that held on to beat Las Vegas for its first playoff win in 31 years. At 8:15 p.m. ET, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers host San Francisco, which scored a thrilling upset over sloppy Dallas. On Sunday at 3 p.m. ET, Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers face a tougher obstacle than Philly presented when they host an L.A. Rams team that crushed Arizona. Finally, on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. ET, brace for a shootout as Patrick Mahomes and defending AFC champion Kansas City take on red-hot Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills, who played a near-perfect game last week in dropping seven touchdowns on the Patriots.
You're up to speed. Have a good weekend.