What to watch in Olympic sports this weekend
Will a Canadian speed skater make it 8 medals in 8 races?
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Olympic sports viewing guide: Canada's speed skaters roll into Calgary
One of the premier events of the run-up to the Beijing Winter Olympics should be happening right now. Alas, the Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final in Japan was cancelled after the host country closed its doors to foreign travellers in response to the omicron variant. Still, a bunch of interesting competitions are taking place this weekend in the world of winter Olympic and Paralympic sports. Here's what's most worthy of your attention:
Canada's surging speed skaters return home.
According to the latest Olympic forecast from the data company Nielsen Gracenote, Canada is expected to win six medals in long track speed skating in Beijing. That would be a big jump from the two it captured at each of the last two Winter Games, and close to the national record of eight from 2006. It's also close to a quarter of the 26 medals Canada is projected to win in Beijing.
Based on the results so far this season, there's little reason to doubt this prediction. Through the first three World Cup stops — two in Europe, then last week in Salt Lake City — Canadians were atop the season-long standings in three events.
The fourth meet opened today in Calgary, and Laurent Dubreuil padded his lead in the men's 500 metres by winning in Canadian-record time. He's now reached the podium in all seven of his 500m races so far this season, and will try to make it 8-for-8 on Sunday.
Ivanie Blondin tops the women's mass start after winning gold last week, and Canada is No. 1 in the women's team pursuit. Isabelle Weidemann and Ted-Jan Bloemen have also reached multiple individual podiums. Bloemen was Canada's only long track medallist at the 2018 Olympics, winning gold in the 10,000m and silver in the 5,000.
Expect the medals to keep rolling in as the Canadians have home-ice advantage in Calgary. This is the last World Cup meet before the Olympics, though Calgary will also host next week's Four Continents Championships. If you read this in time, CBC Sports is streaming live races until 6 p.m. ET here. Saturday's and Sunday's races run from 2:30-6 p.m. ET.
Mikael Kingsbury goes for more gold.
Death, taxes and this guy winning moguls gold medals. Kingsbury opened the season last week in Finland with (yawn) his 66th World Cup victory. The nearly unbeatable Olympic and world champion continues his quest for a 10th consecutive World Cup season title on Saturday in Sweden. Watch the men's and women's moguls events there live starting at 7 a.m. ET.
Kingsbury is also expected to compete in the first dual moguls competition of the season. The non-Olympic event goes Sunday at 7 a.m. ET.
Look out for other Canadian freestyle skiers too.
Kingsbury isn't the only one capable of winning gold in Beijing. Gracenote's projections have Canada taking a total of six medals in various freestyle skiing disciplines in Beijing. Besides Kingsbury winning gold in men's moguls, the forecast calls for Rachael Karker and Cassie Sharpe to take silver and bronze in the women's halfpipe, Simon d'Artois to get bronze in the men's halfpipe, Edouard Therriault to land silver in the men's big air, Reece Howden to grab silver in the men's ski cross and Marielle Thompson to capture bronze in the women's ski cross.
Gracenote's model does not have Brady Leman reaching the podium in ski cross, but consider him a contender too: he's the reigning Olympic champ and he took silver at last month's season opener held on the Beijing Olympics course. Another blind spot for the model could be 2018 Olympic silver medallist Brittany Phelan, who's back from a knee injury and placed fifth on the Beijing course.
Howden is the defending World Cup champion in men's ski cross, while Thompson and Sharpe both own Olympic gold medals. Thompson won the women's ski cross title in 2014 before suffering a major knee injury in training just months before the 2018 Games. She somewhat miraculously made it to Pyeongchang but couldn't advance past the first round. Sharpe is on a similar arc. She won Olympic ski halfpipe gold in 2018 before blowing out a knee at the Winter X Games last January.
Sharpe, Karkner and d'Artois all qualified for today's final at the halfpipe season opener in Colorado. It was still in progress at our publish time.
Today's men's and women's ski cross events in France were wiped out by bad weather. They'll try again Saturday at 7:30 a.m. ET, followed by another set of races Sunday at 5:30 a.m. ET.
Canadian bobsledders look to keep the medals coming.
Pilot Christine De Bruin and brakewoman Kristen Bujnowski have won a bronze medal in all three World Cup two-woman races this season, and they also placed third at the Olympic test event in Beijing. They're, you guessed it, third in the standings heading into this weekend's meet in Winterberg, Germany. De Bruin is also ranked fifth in the women's monobob — a newer version of the sport that will make its Olympic debut in Beijing. One spot ahead of her is Cynthia Appiah, who reached her first podium as a pilot last weekend by placing second.
On the men's side, reigning Olympic two-man champion Justin Kripps ranks fourth in that event after making the podium once in the first three races. He's also the top Canadian pilot in the four-man, ranking fifth.
Another Canadian pilot is having a strong season — just not for Canada. Kaillie Humphries, who won two Olympic gold medals, two world championships and three World Cup season titles in the two-woman event before a bitter departure from the Canadian team, has re-established herself as a top Olympic contender for the United States. Last week, the newly minted American citizen won gold in both the two-woman and women's monobob events.
One more sliding-sports note: Mirela Rahneva won Canada's first skeleton medal of the season today, taking bronze.
Action in Winterberg continues Saturday with the four-man bobsleigh (4 a.m. ET) and the women's monobob (8:30 a.m. ET). On Sunday it's the two-woman (3 a.m. ET) and another four-man (7:30 a.m. ET).
Canada's Para nordic skiers will try to finish strong.
They've captured 13 medals in various cross-country and biathlon events so far at the World Para Nordic Skiing World Cup in Canmore, Alta., which runs through Sunday. That's second only to Russia's 41.
Leading the way with four medals is Natalie Wilkie. The 20-year-old won a pair of gold and a silver in cross-country races before shifting to biathlon and grabbing another silver. The final biathlon events take place Saturday and Sunday, starting at noon ET on both days.
How to watch:
All the upcoming events mentioned above can be streamed live on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem. Also, Saturday's Road to the Olympic Games show features alpine skiing, moguls, bobsleigh/skeleton and speed skating. Watch it from 1-6 p.m. ET on the CBC TV network and those streaming platforms. See CBC Sports' full broadcast and streaming schedule here.
Gary Bettman is "concerned" about NHL players going to the Beijing Olympics. Under their deal with the organizers of the men's hockey tournament, the NHL and the NHL Players' Association can bail on their commitment to participate if COVID-19 conditions make going to Beijing "impractical or unsafe." They have until Jan. 10 to withdraw without incurring a financial penalty. At the NHL's annual board of governors meeting today, Bettman gave reassurances that the league intends to honour its promise to the players (they were the ones pushing to go to the Olympics) and said the final decision would ultimately be up to them. But the commissioner also agreed that, in addition to the pandemic, heightened political tensions between China and the West are making the trip look more challenging. This week, Canada and the U.S. were among the countries announcing a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Games. The recent disappearance of tennis player Peng Shuai after accusing a former Chinese government official of sexual assault has also helped sour relations between China and other nations. "I am concerned," Bettman said. "And probably more." Read more about his comments on the Olympics here.
It's Grey Cup weekend. Yesterday's newsletter featured a primer on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers vs. Hamilton Tiger-Cats matchup. Coles Notes: the defending champion Bombers are the better team, but the Ticats are the sentimental favourite because they can snap the CFL's longest championship drought (22 years). If you missed it, you can read the whole thing here. The game kicks off Sunday at 6 p.m. ET in Hamilton.
The F1 season is coming to a dramatic conclusion. The Drive to Survive producers couldn't have drawn it up any better. For the first time in five years, the Formula One drivers' championship is still up for grabs in the final race of the season. And there's even more than that at stake. Mercedes superstar Lewis Hamilton is going for his fifth consecutive title and eighth of his career, which would move him ahead of Michael Schumacher for the record. Hamilton is tied in points with Max Verstappen, the young Red Bull upstart who's gunning for his first title. They'll settle it Sunday at 8 a.m. ET in Abu Dhabi.
You're up to speed. Have a good weekend.