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Ten breakout athletes to watch at the Beijing Winter Olympics

Alysa Liu (Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)

The Beijing Olympics begin Friday, with athletes set to compete in 109 medal events across seven sports and 15 disciplines. Competitors from 91 countries will fight it out for a spot on the podium, looking to make a name for themselves on the world’s biggest stage.

Before the opening ceremonies, we’re counting down the 10 athletes poised for a breakout Olympics.

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1. Eileen Gu

Eileen Gu is set to make a splash at the Beijing Olympics as one of the host country’s medal favorites. The 18-year-old American-born free skier has competed for China since 2019, garnering widespread support across the country leading up to the Winter Games. Gu is expected to be a threat in halfpipe, big air and slopestyle, winning gold in the halfpipe and slopestyle events at the 2021 World Championship.

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Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images

2. Alysa Liu

Alysa Liu will make her Olympic debut in Beijing at just 16 years old. The American figure skater has already amassed an impressive resume as the youngest woman to ever win a U.S. national championship at 13 years old, before defending her title a year later. Liu is also the first American woman to land a quad lutz in competition and the first woman in the world to land a quad and triple axel in the same program in competition. The record-breaking teen will now look to make a name for herself and bring home a medal for Team USA.

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3. Paula Moltzan

Paula Moltzan is going for gold in her Olympic debut after a landmark 2021. The American slalom specialist clinched her first World Cup podium this season in parallel slalom and finished 11th in slalom. The 27-year-old could challenge opponents in individual events and be a critical factor in the team competition.

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4. Olivia Giaccio

Olivia Giaccio hopes to make a name for herself on the world’s stage in Beijing, representing Team USA in freestyle skiing. The 21-year-old has already begun to separate herself from the competition, becoming the first woman to complete a cork 1080 during the Tremblant, Canada World Cup stop in January. Look out for the American to be a contender on the moguls in Beijing.

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5. Kristen Santos

Kristen Santos is looking for redemption in Beijing after suffering an injury just before the 2018 Olympics. A competitor’s skate sliced open her left hand, leaving Santos in a cast and with little preparation time for the U.S. Trials. The 25-year-old is one of the best chances Team USA has to clinch a medal in short track speed skating, with the United States’ last medal in the discipline coming in 2010.

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6. Abby Roque

Abby Roque is set to make history at the Winter Games, becoming the first Native American woman to represent the U.S. in ice hockey. The 24-year-old has had an impressive career to date, including clinching the 2018-19 NCAA national championship with the University of Wisconsin. In her Olympic debut, Roque will hope to lead the U.S hockey team to a gold in Beijing, defending the team’s 2018 title.

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Jurij Kodrun - International Skating Union/International Skating Union via Getty Images

7. Kamila Valieva

Expect Kamila Valieva to become a household name after the Winter Olympics, with the 15-year-old the heavy favorite to take home figure skating gold in Beijing. The Russian star is incredibly consistent, never losing a senior international tournament while boasting a packed arsenal that includes a quadruple toe loop, quadruple Salchow and triple Axel. Valieva is expected to win gold in Beijing and break records while doing it.

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8. Natalie Geisenberger

While Beijing is far from Natalie Geisenberger’s Olympic debut, it could be a historic Winter Games for the German luger. After capturing luge gold in Sochi 2014 and PyeongChang 2018, another gold in Beijing would make Geisenberger the first woman to win three straight gold medals in the sport. Now a mother, giving birth to her son in May 2020, the 33-year-old has a shot at her sixth total Olympic medal in Beijing.

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9. Erin Jackson

Erin Jackson made her Olympic debut in PyeongChang after only four months of experience on ice, transitioning from inline skating to speed skating just before the 2018 Games. Now, a four-year veteran of the sport, Jackson is looking to podium as one of the top athletes in the 500-meter event.

The American star nearly missed her chance to qualify for the race after slipping at the U.S. Olympic trials before teammate Brittany Bowe gave up her spot to Jackson, telling NBC, “She is ranked number one in the world and no one is more deserving than her to get an opportunity to bring Team USA home a medal.”

Jackson heads into the Winter Games with some historic momentum after becoming the first Black woman to win a World Cup event in speed skating in November.

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10. Sara Takanashi

Sara Takanashi is already famous among ski jumpers as the all-time World Cup leader in the sport. Any medal or title there is to win in ski jumping, it is likely Takanashi has already won it, with the Olympic gold medal the only prize to elude the Japanese champion. Heading into Beijing, Takanashi will look to solidify herself as the best to ever compete in the discipline and assert herself on the international stage.

Chelsea reaches deal with Lyon’s Sonia Bompastor to succeed Emma Hayes

Sonia Bompastor. (Photo by Christian Hofer – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

Chelsea is closing in on Emma Hayes’ replacement, reportedly having reached an agreement with Sonia Bompastor to succeed their longtime coach.

According to the Telegraph, Chelsea and Olympique Lyonnais have agreed on a deal for Bompastor, who will take over Chelsea upon the conclusion of the season.

Personal terms with Bompastor had already been agreed to, but compensation between the two teams still had to be figured out in order to release the coach from her contract a year early. 

Following Bompastor will be assistant coach Camille Abily. Bompastor takes over having won two Champions League titles as a player at Lyon, and one as coach during the 2021-22 campaign. The club also has won two straight league titles under Bompastor. 

The French coach has reportedly been Chelsea’s number one target when looking to replace Hayes. Hayes will depart Chelsea at the end of the season to take the helm of the U.S. women’s national team (USWNT). 

Hayes leaves big shoes to fill. Since taking charge in 2012, she’s led the team to six WSL titles and five FA Cups. The only trophy that eludes Hayes is the Champions League – which she still has hopes to win this year. 

They face Barcelona in the semifinals of the Champions League beginning on April 20. Should they advance, they could face Bompastor and Lyon in the final. 

Christen Press’ soccer comeback ‘is coming along’

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 15: Christen Press #23 of Angel City FC waves to fans following a game between the Portland Thorns and Angel City FC at BMO Stadium on October 15, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katharine Lotze/Getty Images)

Angel City's Christen Press has given an update on her continued rehabilitation from an ACL tear. 

On Wednesday, Press posted pictures of her training alongside the caption, “The comeback is coming along. The only promise I'll make to you is that I'll try. And what a beautiful, giving thing it is to try.”

Earlier this week, Angel City coach Becki Tweed gave an update on Press, noting that “rehab is going well.”

“She’s progressing along,” she said in an update given on Press as well as M.A. Vignola and Gisele Thompson. “No real timelines on any of them, but they’re all progressing with their rehab and getting what they need right now.”

Press has not played since June of 2022, when she tore her ACL in a match with Angel City. Since then, she’s had four separate surgeries to repair the tear, setting back her recovery. 

A couple of weeks ago, Tweed said that Press is back training with the team “full time” while continuing to work at her rehab. 

“I have a bit of relentless optimism,” she told The Athletic in February. “I never, ever doubted that I would make it back on any of the timelines I’ve been on."

Indiana Fever to be most-televised team in WNBA this season

(Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)

The Indiana Fever will be the most-televised team in the WNBA this season, which comes as the team is expected to draft Iowa star Caitlin Clark with the No. 1 pick during the 2024 WNBA Draft.

A total of 36 of the team’s 40 games will be featured nationally – up from just one last year.

The reigning WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces will be on national television 35 times, while the runner-up New York Liberty will be featured 31 times. 

With Clark entering the league, it’s expected that a large portion of her following will join her. The NCAA tournament championship between Iowa and South Carolina was the most-watched women’s basketball game ever with 18.9 million average viewers, and it outdrew the men’s championship for the first time. 

In total, Iowa had a hand in a number of record-breaking viewerships across the NCAA tournament, including the two most-watched games prior to the championship.

The announcement comes as teams around the league have been preemptively using Clark as a way to market to fans. The Phoenix Mercury advertised their June 30 matchup against Indiana as "The GOAT vs. The Rook," while the Minnesota Lynx are set to retire Maya Moore's jersey the same night they face Indiana in August. 

Resale tickets for some Fever home games are already 50x their original price, while other teams are seeing a bump for their games when Clark comes to town.

On Wednesday, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert spoke about Clark's impact on the league as it continues to grow. She also shouted out Cameron Brink and Kamilla Cardoso in what she described as a "really strong rookie class."

"I just think [Clark's] style of play resonates with the big basketball fan, the big game fan," she said. "Because with sports you need household names, rivalries and games of consequence. Obviously March Madness had all of that, and we're hoping to replicate it."

In Indiana, Clark will team up with Aliyah Boston, with the duo hoping to help the Fever to the playoffs for the first time since 2016. In Christie Sides’ first year coaching the team last season, they finished 13-27. 

In the past, the WNBA has notoriously struggled to capitalize on the star power of big-time college players. It's often been said that the best college players "disappear" when they first get to the league.

“The WNBA, I don't think, has done a great enough job of marketing their individual stars,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said during March Madness. 

South Carolina’s Dawn Staley has echoed his sentiments, saying, "We have to bridge the gap between college and the WNBA."

There is hope that this year’s rookie class – headlined by Clark – can begin to do so. 

"With the energy and excitement already generated by what we anticipate will be a star-studded rookie class, and on the heels of a 2023 season that featured one of the greatest MVP races in WNBA history and our most-watched regular season in over two decades," commissioner Cathy Engelbert said, "the WNBA's broadcast and streaming partners are offering a huge national platform that will showcase the league's superstars, rising stars, and rivalries."

Caitlin Clark to have No. 22 retired by Iowa

(Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images)

Caitlin Clark will have her No. 22 retired by Iowa, the school announced on Wednesday. 

Clark became the all-time leading scorer in college basketball this season, and was also named the consensus national player of the year for the second year in a row. She also helped lead Iowa to back-to-back runner-up finishes in the NCAA tournament. 

"I would say you've all inspired me as much as I inspired you," Clark said during a team celebration at Iowa's Carver-Hawkeye Arena. "And you allowed me to live out my dream every single day, and for that, I'm very thankful. It's been very special, and this place will always be home to me."

The star is largely expected to be the No. 1 overall pick by the Indiana Fever on Monday at the WNBA draft. She finished her college career with 3,951 points and 1,144 assists.

Her jersey will be just the third number retired in program history, which Clark called “super incredible.”

"There's been a lot of good 22s who have come before me and played for this program, whether it was Kathleen Doyle or Sam Logic,” she said. “That number holds a lot of weight, far beyond me. I'm really grateful, and it will be a special day when it happens."

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