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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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Giovanni Auletta/Agence Zoom/Getty Images

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.

Caitlin Clark dunks on Michael Che in surprise SNL appearance

(Julia Hansen/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK)

Caitlin Clark made a surprise appearance on “Saturday Night Live” over the weekend, which quickly went viral.

The Iowa star showed up on the show’s Weekend Update segment to playfully call out Michael Che’s history of making jabs at women’s sports.

It started when Che joked that Iowa should replace Clark’s retired No. 22 “with an apron.” 

When Clark entered, Che said that he was a fan. But Clark wasn’t convinced – especially not when co-host Colin Jost brought the receipts of Che’s jabs.

“Really, Michael? Because I heard that little apron joke you did,” she said, before making him read some jokes of her own in retaliation. Clark finished her segment by shouting out the WNBA greats that came before her. She then got in one final dig – bringing Che a signed apron as a souvenir. 

When Che promised to give it to his girlfriend, Clark delivered her last playful dig of the night.

“You don’t have a girlfriend, Michael,” she said.

Afterward, SNL castmember Bowen Yang told People that the 22-year-old and teammates Gabbie Marshall, Kate Martin and Jada Gyamfi – who joined her at Studio 8H – “were so cool.”

“She's so charming and witty,” Yang said. “They were just the most stunning, noble people.

“Athletes just have this air about them. They know they're amazing. I mean, these are people who have numeric attachments and values to their performance. That's something that comedians never have.”

Portland Thorns, in uncharted territory, start NWSL season winless

Portland has started the season winless through four games for the first time. (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)

The Portland Thorns continue to struggle to start the NWSL season, falling 2-0 to the North Carolina Courage over the weekend to remain winless through their first four games. 

It’s uncharted territory for Portland, who has never started the NWSL regular season without a win in four games before.

Following the loss, defender Becky Sauerbrunn voiced her frustrations with the start. 

“It’s hard to find a lot of encouraging things, but what I find encouraging is that people are frustrated,” she said. “People are pissed off that we’re not doing well. We care, and I think that’s really important.” 

She also added that while the team will reflect individually, “there’s going to be no finger pointing.”

“We’re going to look at ourselves and figure out what we should have done, or I should have done better,” she said. “There is a list of things that I could have done better, and I’m going to make sure I know every single thing and watch this game back.”

The Thorns currently sit at the bottom of the league table with just one point, having allowed 10 goals – tied for the worst in the league. They’ve yet to lead in a match. And as questions grow, attention turns to head coach Mike Norris. 

Norris is in his second year as head coach of the club after leading the team to a second-place finish in the regular season last year. When asked about the possibility of pressure growing after the unprecedented start, Norris said that the pressure has been there “from day one.”

“I cannot be driven by my day-to-day and the longer vision of the pressure of the job,” he said. “We’ve got a belief in how we want to play, how we operate. We’ve got to stick with the process of that. While we do it, we have to review and see what is working, what’s not working.

“I’ll be showing up for the team and being there for what they need from me as we approach getting back together as a group next week.”

Maria Sanchez reportedly requests trade from Houston Dash

Mar 23, 2024; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Dash forward Maria Sanchez (7) warms up before the match between Racing Louisville and Houston Dash at Shell Energy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Maria Sanchez, who signed one of the biggest deals in NWSL history just four months ago, has reportedly requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

ESPN was the first to report the news, which was confirmed by multiple sources.

In a statement to ESPN, the team said: “​​Maria Sanchez is under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the Dash worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. At the time, it was the largest contract in NWSL history – something that was eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

The winger was a restricted free agent in the offseason, meaning that Houston could match any offer from another team and retain her rights. Should the team trade Sanchez, her contract would remain as it has been signed with the league. That limits the number of teams that could take on her contract. 

In three starts with the Dash this season, Sanchez has zero goals and an assist. The Dash are 1-2-1 through four games and have allowed a league-worst 10 goals.

The team hired a new coach, Fran Alonso, in December. Earlier this year, former goalkeeper coach Matt Lampson was fired for violating the league’s Coach Code of Conduct and Anti-Fraternization policy. 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close at midnight ET on Friday.

Canada beats U.S. Hockey 6-5 in thrilling World Championship win

UTICA, NEW YORK - APRIL 14: Team Canada raises the Championship Trophy after winning The Gold by defeating The United States in OT during the 2024 IIHF Women's World Championship Gold Medal game at Adirondack Bank Center on April 14, 2024 in Utica, New York. (Photo by Troy Parla/Getty Images)

Canada got its revenge on Sunday, winning the 2024 IIHF Women’s World Championship and taking down the U.S. in a 6-5 overtime classic.

Marie-Philip Poulin, a longtime star for Canada, got her first two goals of the tournament, while Danielle Serdachny had the game-winner. 

"I hate to say you're not trying to rely on it, expect it, but I know I've grown to expect it," Canada coach Troy Ryan said of Philip-Poulin. "Tonight was just a whole other level. I could see in her eyes every time we called her name that she was ready to go. It's just special."

The win came after Canada lost 1-0 to the U.S. in the group stage of the tournament. On Sunday, the two teams met for the 22nd time in 23 tournaments in the gold medal game – and the action between the two teams delivered. 

Among those scoring for the U.S. were Megan Keller, Alex Carpenter, Hilary Knight, Laila Edwards and Caroline Harvey. Julia Gosling, Emily Clark and Erin Ambrose had the other three goals for Canada, giving them their 13th World title after falling to the U.S. in last year’s title game in Toronto. 

This year’s game was held in New York, and it was the second-highest scoring final between the two teams. The U.S. won a world championship 7-5 in 2015. 

"Oh man, that feels good to win it on U.S. soil," Canada goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens said after the game. "We owed it to them and owed it to ourselves to win that one."

Canada also denied Knight a record 10th World Championship win, although she did become the most decorated player in women’s world championship history with 14 medals. After the game, Poulin gave Knight a hug on the ice. 

"We just said 'that was unbelievable,'" Poulin said.

U.S. coach John Wroblewski echoed the sentiment that it was an outstanding game after being asked about ending the game on a power-play after leaving too many players on the ice. 

"Instead of talking about the isolated events of tonight's game, I think that normally that's an interesting storyline,” he said. “But I think the entity of an amazing 6-5 game is an amazing hockey game that took place."

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