Team USA – Kane and very Able

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Who could be more anxious for Olympic Gold than the 2010 silver medalists?

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Team USA wants to de-throne Canada pretty bad, and they just might. They have a sassy, young team with some great goalies and a solid offence but here are a few extra tidbits so you can make up your own mind.

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Let’s start with Patrick Kane. I mentioned him in my team Canada post because he will will playing against his Blackhawk team mate and BFF Jonathon Toews, but his interest does not just lie in his cross-border friendship. Kane has a fairly awful/amazing tendency to make an ‘air heart’ after each goal and then sort of punch through it. He should probably trademark it soon. It’s all very Brett Hart – both his trademark and his mullet.

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Kane is originally from Buffalo and still has a descent fan base there. In fact, when he went back to Boston for the first time as a professional hockey player to play against the Bruins, they still cheered for him.

Less so when he was arrested for punching a taxi driver in 2009 after there was an argument about change. Apparently the taxi was $14.80 and Kane paid $15 so obviously assault was necessary. In his defence, we don’t really know what went on…other than he definitely punched a taxi driver…But he does love hockey. During the 2013 lock out, he was not content sitting and waiting for contracts to be negotiated. He went and played for the a Swiss Club EHC Biel.

Moving right along, we’ve got Phil Kessel who plays for Toronto in the regular season. He comes from a big hockey family with a cousin and brother in the NHL and best of all, his sister is on the Team USA woman’s team so they get to be siblings in Sochi.

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Kessel gets some major heart points for overcoming testicular cancer. He was only 19 and a rookie with the Bruins when he was diagnosed and underwent a successful removal surgery. I should also note that this is his official Team USA picture. They must have been in a hurry. Anyway, he has done a great job at the Olympics this year, scoring a hat trick in their game against Slovenia – but don’t get too excited! In a 2012 Sports Illustrated NHL Player Poll he was voted the ‘Easiest Player to Intimidate in the League.” He’s just very sensitive I suppose.

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T.J. Oshie is not so easily intimidated. You probably recognize his name because earlier this week in an intense sudden death shoot out against Russia he was sent repeatedly onto the ice. He made four of the SIX shots he was sent out to make and won the game in the overtime. This is his first Olympics and he came with two team mates from St. Louis. Unfortunately his fiance couldn’t make it because she’s 32 weeks pregnant with their first child. It’s all very exciting, I’m  excited for them and look, here they are dressed up as Roger and Jessica Rabbit.

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I highly suggest you google them some more and check out some of their other halloween costumes. They get major points for being so festive.

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James Van Riemsdyk also plays for Toronto and also has a pretty bad team picture. While he’s a very good hockey player that we are sure to see and hear about over the next week, I could only find two interesting things about him. 1. He’s a movie star – James made a cameo in ‘This is 40.’ And he nailed it. 2. His family and friends were incredibly relieved when he was traded to the Maple Leafs. Previously he had played for the Philadelphia Flyers and as his parents were die hard Islanders fans, this was apparently not a comfortable situation which the league had put them in. They’re probably okay with him playing for his country though. I’ll have to check.

63_1ryan_millerLastly I want to talk about Ryan Miller, previously named ‘Leaf Killer Ryan Miller.’ When he first started playing hockey he played forward and only tried goalie because he was frustrated with his team mate in the net. He also comes from a big hockey family with a brother and three cousins in the NHL. He has been the only saving grace of the Buffalo Sabres this year, who are quickly taking the title for worst team in hockey. He was a huge part of team USA’s success at the last Olympics, In fact he won MVP for the whole tournament.

As a team they are young, fast and offensively very strong AND they just happen to be playing Team Canada on Friday at 12!

Watch long enough and you may see this

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By the way this is Phil Kessel’s babe of a sister.

Team Canada’s Highlights + Delights

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I don’t know about you but I have been very excited about Olympic Hockey – Men and Women’s. And as much as I love the the fast, frenzied tournament style that the Olympics offer us, they don’t give us much research time for the final games. So I am starting early and will be giving you a few team profiles throughout the week starting with the reigning gold medal champions – The incredibly well dressed Team Canada.

Let’s get Sidney Crosby out of the way. Sidney is the hero of the last Olympics when he scored the game winning goal against team USA in the tournament final. He’s played for the Penguins since 2005 and when he was drafted, he was so highly sought after that the draft was nicknamed the ‘Sidney Crosby Sweepstakes’. When he first started playing in the NHL Mario Lemieux took him under his wing, teaching Sidney how to handle the press, the hype, the endorsements etc…Sidney even lived in his guest house for the first few years of his pro career.

Now, You can peruse his Wikipedia page for a list of his many achievements – and he has quite a few but it’s up to me to tell you some of his more interesting traits. For instance did you know that eats a peanut butter and jam sandwich before every game? Or that he has a ‘lucky cup’ that he was worn for years?

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He has the order of Nova Scotia largely for the plethora of charity work he has done in the area. In 2010 he donated his entire Olympic winnings to charities in Nova Scotia and has also a winner of “The Dapper Dan Sportsmanship Award.” I can’t say for sure what the award is celebrating but he is indeed dapper and a little bit of a heart throb. I find his lips very large but that hasn’t stopped him from dating a beautiful model named Kathy Leutner.

The man in the net is a familiar face as well. Roberto Luongo is playing in his 3rd Olympics but plays for his hometown, the Vancouver Canucks in the regular season. Before Vancouver he played for Florida and met his wife while he was eating at a favourite restaurant of the team – Pizza Time Trattoria. Gina Cerbone was the owners daughter and together they have a fairly adorable and perfectly Italian family with two daughters.

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Vancouver fans have mixed feelings about Luongo. He is easily the best goalie that the team has had and he has done a lot of great work with the Vancouver community, including buying a box where underprivileged kids can come and watch the game. He also gives away his goalie stick to a fan at the end of games where he is named MVP but last year when he was pulled from a game, his fans cheered. This will most likely be his last Olympics.

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Jonathan Toews (oddly pronounced Taves) is playing in his second Olympics and plays for Chicago alongside team mate and good friend Patrick Kane who will be playing for team USA. The two were drafted in the same year and are a huge part of Chicago’s success. They are very much looking forward to playing against one another for a change and it should be fun to watch them. Toews also played with American T.J. Oshie while they were juniors. The two were caught in a North Dakota Tavern drinking under age and had to do a fair amount of community service together, so this should be a nice little reunion for them. 

Also from Chicago is Patrick Sharp who was named Chicago’s sexiest athlete in 2009 so we’re absolutely covered in the looks department. Thank god.

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But my personal favourite player is Martin St. Louis who plays for Tampa Bay Lightening. The GM of Tampa is Steve Yzerman and he also happens to be the GM of team Canada, which means that he is in large part responsible for putting together the team. This year Martin St. Louis was not picked. He was snubbed by his own team’s general manager in favour of his team mate Steve Stamos but when Stamos had trouble coming back from an injury, St. Louis got his ticket to Russia.

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This scenario is typical to St. Louis’s career. He turned away NHL interest in his junior year at school wanting to graduate, but when he was finished college, the interest was gone and he went un-drafted. He was picked up and let go numerous times before finding his way to Tampa. Martin is one of the most unappreciated players in the NHL possibly because of his height. He measures at 5’8 and is often dwarfed on the ice but he has proven to be a truly sturdy player, playing in over 1000 NHL games and has great scoring records. Best of all he is a three time winner of the Lady Bying Memorial Award for…wait for it – The most gentlemanly player in the NHL.

He hasn’t received much ice time in the last few games but I hope they’ll bring him out soon.

Lastly I want to speak briefly about the guy who has been the star of every game Canada has played thus far. Drew Doughty plays for the LA Kings and was the youngest player on Team Canada in 2010. When asked about his tendency to come alive on the international stage, he responded “I don’t know what’s going on, I don’t score like this in LA, at all.” So in the very least, he’s certainly thought things out.

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Are you excited?

Drew is!

Go Canada Go!

Here is a disgruntled Luongo after a reporter asks about his unsupportive fans

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Here is Jonathan Toews telling a fairly boring , yet charming story about his BFF Patrick Kane

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Here they are being best friends

Lastly we have a video by the very junior reporter for the Black hawks asking why Patrick Sharp is so beautiful

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It’s a Dance Off…On Ice

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Normally I would refrain from writing about dancing of any kind.

BUT the incredibly interesting rivalry and relationship behind the Canadian and American Ice Dancing teams are really too much not too share. And let’s not be so quick to deny Ice Dancing the respect it deserves because it’s pretty awesome. It allows you to dip into your guilty pleasure of those corny, romantic routines from ‘So you think you can dance’, only now it’s all on ice with the ever present possibility that they could be sliced open by those death shoes their wearing. If Ice dancing had been around when the Olympics first started, I feel certain that it would be a gladiator sport – To The Death! But we’re so civilized, now we just like them to tell us a pretty story while doing incredibly difficult and beautiful manoeuvres…. So without further ado…

This is Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir

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Pretty cute huh?

Now this is Meryl Davis and Charlie White

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These two teams are the only contenders for Gold and Silver in this Olympics and their scores are some of the closest in the history of the sport.

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Tessa and Scott have been skating together for 17 years, since Scott was 9 and Tessa with 7. Tessa grew up in London, Ontario and Scott grew up twenty minutes away in Ilderton. Now, when you look at some of their pictures and performances, the question that nearly everyone asks is whether or not they’re dating. This year the W network, in a stroke of pure genius created a show about their season leading up to the Olympics. It’s titled ‘Tessa and Scott’ and it is incredible television, focusing on their competitions and their fascinating relationship that makes them so special. They continually deny dating, saying that is is more complicated than that, but Scott does have a girlfriend and she is not Tessa. The two of them clearly love one another…a lot. Of course they do. They have spent most of their lives together, but it is their unique brand of love that makes it so difficult to take your eyes off them.

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Watching the whole series in an entire afternoon was sort of like watching the second part of ‘When Harry Met Sally’ – at that point where you just want to shake Billy Crystal and tell him that he is obviously in love with Meg Ryan. Sally has been game for a while and he should just go for it, but of course, Harry needs to come to that realization by himself, yadda, yadda, yadda.

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In the series, it certainly seems (despite her many protestations) that Tessa loves Scott, in a romantic sense. But Scott is either not ready or not interested, it’s hard to tell. Tessa is certainly lovable. She comes off as very sweet, a perfect Canadian girl next door. She seems young and maybe a little sheltered for her age and has an infectious laugh. Scott is a bit tougher and a real guys-guy, alarming considering his profession. He seems quite a bit older than Tessa but comes off the most charming when he’s joking around with her. I don’t mean to gossip or speculate about their relationship. That isn’t the point of this blog, but their chemistry is pivotal to their performance. They perform best when they are hyper connected and hyper tuned in to their confusing relationship. They share a long hug before each performance and if you watch closely you can sometimes see Scott whispering encouragement to her during close moments in their program.

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To really put them over that adorable edge, they are almost certainly retiring next year. While they may skate together for a show here or there, they will not continue their daily training and they will no longer compete. This will be their last competition of their 17 year career, their last dance in their final season together and they do not want to lose that gold medal.

But they might…

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Meryl Davis and Charlie White have their relationship worked out, and perhaps that is why they are more consistent. They are NOT dating and have been very clear about that. They are good friends and business partners but there is no question of anything else. They have been skating together since they were 8 and 9 and when Charlie first saw her skate, he told his mother that she was the best skater he had ever seen. Charlie entered ice dancing as a way to fix his posture after his singles coach complained that he skated like a hockey player, which to be fair – he was. His first partnership lasted only a few hours, with his initial partner too shy to hold his hand. Thank goodness the older and ever mature Meryl came along.

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At 27, Meryl is seemingly constantly composed. Her friends and family describe her as shy and quiet but she truly comes alive when she’s performing. She’s tiny too, just 5’3. Charlie is a year younger and looks like he stepped right out of the first season of Laguna Beach, with a mop of blonde hair bouncing away on very smiley face. He’s known to be very amiable and is well liked in the skating circuit.

In 2006 they made a controversial coaching switch to the best ice dancing coach in the world. The only issue being that she also coached Tessa and Scott. To this day the two teams share their rink and their coach, Marina Zoueva. She does the majority of the choreography for both teams and all four must question who she is really rooting for.

They considered retiring after the last Olympics where they came second to Tessa and Scott, with Charlie not convinced he wanted to continue. But when he did decide, they re-entered competition with a fervour not seen before. Since then, they have certainly had momentum on their side, losing only two competitions, naturally to Tessa and Scott.

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Meryl and Charlie have always been very strong academically, never letting skating get in the way of their education.They are both due to graduate this year with Charlie studying political science and Meryl working on her cultural anthropology degree at the University of Michigan. To add cute points, their mothers are best friends and travel everywhere with them.

Meryl and Charlie are the favourites going into Sochi after beating Tessa and Scott in the Grand Prix Final this year and at the 2013 Worlds. Consistency is their middle name and they execute every time they get on the ice. They are lively and remarkably in tune, but they are not who i’ll be rooting for – and it’s not just because I’m Canadian.

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This is Tessa and Scott’s LAST competition together after a 17 year long relationship in which they have been everything to one another. And as good as Meryl and Charlie are, they don’t have the chemistry that these two have.

In the team competition, Meryl and Charlie beat Tessa and Scott by a full 7 points. That’s the largest margin they have ever had between them. So they also get the underdog points which is sure to get a fire burning under Canada’s sweethearts. I hope it does!

Sorry Meryl!

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The Gruff and Manly Showdown that is : Mens Figure Skating

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It’s Olympic Time!!! And It’s Winter Olympic Times which is the superior Olympics in my mind and I’m pumped. I’ll be covering a little bit of figure skating (a deeply undervalued sport with Kardashian worthy sagas) and of course both mens and women’s hockey. But let us begin with Men’s figure skating – the manliest sport in the world.

About (a few of) the Athletes

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Japan is certainly a contender for the gold this year both with veteran Daisuke Takahashi and with the 19 year old sensation that is Yuzuru Hanyu. This will be Yuzuru’s first Olympics having still been a junior in 2010. He published an autobiography in 2012 titled Blue Flames that talks about his early life along with his experience living through the earth quake and tsunami that hit Japan in 2011. He was skating when the earth quake hit and recalls the experience in his book

“Even now, when I close my eyes, I remember a lot of things – the feeling of the ice shaking, the shaking of the ground being pushed up, how terrible it was that my legs were shaking from the earthquake… I can still vividly see everything when the rink was damaged.”

 His arena was badly damaged so he lost his training center, and he had limited ice time in the nearest town. To stay competitive he had to keep skating, everyday, so what did he do? He skated 60 ice shows that season. SIXTY! Arriving early to use the show arena as a training facility and leaving late so he could capitalize on the ice time. He did well the following season, well enough to put him on the international stage and gain the attention of a Canadian coach who Yuzuru moved to Toronto to train with in 2012.

Patrick Chan

Now, Patrick Chan is Canada’s darling, as only a figure skater can really be. He started skating when he 5, speaks 4 languages and loves his country and his heritage. Chan’s parents are both 1st generation Chinese immigrants and he is incredibly supported by the Canadian Chinese community.

The 22 year old athlete finished 5th in last Olympics after a heart breaking fall in his short program but since the last olympics he has made some big changes. Patrick has always enjoyed a very close and supportive relationship with his mother who travelled and lived with him in whatever city he was skating in, managing his team, cooking his meals and keeping his schedule. Last year, Chan decided to try things without her. He has his own apartment and has learned to cook for himself, write his own cheques and take care of himself. He said that this was one of the main things that threw him last Olympics – you can’t bring your mom into the Olympic village.

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Lastly, we’ll talk a little about Evengi Plushenko who with a name like that can only be from Russia. You’ll probably recognize him as this is his 4th olympics. He has been on the podium at all 3 he has competed in, and is going for yet another medal, this time on his home ice.. He is an incredible athlete and a rather charismatic guy. For instance Evengi quit skating for a few years in order to enter politics. He was elected with the  party ‘A Just Russia’ in 2007 and quit in 2011 with the intention to train for these olympics. He had a very poor attendance record but otherwise, apparently did a pretty good job. Evengi is married to a Russian record producer and has two young boys. 

He was a part of a controversy in Vancouver after winning the silver medal behind American Evan Lysacek. However Evengi successfully landed a quad and Lysacek did not. He heavily criticized the judging system afterwards, saying that it was not fair, with many notable figure skating figures agreeing with him.

 Sending Evengi to the Olympics was controversial in itself. He finished behind his team mate Maxim Kovtun in the nationals this year, losing his national title, but was still given Russia’s sole spot for men’s figure skating. He was offered the position of flag bearer this time around – in his home country. And he turned it down saying his competition schedule would not allow it. That’s just the kind of guy he is.

Coaches

Chan worked with coach Osborne Colson for the first 10 years of his life and has attributed much of his success to the great coach who died at age 90 from complications after a car accident. Chan was very close with his coach and was at his deathbed when he died. For the next ten years he worked with Lori Nichol in Toronto, who acts as his main choreographer and with Christy Krall who was his technical coach in Colorado and helped him immensely with his jumps. Krall and Chan split ways in 2012 citing a difference in coaching philosophy with Chan wanting to focus more on the artistic side of the sport and less on the technical. He now works with Kathy Johnson, a modern dance coach – and it shows. His routines are beautiful to watch, his movements are incredibly languid and smooth. Switching to Johnson was a controversial move, she had limited experience working with skaters and while it is a move that perhaps Patrick’s mother would not have made, he has not looked back. Oh and one more thing, he’s dating her daughter….Yep. She’s a fashion designer and here they are together – https://pbs.twimg.com/media/BCyEOs0CMAAoPvJ.jpg

Chan still works with Lori Nichol although she did not choreograph any of his routines this year, as well as a handful of nutrition, fitness and balance experts including Eddie Shipstead who uses an incredibly cool harness that helps with jumps

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In 2012 Yuzuru switched from long time coach Nanami Abe to Brian Orser in Toronto. Orser is an Olympian himself winning silver in the 1988 olympics. He makes frequent trips back to Sendai (more so while he was still finishing high school) but now lives primarily in Toronto. His training went from 1-2 hours a day in Sendai to 3-4 in Toronto. One of the main reasons for the switch was the Sendai arena’s financial issues and the immense damage done in the 2011 earthquake. In fact all of the residuals and a portion of his books proceeds are going to help restore his home arena. Yuzuru also studies ballet for an hour a day to help with his technique. Since making the move, he is very happy with his training but has trouble communicating well in english and hints at being rather lonely in Canada and missing his family.

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Evengi has pretty much always been coached by Alexei Mishin a former pairs skater. He is a funny and incredibly sexist man who’s coaching methods seem to be nearly purely based on George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Pygmalion’ which perhaps more people know as the play that ‘My fair Lady’ is based on. He’s pretty much Henry Higgins with both Evengi and Mishin himself citing the play and it’s characters in interviews.

He doesn’t like working with women. In a 2009 interview with Kommersant magazine he said women were “delicate material” with men being “more sporty and talented.”

Injuries

In 2009 Chan was diagnosed with a gasrrocnemius tear in his left calf muscle after the medication from a suspected case of Swine flu gave him muscle fatigue. He was treated with the controversial ‘Blood Spinning technique’ during this time. Since then, as far as we can guess, Chan’s calf is just fine.

Yuzuru has athsma which must make training difficult. After winning the Finlandia Trophy last year, he lay down on the ice, utterly exhausted. His asthma had been acting up with the weather and he had been training very hard, losing weight to the point that his costumes no longer fit him. He has hurt his ankle before but he seems to be in good shape on both fronts going into the Olympics.

Being older, Evengi has more injuries than the other two. He has had surgeries on his knee and his back but of course (as if they would tell us any different) he is in good physical health going into the 2014 olympics.

Programs

Chan’s program this year is going back to basics. He is skating to Vivaldi in his long program which is music he used to perform to in his days with Cormack Osborne. His program this year is going back to what he knows, and watch out for two quads at the top of the number. His short program is done to Elegie in E flat minor and his exhibition is to Steppin Out by Tony Bennett. He really is a beautiful skater, if the scores came down to performance there is no doubt that Chan would win. He is mesmerizing on the ice.

 Hanyu’s short program will be Parisienne Walkways choreographed by Jeffrey Buttle, the same choreographer as Chan’s short program. He also has put his two quads near the top of the program. His long program will be ‘Romeo and Juliette’ by Nino Rota and his free skate will be done to (cdjhjdc) choreographed by his old coach Nanami Abe. So both Chan and Yuzumi are going back to the coaches that started them out.

I had trouble finding what material Plushenko would be skating to but I can tell you that he has a new exhibition program titled – The best of Plushenko arranged by Edvin Martin which I am just dying to see.

Who’s on top

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Yuzuru has grown up admiring Patrick Chan and Evengi Plushenko but has only been competing against them for a few years. This year he managed to beat Chan once in the Grand Prix Final, winning gold. Plus he came out on top today in the team skate.

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Chan has far more titles than Yuzuri, less than Evengi. He has had a few successful but ultimately inconsistent seasons over the past few years along with quite a few changes in his coaching team. Both Chan and Hanyu are trying to win their countries their first gold medal in mens figure skating. And both have impressive team mates coming with them that very well could nab the title away if they don’t perform to expectations. Kevin Reynolds and Daisuke Takahashi. 

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Evengi’s accolades are a-many. And everyone is curious to see whether he can still do it. He’s 31, which makes him over ten years older than Hanyu. But he beat Chan today as well, coming in second in the team skate.

So who to root for? With the Olympics it can be rather simple – just root for your country. But no matter who it is, you can rest assured that they are all pretty great in their own way. Chan is finally coming into his own and his skating isn’t to be missed. Hanyu is a young person on fire and Evengi is worth watching just to see that hair whipping around the rink. 

It’s going to be a great looking podium!