Winter Olympics live updates: Eileen Gu looks for medal trifecta, women’s figure skating gets prime-time treatment – USA TODAY

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Chinese-American freeskier Eileen Gu will attempt to earn her third medal of the Beijing Olympics on Friday in the women’s halfpipe final. The soon-to-be Stanford undergraduate has already medaled twice in her first two events.

(Miss something? Get caught up on all of Thursday’s action right here.)

Gu, who was born and raised in the United States but competes for her mother’s native China, won gold in big air’s Olympic debut last week and silver in freeski slopestyle.

“The trifecta has always been my biggest goal,” Gu said of medaling in three events in Beijing. “It’s definitely lofty, but I know it’s something I can do.” Three American skiers also qualified for the final. 

Elsewhere, Team USA will face Canada in the bronze medal match in men’s curling. The defending gold medalists saw their chance for a repeat end with an 8-4 loss to Great Britain.

And in figure skating, the pairs short program begins Friday night (5:30 a.m. ET), even though much of the attention is still focused on the stunning developments from the women’s free skate as gold-medal favorite Kamila Valieva stumbled throughout her performance and finished fourth.

(NBC will broadcast a replay of the competition tonight in prime time.)

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MEDAL COUNT: How every country has performed at the Beijing Games.

US figure skater Mariah Bell ends program on high note

BEIJING – Mariah Bell’s first Olympics ended on a high note.

The 25-year-old, and oldest U.S. women’s figure skater since 1928, put together a clean free skate the judges ruled a 136.2 to temporarily move her into first place. However, there were 11 more skaters remaining.

Skating to “Hallelujah” by k.d. lang, Bell’s first half went smoothly and her more difficult back end of the program was well-executed. Both triple lutzes went according to plan for the 2021 U.S. national champion.

Coach Adam Rippon had his hands in the air for those big jumps and greeted her with a warm embrace as she stepped off the rink.

– Chris Bumbaca

US figure skater Karen Chen falls during short program, does not medal

BEIJING – A mistake-filled Olympics for Karen Chen has mercifully come to end.

Chen almost made it through her free skate without falling but took a hard spill toward the end on a triple loop, the same move she fell on in the short program two nights ago. Earlier in the skate, her hand touched the ground on the first triple loop, a jump she expressed confidence in Tuesday night – and described as a cornerstone of her performance.

Chen’s score of 197.93 temporarily placed her in fifth. She will not medal.

The 2018 Olympian also fell during the short program of the team competition, in which the United States still took silver, but stayed upright in the long program.

Chen, who finished fourth at the world championships ahead of the last two Olympics, skated to “Butterfly Lovers” by Takako Nishizaki. The 22-year-old is expected to return to Cornell University.

– Chris Bumbaca

Brennan: Adults let Kamila Valieva down, and it showed in her Olympic meltdown

BEIJING – It was heartbreaking, all of it. A young woman, just 15, having tested positive for a banned substance, enduring a shocking meltdown on the grandest stage in her sport, the women’s figure skating long program at the Olympic Games.

At the end of an excruciating week of controversy, anger and uncertainty surrounding Russia’s Kamila Valieva, one of the most unsettling and stunning moments in Olympic history awaited.

The overwhelming gold medal favorite fell apart so completely that she dropped to fourth place in the final standings. It was difficult to watch, a young woman succumbing totally to the pressure of the moment, the pressure that the adults who coach and surround her forced on her. 

Never lost in this terrible doping saga was the fact that this was a 15-year-old in the worldwide spotlight. And then that young woman – that girl – came apart in front of our eyes. She never should have been allowed to skate; that’s been said thousands of times the past week. Now we can be sure of it: because of the positive drug test, certainly, and because of what the pressure has done to her.

— Christine Brennan

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Chris Plys gets a ‘dream job’ in Olympic curling

BEIJING — Chris Plys went to his first Winter Olympic Games as an alternate on the U.S. men’s curling team 12 years ago and has a tattoo of the Olympic rings to show for it.

Since then, Plys has covered himself in tattoos. “I have a couple that, I mean, I’m not losing sleep over it,” he said, “but I’m like, ‘Ah, I wish I had that spot for something new.’”

However, it’s the moments imprinted on his psyche that Plys really wanted to bump into oblivion over the last decade.

He narrowly lost some national titles and came up short in his quest to make another Olympic team since that Olympic debut in Vancouver.

And then when the door finally opened for Plys to return to the Olympic ice in 2022? “It just felt all the more sweet,” he said.

Plys and Team USA fell to Great Britain on Thursday in the semifinals, so they’ll play for bronze on Friday against Canada.

— Karen Rosen

Brian Boitano, Ashley Wagner haunted by women’s figure skating debacle

BEIJING – Brian Boitano and Ashley Wagner have been spending a lot of time together during the Olympics at NBC Sports’ studios in Connecticut, co-hosting the Peacock show “Olympic Ice.” 

They were made for that role. Figure skating has been their life: Boitano is the 1988 Olympic men’s gold medalist, Wagner the 2014 Olympic team bronze medalist. Both won multiple national championships.

They have definitely seen the best of their sport. Thursday, they saw the worst of it.

“I’m still thinking about what happened. This can be a brutal sport at times but this took it to a whole other level. I don’t think I’ve seen anything as difficult to deal with, especially on the shoulders of a young girl (Kamila Valieva). To have to deal with this kind of pressure, it’s probably the hardest situation I’ve ever seen, with an outcome that is going to change her life and even make it more terrible,” Boitano texted just hours after the event.

“I can’t watch this,” Wagner wrote on Twitter. “They all look devastated. This just shows that these children are put in a position that is so wildly unhealthy and harmful to them. I’m sick to my stomach.”

— Christine Brennan

Armour: Drug cheats steal far more than Olympic medals

BEIJING – The outrage over figure skating phenom Kamila Valieva’s presence in Beijing has centered largely on Russia’s blatant, and continued, contempt for the norms and values of the Olympics. Russia technically doesn’t even have a team here, punishment – weak as it is – for its efforts to rig the system with a state-sponsored doping program.

But the anger over the International Olympic Committee’s decision not to hold the medals ceremony for the team figure skating event is just as fierce. Why should the American and Japanese athletes be punished, robbed of their chance to stand on a podium during the actual Games, because of Russia’s wrongdoing?

USA TODAY’s Nancy Armour spoke with two athletes who experienced a similar loss four years ago. They found it’s impossible to replace a memory that never existed, one more thing stolen by the cheaters.  

Team USA tops 20-medal mark

The results could have been better on Thursday at the Beijing Olympics for the United States, but Team USA did add two more medals to its overall total. 

The U.S. women’s hockey team fell to Canada and will take home the silver medal after winning gold four years ago. In addition, speedskater Brittany Bowe won the bronze medal in the women’s 1,000 meters. That brings the United States’ total to 21 medals, tied with Germany for third overall

Norway leads the way with 13 gold medals and 28 total. Germany is second with 10 golds and the U.S. is third with eight.