PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — The Pyeongchang Olympics have begun with a curling competition featuring a pair of U.S. siblings in a showdown against a Russian husband-and-wife team competing in neutral uniforms with no national insignia.
The opening ceremony is still a day away, but the games are already underway. Among the athletes are 168 Russians who are being forced to compete under the neutral banner of “Olympic Athletes from Russia” as punishment for doping in Sochi in 2014. Others who were barred altogether have filed appeals to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and are still hoping to be allowed to participate.
The first event is mixed doubles curling, which is making its Olympic debut. The more familiar single-gender version of curling will begin later in the games.
There were four games played simultaneously Thursday morning.
Feb 8 Winter Olympics
Feb 8 Winter Olympics x
In other early events, Maren Lundby of Norway has enhanced her position as the gold medal favorite in women’s ski jumping at the Pyeongchang Games.
Lundby, who has six out of 10 wins on the World Cup circuit this season, finished first in two training runs as the athletes got their first chance to test the Alpensia Ski Jumping Center on Thursday.
Austria’s Daniela Iraschko-Stolz, also a strong gold medal candidate, was second in the first training run and sixth in the second.
The women’s normal hill final is on Monday.
Japan’s Sara Takanashi had a second-place finish in the second training run after placing fourth behind compatriot Yuki Ito in the earlier run.
Germany’s Carina Vogt, who won the gold medal when women’s ski jumping made its debut at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, didn’t fare as well, finishing out of the top 10 in both practice sessions.
Manuel Osborne-Paradis of Canada has found the fastest line in the first Olympic downhill training session despite a balky back and two creaking knees.
Osborne-Paradis finished in 1 minute, 40.45 seconds Thursday on a demanding but not overly tricky course. Kjetil Jansrud of Norway was second, 0.31 seconds behind Osborne-Paradis. Mauro Caviezel of Switzerland wound up third.
The downhill race is set for Sunday.
Over the years, Osborne-Paradis has dealt with a herniated disk and soreness in a surgically repaired left knee. Now, he has what he calls a “grumpy” right knee. Still, he found speed on a track that requires a racer’s full attention. Explained Jansrud: “You can’t afford putting out a hand and go a kilometer slower, because it’s going to cost you a medal.”
Shaun White says he is working on the tricks that Japan’s Ayumu Hirano used to win the halfpipe at the Winter X Games last month.
Hirano became the first snowboarder to string together back-to-back 1440-degree jumps in what was widely regarded as the best show ever seen in a halfpipe.
White says “he’s really pushing it, and he did an amazing combination that I’m working on myself. I don’t think we’ve seen my best run.”
White’s best run, at least this season, came at Snowmass in an Olympic qualifier in January. White used one 1440, along with his patented Double McTwist 1260, to win the contest with a maximum score of 100 — one of the rare times that mark has ever been handed out.
It established him as the man to beat at the Olympics. But a short two weeks later came the X Games, where Hirano strung together his back-to-back 1440s — the first time that had ever been done in a competition — and Scotty James finished a close second on a run that included three 1260s, including one in which he rides and spins backward into the wall to execute the double cork.
Reigning men’s gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan will not participate in the team event that opens the figure skating program Friday as he continues to recover from an ankle injury he sustained in November.
Japan will go with Shoma Uno and Keiji Tanaka in the men’s short program and free skate.
Hanyu sustained ligament damage in his right ankle while practicing for the NHK Trophy in November, and his recovery has been slower than expected. He only began training on ice last month, though his Canadian coach Brian Orser said this week that Hanyu will be “100 percent” for the men’s competition beginning Feb. 16.
Hanyu is trying to become the first skater to defend his Olympic title since Dick Button in 1952.
Erin Hamlin will carry the U.S. flag into Friday’s opening ceremony at the Pyeongchang Olympics.
The four-time Olympic luger was chosen by fellow Team USA Olympians for the honor. Hamlin is retiring at the end of the Olympics, after nearly two decades of racing competitively.
Hamlin says “it is definitely a privilege and honor to be the one to lead the team.”
The native of Remsen, New York, won a bronze medal at the 2014 Sochi Games and is a two-time world champion. She’s also the fourth luge athlete to carry the U.S. flag into an Olympics.