This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports’ daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what’s happening in sports by subscribing here.
Olympic stock watch: Kingsbury back on top, controversy at figure skating nationals
Less than a month from the start of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, several of Canada’s top medal contenders hit the slopes, ice or track over the weekend. Here’s who (or what) saw their stock go up or down based on what happened:
Up: Mikaël Kingsbury
Japan’s Ikuma Horishima injected some drama into Kingsbury’s inevitable-seeming march to his 10th consecutive World Cup men’s moguls title and second straight Olympic gold medal by winning two events in a row last month to steal the World Cup lead. But the GOAT returned to his rightful perch with back-to-back victories on his home turf at Mont-Tremblant, Que., on Friday and Saturday. Horishima finished third in both competitions to slip to second in the standings.
The rivals are slated to square off for the final time before the Olympics this week at Utah’s Deer Valley. World Cup moguls events are scheduled there for both Thursday and Friday.
Down: Figure skating fairness (according to some)
The Canadian championships in Ottawa were the final — but not only — audition for the Olympic team. While performances at nationals are taken into account, myriad other factors such as results this season and potential to medal in Beijing go into the decisions on who gets to fill Canada’s spots.
For most of the events, there wasn’t much difference. Canadian officials awarded the country’s three ice dance berths to Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sorensen, and Marjorie Lajoie and Zachary Lagha after they finished in that order in Ottawa. The two men’s spots went to winner Keegan Messing and runner-up Roman Sadovsky. Canada’s lone women’s entry was given to 18-year-old Madeline Schizas after she claimed her first national title. Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro landed one of the two pairs spots after winning that event.
The other pairs selection, though, generated controversy. It went to Vanessa James and Eric Radford, despite their withdrawal from the competition after placing fourth in the short program. That didn’t sit well with those who felt runners-up Evelyn Walsh and Trennt Michaud earned the spot. But if the goal is winning an Olympic medal, the decision makes sense. James and Radford were the best Canadian pairs duo on the Grand Prix circuit, earning two fourth-place finishes (no Canadians reached the podium in pairs this season). Radford is also a proven Olympic performer, having won bronze in 2018 with former partner Meagan Duhamel before joining up with James prior to this season. Also consider that James and Radford were not at their best in Ottawa, having just returned to the ice after contracting COVID-19 around Christmas.
In the end, we might be splitting hairs here. Canada’s chances of winning an Olympic pairs medal don’t look great, no matter who goes to Beijing. The country’s best hope for a figure skating medal is Gilles and Poirier, who took bronze at the world championships last year and were the only Canadians to qualify for this season’s (cancelled) Grand Prix Final. Read more about Canada’s Olympic figure skating selections and some of the blowback here.
Down: Bobsleigh certainty
Canada lacks a dominant pilot, but it has several capable of winning an Olympic medal. Heading into the weekend’s World Cup races in Germany, Christine de Bruin looked like a good bet. She ranked No. 1 in the women’s monobob, which is making its Olympic debut in Beijing, and second in the two-woman event with brakewoman Kristen Bujnowski.
De Bruin stumbled a bit, though, finishing eighth in the monobob and fifth in the two-woman. That dropped her to third in the two-woman standings and way down to fourth in the monobob. That event is going to be wide-open at the Olympics: a tiny number of points separates the No. 2-ranked pilot from No. 6, which happens to be Canada’s Cynthia Appiah (she finished fifth on Saturday). Even the new No. 1, American Elana Meyers Tayor, holds a relatively slim lead after her victory Saturday.
Canada’s only bobsleigh medal of the weekend came from pilot Justin Kripps. The reigning Olympic two-man co-champion took bronze in that event on Saturday to remain third in the World Cup standings. He’s still second in the four-man after placing fifth in that event on Sunday.
Up: Éliot Grondin
Canada’s best contender for an Olympic snowboard cross medal took bronze and placed fifth in the pair of World Cup events held in Russia over the weekend. The 20-year-old, who finished second in the World Cup chase last season and won bronze at the world championships, ranks fourth with one stop left on the schedule before the Olympics.
Down: Canada’s bigger-name snowboarders
Back-to-back Olympic slopestyle bronze medallist Mark McMorris and 2021 world championships silver medallist Seb Toutant both missed the podium in Saturday’s World Cup event at California’s Mammoth Mountain. They placed ninth and fifth, respectively. For Toutant, that was still good enough to maintain his lead in the men’s standings. Darcy Sharpe (fourth) was the top Canadian. 2018 Olympic silver medallists Max Parrot and Laurie Blouin both opted not to compete.
There’s one more World Cup meet for these athletes before the Olympics — this week in Switzerland. Canada’s best aren’t expected to make the trip, but we could see them at the Winter X Games starting Jan. 21 in Aspen.
Novak Djokovic won his legal battle. But the war isn’t over. An Australian judge today reinstated Djokovic’s visa, which was cancelled last week by border officials who said the world’s best tennis player didn’t qualify for an exemption to the rule requiring all foreign visitors to be fully vaccinated. Djokovic’s lawyers had argued that he presented a medical exemption from Tennis Australia and two medical panels, and that he didn’t need to be inoculated because he recently recovered from COVID-19. The judge ordered that Djokovic be released from a quarantine hotel, allowing him to return to the practice courts in preparation for the Jan. 17-30 Australian Open. But Djokovic isn’t out of the woods yet: a lawyer for the Australian government said the immigration minister “will consider whether to exercise a personal power of cancellation” for the visa. If that happens, Djokovic could lose a chance to break a tie with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the most Grand Slam men’s singles titles of all time. Read more about the latest in the Djokovic saga here.
Canada is basking in its surprising ATP Cup victory. Singles wins yesterday by Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov over their Spanish opponents gave Canada its first-ever title in the annual men’s team tennis event. The Canadian squad got swept by the United States in its opening matchup but roared back to beat Germany and Great Britain to win the group before upsetting defending-champion Russia in the semis and then beating Spain in the final. Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov teamed up to win the deciding doubles match vs. Russia, which featured world No. 2 Daniil Medvedev. In the final, the 14th-ranked Shapovalov defeated No. 21 Pablo Carreno Busta before ninth-ranked Auger-Aliassime beat No. 17 Roberto Bautista Agut to clinch the victory without needing the doubles match. Read more about Canada’s historic win here.
The NFL season went out with a bang. At a time when other pro sports leagues are struggling to stage watchable games (or even games at all), this one just keeps churning out top-notch entertainment and drama. The final day of the regular season saw would-be Super Bowl contender Indianapolis knocked out of the playoffs with an incomprehensible loss to Jacksonville, the worst team in the league. Minutes later, Pittsburgh rose up from the dead and into the playoff picture with an overtime win over Baltimore. That set up an incredible scenario for the Sunday night season finale between the L.A. Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders. The winner would make the playoffs and the loser would be eliminated — unless they tied, in which case they’d both get in and Pittsburgh would be bounced. Chaos aficionados on the internet wanted the Chargers and Raiders to kneel out the clock for 60 minutes. But, whether due to a sense of honour or maybe the pressures of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, they played it out. And thank goodness, because it turned out to be one of the most exciting games in memory. After the Chargers rallied to force OT (and stay alive in the extra frame) with several do-or-die fourth-down conversions by magical quarterback Justin Herbert, the Raiders eschewed the tie as time expired and buried L.A. with a last-second field goal. The playoffs start Saturday and you can see all the first-round matchups here. Read more about the wild finish to the regular season here.
You’re up to speed. Talk to you tomorrow.