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What to watch during the first weekend of the Winter Olympics

The Winter Olympics are officially underway in Pyeongchang, South Korea. What makes this year special, other than the politics at play: a record-breaking number of athletes competing in the Winter Games. Canada has broken its country record, with 122 men and 103 women competing in 14 sports. Meanwhile, the United States has the largest delegation in Winter Olympics history, with a total of 244 athletes. North Korea, after sending no athletes in the 2014 Winter Games, sent 22 athletes to compete in three sports this year.

Here’s what to watch during the event’s first weekend.

Temperatures are reaching record lows …
One thing all athletes competing in Pyeongchang are facing is sub-zero temperatures. It’s the coldest Winter Olympics in more than two decades.

… but the number of medals up for grabs are at an all-time high. Thanks to the addition of four new events, a record-setting 102 gold medals are up for grabs this year.

Debuting for the first time: mixed curling.
Unlike the gender-specific competitions, mixed curling puts two person co-ed teams on the ice in an attempt to guide stones to reach a certain mark. In the first round of competition Thursday, the U.S. fell short to Korea, Switzerland and Canada following an early victory against Russia’s athletes. Mixed semi-finals take place on Monday, with the gold medal match scheduled for Feb. 13.

The traditional, women and men’s curling events will begin at the Winter Olympics after the gold medal is awarded for the mixed event.

The first medal of the Winter Olympics. The first medal of the Winter Olympics will be awarded Saturday for the women’s 7.5 skiathlon, a sport in which the U.S. has never medaled.

Other early medals: Seven Olympians will be crowned on Sunday. The women’s biathlon 7.5-kilometer sprint will be awarded Saturday evening, or 6:15 a.m. in the U.S., followed by the medals for the men’s short track speed skating 1,500-meter.

Figure Skating – Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics – Team Event Pair Skating short program – Gangneung Ice Arena - Gangneung, South Korea – February 9, 2018 - Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Kneirim of the U.S. in action. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Kneirim of the U.S. skate in Pyeongchang. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

The figure skating medals race. In his Olympic debut, U.S. figure skater Nathan Chen skated his way to a disappointing fourth place in the men’s single short, after falling on the ice attempting a triple axel near the end of his routine. Japan’s Shoma Uno came in first, scoring more than 20 points over Chen.

“No one wants to skate like that on Olympic ice but it happens,” Chen said after his performance. But Chen wasn’t the only athlete to make contact with the ice. German skater Paul Fentz also slipped.

Still, married U.S. couple Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Chris Knierim’s fourth place finish in the pairs short program placed America in second place for team figure skating, behind Canada and before Japan. Team skating competition resumes on Sunday with the women’s short program, ice dance short and the pairs freeskate.

Mogul skiing. So far, Canada and the U.S. have dominated this freestyle ski competition.

In women’s mogul, France’s Perrine Laffont leads the pack. Canada’s Andi Naude came in second Thursday, followed by U.S. athlete Morgan Schild to seal out the top three. Of the 10 slots already filled, Laffont is the sole France finalist. Canada and the United States each advanced three women. Japan, Australia and Kazakhstan each had a female qualifier in the first round.

The remaining 20 women, who did not qualify, will compete in a second qualification round Sunday in the hopes of securing one of 10 tickets to the first round final.

Canadian Mikael Kingsbury leads the men’s side, remaining a favorite for the gold. (He’s won a record 48 World Cup events throughout his career). In second is Aleksandr Smyshliaev, a member of the “Olympic Athletes from Russia” team. U.S. skier Troy Murphy was the only American to place in the first qualifying round of men’s mogul. But Murphy’s teammates, Casey Andringa, Brad Wilson and Emerson Smith, will have another shot Monday in a second qualifying round.

All eyes are also on Philippe Marquis, a Canadian freestyle skier who is competing with a torn ACL.

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