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7 to Watch: A Grudge Match, Snowboard Cross Chaos and Helmet Art

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The eighth day of competition at the 2018 Winter Games brings some of the heaviest hitters in the Olympics’ biggest sports, from skier Mikaela Shiffrin’s Pyeongchang debut to the explosive rivalry between the American and Canadian women’s hockey teams. 

The top events to watch run the gamut from graceful pairs figure skating, where a Ramona native and his wife are representing the U.S., to extreme snowboard cross, a set of high-flying group races that will feature a squad of Norwegians known as the “Attacking Vikings.” 

And it’s a big day for downhill skiing, as medals will be awarded in women’s giant slalom — Shiffrin’s a favorite — and men’s downhill. 

Here are our "7 to Watch" in Pyeongchang for Wednesday: 

Mitchell Haaseth/NBC
Mikaela Shiffrin

1. Shiffrin Wins Giant Slalom Gold in Pyeongchang Debut

Team USA’s Mikaela Shiffrin had a golden Pyeongchang debut.

She used a hard-charging final run to win her second career Olympic gold medal. Noway’s Ragnhild Mowinckel earned silver and Italy’s Federica Brignone took bronze. 

Shiffrin seeks gold in as many as five events at these Games. She was a favorite in the giant slalom and will be in the slalom, scheduled for Thursday night. But skiing two races in two days shouldn’t be a problem for Shiffrin — World Cup races are often held on consecutive days.  

AP
Canada's women's ice hockey team celebrates its improbable gold medal win over Team USA in Sochi.

2. Canada Bests US in Women’s Hockey 2-1

Canada scored twice in the second period in a 2-1 win over United States in women’s hockey Thursday.

Of the five women’s hockey finals in Olympic history, four were played between the U.S. and Canada, building what may be the biggest international rivalry in the sport, women or men.

Both the U.S. and Canada have guaranteed they're through to the semifinals of the 2018 Games by beating Finland and the Olympic Athletes from Russia, so this match was mainly about pride. It was also very likely a preview of the gold medal game, since both teams will be heavily favored in the semifinals.

2017 NBCUniversal Media, LLC
Hagen Kearney

3. Men’s Snowboard Cross Final: Two Americans nearly made the podium.

France's Pierre Vaultier successfully defended his gold medal in men's snowboard cross, becoming the second athlete to win back-to-back gold medals in the discipline. Australia's Jarryd Huges earned silver and Spain's Regino Hernandez took bronze.

American snowboarders Nick Baumgartner and Mick Dierdorff finished fourth and fifth, respectively, after crashing on the same jump during the big final. Australia's Alex Pullin also went down on the same part of the course and finished sixth.

Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway makes a run during the Men's Downhill Alpine Skiing training at Jeongseon Alpine Centre on Feb. 9, 2018, in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea.

4. Norway’s Attacking Vikings, Austria’s Defending Champion Vie in Men’s Downhill

After a postponement due to inclement weather, athletes will finally have the chance to go for gold in men’s downhill. The event features Norway’s formidable “Attacking Vikings” trying to wrest the gold from the defending champion, Austria’s Matthias Mayer, who is trying to become the first man to defend his title.

Among the Norwegians to watch: Kjetil Jansrud, the 2014 Olympic bronze medalist, who had the fastest time at this year’s Olympic test event, and Aksel Lund Svindal, the 2010 Olympic silver medalist and fourth-place finisher in Sochi, who is second in the World Cup standings. Alpine skiing might be an individual sport, but the Norwegians take it on as a team.

Team USA has only one man in the top 20 of the World Cup standings. But Bryce Bennett, who is ranked 18th, had the seventh-fastest time in Wednesday’s training run.

Watch the gold medal event live during NBC’s primetime coverage, beginning Wednesday at 5 p.m. PT, or on digital platforms at 6 p.m. PT at this link.

5. It's All in the Art for Skeleton Helmets

As the men begin the competition in skeleton, pay attention to their helmets. As athletes race down a track at speeds upwards of 80 mph, the helmet is not just an accessory but a necessity. But that doesn't mean the helmet can't look cool while serving its purpose.

If you're interested in the meaning behind the helmets, check out this video here. Or watch the men in their first and second runs on the digital platform on Wednesday beginning at 5 p.m. PT (Runs 1 and 2) at this link.

6. Let the High-5 Tour Begin! 

Carlsbad's Shaun White wowed the world with his impressive halfpipe final run that nabbed him his third Olympic gold medal. 

The morning after, there's controversy over how the athlete handled the US flag and how he described a lawsuit settled in 2016 but for White, he's already looking ahead to the potential of competing in a Summer Olympics event. 

Moments after his win, White talked with NBC 7's Steven Luke about the moment he realized it was all or nothing. He was standing at the top of the halfpipe and the music had started when he knew this was his moment. 

White has described his previous gold medal wins as the launch of a year-long high-5 tour because everywhere he goes, people want to give him a high 5. 

Let the high-5 tour begin, Shaun! You earned it! 

Watch all three of White's gold medal runs here.

Angelos Papazis, NBC 7
Alexa Scimeca Knierim holds up a valentine alongside Chris Knierim of the United States after their routine during the Pair Skating Short Program on day five of the 2018 Winter Olympics at Gangneung Ice Arena on Feb. 14, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea.

7. The Knierims Skate With Heavy Hearts, Finish 15th in Figure Skating Pairs

Married pairs figure skaters Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim finished 15th in the final. Germany won gold, China took silver and Canada earned bronze.

The Knierims became the first Americans to land a quad twist in an Olympic competition when they hit the four-revolution element in the pairs free skate. The rest of their program didn’t go nearly as well — they were out of synch on their combination spin and a bit shaky on their throw triple flip.

But the couple revealed they skated right after seeing the news of the deadly Florida high school shooting, and it made it hard for them to focus. Alexa said she was “emotionally drained” as she broke down in tears after the performance.

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