Ashley Wagner

Skate America preview: U.S. champions to be tested in Grand Prix opener

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The Grand Prix figure skating season gets underway this weekend in Detroit with Skate America, which features all six reigning U.S. national champions.

Two-time world champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White lead the ice dancing field, and Max Aaron and Ashley Wagner will be in medal contention in singles.

While Americans are led by Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir in pairs, the reigning world champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov headline the field.

Aaron is the name to watch in men’s singles, which has suffered from two high-profile withdrawals. Last month, Olympic gold medalist Evan Lysacek pulled out of the event due to a hip injury, and Wednesday, Denis Ten, who won the silver medal at the 2013 World Championships, also withdrew, reportedly due to an illness.

It’s the first Grand Prix event for the 21-year-old Aaron, who was seventh at the World Championships following his national title in Omaha.

“I’m looking forward to skating with the best of them,” Aaron told reporters on a conference call last week. “I want to lay out these programs and compete with the best in the world. There’s no holding back for me.”

Aaron has three quadruple jumps planned for his free skate, as well as two triple axels for the second half of the program as he makes the leap — literally and figuratively — onto the international stage.

While he’s never skated against Lysacek, Aaron will get to compare himself to an Olympic medalist — Japan’s Daisuke Takahashi, who won bronze in Vancouver.

Aaron is joined by fellow Americans Adam Rippon and Jason Brown.

In women’s singles, the two-time reigning national champion Wagner will also face an Olympic medal winner from Japan in Mao Asada. Asada was second to Yuna Kim at the Vancouver Games and could factor in for one of the top three spots in Sochi.

Five-time French medalist Mae Berenice Meite will bring her athletic style to Detroit, and 14-year-old Elena Radionova, the reigning world junior champion, will also be in attendance. (Though, due to age-eligibility rules, she’s not able to compete in Sochi.) Samantha Cesario and Caroline Zhang will join Wagner as Americans in the field.

“I’m looking forward to Skate America to really get started,” said Wagner, who is working on a triple-triple combination for the season. “It helps establish me into another class of figure skaters, the elite of the elite. I want to be a part of that group.”

Davis and White start their Olympic campaign in the city they train. The Michigan natives were silver medalists at the Vancouver Games and are the favorites at Skate America in ice dancing, where Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the gold medalists in 2010, will not be in attendance.

Maia and Alex Shibutani, who also have Michigan ties (they’re both University of Michigan students), will open their season as well after missing the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic last month, where Davis and White were winners.

Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte of Italy, who were fourth at the World Championships this year, should also factor in ice dance. Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue will also compete.

“We’re really where we want to be at this point in the season and just want to enjoy the process,” said Davis, who noted she and White hadn’t competed in Detroit in over 10 years. “It’s exciting for us to [skate at home] and both of us will have family and friends in the crowd and we want to put on a show for them.”

In pairs, reigning U.S. champs Castelli and Shnapir lead the American effort, which also figures in Caydee Denney and John Coughlin as well as Felicia Zhang and Nate Bartholomay.

Reigning world champions Volosozhar and Trankov will be the favorites in pairs. The duo is Russia’s strongest hope for a gold medal in figure skating come Sochi.

The event gets underway Friday evening, with the men’s and dance competitions. Saturday sees the conclusion of those two events as ladies and pairs begin, both of which will end on Sunday. NBC will broadcast live from Detroit on Sunday from 4-6 p.m. ET.

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Lindsey Vonn among Olympic medalists in documentary about gender in sports

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Olympic medalists Lindsey VonnHilary Knight and Ann Meyers-Drysdale will feature in TOMBOY, an hourlong, multi-platform documentary project aiming to elevate the conversation about gender in sports.

TOMBOY, which will premiere in March, is told through the voices of many of the world’s most prominent female athletes, broadcasters and sports executives.

It will air across all NBC Sports Regional Networks, NBCSN and select NBC-owned TV stations (check local listings). Clips can be found here. More information can be found here.

In an interview clip, Vonn discusses a challenge unique to her sport — fear.

“In my sport, you can’t be afraid,” said the 2010 Olympic downhill champion, who continues to come back from high-speed crashes and major injuries. “Ski racing is an incredibly dangerous sport. It definitely would not be safe if you were afraid of going 90 miles per hour.”

Knight, a two-time Olympic silver medalist, said that at age 5 one of her grandmothers told her that girls don’t play hockey.

“Since age 5, I’ve been working toward an Olympic dream,” said Knight, the MVP of the last two world championships. “Fifteen years later, I ended up at my first Olympic Games.”

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VIDEO: Vonn crashes out of World Cup super-G

Michael Phelps cites ‘frustration’ in testimony for congressional anti-doping hearing

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 14:  Michael Phelps of the United States speaks during a press conference at the Main Press Centre on August 14, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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In written testimony, Michael Phelps said he was frustrated with the uncertainty of whether he was competing against clean athletes in Rio ahead of a congressional hearing looking at ways to improve the international anti-doping system.

“Rio was also unique because of increased doping concerns,” Phelps wrote in a 1,300-word letter, published ahead of his appearance at a congressional hearing Tuesday in Washington, D.C. “In the year leading up to the Games, there was uncertainty and suspicion; I, along with a number of other athletes, signed a petition requesting that all athletes be tested in the months prior to the Games. Unfortunately, the uncertainty remained, even through the Games, and I watched how this affected my teammates and fellow competitors. We all felt the frustration, which undermines so much of the belief and confidence we work so hard to build up to prepare for the Olympics.”

Phelps is one of five witnesses called to testify at Tuesday’s 10:15 a.m. ET hearing, which will be webcast at http://energycommerce.house.gov/.

Phelps is expected to be joined by:

Adam Nelson, 2004 U.S. Olympic shot put champion
Travis Tygart, U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO
Dr. Richard Budgett, IOC Medical and Scientific Director
Rob Koehler, World Anti-Doping Agency Deputy Director General

“Throughout my career, I have suspected that some athletes were cheating, and in some cases those suspicions were confirmed,” Phelps wrote. “Given all the testing I, and so many others, have been through I have a hard time understanding this. In addition to all the tests during competitions, I had to notify USADA as to where I would be every day, so they would be able to conduct random tests outside of competition. This whole process takes a toll, but it’s absolutely worth it to keep sport clean and fair. I can’t adequately describe how frustrating it is to see another athlete break through performance barriers in unrealistic timeframes, knowing what I had to go through to do it. I watched how this affected my teammates too. Even the suspicion of doping is disillusioning for clean athletes.”

Phelps reiterated that he hopes another athlete breaks his record of 28 Olympic medals.

“But for that to happen, he must believe he or she will get a fair opportunity to compete,” Phelps wrote. “If we allow our confidence in fair play to erode, we will undermine the power of sport, and the goals and dreams of future generations. The time to act is now. We must do what is necessary to ensure the system is fair and reliable, so we can all believe in it.”

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