Mao Asada

Mao Asada wins Skate America; more records for Russian pair

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Shaky Olympic silver medalist Mao Asada held on to win the first Grand Prix figure skating event of the season, beating a field that included U.S. champion Ashley Wagner.

Asada, a two-time world champion, scored 204.55 points at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. Wagner looked like an Olympic medal threat Sunday, totaling 193.81 for second place (full results below).

In the pairs competition, Russian world champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov reset their world record for a free skate one day after they broke their mark in the short program to win easily.

The Grand Prix season continues with Skate Canada beginning Friday (NBC coverage Sunday, 4 p.m. ET). Three-time reigning world champion Patrick Chan and U.S. silver medalist Gracie Gold lead the field in St. John, New Brunswick.

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On Sunday, Asada, 23, fell on a triple axel, the toughest jump in women’s skating today. She also doubled the second jump of a planned triple-triple combination.

It was still good enough to beat Wagner, who was four points behind Asada after the short program Saturday.

Wagner landed a triple-triple jump combination for the second straight day after adding it to her repertoire for the Olympic season. The daughter of a U.S. Army officer hit six more triple jumps skating to “Romeo and Juliet.”

“Two solid programs back to back, that’s a huge accomplishment any time of the year,” Wagner told NBC. “I have a lot of work to do until Sochi, but I’m on the way up.”

Wagner is a favorite to grab one of three women’s spots on the U.S. Olympic team that will be named after the U.S. Championships in Boston in January.

She just missed the two-woman Olympic team in 2010, placing third at the National Championships.

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In the pairs, Volosozhar and Trankov confirmed their massive Olympic favorite status with 237.71 points, nearly 30 more than the rest of the field.

They skated to “Jesus Christ Superstar” with Trankov in yellow velvet pans, hitting side-by-side triple salchows, a triple toe loop-double toe loop combination and a pair of throw triples.

They broke the world record for short and long programs for the second time this season.

“You never stop, and we try to do better and better every competition.” said Trankov in an interview for the Joe Louis Arena crowd before he switched to Japanese to thank their fans from that country.

Volosozhar and Trankov may be the host country’s only figure skating gold medalists at the Sochi Olympics. They’re trying to regain Russian dominance in pairs skating.

A Russian/Unified Team/Soviet pair won gold at every Olympics from 1964 through 2006, but none won a medal in 2010.

Canadians Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch, fourth at the World Championships, were nearly 30 points behind in second place.

U.S. pairs took fourth, sixth and seventh, led by 2012 U.S. champions Caydee Denney and John Coughlin.

Pairs has been the U.S.’ weakest figure skating event for the last decade with no Olympic medalists since 1988.

Denney and Coughlin, 2013 U.S. champions Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir (sixth at Skate America) and Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim, ninth at worlds, are the top contenders for two spots on the Olympic team.

Attention on Asada in quest for Olympic gold

Women’s Results
1. Mao Asada (JPN) 204.55
2. Ashley Wagner (USA) 193.81
3. Yelena Radyonova (RUS) 183.95
4. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS) 176.75
5. Samantha Cesario (USA) 167.98
6. Mae Berenice Meite (FRA) 167.35
7. Valentina Marchei (ITA) 156.79
8. Viktoria Helgesson (SWE) 152.34
9. Elene Gedevanishvili (GEO) 148.94
10. Caroline Zhang (USA) 110.12

Pairs Results
1. Tatiana Volosozhar/Maxim Trankov (RUS) 237.71
2. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Dylan Moscovitch (CAN) 208.45
3. Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov (RUS) 187.35
4. Caydee Denney/John Coughlin (USA) 182.43
5. Stefania Berton/Ondrej Hotarek (ITA) 180.27
6. Marissa Castelli/Simon Shnapir (USA) 177.11
7. Felicia Zhang/Nathan Bartholomay (USA) 168.42
8. Margaret Purdy/Michael Marinaro (CAN) 146.28

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Gary Bettman not bullish about NHL participation in 2018 Olympics

Gary Bettman
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PITTSBURGH (AP) — The NHL remains open to continuing to send its players to the Olympics, just so long as it doesn’t have foot the bill.

“Our teams are not interested in paying for the privilege” of Olympic participation, Commissioner Gary Bettman said Monday before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks.

NHL players have been a fixture at the Olympics since the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, thanks in large part to significant financial support from the International Olympic Committee and the International Ice Hockey Federation, which have handled most of the travel costs, accommodations and insurance for league owners.

Bettman pointed to IOC President Thomas Bach‘s stated resistance to providing subsidies for any sport as a major stumbling block to having the league stop in the middle of the 2017-18 season so over 100 players can head to Pyeongchang, South Korea for the 2018 Winter Games.

Bettman said if the issue remains unresolved “I have no doubt it will have significant impact on our decision.” He described the potential cost as “many, many millions of dollars. This is no small-ticket item.”

The Olympics has helped the NHL expand its global footprint while providing a series of iconic moments, including Sidney Crosby‘s golden goal on home soil in the 2010 final and T.J. Oshie‘s shootout performance while leading the U.S. to a victory over host Russia in Sochi two years ago.

Yet with the NHL-backed World Cup of Hockey coming to North America this fall, the league may no longer need the Olympics as much as it once did. Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly declined to speculate whether the World Cup would become a more frequent event if the NHL pulled out of the Winter Games.

“The World Cup is not going to be an isolated event, it’s something we’re committed to,” Daly said. “It’s part of a series we want to do, events we want to create that adds to international presence of NHL.”

The biggest issue concerns insurance premiums required to cover NHL players during Olympic competition. Owners want protection should one of their players get hurt during the games, an injury that could have both short- and long-term ramifications on the team and the player’s future. With salaries skyrocketing, providing coverage for 150-plus NHL players is a major financial commitment, one the IOC and IIHF appear to be in no rush to cover.

There remain other issues the league would have to work out with the NHL Players’ Association, and Bettman said there have been no “substantive” talks with the union about 2018, though if the financial specifics with the IOC and IIHF aren’t worked out, it probably won’t matter.

“It almost becomes an easy showstopper, and you don’t have to get into the other discussions,” said Bettman, who expects there to be some sort of final decision by December.

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IPC president: Now is the right time to have Paralympics in Brazil

Paralympics
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International Paralympic Committee president Philip Craven said the upcoming Paralympic Games, which open in 100 days, could not be going to a better city than Rio de Janeiro.

“Many people might think that it’s not the time to go there now with the economic and political problems,” Craven said in a phone interview last week. “But is that not just the right time to be going, to just show what sport can truly do to mobilize and galvanize a people?”

And the Zika virus?

“We believe that the measures that have been communicated on a regular basis, reiterated to our member nations, will be effective, and the Zika virus will not have a major effect on the Games,” Craven said.

The Paralympics will visit South America for the first time in their 15th edition. The Rio Games, which run from Sept. 7-18, will have more broadcast coverage than ever and an expected record number of athletes and nations in the largest number of sports on a single Paralympic program.

NBC and NBCSN will air a record 66 hours of coverage of the Games. The USOC will provide live coverage at TeamUSA.org, too.

How the Paralympics will deal with the well-known issues facing Brazil will be largely impacted by how the preceding Olympics handle them.

But one issue unique to the Paralympics came to light four weeks ago.

A British Paralympic champion swimmer was disqualified from a European Championships event because his Olympic rings tattoo was not covered (he later competed at the meet with the tattoo covered).

An International Paralympic Committee swimming rule states, “body advertisements are not allowed in any way whatsoever (this includes tattoos and symbols).”

The rule will cover all sports at the Rio Paralympics. Craven said he has not heard of any appeals by para-athletes to change the rule.

The IPC will take a “common-sense approach” to enforcing the rule in Rio to make sure there are no disqualifications by communicating thoroughly to national committees, Craven said.

“IPC has got very strict rules for the Paralympic Games and for other events prohibiting body advertisements, and this includes tattoos for commercial brands and non-IPC symbols, such as the Olympic rings,” Craven said. “These rules were emphasized, re-emphasized to all competing teams and swimmers at that particular event, and, similarly, we’ll be doing so prior to the Games in Rio.”

Some Paralympians identify themselves as Olympians, too — some have event competed in both Games — but Craven made the difference clear.

The 65-year-old, five-time Paralympic wheelchair basketball player likened Olympic rings tattoos at the Paralympics to an NFL player with an NBA team tattoo.

Craven added that there has been no pressure from the IOC regarding the rule and that he would expect a hypothetical Paralympian competing at the Olympics to cover up a tattoo of the Agitos, which is the Paralympic logo.

“We want Paralympic athletes to show pride in promoting the Paralympic movement, including our symbol, which is the Agitos, which is very different from the Olympic rings,” Craven said. “When you have a Paralympic athlete, a para-athlete sporting a branding from another event, then it just creates confusion. It creates confusion for the IPC. It creates confusion for the IOC.”

MORE: Paralympic champ long jumper still hopes to be allowed into Olympics