Meryl Davis, Charlie White

NHK Trophy preview, broadcast times

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Four weeks into the Grand Prix season, fans will see the strongest field yet at the NHK Trophy in Tokyo on Friday and Saturday.

The lineups are impressive from American and international perspectives with reigning ice dance World champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White making their second Grand Prix appearance after winning Skate America and the season debut of Javier Fernandez, the reigning World bronze medalist.

Here’s the broadcast schedule:

Universal Sports online broadcast schedule
Friday — 12:50 a.m. (pairs/men’s/women’s short programs)
Friday — 10:05 p.m. (short dance/pairs free)
Saturday — 10 p.m. (free dance)

NBC broadcast schedule
Sunday — 1:30-3:30 p.m.

Here are event-by-event preview:

Men
While Fernandez will be one to watch, so will almost the entire men’s field, which includes 2010 Olympic bronze medalist Daisuke Takahashi.

Takahashi stumbled in his Grand Prix opener last month, finishing fourth at Skate America. Americans Adam Rippon and Max Aaron beat Takahashi in Detroit, Rippon registering a personal best on his way to silver while Aaron was third.

It will be an excellent weekend for the Americans — Rippon and Aaron are joined by three-time U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott – to measure themselves against Fernandez and Takahashi, as well as Japan’s Takahito Mura and Nobunari Oda, the latter who won bronze at Skate Canada two weeks ago.

Abbott, specifically, will look for a strong showing after finishing a disappointing sixth at Skate Canada. He was ninth at the 2010 Vancouver Games.

Women
Japan has a strong contingent among the ladies as well, most notably Mao Asada, the 2010 Olympic silver medalist and two-time world champion. Asada will look to build on her Skate America win with her triple Axel and strong spins. Countrywoman Akiko Suzuki, 28, was second a week later at Skate Canada.

Gracie Gold, 18, who won silver at the U.S. Championships in January, took bronze at Skate Canada and will have two more weeks under her belt with veteran coach Frank Carroll, whom she began working with in September. Gold is joined by Mirai Nagasu, the 2008 U.S. champion who was fourth at the Vancouver Games.

Russia’s Alena Leonova is making her Grand Prix season debut, though the 2012 World silver medalist was a disappointing 13th at the same competition this year. More eyes might be on Yelena Radyonova, 14, who was third at Skate America but is ineligible for the Olympics because of age restrictions.

Ice Dance
Davis and White look not only to win gold in Tokyo, but also to capture their 14th straight Grand Prix title, a streak dating to 2009 and includes Skate America in October.

It’s that event that gives the World champions confidence. They scored 188.23 in Detroit, seven points higher than Canadian rivals Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir at Skate Canada the following week.

Italy’s Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte, second at Skate America, will push Davis and White at NHK.

American siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani were third at Skate America, where they debuted their Michael Jackson medley free dance, Alex falling on a transitional passage. Russians Yelena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov are another couple to watch, having placed fifth at the 2012 World Championships.

Pairs
Russia’s best bet for an Olympic gold medal in figure skating is in pairs, where Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov are the reigning World champions. Volosozhar and Trankov broke their own world records at Skate America and shouldn’t run into too much trouble to win again in Tokyo.

U.S. champions Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir hope to improve from sixth in Detroit.

Yuna Kim sets return from foot injury

Lindsey Vonn wins No. 76 in biggest rout of comeback

Lindsey Vonn
AP
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Lindsey Vonn gapped the field like never before during her comeback, and never before away from her favorite course in Canada, running away with a World Cup downhill by 1.51 seconds in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, on Saturday.

Vonn notched her 76th World Cup victory, moving 10 behind the record held by retired Swede Ingemar Stenmark.

“Every win for me is more special than the last,” Vonn said.

She’s won by larger margins three times in her World Cup career — by 1.95, 1.73 and 1.68 seconds, all at her favorite downhill course in Lake Louise, Alberta, and all before her February 2013 World Championships crash and two major right knee surgeries that kept her from defending her Olympic downhill title in Sochi.

Swiss Fabienne Suter was second Saturday, followed by German Viktoria Rebensburg. Full results are here.

Swiss Lara Gut placed 14th, which meant Vonn increased her lead from 45 points to 127 points in the standings for the World Cup overall title, the biggest prize in the sport this season with no World Championships or Olympics.

That race will likely not be decided until the World Cup Finals in a little more than one month.

Vonn won her ninth World Cup race this season, matching her total from 2008-09, the campaign that set her up to be the Alpine skiing star of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic season. Her best total was 12 from the 2011-12 season.

Vonn has won 11 of her last 12 World Cup starts in speed races (downhill and super-G) and can clinch her eighth World Cup downhill season title in the next downhill in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, next Saturday.

That would break her tie with Austrian legend Annemarie Moser-Pröll for most titles in one discipline by a female skier. It would match the record for all skiers with Stenmark, who took eight giant slalom and eight slalom titles.

But first Vonn will try to inch closer to Stenmark’s wins record in a Garmisch-Partenkirchen super-G on Sunday (4:45 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Live Extra).

MORE: U.S. Olympian podiums in first race on 2018 Olympic course

Amanda Kessel ‘dream come true’ in University of Minnesota return

Amanda Kessel
AP
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Olympic silver medalist Amanda Kessel recorded two assists in her first game in nearly two years, coming back from a concussion for the University of Minnesota on Friday night.

“I think I’d regret it if I didn’t get back to this point,” Kessel said after a 3-0 win over North Dakota, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “It’s pretty much a dream come true.”

Kessel, 24, last played in the Sochi Olympic gold-medal game and then sat out nearly two years with symptoms from a concussion reportedly suffered before the Winter Games. Coach Brad Frost said in July that Kessel wouldn’t play this season, ending her college career.

But in August, new doctors gave Kessel hope she would play again.

On Friday, she skated on the Golden Gophers’ top line after the school’s medical staff got second and third opinions before clearing her to play, according to the newspaper.

“If I was going to get back to playing, I was going to be 100 percent healthy and be able to get in there,” Kessel said, according to the Pioneer Press. “I felt great being able to get in corners and get hit and stuff like that.”

Kessel, the 2012-13 NCAA Player of the Year for the undefeated national champion, said she wasn’t 100 percent in “game shape” and that she felt like a rookie, but that she’s ready to challenge herself in the final month and a half of her senior season.

“I don’t think I’ve heard it that loud since we won the national championship here [on March 22],” Minnesota coach Brad Frost said. “So many people were just so excited to see her work her way back to where she is now.”

MORE: How Amanda Kessel became a star for U.S. hockey team