Daisuke Takahashi

Home sweep for Japan at NHK Trophy

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Home favorites Daisuke Takahashi and Mao Asada thrilled the crowd in Tokyo Saturday at the NHK Trophy, winning respective Grand Prix titles.

Takahashi, a bronze medalist at the 2010 Olympic Games, used a strong free skate to run away with the title, scoring a 268.31 overall to countryman Nobunari Oda‘s 253.16, who was second. American Jeremy Abbott, who had been seventh after the short program, finished third.

Herself an Olympic medalist in Vancouver (silver), Asada won by a similar 15-point margin in the ladies event, 14-year-old Russian Yelena Radyonova coming in second. Japan’s Akiko Suzuki was third while 18-year-old American Gracie Gold finished in fourth place.

Abbott vaulted himself into third with a spirited free skate which he punctuated by throwing his hand over his mouth in disbelief once he was finished. The third-place finish in the free skate meant he surpassed countryman Adam Rippon, a 23-year-old who settled for fourth.

Max Aaron, the reigning U.S. champion, fell on one of his planned quadruple jumps and told coach Tom Zakrajsek, “I haven’t had a good one yet,” as he stepped off the ice. Aaron was third behind Rippon at Skate America in October, but looked sloppy in his free skate and settled for seventh out of nine skaters in Tokyo.

It wasn’t good for 2013 World Championships bronze medalist Javier Fernandez, either. The Spaniard was making his Grand Prix debut for the season and dropped from second to fifth following an eighth-place finish in the long program, which featured a series of missteps for the 22-year-old.

For Asada, it’s two gold medals in two Grand Prix events, securing her a spot in the Grand Prix Final next month in Japan. Radyonova’s age disqualifies her from competing in the Olympics, though she captured another Grand Prix medal after winning bronze at Skate America last month.

Gold, a Chicago native, was without veteran coach Frank Carroll, whom she started working with in September. Carroll, who has coached the likes of Michelle Kwan and Evan Lysacek, did not make the trip to Japan.

Mirai Nagasu, the 2008 U.S. champion and an Olympian in 2010, was eighth.

More: Davis/White lead after short dance, Russian team wins in pairs

Ladies results
1 Mao ASADA JPN 207.59
2 Yelena RADYONOVA RUS 191.81
3 Akiko SUZUKI JPN 179.32
4 Gracie GOLD USA 177.81
5 Satoko MIYAHARA JPN 170.21
6 Valentina MARCHEI ITA 168.95
7 Alena LEONOVA RUS 161.94
8 Mirai NAGASU USA 141.71
9 Elene GEDEVANISHVILI GEO 129.24

Men’s results
1 Daisuke TAKAHASHI JPN 268.31
2 Nobunari ODA JPN 253.16
3 Jeremy ABBOTT USA 237.41
4 Adam RIPPON USA 233.71
5 Javier FERNANDEZ ESP 230.45
6 Takahito MURA JPN 227.22
7 Max AARON USA 223.35
8 Konstantin MENSHOV RUS 221.32
9 Sergei VORONOV RUS 221.18

U.S. Olympic Committee to hire infectious disease specialists for Zika

Christ the Redeemer
AP
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The U.S. Olympic Committee will hire two infectious disease specialists to advise potential Olympians who are worried about the Zika outbreak in Brazil.

USOC CEO Scott Blackmun sent a letter Wednesday to all possible Olympians, acknowledging the growing worries over the virus.

“I know that the Zika virus outbreak in Brazil is of concern to many of you,” Blackmun wrote. “I want to emphasize that it is to us, as well, and that your well-being in Rio this summer is our highest priority.”

The letter goes on to spell out much of the information that’s already been relayed by the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The virus is spread by mosquitoes. About 20 percent of those infected display mild symptoms, including body aches and rash. But pregnant women and those considering getting pregnant have greater reason for concern because the virus can cause microcephaly, a birth defect marked by an abnormally small head.

In an interview with Sports Illustrated earlier this week, U.S. soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo said if the Olympics were being held now, she wouldn’t go.

Blackmun told The Associated Press that Solo’s comments “made us realize we need to provide concise and accurate info for our athletes.”

At least one of the two infectious disease specialists will be a woman, Blackmun said.

In addition to those two hires, the USOC will post updates to its website at USOC.org/RioTravelUpdates.

The USOC’s decision to hire the specialists was first reported by USA Today.

The letter, addressed to prospective members of the 2016 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic delegation, says “no matter how much we prepare … there will always be risk associated with international competition. Each country, each venue and each discipline will present different risks and require different mitigation strategies.”

Blackmun said the USOC is monitoring the frequent updates regarding Zika. The letter makes note that “rapid testing to determine if an individual is infected is expected in the near future.”

“First and foremost, we want to make sure our athletes have accurate information because they’re concerned,” Blackmun said. “Based on what we know now, the primary threat is to unborn children.”

MORE: Zika won’t stop Olympics; only war has done that, historian says

Alex Morgan scores 12 seconds into U.S. Olympic qualifying romp (video)

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Alex Morgan wasted no time igniting the U.S. women’s soccer team’s Olympic qualifying campaign.

The striker scored the first of her two goals 12 seconds into the Americans’ CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament-opening 5-0 rout of Costa Rica on Wednesday in Frisco, Texas.

It’s believed to be the fastest goal in U.S. Soccer history, according to U.S. Soccer.

“I think we shocked Costa Rica’s confidence a little bit,” Morgan said on NBC Sports Live Extra. “We’ve been working on that play, so I’m glad that we executed it perfectly.”

Crystal DunnCarli Lloyd and Christen Press also scored for the Americans, who are ranked No. 1 in the world. Costa Rica is ranked No. 34.

“Overall, we brought the fight,” Lloyd said on Live Extra. “We’ve got to put this one to bed and move on.”

The first three goals came in the first 15 minutes.

GOAL VIDEOS: Dunn | LloydMorgan’s second | Press

The U.S. is in one of two CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament groups with Costa Rica, Mexico (ranked No. 26) and Puerto Rico (No. 108).

It plays Mexico next on Saturday at 4 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Live Extra. Mexico crushed Puerto Rico 6-0 earlier Wednesday.

The top two nations per group will advance to the tournament semifinals, and the Feb. 19 semifinal winners advance to the Rio Games in August.

The U.S. is heavily favored to qualify for Rio, where it would go for its fourth straight Olympic title. The next-best North American team is ranked No. 11 (Canada, which is in the opposite CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament group).

If the U.S. and Canada win their respective groups, they would not have to play each other to qualify for the Olympics.

The U.S. roster for Olympic qualifying includes 13 of the 23 players from the World Cup, led by Olympic champions Morgan, Lloyd and Hope Solo, who blanked Costa Rica on Wednesday.

All 15 matches of the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament will be streamed live on NBC Sports Live Extra.

MORE: No Olympics for Messi, but another Argentine star striker possible

2016 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship Schedule

Frisco, Texas – Toyota Stadium
Houston, Texas – BBVA Compass Stadium
Times U.S. Central (U.S. Eastern in parentheses)

FIRST ROUND
Group A: USA, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Costa Rica
Group B: Canada, Guatemala, Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana

Wednesday, Feb. 10 (Frisco)
Mexico 6, Puerto Rico 0                                 5 p.m. (6 p.m.)
USA 5, Costa Rica 0                                    7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.)

Thursday, Feb. 11 (Houston)
Guatemala vs. Trinidad & Tobago                  5 p.m. (6 p.m.)
Canada vs. Guyana                                           7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.)

Saturday, Feb. 13 (Frisco)
Costa Rica vs. Puerto Rico                              12:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m.)
USA vs. Mexico                                                 3 p.m. (4 p.m.) NBCSN at 9:30 p.m. ET

Sunday, Feb. 14 (Houston)
Guyana vs. Guatemala                                     12:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m.)
Trinidad vs. Canada                                          3 p.m. (4 p.m.)

Monday, Feb. 15 (Frisco)
Mexico vs. Costa Rica                                       5 p.m. (6 p.m.)
USA vs. Puerto Rico                                          7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.) LIVE on NBCSN

Tuesday, Feb. 16 (Houston)
Trinidad & Tobago vs. Guyana                         5 p.m. (6 p.m.)
Canada vs. Guatemala                                      7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.)

SEMIFINALS

Friday, Feb. 19 (Houston)
Group B winner vs. Group A runner-up          4:30 p.m. (5:30 p.m.) ***
Group A winner vs. Group B runner-up          7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.) ***

FINAL

Sunday, Feb. 21 (Houston)
Semifinal winners                                            4 p.m. (5 p.m.) NBCSN at 11 p.m.

***USA’s semifinal, should the USA advance, will air LIVE on NBCSN