Yulia Lipnitskaia

Lipnitskaya, 15, skates to the lead at Russian Grand Prix

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At the end of her short program, 15-year-old Yulia Lipnitskaya of Russia draws a heart on the ice, then scoops shavings off the rink, sprinkling them over her to finish.

The fragile finish is an emotional one, but Lipnitskaya was anything but fragile Friday at the Rostelecom Cup, where she captured the arena’s hearts and the short-program lead with a strong and assured skate against a more experienced field at the final Grand Prix of the figure skating season.

Competing in just her fourth senior Grand Prix, Lipnitskaya seeks a fourth medal – and second gold this season – leading 2012 World Champion Carolina Kostner, a veteran, and two-time U.S. medalist Agnes Zawadzki.

In the pairs competition in Moscow, no team had a completely clean skate, but four-time world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany had a safe lead over Russians Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov.

Lipnitskaya’s 72.24 was the second-best short program score of the season, behind 2010 Olympic silver medalist Mao Asada. Only Asada and Lipnitskaya have broken the 70-point mark so far this season.

Zawadzki, who had a disappointing seventh-place finish at the Cup of China earlier this month, skated a clean and decisive program herself, hitting her triple-triple combination and later a double Axel. Kostner was safely in second with a 67.75 while Zawadzki registered a 60.45.

Zawadzki eyes Sochi with a special friend by her side

The American’s score was just 0.01 better than 2008 U.S. champion Mirai Nagasu, who had a solid performance herself, edging ahead of Russia’s Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, who finished with a 60.16. Only 0.29 points separates third and fifth place.

Savchenko/Szolkowy, the bronze medalists at the Vancouver Games, skated beautifully through most of their short program, “When Winter Comes,” a piece they complement with icicle-like white-and-blue costumes.

But on their final element, a difficult throw triple Axel, Savchenko came down hard, two-footing her landing and then hitting the ice on her right upper thigh and buttocks. In the Kiss and Cry, the 29-year-old was seen grimacing as the scores came in, then began crying, her head in her lap.

There is no official report yet of whether or not Savchenko sustained an injury on the fall.

It was a season’s best for Bazarova/Larionov, who scored a 69.72 to Savchenko/Szolkowy’s 73.25. Canadians Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch were in third after Moscovitch fell on his triple toe jump. Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim were the highest American team, finishing in fifth.

Zawadzki, 19, was ecstatic with her performance, a wide grin beaming across her face following the program. She fist pumped as she made her way towards coach Tom Zakrajsek, saying, “That felt great!”

The American has been third the last two seasons at the U.S. Championships, and will look to place at least that high as Team USA has three ladies spots for the Sochi Games.

Russia, meanwhile, has two, one of which Lipnitskaya hopes she occupies. So far this season, she, Adelina Sotnikova and Anna Pogorilaya have won Grand Prix medals. Tuktamysheva is the reigning Russian national champion, and was third at the European Championships earlier this year, behind Sotnikova’s second-place finish.

IIHF president doesn’t expect NHL participation in 2018 Olympics

Sidney Crosby
Getty Images
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SOCHI, Russia (AP) — The head of ice hockey’s international body says there is a strong possibility that NHL players won’t be competing at the next Winter Olympics.

International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel puts the chances at 60 percent that the NHL will decline to go to the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, because of a lack of money to cover player insurance.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Fasel said the IOC has canceled its contribution to player travel and insurance costs for Pyeongchang, leaving the IIHF facing a $10 million shortfall and “begging” for money around the world.

“It’s always difficult to get (to) the Olympics, the Games,” he said. “And now with some problems on our side, 50-50 is very positive. I would be more 60 percent that they are not coming.”

Negotiations and brinkmanship over finances are common in the lead-up to Olympic hockey tournaments. For the 2014 tournament in Sochi, Russia, the NHL’s participation was assured only in July 2013, seven months before the Games.

The IOC’s refusal to cover player insurance adds an additional dimension for 2018.

The NHL did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday, but Commissioner Gary Bettman has made it clear costs are a key factor.

“There are real costs to us going, including insurance, including transportation because we’re losing part of our season, we’ve got to get in and out quickly,” Bettman said last month at a meeting of the Associated Press Sports Editors in New York. “The players for the last five Olympics in particular have been accommodated in a certain way as far as it relates to their families. Those are issues that would once again have to be resolved. … I’m not sure that there would be a lot of appetite for us on top of that to have to pay for the privilege. We don’t make money going to then Olympics.”

Bettman said he didn’t expect a decision until after the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto in September.

While the IOC gives the IIHF around $40 million of revenue each Olympics, Fasel insists that money is earmarked for developing hockey and wants national Olympic committees and hockey federations to plug the gap.

The IOC pulled its extra subsidy because its leaders are “a bit scared that other (sports) federations will come and also ask for some compensation for traveling and insurance,” said Fasel, who is also an IOC member and serves on its rule-making executive board.

“I think my idea is to work closer together with the national Olympic committees, as they have normally to pay transportation and insurance for the athletes when they come to the Games, so I can imagine that some of the NOCs are also ready to spend some money there, so we have to go around and do some begging,” he said.

Fasel said the end of this year is the deadline to reach a deal because of the NHL’s need to draw up a calendar for the Olympic season.

“If you don’t have the best, (the Olympics) will be a different competition for sure,” he said, but warned: “At the end somebody has to pay. That’s the question. On my side I will do everything possible to make it happen.”

Fasel dismissed the suggestion that the World Cup of Hockey could offer some players less incentive to demand to be allowed to play at the Olympics.

“There is nothing like the Olympics,” he said. “I think for an athlete to win the gold medal is so different from winning the Stanley Cup. You can win the Stanley Cup every year.”

In Pyeongchang in 2018 and Beijing in 2022, the Winter Olympics move to Asia and away from the North American and European nations that have historically been the bedrock of hockey.

South Korea, which has built a team mixing import players with locals, plays in the second level of the IIHF’s world championship and hopes not to be a walkover in 2018. China is far less competitive. China will be in the fifth tier for next year and in 2022 could become the first Winter Olympic host not to enter a hockey team — a situation that worries the IIHF, given China’s potential to become a huge market for the sport.

“One thing they do not like is to lose the face, so they cannot do that,” Fasel said. “I hope and I think they will have a Chinese player, Chinese team in Beijing in 2022. We cannot put them on the ice and they will be beaten 15, 20-nothing. We cannot do that.”

Things are looking up for China, with increased government interest and the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League due to open a team there this year, but Fasel said the NHL is key to unlocking potentially vast commercial rewards in China.

“A North American brand in China has a very special taste. We can see that with the NBA,” he said. “I think what we need is to have a Chinese NHL player, like Yao Ming with basketball.”

MORE: 2018 Olympic men’s hockey groups determined

Golf Channel unveils Rio Olympic broadcast schedule

Rio 2016
NBC
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Golf Channel will air more than 130 live hours and nearly 300 total hours of Olympic programming for the sport’s return to the Games in Rio in August.

The first Olympic golf tournaments in 112 years start Aug. 11 (men) and Aug. 17 (women), but Golf Channel coverage will begin Aug. 8 with Golf Central’s “Live From the Olympics.”

Competition coverage will run from the opening tee shot to the final putt and medal ceremonies.

NBC’s Olympic coverage will also include live look-ins, highlights and updates from the golf competition throughout the Games.

The Olympic men’s and women’s golf tournaments are each four-round, stroke-play individual events with 60 golfers in each field determined by world rankings on July 11.

The top 15 in the world rankings will qualify, with no more than four golfers per nation per gender. Then the fields are filled with no more than two golfers per nation past the top 15 until the 60 mark is met.

MORE: USA Golf unveils Olympic uniforms

Golf Channel Live Schedule

Date Event Time (ET)
Monday, Aug. 8 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 6-8 p.m.
Tuesday, Aug. 9 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 6-8 p.m.
Wednesday, Aug. 10 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 6-8 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 11 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 5-6:30 a.m.
MEN ROUND 1 6:30 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 3-5 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 12 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 5-6:30 a.m.
MEN ROUND 2 6:30 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 3-5 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 13 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 5-6:30 a.m.
MEN ROUND 3 6:30 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 3-5 p.m.
Sunday, Aug. 14 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 5-6 a.m.
MEN FINAL ROUND 6 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 3-5 p.m.
Monday, Aug. 15 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 6-8 p.m.
Tuesday, Aug. 16 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 6-8 p.m.
Wednesday, Aug. 17 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 5-6:30 a.m.
WOMEN ROUND 1 6:30 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 3-5 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 18 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 5-6:30 a.m.
WOMEN ROUND 2 6:30 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 3-5 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 19 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 5-6 a.m.
WOMEN ROUND 3 6 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 3-5 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 20 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 5-6 a.m.
WOMEN FINAL ROUND 6 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 3-5 p.m.