Johnny Weir, Tara Lipinski

Johnny Weir, Tara Lipinski preview Skate America

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The post-Olympic figure skating season begins in earnest this weekend at Skate America, the first of seven events in the Grand Prix series.

Here’s a look at the men’s and women’s fields in Hoffman Estates, Ill., with analysis from NBC Olympic figure skating analysts Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski. (NBC will have live coverage of the women’s free skate Sunday from 4-6 p.m. ET)

Men (short program — Friday, 9:30 p.m. ET; free skate — Saturday, 9:40 p.m.)

Both U.S. Sochi Olympians are in the field — Jason Brown and Jeremy Abbott, who were ninth and 12th at the Olympics, respectively.

Brown, 19, made his Grand Prix debut at Skate America last year and finished fifth, filling in for 2010 Olympic champion Evan Lysacek.

Brown, the youngest U.S. Olympic men’s singles skater since 1976, won his first senior international title at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany, in his season debut in September. He did so without a quadruple jump, which he hopes to add to his arsenal once he’s more comfortable with it.

Weir said the quad is important for Brown to grab the reins as a leading man as the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics approach. Lipinski echoed how vital the four-revolution jump is.

“I feel among the judges no one has really taken [Brown] that seriously as a technical threat to other skaters, because the quad is what everyone is looking for,” Lipinski said.

Abbott, who is 10 years older than Brown, planned to retire after the 2013-14 season but felt reinvigorated after finishing fifth at the World Championships in March. The four-time U.S. champion is back for another season, in part, to try to win his first World Championships medal in March.

“I find it very endearing and charming just the way that he’s looking at the rest of his career,” Lipinski said. “He just really wants to do it for himself. I wonder how that will change his performance and how he changes as a competitor with a new outlook.”

Brown and Abbott’s biggest competition at Skate America will come from Sochi Olympic bronze medalist Denis Ten of Kazakhstan and Japan’s Tatsuki Machida, who won Skate America last year, finished second at the World Championships and fifth at the Olympics.

“My personal favorite of the field is Machida,” Weir said of the 24-year-old. “He is so strong technically. He’s growing as an artist. He really does something interesting every time he’s on the ice.”

Jeremy Abbott, rebuilt and motivated, begins 10th season

Women (short program — Saturday, 2:30 p.m.; free skate — Sunday, 4 p.m.)

U.S. champion Gracie Gold seeks her first senior international title and a better performance than her third-place effort at Nebelhorn last month. Gold was fourth at the Olympics and fifth at the World Championships, better results than anybody else in this weekend’s Skate America field.

“I know [Gold] had sort of a rough offseason this summer, maybe some growing pains, and just troubles with her consistency,” Lipinski said. “But obviously she is the top American to beat. And coming into this event of Skate America there’s no reason she shouldn’t walk away with the gold.”

The other Americans are 2010 Olympian Mirai Nagasu and Samantha Cesario, who was fifth at the 2014 U.S. Championships. But Gold’s biggest threat appears to be Russian Elena Radionova, the two-time reigning World junior champion who was third at Skate America as a 14-year-old last year.

Radionova was too young to compete in Sochi, but she took part in the post-competition exhibition gala. That’s where Lipinski saw her skate live for the first time and nudged Weir, saying this would be the woman to watch moving forward.

“We say that every year there’s a new little Russian, but this one is really, really good,” Lipinski said. “She has this fire, and she’s consistent. And it’s going to be hard, obviously, as she grows into her body. She’s very limby. She has this little deer look with she’s out on the ice.”

Gracie Gold calls audible, adds lyrics for post-Olympic season

The pairs field includes Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim, the only U.S. pair competing this season with Olympics or World Championships experience, and Russia’s Yuko Kavaguti and Aleksander Smirnov, who were fourth at the 2010 Olympics.

The ice dance field includes Sochi Olympians Maia and Alex Shibutani and Madison Chock and Evan Bates, the top U.S. couples with Olympic champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White taking the season off.

NBC figure skating broadcast schedule

Katie Ledecky entered in five events at USA Swimming Nationals

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Katie Ledecky is signed up for five races at the USA Swimming National Championships (Summer Champions Series) next week.

The four-time Rio Olympic champion is entered in the 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles in Indianapolis. Full entry lists are here.

The top two per individual event qualify for the world championships in Budapest in July, plus extra swimmers in the 100m and 200m frees for relays.

Ledecky is slated to race four of five days in Indy, starting with a Tuesday double of the 100m and 800m frees. A full broadcast schedule is here.

At last year’s Olympic Trials, Ledecky raced the 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m frees, when there was no 1500m free on the Olympic program.

The women’s 1500m free will debut at Tokyo 2020, but it has been on the world championships program since 2001.

At this same meet in the last Olympic cycle in 2013, Ledecky contested the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m frees, winning the three latter races and finishing second to Missy Franklin in the 200m free. Franklin will miss nationals next week as she continues to return from January shoulder surgeries.

Ledecky goes into this year’s nationals ranked No. 1 in the world in the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m frees and No. 5 in the U.S. in the 100m free.

Ledecky showed marked improvement in the 100m free in the last four years. In Rio, she had the second-fastest split on the American 4x100m free relay team that took silver.

Ledecky is ranked No. 1 in the U.S. this year in the 400m individual medley but chose not to race it this summer.

Other headliners for nationals:

  • Ryan Murphy, Olympic 100m and 200m backstroke champion, is entered in all three backstrokes (50m, 100m and 200m) and the 100m freestyle, where he has an outside chance of earning a 4x100m relay berth.
  • Chase Kalisz, Olympic 400m IM silver medalist, is the top seed in the 200m IM and 400m IM and the No. 2 seed in the 200m butterfly.
  • Simone Manuel, four-time Rio medalist, is the top seed in the 50m and 100m frees and the No. 5 seed in the 200m free.
  • Lilly King, Olympic 100m breaststroke champion, is favored to make the team in the 50m, 100m and 200m breasts. She is also entered in the 200m IM.
  • The men’s 50m free is loaded with Olympic champions Anthony ErvinNathan AdrianCullen Jones and Caeleb Dressel as the top four seeds.

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Ex-USA Gymnastics doctor to stand trial on sex assault charges

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MASON, Mich. (AP) — A judge on Friday ordered a longtime doctor at Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics to stand trial on charges of sexually assaulting six young gymnasts who said he molested them while they were seeking treatment for various injuries.

Judge Donald Allen Jr. made his decision after hearing testimony from the alleged victims over two days and watching a campus police interview of Dr. Larry Nassar.

It is one of four Michigan criminal cases against Nassar following reports last year in the Indianapolis Star about how USA Gymnastics, which trains Olympians, mishandled complaints about sexual misconduct involving the doctor and coaches. Women and girls said the stories inspired them to step forward with detailed allegations of abuse, sometimes when their parents were in the exam room at Michigan State.

“He convinced these girls that this was some type of legitimate treatment,” Assistant Attorney General Angela Poviliatis told the judge. “Why would they question him? Why would they question this gymnastics god?”

Nassar didn’t testify nor did his lawyers offer an argument against sending the case to trial. The legal threshold in Michigan is probable cause, a low standard at the initial stages of a criminal case.

The final evidence Friday was a video of Nassar’s 40-minute interview last August with a Michigan State police detective, who was investigating a complaint from a former gymnast, now in her 30s. He was not under arrest and spoke voluntarily.

Nassar denied any inappropriate contact and said he got no sexual pleasure from treating gymnasts. He said if he had an erection, as a gymnast claimed, “that’s rather embarrassing.”

The camera was above Nassar’s head. He repeatedly moved his arms and hands as he explained his techniques, using phrases such as “lift and shift” and “tissue tension” to describe treatments for back and hip injuries. He sighed, scratched his forehead and appeared frustrated with the allegations against him.

“I’m trying my best to help the patient. I’m trying to get real-time feedback. I don’t want to hurt someone,” Nassar told Det. Sgt. Andrea Munford.

The judge watched the video and later noted that Nassar had put his fingers in a position that matched the testimony of one of the alleged victims, who said the doctor had penetrated her with his hands in 2000.

“Every victim who testified was unambiguous” about being molested, Poviliatis said. “They were clear and consistent and precise.”

Outside of the criminal cases, Nassar and Michigan State are being sued by dozens of women and girls. Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics also is a defendant in some of the lawsuits.

Nassar will appear in court in Eaton County next Friday on assault charges involving two more gymnasts. He’s separately charged in federal court in Grand Rapids with possessing child pornography.

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