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Trophée de France preview, broadcast schedule

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As if Gracie Gold needed any more pressure, there’s this: she must beat the reigning world champion this weekend to have even a small chance to qualify for December’s Grand Prix Final.

Gold, three weeks after finishing a disappointing fifth at Skate America, will face a field that includes Russian world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva at Trophée de France in Paris on Friday and Saturday.

Gold reportedly said after Skate America, where she had her worst Grand Prix finish since her debut four years ago, that she needed to adjust her mental and physical shape.

She talked openly about still feeling depressed in the summer due to her world championships performance from April, when she dropped from first after the short program to fourth. She also mentioned taking weeks off from training in the summer and not being in ideal physical shape for Skate America.

Given that, Gold may not be focusing on a victory this week, or the Grand Prix Final, but rather steady progress and gearing up for the U.S. Championships in January.

But if you’re looking at the Grand Prix Final, Gold’s fifth-place finish at Skate America means she pretty much must win in Paris to have a shot at making the second-biggest annual event in the sport. Six skaters qualify based on their two finishes from the six-event Grand Prix series.

No female skater has qualified for the Grand Prix Final with fifth- and second-place finishes in their two starts in the last decade. A fifth and a first would give Gold a little hope, though a woman hasn’t made it outright with those results since 2012.

Trophée de France is the fourth of six Grand Prix Final qualifiers, so the six-skater fields won’t be known for two more weeks. The favorites are the top two finishers from each of the first three Grand Prix events — Medvedeva, Ashley Wagner, Anna PogorilayaKaetlyn OsmondYelena Radionova and Mariah Bell (should Bell be given a second Grand Prix assignment).

Gold qualified for the Grand Prix Final each of the last two seasons.

In 2015, Gold actually won this French qualifier against a field that included the reigning world champion, then Russian Elizaveta Tuktamysheva. The free skate was canceled due to the Paris terror attacks (the competition was held in Bordeaux), and Gold was leading after a personal-best short program.

However, Tuktamysheva struggled mightily in her follow-up season after a world title. Medvedeva has shown no signs of slowing down this season, winning Skate Canada with the highest total score of the Grand Prix season.

There are several more intriguing skaters in Paris this week.

Three-time world champion Mao Asada looks to bounce back from her worst Grand Prix finish (a sixth at Skate America) since 2010.

Nathan Chen, who last season became the youngest man to make the U.S. Championships top three since 1973, makes his top-level senior international debut at age 17.

Chen landed four quadruple jumps in his U.S. Championships free skate on Jan. 24, and finished third. But later that day he aggravated a hip injury in an exhibition skate, needed surgery and was replaced on the world championships team.

Chen lost little promise, though, as he opened this season by beating three-time world champion Patrick Chan at a small event in Finland one month ago. Chen attempted five quads in his free skate there, falling twice.

In Paris, Chen takes on the two-time reigning world champion, Javier Fernandez of Spain, and U.S. champion Adam Rippon.

In pairs, Germans Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot compete for a second straight week after winning Rostelecom Cup in Russia. They ended their free skate with a throw quad Salchow attempt, and though Savchenko fell on it, the move showed they are trying to challenge world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada. Duhamel and Radford aren’t competing in Paris, though.

In ice dance, France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron compete for the first time since winning a second straight world title in April. Top rivals from the U.S. and Canada are all not skating in Paris.

MORE: Full figure skating season broadcast schedule

Trophée de France broadcast schedule (all times Eastern)

Friday Pairs short program 9:40 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Friday Short dance 11 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Friday Men’s short program 12:45 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Friday Women’s short program 2:40 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Friday Women’s, men’s short programs 8-10 p.m. UniHD
Saturday Pairs free skate 7:45 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Free dance 9:25 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Men’s free skate 12:20 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Women’s free skate 2:30 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Free dance, pairs free 8-10 p.m. UniHD
Sunday Trophée de France 4:30-6 p.m. NBCSN, NBC Sports app

Key Start Times (Friday ET)
Marissa Castelli/Mervin Tran (USA) — 9:54 a.m.
Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot (GER) — 10:27
Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 11:46
Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 12:13 p.m.
Adam Rippon (USA) — 12:52
Javier Fernandez (ESP) — 1:32
Nathan Chen (USA) — 1:58
Gracie Gold (USA) — 2:47
Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 2:54
Mao Asada (JPN) — 3:07

Top Grand Prix Season Scores
Men
1. Javier Fernandez (ESP) — 292.98 (Rostelecom Cup)
2. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 285.07 (Rostelecom Cup)
3. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 279.34 (Skate America)
4. Jason Brown (USA) — 268.38 (Skate America)
5. Patrick Chan (CAN) — 266.95 (Skate Canada)
6. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 263.06 (Skate Canada)
7. Adam Rippon (USA) — 261.43 (Skate America)

Women
1. Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 220.65 (Skate Canada)
2. Anna Pogorilaya (RUS) — 215.21 (Rostelecom Cup)
3. Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN) — 206.45 (Skate Canada)
4. Ashley Wagner (USA) — 196.44 (Skate America)
5. Yelena Radionova (RUS) — 195.60 (Rostelecom Cup)
6. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 192.08 (Skate Canada)
7. Mariah Bell (USA) — 191.49 (Skate America)

Pairs
1. Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford (CAN) — 218.30 (Skate Canada)
2. Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot (GER) — 207.89 (Rostelecom Cup)
3. Yu Xiaoyu/Zhang Hao (CHN) — 202.08 (Skate Canada)
4. Natalya Zabiyako/Alexander Enbert (RUS) — 197.77 (Rostelecom Cup)
5. Julianne Séguin/Charlie Bilodeau (CAN) — 197.31 (Skate America)
6. Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier (USA) — 192.65 (Skate America)
7. Lubov Ilyushechkina/Dylan Moscovitch (CAN) — 190.22 (Skate Canada)

Ice Dance
1. Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir (CAN) — 189.06 (Skate Canada)
2. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 188.24 (Skate Canada)
3. Yekaterina Bobrova/Dmitry Soloviyev (RUS) — 186.68 (Rostelecom Cup)
4. Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) — 185.75 (Skate America)

5. Piper Gilles/Paul Poirier (CAN) — 182.57 (Skate Canada)
6. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 182.13 (Rostelecom Cup)
7. Anna Cappellini/Luca Lanotte (ITA) — 180.35 (Skate Canada)

Ghana Olympic skeleton slider’s helmet: rabbit escapes lion

Ron Leblanc
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It’s called The Rabbit Theory.

That’s what Akwasi Frimpong, Ghana’s first Olympic skeleton slider, calls his new helmet.

The one that he will wear in PyeongChang as the second athlete from his nation to compete at a Winter Games.

Frimpong, 31, tells an incredible story.

He said he was raised by his grandmother Minka in a one-room home with nine other children before joining his mom in the Netherlands at age 8 as an illegal immigrant and eventually moving to Utah.

Frimpong’s full story is here.

Frimpong’s life — before he converted from sprinting to bobsled to skeleton — was chronicled in a 2010 Dutch documentary tilted “Theorie van het Konjin” (translation: The Rabbit Theory).

“My former sprint coach Sammy Monsels talks about the analogy of a rabbit in a cage, ready to escape from a lion,” Frimpong said in an email Monday. “I am that rabbit, and I have escaped the lions [of my past]. I am no longer being eaten by all the things around my life.”

The helmet that he will wear sliding head-first down an icy chute in South Korea in three weeks draws attention to it.

The design is of a lion’s head with mouth agape and a pair of rabbits coming out. Plus the colors of the Ghanaian flag.

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MORE: Jamaica qualifies first Olympic women’s bobsled team

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USA Gymnastics leaders resign as more victims speak

USA Gymnastics
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LANSING, Mich. (AP) — USA Gymnastics announced the resignations of three key leaders Monday while more women and girls told a judge about being sexually assaulted at the hands of a sports doctor who spent years with Olympic gymnasts and other female athletes.

The resignations of chairman Paul Parilla, vice chairman Jay Binder and treasurer Bitsy Kelley were announced in Indianapolis while a judge in Lansing heard a fifth day of statements from women and girls who said they were molested by Larry Nassar.

“We support their decisions to resign at this time,” said Kerry Perry, president and CEO of USA Gymnastics, which is the national governing body for gymnastics. “We believe this step will allow us to more effectively move forward in implementing change within our organization.”

The board positions are volunteer and unpaid, but the resignations add to the months of turmoil. Steve Penny quit as president last March after critics said USA Gymnastics failed to protect gymnasts from abusive coaches and Nassar.

“New board leadership is necessary because the current leaders have been focused on establishing that they did nothing wrong,” USOC CEO Scott Blackmun said in a statement Monday. “USA Gymnastics needs to focus on supporting the brave survivors.”

USA Gymnastics last week said it was ending its long relationship with the Karolyi Ranch, the Huntsville, Texas, home of former national team coordinator Martha Karolyi and her husband, Bela. Some Olympians said they were assaulted there by Nassar.

Meanwhile, in Michigan, Nassar’s sentencing hearing continued Monday, raising the number of girls and women who have spoken to nearly 100 since last week.

“I want to you know that your face and the face of all of the sister survivor warriors — the whole army of you — I’ve heard your words,” Ingham County Circuit Judge Rosemarie Aquilina said after a woman spoke in her Michigan courtroom. “Your sister survivors and you are going through incomprehensible lengths, emotions and soul-searching to put your words together, to publicly stop (the) defendant, to publicly stop predators, to make people listen.”

Nassar, 54, has admitted molesting athletes during medical treatment when he was employed by Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics. He has already been sentenced to 60 years in prison for child pornography crimes.

Under a plea deal, he faces a minimum prison sentence of 25 to 40 years in the molestation case. The maximum term could be much higher.

“Larry, how many of us are there? Do you even know?” asked Clasina Syrboby, as she fought back tears while speaking for more than 20 minutes Monday. “You preyed on me, on us. You saw a way to take advantage of your position — the almighty and trusted gymnastics doctor. Shame on you Larry. Shame on you.

She and other victims also continued their criticism of Michigan State, USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee for not doing enough to stop Nassar when initial complaints were made.

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MORE: Watch, read Aly Raisman’s full testimony