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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)

World Figure Skating Championships pairs preview

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Volosozhar and Trankov couldn’t do it. Neither did Shen and Zhao. Nor Gordeeva and Grinkov.

Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford can win a third straight pairs world title next week, a feat not seen since Irina Rodnina and Alexander Zaitsev of the Soviet Union won six in a row from 1973 through 1978.

But they don’t feel like favorites.

“We’re coming in a little more under the radar,” Radford said.

They lost their two most recent international competitions — third at the Grand Prix Final in December; second at the Four Continents Championships in February.

Duhamel and Radford are seeded fifth by best international scores this season going into the world championships in Helsinki (broadcast schedule here).

“Sometimes it feels like worlds last year was so long ago,” Radford said.

Last year in Boston, Duhamel and Radford had the performance of their seven-year partnership in the world championships free skate. They tallied a personal-best 153.81 points, more than seven points clear of their previous best.

It was easily enough to overtake Chinese short-program leaders Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, who were relegated to silver behind the Canadians for a second straight year.

This season, Duhamel and Radford haven’t come within 13 points of their 2016 World Championships total. Duhamel went through “an unforeseeable circumstance” in her personal life in November that she chooses not to reveal.

They implemented the throw triple Axel, but Duhamel fell three times in a four-event stretch this fall. They lost by nearly 13 points at December’s Grand Prix Final, which ended with a Duhamel backstage meltdown.

“We never fell like that at home [in practice],” Duhamel said on the IceTalk podcast. “It started to shake us up a little bit.”

They replaced the throw triple Axel in their program. Without it in February, both skaters had trouble with jumps at Four Continents at the 2018 Olympic venue and finished nearly 13 points behind Sui and Han.

“We kind of went back to square one, to the drawing board after Four Continents, reassessing what’s gone on this season, why are we underperforming, why are we not succeeding in competition the way we are training,” Duhamel said.

They made program changes, notably on their throw and jump entrances and overhauling the footwork in their short program.

Duhamel adopted a rescue dog from South Korea. Radford, who had surgery over the summer to remove a cyst from his ankle bone, leaned on a sports psychologist.

“I personally feel a lot more relaxed and seemless,” Radford said. “That feeling has come a little bit later this season.”

Five pairs could take gold in Helsinki in perhaps the most wide-open event.

Germans Aliona Savchenko and (French-born) Bruno Massot won both of their fall Grand Prix events but missed the Grand Prix Final after she tore an ankle ligament. They returned to take silver at the European Championships in January with the best score of their two-year partnership.

Young Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov stepped up to win the Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual competition, and then the European Championships. But free-skate struggles have dogged them this season.

Another Russian pair, Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, are perhaps the biggest wild card. They missed the fall season due to Stolbova’s left leg injury, but then beat Tarasova and Morozov in their season debut at the Russian Championships. Stolbova fell on their throw triple flip in both programs at the European Championships in January, and they finished fourth.

Then there are Sui and Han, looking to break through for a first senior world title in their sixth try (though Sui is just 21 years old, and Han 24). They missed the fall season after Sui underwent right ankle and left foot surgeries last spring. They returned at Four Continents and posted personal-best free skate and total scores, ranking only behind Tarasova and Morozov for the season.

U.S. pairs Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim and Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier have both missed significant time due to injury in the last two years. They are behind the top pairs from Canada, China and Russia.

The U.S. hasn’t put a pair in the world championships top five since 2006, and that doesn’t figure to change next week.

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MORE: Ashley Wagner knows pressure’s on her at worlds

NBC Sports researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.

Ashley Caldwell will win or lose Olympic aerials gold with triples

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PARK CITY, Utah (AP) — As a teenager, Ashley Caldwell never had problems hanging with the boys when it came to doing the biggest flips off the aerials ramp. Now in her 20s, she sees no reason for that to change.

Caldwell will make or miss her third U.S. Olympic team, then potentially win or lose the gold medal in South Korea, by doing triple flips off the kicker while most of the women are doing doubles. It’s an all-or-nothing proposition that sets the bar high, and sends a certain message, regardless of whether she finishes first or last.

“It’s not just about trying to be there by myself,” Caldwell says. “It’s about maybe inspiring some younger girls to say, `I should be able to push to whatever I’m capable of doing, not necessarily what people say my gender is capable of doing.”‘

Caldwell never shirked from joining the teenage boys when they started moving to the bigger kickers and adding an extra flip to the doubles they did as kids.

Triples are the price of admission for the men, and while not unheard of among the women, the list of athletes who will try them is short: Jacqui Cooper, Alla Tsuper and Xu Mengtao are among the few who have tried them over the years. They’re also among the best to ever fly off a ramp.

At the Sochi Olympics, Lydia Lassila of Australia became the first woman to land a quadruple-twisting triple flip on snow in training. The next night, she brought it to the medals round, and though she touched her hand to the ground on the landing, she won a bronze medal anyway and stole the headlines.

“That’s who I’m inspired by,” Caldwell said that night. “She’s trying to push the sport so that girls are jumping like the boys, and she’s doing it, and it’s really impressive.”

At freestyle world championships earlier this month, Caldwell sent her message when she became the first woman to cleanly land that same triple-flipping, quadruple-twisting jump in competition (video here).

“It was the first time I had every coach come up to me and shake my hand before the score even came up,” said Todd Ossian, who works with Caldwell as head coach of the U.S. aerials team.

And yet, Caldwell was oh-so-close to not being able to even try that winning jump.

Aerials competitions go through a series of qualifying and elimination rounds that include only one jump each. Consistency is rewarded, and most women train a variety of double flips to make it through the rounds, then bring out their most intricate jump – more often than not, also a double – for when the medals are awarded.

Caldwell doesn’t go that route. She tries triples every time she steps onto the hill.

It adds extra – some might say unnecessary – risk to the early rounds. When the field was being cut from 12 to nine at world championships, for instance, Caldwell didn’t land her triple flip. She was able to squeak into the top nine and advance only because her degree of difficulty for the triple was so high.

“I’m OK sacrificing some good competition results to increase my consistency on the triple,” says Caldwell, giving a nod to the reality that training days on snow are precious and she needs to use them to focus on the jumps she’ll be performing when the contests start.

The recently ended season tested the limits of how much Caldwell was willing to sacrifice. In meet after meet, from Moscow to Minsk to an Olympic test event in South Korea, difficulties with the triple kept her far away from the podium. In the World Cup standings, Caldwell finished 10th.

To her, that’s more a badge of honor than a sign of failure. In a sport that oddly transforms daredevils into conformists, and rewards consistency over risk-taking, Caldwell plans to keep pushing anyway.

In doing triples, her mission is as much about winning as bringing others along for the ride.

“I want the crowd to feel like they know who won,” Caldwell said. “I want it to be impressive. I just want people to say, `That’s sweet. That’s what’s deserved.’ If a lot of girls are doing triples up there and I fall, there would still be a lot of girls who would do well. I’m cool with that. If I mess up, that’s OK. But I want the sport to look good.”

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VIDEO: Top U.S. aerials skier crashes hard at World Cup