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Cup of China preview, broadcast schedule

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After a world silver medal and a Skate America victory, the demanding question of Ashley Wagner is, can she be better?

In a way, Wagner faces less pressure at Cup of China this weekend than at worlds last season and Skate America in October.

Combined with the latter win, Wagner will clinch a spot in December’s Grand Prix Final with any podium placement in Beijing. Perhaps even if she finishes fourth or fifth.

The Grand Prix Final is the second-biggest annual competition, and the most exclusive. Only six skaters per discipline qualify via their two results on the six-event Grand Prix series. Cup of China is the fifth of six events.

Wagner said she left points on the table at the first event, Skate America, noting the need to work on her spins. She also singled the back end of a jump combination and under-rotated two more jumps in her free skate in Hoffman Estates, Ill.

It showed in the scores. Wagner won with 196.44 points, a total that would not have won any of the next three Grand Prix events leading up to Cup of China.

Though Wagner is the only skater in this weekend’s women’s field who boasts a Grand Prix victory this season, another skater owns a higher score. That’s Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond, who took runner-up at Skate Canada with a personal-best 206.45 points, more than 10 clear of Wagner from Skate America.

The field is deep, including 2015 World gold and bronze medalists Elizaveta Tuktamysheva and Yelena Radionova and rising Japanese 17-year-old Mai Mihara.

Another American, Courtney Hicks, can push into Grand Prix Final contention for the first time if she can reach the podium.

Three U.S. men with Grand Prix Final aspirations will be intently watching the results in Beijing. Adam Rippon, Jason Brown and Nathan Chen are all in contention to become the first U.S. man to make the final since Jeremy Abbott in 2011.

But none of them are competing this week. Rippon was third in both of his Grand Prix events, while Brown and Chen skate at next week’s NHK Trophy in Japan.

They should all be rooting for Canadian Patrick Chan to win Cup of China. Chan already has a victory from Skate Canada, so he is one foot into the Grand Prix Final like Wagner.

China’s Jin Boyang is of greater concern. The world bronze medalist took fifth at Skate America, so he pretty much needs to win Cup of China to have a shot at the Grand Prix Final. Jin, the first skater to land four quadruple jumps in an international program, certainly has the skill.

If Jin finishes second or lower, Rippon will be ahead of him in the Grand Prix standings, which will pretty much assure that the U.S. men’s Grand Prix Final drought ends.

Also in China, world silver medalists Maia and Alex Shibutani will become the third U.S. ice dance couple to qualify for the Grand Prix Final with any podium finish.

MORE: Full figure skating season broadcast schedule

Cup of China broadcast schedule (all times Eastern)

Friday Short dance 2:30 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Friday Women’s short program 4:10 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Friday Men’s short program 6:05 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Friday Pairs short program 8 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Friday Women’s, men’s short programs 8-10 p.m. UniHD
Saturday Free dance 1:30 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Women’s free skate 3:30 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Men’s free skate 5:45 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Pairs free skate 8 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Free dance, pairs free 9-11 p.m. UniHD
Sunday Cup of China 11 p.m.-12:30 a.m. NBCSN, NBC Sports app

Key Short Program Start Times Friday (ET)
Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) — 2:36 a.m.
Courtney Hicks (USA) — 4:17 a.m.
Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN) — 4:24 a.m.
Ashley Wagner (USA) — 4:37 a.m.
Yelena Radionova (RUS) — 5:17 a.m.
Patrick Chan (CAN) — 6:12 a.m.
Jin Boyang (CHN) — 6:59 a.m.
Max Aaron (USA) — 7:12 a.m.

Top Grand Prix Season Scores
Men
1. Javier Fernández (ESP) — 292.98 (Rostelecom Cup)
2. Javier Fernández (ESP) — 285.38 (Trophée de France)
3. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 285.07 (Rostelecom Cup)
4. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 279.34 (Skate America)
5. Denis Ten (KAZ) — 265.26 (Trophée de France)
6. Jason Brown (USA) — 268.38 (Skate America)
7. Adam Rippon (USA) — 267.53 (Trophée de France)
8. Patrick Chan (CAN) — 266.95 (Skate Canada)
9. Nathan Chen (USA) — 264.80 (Trophée de France)
10. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 263.06 (Skate Canada)

Women
1. Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 221.54 (Trophée de France)
2. Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 220.65 (Skate Canada)
3. Anna Pogorilaya (RUS) — 215.21 (Rostelecom Cup)
4. Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN) — 206.45 (Skate Canada)
5. Maria Sotskova (RUS) — 200.35 (Trophée de France)
6. Ashley Wagner (USA) — 196.44 (Skate America)
7. Yelena Radionova (RUS) — 195.60 (Rostelecom Cup)
8. Wakaba Higuchi (JPN) — 194.48 (Trophée de France)
9. Gabrielle Daleman (CAN) — 192.10 (Trophée de France)
10. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 192.08 (Skate Canada)

Pairs
1. Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford (CAN) — 218.30 (Skate Canada)
2. Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot (GER) — 210.59 (Trophée de France)
3. Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot (GER) — 207.89 (Rostelecom Cup)
4. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 206.94 (Trophée de France)
5. Yu Xiaoyu/Zhang Hao (CHN) — 202.08 (Skate Canada)
6. Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres (FRA) — 198.58 (Trophée de France)
7. Natalya Zabiyako/Alexander Enbert (RUS) — 197.77 (Rostelecom Cup)
8. Julianne Séguin/Charlie Bilodeau (CAN) — 197.31 (Skate America)
9. Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier (USA) — 192.65 (Skate America)
10. Natalya Zabiiako/Alexander Enbert (RUS) — 192.56 (Trophée de France)

Ice Dance
1. Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 193.50 (Trophée de France)
2. Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir (CAN) — 189.06 (Skate Canada)
3. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 188.24 (Skate Canada)
4. Yekaterina Bobrova/Dmitry Soloviyev (RUS) — 186.68 (Rostelecom Cup)
5. Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) — 185.75 (Skate America)

6. Piper Gilles/Paul Poirier (CAN) — 182.57 (Skate Canada)
7. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 182.13 (Rostelecom Cup)
8. Anna Cappellini/Luca Lanotte (ITA) — 180.35 (Skate Canada)
9. Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje (CAN) — 178.57 (Rostelecom Cup)
10. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 175.77 (Skate America)

 

London Marathon preview; runners to watch

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World records are under threat from male and female runners at the London Marathon on Sunday (3:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold).

The forecast calls for the warmest London Marathon in its 38-year history (a high Sunday in the low 70s, though likely cooler for the morning start times).

The elite fields, stronger than for last Monday’s Boston Marathon, include the greatest marathoners of this generation — Eliud Kipchoge and Mary Keitany — plus arguably each Kenyan’s top rival at the moment.

Five runners to watch in each field …

Eliud Kipchoge, Kenya
2016 Olympic champ
2015, 2016 London Marathon winner
Ran 2:00:25 in Nike’s sub-two-hour marathon attempt last May

In Kipchoge’s last start in London, he missed countryman Dennis Kimetto‘s world record by eight seconds, prevailing in 2:03:05 in 2016. Since, Kipchoge won the Olympic title, had what he deemed his greatest performance in the sub-two-hour (non-record-eligible) event and extended his marathon win streak to seven races over four years in rainy, humid Berlin last September. The 33-year-old has refused to get into world-record talk, telling media he just wants to run “a beautiful race” Sunday.

Kenenisa Bekele, Ethiopia
Second-fastest marathoner of all time (Berlin 2016, 2:03:03)
World-record holder in 5000m, 10,000m
Eight Olympic/world titles in 5000m, 10,000m

Credentials from 5000m to marathon make a strong case that Bekele is the greatest runner of all time, ahead of Usain Bolt and Kipchoge. He really started taking aim at the world record after that 2016 Berlin breakthrough. Bekele was runner-up with foot blisters in London last year, nearly three minutes slower than in Germany, and failed to finish his other two marathons in 2017. “To have the records for 5000m to marathon would be something – no one else has done that. I feel like that would make me the greatest ever,” Bekele said, according to marathon organizers.

Mo Farah, Great Britain
2012, 2016 Olympic champ in 5000m/10,000m
Second marathon
8th at 2014 London Marathon

Farah’s primary goal Sunday is modest in comparison to Kipchoge and Bekele — break the British marathon record of 2:07:13. Farah, repeating in a press conference Tuesday that he is ranked 27th in the world in the distance, said he still intends to go out with the leaders even if they start on world-record pace. It’s his first marathon since switching full-time to road running after last season and his second overall after his 2:08:21 in London four years ago.

Guye Adola, Ethiopia
Second to Kipchoge at 2017 Berlin Marathon in 26.2-mile debut

Adola came out of nowhere to finish 14 seconds behind Kipchoge in Berlin on Sept. 24 in the fastest-ever marathon debut on a record-eligible course, sticking with Kipchoge until the last mile. Afterward, we learned Adola didn’t know he was running until four days before the race and wasn’t meant to start with the elite group. The 27-year-old was second and fifth in half marathons in January and February, not particularly impressive.

Daniel Wanjiru, Kenya
2017 London Marathon winner

Wanjiru won his major marathon debut last year, then returned to London for the world championships on Aug. 6 and was eighth. Neither of those fields was as strong as Sunday’s is shaping up to be. Just 25, Wanjiru will be tested like never before.

Mary Keitany, Kenya
2011, 2012, 2017 London Marathon winner
Ran fastest marathon by a woman without male pacers
2014, 2015, 2016 New York City Marathon winner

The 5-foot-2 mother of two smashed Paula Radcliffe‘s women-only world record by 41 seconds in London last year, clocking 2:17:01. She’ll run with male pacers Sunday in a bid to break Radcliffe’s world record of 2:15:25 from the 2003 London Marathon (the first time since 2003 London has male pacers for the women’s race). Keitany was stunned by Shalane Flanagan at her last marathon in New York City in November but came back in February to lower her half marathon personal best. “I’ve had Paula’s record in mind since I started my career,” the 36-year-old Keitany said.

Tirunesh Dibaba, Ethiopia
2017 Chicago Marathon winner
2017 London Marathon runner-up
Third-fastest female marathoner of all time
Eight Olympic/world titles in 5000m/10,000m

The Baby-Faced Destroyer is the only woman in the field whose personal best is within two minutes of Keitany’s. There’s reason to believe she can be closer to Keitany than last year (55 seconds behind, and that’s after stopping briefly with two miles left with stomach problems). Dibaba is four years younger than Keitany, with a decorated track background and just one year into her full-time marathon career.

Gladys Cherono, Kenya
2015, 2017 Berlin Marathon winner

The woman with the third-fastest personal best in the field has never raced London and was fifth in her only major marathon outside of Berlin. She was eighth in a half marathon in February, more than two minutes behind Keitany.

Rose Chelimo, Bahrain
2017 World champion
2017 Boston Marathon runner-up

Impressive second year as a marathoner in 2017. Chelimo, 28, was born in Kenya but switched to Bahrain in 2015. Though this is her London Marathon debut, her world title came in London in August. She did not impress at the world half marathon championships last month, finishing 14th overall and fifth among runners from Bahrain.

Vivian Cheruiyot, Kenya
Fourth at 2017 London Marathon in 26.2-mile debut
Four Olympic medals in 5000m/10,000m
Four world championships in 5000m/10,000m

Credentials similar to but not quite as impressive as Dibaba in terms of track medals, early marathon experience and age (34 to Dibaba’s 32). Cheruiyot finished more than five minutes behind Keitany and Dibaba in her 26.2-mile debut in London last year. She dropped out of the New York City Half Marathon on March 18 with a breathing problem in the cold weather but insisted she’s healthy for Sunday.

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Lance Armstrong settles $100 million lawsuit with U.S. government

Lance Armstrong
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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Lance Armstrong has reached a $5 million settlement with the federal government in a whistleblower lawsuit that could have sought $100 million in damages from the cyclist who was stripped of his record seven Tour de France victories after admitting he used performance-enhancing drugs throughout much of his career.

The deal announced Thursday came as the two sides prepared for a trial that was scheduled to start May 7 in Washington. Armstrong’s former U.S. Postal Service teammate Floyd Landis filed the original lawsuit in 2010 and is eligible for up to 25 percent of the settlement.

Seeking millions spent sponsoring Armstrong’s powerhouse teams, the government joined the lawsuit against Armstrong in 2013 after his televised confession to using steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs and methods. Armstrong had already retired, but the confession shattered the legacy of one of the most popular sports figures in the world.

In a statement to The Associated Press, Armstrong said he’s happy to have “made peace with the Postal Service.”

“While I believe that their lawsuit against me was meritless and unfair, and while I am spending a lot of money to resolve it, I have since 2013 tried to take full responsibility for my mistakes and inappropriate conduct, and make amends wherever possible,” he said. “I rode my heart out for the Postal cycling team, and was always especially proud to wear the red, white and blue eagle on my chest when competing in the Tour de France. Those memories are very real and mean a lot to me.”

The settlement clears the 46-year-old Armstrong of the most damaging legal issues still facing the cyclist since his downfall. He had already taken huge hits financially, losing all his major sponsors and being forced to pay more than $20 million in damages and settlements in a series of lawsuits. The government’s lawsuit would have been the biggest by far.

Armstrong is still believed to be worth millions based on a vast investment portfolio and homes in Austin, Texas, and Aspen, Colo. He also owns a pair of bicycle shops in Austin and WeDu, an endurance events company. He also hosts a regular podcast in which he interviews other sports figures and celebrities and has provided running commentary on the Tour de France.

Armstrong had built a worldwide following during his career winning races and fighting cancer.

His personal story of recovering from testicular cancer that had spread to his brain, while forcefully denying persistent rumors of doping, had built his Lance Armstrong Foundation cancer charity into a $500 million global brand and turned him into a celebrity. The foundation, which removed him from its board and renamed itself Livestrong, has seen donations and revenue plummet since Armstrong’s confession.

Armstrong’s team was already under the Postal Service sponsorship when he won his first Tour de France in 1999. The media frenzy that followed pushed the agency to sign the team for another five years. Armstrong and his teams dominated cycling’s marquee event, winning every year from 1999-2005.

Armstrong’s cheating was finally uncovered in 2012 when the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, armed with sworn testimony from Landis and other former teammates, moved to strip Armstrong of his titles.

One of Armstrong’s fiercest critics was frustrated by the settlement. Betsy Andreu, whose husband Frankie was a former Armstrong teammate, was the first to testify under oath about his performance-enhancing drug use in a 2005 civil lawsuit.

“It’s utterly shocking that the government settled for so little,” Andreu said.

Andreu and her husband were close with Armstrong when the men were teammates before Andreu retired in 2000. Armstrong later strenuously denied Betsy’s claims of drug use and tried to publicly discredit her, which succeeded for years. She wanted the case to go to trial.

“I would have liked to have been questioned under oath. That’s my goal. And whether or not the jury would have convicted him would have been a different story, but it would have been nice to have my say under oath. He tried to destroy me.,” Andreu said.

Landis, himself a former doping cheat who was stripped of his 2006 Tour de France title, sued Armstrong under the federal False Claims Act, alleging Armstrong and his team committed fraud against the government when they cheated while riding under the Postal Service banner. According to court records, the contract paid the team, which was operated by Tailwind Sports Corp., about $32 million from 2000 to 2004. Armstrong got nearly $13.5 million.

Under the lawsuit, the government could have pursued “treble” damages, which could have reached the $100 million range. As the person who filed the original lawsuit, Landis is eligible for up to 25 percent of the settlement, which will include an additional $1.65 million paid to Landis’ attorneys.

Armstrong had claimed he didn’t owe the Postal Service anything because the agency made far more off the sponsorship than it paid; Armstrong’s lawyers introduced internal studies for the agency that calculated benefits in media exposure topping $100 million. The government countered that Armstrong had been “unjustly enriched” through the sponsorship and that the negative fallout from the doping scandal tainted the agency’s reputation.

Armstrong had been the target of a federal criminal grand jury, but that case was closed without charges in February 2012. Armstrong had previously tried to settle the Landis whistleblower lawsuit, but those talks broke down before the government announced its intention to join the case.

“I am glad to resolve this case and move forward with my life,” Armstrong said. “I’m looking forward to devoting myself to the many great things in my life — my five kids, my wife, my podcast, several exciting writing and film projects, my work as a cancer survivor, and my passion for sports and competition. There is a lot to look forward to.”

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