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NHK Trophy preview, broadcast schedule

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A U.S. figure skating drought can end this week.

It has been five years since an American man qualified for the sport’s most exclusive event, the Grand Prix Final. Never before in the event’s two-decade history had the U.S. men been shut out of back-to-back Grand Prix Finals.

The last of six qualifying competitions for December’s Grand Prix Final is this week’s NHK Trophy in Sapporo, Japan. Three U.S. men are still in the running for the three remaining Grand Prix Final berths, including two who are competing at NHK.

First, there is Jason Brown, a 2014 Olympian and 2015 U.S. champion. Brown finished second at his first qualifying event, Skate America, last month. That means he will qualify for the Grand Prix Final with a podium finish in Sapporo, and perhaps even if he finishes fourth.

Brown has been in this position before. Two years ago, he also took silver at Skate America. But he stumbled in the short program of his second qualifier and finished fifth.

Brown would have made the 2014 Grand Prix Final over Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu had Hanyu scored .16 of a point lower at that season’s NHK Trophy (or if American Jeremy Abbott scored .16 higher). It was an agonizing miss for Brown, who rebounded to finish fourth at the 2015 World Championships but missed most of last season with a back injury.

Hanyu and Brown headline this week’s NHK Trophy men’s field. While Hanyu is the heavy favorite to win, Brown’s podium chances are also strong. They are the only two men in Sapporo who have Grand Prix gold or silver medals to their names.

Perhaps the most intriguing skater in the field is Nathan Chen, a 17-year-old American. Chen attempted five quadruple jumps in his Trophée de France free skate two weeks ago and finished fourth overall.

If Chen finishes second or higher at NHK, he will almost surely qualify for the Grand Prix Final. He would be the youngest man to make the six-skater Grand Prix Final since Hanyu in 2011.

Then there’s 2016 U.S. champion Adam Rippon, who is not competing at NHK. Rippon is the clubhouse leader in the standings for the last three available Grand Prix Final spots by virtue of his third-place finishes at Skate America and Trophée de France.

If NHK goes to plan, with Hanyu and Brown finishing one-two, then Hanyu, Brown and Rippon will take the final three spots in the Grand Prix Final. It would mark the first time since 2009 that the U.S. puts multiple men into the Grand Prix Final.

Meanwhile, there are likely to be zero U.S. women in the Grand Prix Final for the first time since 2008.

Like Rippon, Ashley Wagner is the clubhouse leader for the three remaining available Grand Prix Final spots. But she damaged her chances by placing sixth at last week’s Cup of China.

Russians Anna Pogorilaya and Maria Sotskova will pass Wagner if they are on form and make the podium (or perhaps lower) at NHK. Essentially, the same goes for lesser favorites Wakaba Higuchi and Satoko Miyahara of Japan, though with only three Grand Prix Final spots available, only one of them needs to be on form (with the Russians) to KO Wagner.

The most compelling head-to-head at NHK will be in ice dance, between two-time reigning world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France and Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. Virtue and Moir returned this year after taking two full seasons off following silver medals in Sochi.

MORE: U.S., world champion figure skaters join Mannequin Challenge

NHK Trophy broadcast schedule (all times Eastern)

Friday Pairs short program 12:20 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Friday Women’s short program 2:10 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Friday Men’s short program 5:11 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Friday Short dance 10:45 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Friday Women’s, men’s short programs 8-10 p.m. UniHD
Saturday Pairs free skate 12:35 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Women’s free skate 2:57 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Men’s free skate 5:30 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Free dance 9:45 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Pairs free skate 8:30-9:30 p.m. UniHD
Sunday Free dance 3-4 p.m. UniHD
Sunday NHK Trophy 4-6 p.m. NBC, NBC Sports app

Grand Prix Final Standings (Top 6 Qualify)
Men
1. Javier Fernández (ESP) — 30 points (qualified)
2. Patrick Chan (CAN) — 30 (qualified)
3. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 28 (qualified)
4. Adam Rippon (USA) — 22
5. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 20

Skating at NHK Trophy
Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — Will qualify if 3rd or higher
Jason Brown (USA) — Will qualify if 3rd or higher
Oleksii Bychenko (ISR) — Will qualify if 2nd or higher
Nathan Chen (USA) — Will qualify if 1st

Women
1. Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 30 points (qualified)
2. Yelena Radionova (RUS) — 28 (qualified)
3. Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN) — 26 (qualified)
4. Ashley Wagner (USA) — 20

Skating at NHK Trophy
Anna Pogorilaya (RUS) — Will qualify if 4th or higher
Maria Sotskova (RUS) — Will qualify if 3rd or higher
Wakaba Higuchi (JPN) — Likely qualify if 3rd or higher
Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — Likely qualify if 3rd or higher

Pairs
1. Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot (GER) — 30 points (qualified)
2. Yu Xiaoyu/Zhang Hao (CHN) — 28 (qualified)
3. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 24 (qualified)
4. Julianne Séguin/Charlie Bilodeau (CAN) — 22
5. Natalja Zabijako/Alexander Enbert (RUS) — 22

Skating at NHK Trophy
Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford (CAN) — Will qualify if 4th or higher
Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — Will qualify if 3rd or higher
Wang Xuehan/Wang Lei (CHN) — Will likely qualify if 2nd or higher

Ice Dance
1. Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) — 30 points (qualified)
2. Yekaterina Bobrova/Dmitry Soloviyev (RUS) — 26 (qualified)
3. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 26 (qualified)
4. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 26 (qualified)
5. Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje (CAN) — 24

Skating at NHK Trophy
Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — Will qualify if 3rd or higher
Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir (CAN) — Will qualify if 3rd or higher

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. Patrick Chan (CAN) — 279.72 (Cup of China)
5. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 279.34 (Skate America)
6. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 278.54 (Cup of China)
7. Denis Ten (KAZ) — 265.26 (Trophée de France)
8. Jason Brown (USA) — 268.38 (Skate America)
9. Adam Rippon (USA) — 267.53 (Trophée de France)
10. Patrick Chan (CAN) — 266.95 (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. Yelena Radionova (RUS) — 205.90 (Cup of China)
6. Maria Sotskova (RUS) — 200.35 (Trophée de France)
7. Ashley Wagner (USA) — 196.44 (Skate America)
8. Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN) — 196.00 (Cup of China)
9. Yelena Radionova (RUS) — 195.60 (Rostelecom Cup)
10. Wakaba Higuchi (JPN) — 194.48 (Trophée de France)

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) — 203.76 (Cup of China)
6. Yu Xiaoyu/Zhang Hao (CHN) — 202.08 (Skate Canada)
7. Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres (FRA) — 198.58 (Trophée de France)
8. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 197.96 (Cup of China)
9. Natalya Zabiyako/Alexander Enbert (RUS) — 197.77 (Rostelecom Cup)
10. Julianne Séguin/Charlie Bilodeau (CAN) — 197.31 (Skate America)

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. Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) — 185.13 (Cup of China)
7. Piper Gilles/Paul Poirier (CAN) — 182.57 (Skate Canada)
8. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 182.13 (Rostelecom Cup)
9. Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje (CAN) — 181.54 (Cup of China)
10. Anna Cappellini/Luca Lanotte (ITA) — 180.35 (Skate Canada)

Salt Lake City forms committee to weigh Olympic bid

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Salt Lake City has formed an exploratory committee to decide if the city will bid to host the Winter Olympics in either 2026 or 2030 — taking a key step toward trying to become a rare two-time host city.

The group made up of elected officials, business leaders and one key member of the organizing committee for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City said Monday that it plans to make a recommendation to state leaders by Feb. 1.

The announcement comes after the U.S. Olympic Committee board said Friday that it was moving forward with discussions about bringing the Winter Games to America for either 2026 or 2030.

Because Los Angeles was recently awarded the 2028 Summer Games, a bid for 2030 would make more sense, chairman Larry Probst said Friday.

The USOC has until next March to pick a city; those expressing interest include Salt Lake City, Denver and Reno, Nevada.

Innsbruck, Austria, said Sunday it wouldn’t bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics, taking one more city out of the running. The hosting rights are set to be awarded in July 2019.

The same country hasn’t hosted back-to-back Olympics since before World War II, though when the International Olympic Committee scrapped its traditional rules and awarded 2024 (Paris) and 2028 (LA) at the same time, it indicated it was certainly open to new ideas.

Since 2012, Salt Lake City has been letting Olympic officials know the city was ready and willing to host again with a plan based on renovating and upgrading venues that have been in use since the Games ended.

The city had previously estimated it could put on a Winter Olympics for about $2 billion, but the committee will come up with a new cost estimate, said Jeff Robbins, the president and CEO of the Utah Sports Commission.

Robbins is one of three co-chairs on the committee along with Utah Senate President Wayne Niederhauser and Fraser Bullock, a key player in Salt Lake City’s 2002 Olympics.

Robbins said he thinks the city has a great shot at winning a bid based on the relatively low cost and because it has demonstrated it knows how to maintain venues and keep them in use, putting the city in line with Agenda 2020, the blueprint that IOC President Thomas Bach created for future Olympics calling for less spending on new venues and infrastructure.

There’s an eight-lane interstate running from the Salt Lake airport, which was upgraded for the Olympics, to Park City, which is the home of U.S. Ski and Snowboard. Park City is the host for key U.S. training centers for freestyle skiing, speedskating and cross country skiing.

Overall, the area has hosted about 75 World Cup and world-championship events in winter sports since the Olympic cauldron was extinguished more than 15 years ago.

He said an expanded light rail train line grid around Salt Lake City and a $3 billion airport renovation already underway are two examples of how Salt Lake City is even better prepared now to host than in 2002.

But he and other organizers will also have to answer questions about a bidding scandal that marred the 2002 Games and resulted in several International Olympic Committee members losing their positions for taking bribes.

“You can’t control the past,” Robbins said. “The results of what happened I think would certainly speak volumes. While there was some challenges, we hosted arguably one of the best Olympics ever hosted.”

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MORE: Austrians say no to 2026 Olympic bid

Simone Biles announces new coach

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When Simone Biles begins her comeback in earnest next month, she’ll be training under a new coach — Laurent Landi — who coached one of her Olympic teammates, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Landi, a 39-year-old former French gymnast, guided Rio uneven bars silver medalist Madison Kocian at the Dallas-area gym WOGA, along with wife Cecile.

“[Landi] was in Dallas, which is not far away, and had recently left WOGA, and I had worked with alongside him and know how he is with athletes,” Biles said, according to the newspaper. “He does a good job not letting pressure get to the athletes. You can see some coaches get stressed but he doesn’t.”

Biles’ previous coach since she was 7, Aimee Boorman, left their Houston-area gym for a gymnastics job in Florida after the Rio Games.

Biles said last week she plans to return to full-time training Nov. 1 and return to competition next summer.

Kocian is now at UCLA and uncertain to return to elite gymnastics.

Two other Final Five members — Aly Raisman and Laurie Hernandez — have said they plan to return to training for a Tokyo 2020 run. But neither has announced a return to the gym like Biles.

The last member — 2012 Olympic all-around champion Gabby Douglas — has not said whether she will come back.

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