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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.

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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)

President of National Olympic Committees association leaves FIFA post amid bribery claims

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GENEVA (AP) — FIFA Council member Sheikh Ahmad Al Fahad Al Sabah of Kuwait is resigning from his soccer roles under pressure from allegations in an American federal court that he bribed Asian officials.

Sheikh Ahmad said Sunday in a statement he will withdraw from a May 8 election in Bahrain for the FIFA seat representing Asia, which he currently holds.

“I do not want these allegations to create divisions or distract attention from the upcoming AFC (Asian Football Confederation) and FIFA Congresses,” said the Kuwaiti royal, who denies any wrongdoing.

“Therefore, after careful consideration, I have decided it is in the best interests of FIFA and the AFC, for me to withdraw my candidacy for the FIFA Council and resign from my current football positions,” he said.

The long-time Olympic Council of Asia president contacted the ethics panels of FIFA and the IOC after the allegations were made in Brooklyn federal courthouse on Thursday.

FIFA audit committee member Richard Lai, an American citizen from Guam, pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy charges related to taking around $1 million in bribes, including from Kuwaiti officials. The cash was to buy influence and help recruit other Asian soccer officials prepared to take bribes, Lai said in court.

Sheikh Ahmad resigned his candidacy ahead of a FIFA panel deciding whether to remove him on ethical grounds.

The FIFA Review Committee, which rules on the integrity of people seeking senior FIFA positions, has been studying the sheikh’s candidacy since the allegations emerged, The Associated Press reported on Saturday.

The FIFA ethics committee is making a separate assessment of whether to provisionally suspend the sheikh, a long-time leader of Kuwait’s soccer federation who was elected to FIFA’s ruling committee in 2015.

Resigning from his soccer positions does not necessarily put Sheikh Ahmad out of reach of FIFA ethics prosecutors and judges if any action was taken.

In 2012, former FIFA presidential candidate Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar was banned for life by the ethics committee days after he resigned.

Bin Hammam was also clearly identified in Lai’s court hearing for having paid Lai a total of $100,000 in bribes to support the Qatari’s failed challenge to FIFA’s then-president Sepp Blatter in 2011. Bin Hammam was removed from that election contest in a Caribbean bribery case.

Sheikh Ahmad has also contacted the IOC’s ethics commission about the allegations against him, the IOC said on Saturday.

As president since 2012 of the global group of national Olympic bodies, known as ANOC, Sheikh Ahmad’s support has often been cited as key to winning Olympic election and hosting awards. The sheikh was widely credited for helping Thomas Bach win the IOC presidency in 2013.

Although Sheikh Ahmad was not named in Department of Justice and court documents last week, he has become one of the most significant casualties of the sprawling U.S. federal investigation of bribery and corruption in international soccer revealed two years ago.

The sheikh could be identified in a transcript of Lai’s court hearing which said “co-conspirator #2 was also the president of Olympic Council of Asia.” Sheikh Ahmad has been OCA president since 1991.

Co-conspirator #3 was described as having a “high-ranking” role at OCA, and also linked to the Kuwait soccer federation.

According to the published transcript, Lai claimed he “received at least $770,000 in wire transfers from accounts associated with Co-Conspirator #3 and the OCA between November of 2009 and about the fall of 2014.”

“I understood that the source of this money was ultimately Co-Conspirator #2 and on some occasion Co-Conspirator #3 told me to send him an email saying that I need funds so he could show the email to Co-Conspirator #2,” Lai said in court.

Lai admitted that he agreed to help recruit other Asian officials that voted in FIFA elections who would help Kuwait’s interests.

The Guam soccer federation leader since 2001, Lai pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy charges and failing to disclose foreign bank accounts. He agreed to pay more than $1.1 million in forfeiture and penalties, and will be sentenced at a later date.

The American federal investigation of corruption linked to FIFA has indicted or taken guilty pleas from more than 40 people and marketing agencies linked to soccer in the Americas since 2015.

Lai’s case marked the first major step into Asia, and suggests other soccer officials potentially recruited by the Kuwait faction could be targeted.

The Asian election for FIFA seats on May 8 in Manama, Bahrain, is the same day as a FIFA Council meeting which the sheik will not attend. The FIFA congress is held in the city three days later.

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AVP set to start season without Kerri Walsh Jennings

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BOSTON (AP) — The AVP said it has reached an agreement with “practically all the players” on a contract that will carry it through the 2020 Summer Games, even as a holdout by five-time Olympian Kerri Walsh Jennings threatens to deprive the domestic beach volleyball tour of its biggest name.

“I respect her decisions, and I wish her well,” AVP owner Donald Sun told The Associated Press. “But in the meantime, we’re just geared up. All the athletes that are signed are fired up to play Huntington Beach next weekend.”

Walsh Jennings did not immediately respond to a text message seeking comment. But she told the AP in March that negotiations were “a work in progress” and that the two sides were “pretty far off.”

She also boycotted an AVP event last summer over experimental rules that she said weren’t discussed with the athletes.

Each of the other seven Americans who went to the 2016 Olympics has signed, Sun said, except for Brooke Sweat. Sweat, who failed to make it out of group play in Rio de Janeiro with teammate Lauren Fendrick, also did not respond to a request for comment.

Sun told the AP that the tour has “a four-year agreement with practically all the players, which is awesome.” The deal includes a minimum of eight events per season and prize money minimums that will increase by at least 50 percent over the term of the deal, he said.

“It was a few months of process, discussing with individual players, groups of players, discussing what concerns they had,” Sun said. “We all made it. I think we’re all pretty happy.”

Well, not everyone.

The rift with Walsh, a three-time gold medalist who won bronze with April Ross in 2016, was exposed when the tour released its 2017 schedule in March and her name wasn’t among the list of those expected to participate.

Sun told the AP this week that the tour is prepared to proceed without Walsh Jennings, who has missed events previous summers because of injury, childbirth or to play on the international tour that determines Olympic qualification.

“It didn’t seem to affect attendance, TV ratings, or viewership on line,” Sun said. “The AVP is not just one person or one athlete; if it was, it would be a very challenging business model.”

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