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Nathan Chen, 17, leads two U.S. men in Grand Prix Final; Ashley Wagner misses

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The top U.S. singles figure skaters this fall were men, a stunning reversal of a half-decade-long trend.

As Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu ran away with the NHK Trophy title by 32.56 points Saturday, the rest of the men’s and women’s standings in the last of six qualifiers for December’s Grand Prix Final revealed this:

A U.S. man qualified for the Grand Prix Final for the first time since 2011. Two, in fact, for the first time since 2009.

No U.S. woman qualified for the Grand Prix Final for the first time since 2008.

Without a doubt, the U.S. star of the six-event, fall Grand Prix season was Nathan Chen, a 17-year-old who finished a distant second to Hanyu at NHK. Chen posted 268.91 points, the highest total score by a U.S. singles skater in the history of the decade-old points system.

Full NHK results are here. NBC and the NBC Sports app will air NHK Trophy coverage Sunday from 4-6 p.m. ET.

Chen attempted six quadruple jumps in his two programs at NHK — falling twice — and became the youngest male singles skater to qualify for the annual Grand Prix Final since Hanyu in 2011.

The Grand Prix Final — in two weeks in Marseille, France — takes the top six skaters per discipline from the fall Grand Prix season and is the second-biggest annual competition behind the world championships.

Chen is joined in the men’s Grand Prix Final field by Hanyu, two-time world champion Javier Fernandez, three-time world champion Patrick Chan, Skate America winner Shoma Uno and U.S. champion Adam Rippon.

Rippon makes his Grand Prix Final debut at the advanced age of 27 after making the podium at both of his fall Grand Prix starts for the first time in his career.

Another American, Olympian Jason Brown, had a shot at the Grand Prix Final going into NHK. But Brown struggled, finishing seventh when a fourth place would have sent him to Marseille over Rippon.

The real goal for the U.S. men this season are the world championships in four months. The U.S. will send two male singles skaters to Helsinki for worlds (likely the top two at January’s U.S. Championships). That duo will hope to get a combined placement of 13 or better (sixth and seventh, for example) to qualify three men instead of two for the 2018 Olympics.

With the first chunk of the season finished, that goal is looking quite attainable.

The U.S. women are comparatively disorganized.

World silver medalist Ashley Wagner fumbled her Grand Prix Final berth at last week’s Cup of China, finishing sixth in the worst Grand Prix showing of her decade-long career.

Gracie Gold missed a large chunk of training in the summer after an emotional drop from first to fourth at the world championships last April. The lack of preparation showed, as Gold had her worst Grand Prix efforts since her debut in 2012.

The third 2014 U.S. Olympian, Polina Edmunds, hasn’t competed since January due to a foot injury.

Mariah Bell was a bright spot, taking silver behind Wagner at Skate America, but Bell did not receive a second Grand Prix assignment and thus was not eligible for the Grand Prix Final.

The women’s Grand Prix Final field includes four Russians for the third time in four years. World champion Yevgenia Medvedeva is undefeated for more than one year. World bronze medalist Anna Pogorilaya‘s scores this fall were higher than anybody outside of Medvedeva.

Pogorilaya won NHK Trophy by 12.86 points over Japan’s Satoko Miyahara. The top American was 2010 Olympian Mirai Nagasu in fifth.

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

Grand Prix Final Qualifiers
Men
1. Javier Fernández (ESP)
2. Patrick Chan (CAN)
3. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN)
4. Shoma Uno (JPN)
5. Nathan Chen (USA)
6. Adam Rippon (USA)

Women
1. Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS)
2. Anna Pogorilaya (RUS)
3. Yelena Radionova (RUS)
4. Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN)
5. Maria Sotskova (RUS)
6. Satoko Miyahara (JPN)

Pairs
1. Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot (GER)
2. Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford (CAN)
3. Yu Xiaoyu/Zhang Hao (CHN)
4. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN)
5. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS)
6. Julianne Séguin/Charlie Bilodeau (CAN)

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. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 301.47 (NHK Trophy)
2. Javier Fernández (ESP) — 292.98 (Rostelecom Cup)
3. Javier Fernández (ESP) — 285.38 (Trophée de France)
4. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 285.07 (Rostelecom Cup)
5. Patrick Chan (CAN) — 279.72 (Cup of China)
6. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 279.34 (Skate America)
7. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 278.54 (Cup of China)
8. Denis Ten (KAZ) — 269.26 (Trophée de France)
9. Nathan Chen (USA) — 268.91 (NHK Trophy)
10. Jason Brown (USA) — 268.38 (Skate America)

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. Anna Pogorilaya (RUS) — 210.86 (NHK Trophy)
5. Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN) — 206.45 (Skate Canada)
6. Yelena Radionova (RUS) — 205.90 (Cup of China)
7. Maria Sotskova (RUS) — 200.35 (Trophée de France)
8. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 198.00 (NHK Trophy)
9. Ashley Wagner (USA) — 196.44 (Skate America)
10. Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN) — 196.00 (Cup of China)

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. Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford (CAN) — 204.56 (NHK Trophy)
6. Yu Xiaoyu/Zhang Hao (CHN) — 203.76 (Cup of China)
7. Yu Xiaoyu/Zhang Hao (CHN) — 202.08 (Skate Canada)
8. Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres (FRA) — 198.58 (Trophée de France)
9. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 197.96 (Cup of China)
10. Natalya Zabiyako/Alexander Enbert (RUS) — 197.77 (Rostelecom Cup)

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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