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Figure skaters qualified for Grand Prix Final

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This season’s Grand Prix Final includes every reigning world champion and five American entries.

The Grand Prix Final is the second-biggest annual competition behind the world championships. It takes the top six per discipline from the fall’s Grand Prix series.

NBC, NBCSN and Universal HD will air Grand Prix Final coverage from Marseille, France, in two weeks, along with streaming on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

Here are the Grand Prix Final fields:

Men
Javier Fernández (ESP) — Won Rostelecom Cup and Trophée de France
Patrick Chan (CAN) — Won Skate Canada and Cup of China
Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — Won NHK Trophy, 2nd at Skate Canada
Shoma Uno (JPN) — Won Skate America, 2nd at Rostelecom Cup
Nathan Chen (USA) — 2nd at NHK Trophy, 4th at Trophée de France
Adam Rippon (USA) — 3rd at Skate America, 3rd at Trophée de France
(Alternates: Jin (CHN), Voronov (RUS), Bychenko (ISR))

The field includes every man who has won an Olympic or world title since 2011. Chan won the 2011, 2012 and 2013 World titles. Hanyu won the 2014 Olympic and World titles. Fernández is the two-time reigning world champion.

Chen and Rippon are the first American men’s singles skaters to qualify for a Grand Prix Final since 2011.

Women
Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — Won Skate Canada, Trophée de France
Anna Pogorilaya (RUS) — Won Rostelecom Cup, NHK Trophy
Yelena Radionova (RUS) — Won Cup of China, 2nd at Rostelecom Cup
Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN) — 2nd at Skate Canada, 2nd at Cup of China
Maria Sotskova (RUS) — 2nd at Trophée de France, 3rd at NHK Trophy
Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 3rd at Skate Canada, 2nd at NHK Trophy
(Alternates: Wagner (USA), Tuktamysheva (RUS), Mihara (JPN))

Four Russian women qualified for the Grand Prix Final for the third time in four years. The world champion Medvedeva hasn’t lost in a year. Pogorilaya and Radionova own world championships medals. Sotskova is the current world junior silver medalist.

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

Pairs
Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford (CAN) — Won Skate Canada, NHK Trophy
Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot (GER) — Won Rostelecom Cup, Trophée de France (WITHDREW)
Yu Xiaoyu/Zhang Hao (CHN) — Won Cup of China, 2nd at Skate Canada
Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 2nd at Cup of China, 2nd at NHK Trophy
Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 2nd at Trophée de France, 3rd at Skate America
Julianne Séguin/Charlie Bilodeau (CAN) — Won Skate America, 5th at Rostelecom Cup
Natalia Zabijako/Alexander Enbert (RUS) — 2nd at Cup of Russia, 4th at Trophée de France
(Alternates: Denney/Frazier, Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch)

Savchenko, a five-time world champ with Robin Szolkowy, and French-born partner Massot made their Grand Prix series debut as a pair this season but withdrew from Marseille due to Savchenko’s ankle injury. Two-time world champs Duhamel and Radford were upset at the last year’s Grand Prix Final, but the Russians who beat them won’t be in Marseille.

Ice Dance
Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir (CAN) — Won Skate Canada, NHK Trophy
Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) — Won Skate America and Cup of China
Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — Won Trophée de France, 2nd at NHK Trophy
Yekaterina Bobrova/Dmitry Soloviyev (RUS) — Won Rostelecom Cup, 3rd at Skate America
Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 2nd at Skate Canada, 2nd at Rostelecom Cup
Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 2nd at Skate America, 2nd at Trophée de France
(Alternates: Weaver/Poje, Gilles/Poirier, Cappellini/Lanotte)

Virtue and Moir, gold and silver medalists at the last two Olympics, posted the highest ice-dance score of all time this season in their return from a two-year break. They beat the two-time reigning world champions Papadakis and Cizeron at NHK Trophy. The U.S. put the same three couples into the Grand Prix Final in consecutive years.

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

Dec. 8 Grand Prix Final: Men’s and Ladies Short 8-10 p.m. UniHD
Dec. 9 Grand Prix Final: Pairs Short, Short Dance 8-10 p.m. UniHD
Dec. 10 Grand Prix Final: Pairs Free 8:30-9:30 p.m. UniHD
Dec. 11 Grand Prix Final 8:30-11 p.m. NBCSN
Dec. 18 Grand Prix Final 4-6 p.m. NBC
Dec. 19 Grand Prix Final: NBC re-air 8-10 p.m. UniHD

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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