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Grand Prix figure skating: Five pairs to watch

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Five pairs teams to watch this fall as the Grand Prix season starts this week …

Sui Wenjing/Han Cong
China
2017 World champions
Grand Prix Starts: China, Japan

At 22 and 25, they are the new generation of Chinese pairs following the breakthrough early 2000s success of Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo and Pang Qing and Tong Jian. Missed most of last season due to Sui’s right ankle and left foot surgeries the previous spring. No worry, they upgraded world silver medals in 2015 and 2016 by posting the highest short-program score since the Sochi Olympics and a personal-best free skate score by six points for the world title.

Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot
Germany
2017 World silver medalists
Grand Prix Starts: Canada, U.S.

Savchenko won five world titles and two Olympic bronze medals with Robin Szolkowy but needed a new parter when Szolkowy retired in 2014. Enter Massot, a Frenchman who was cleared to compete with Savchenko for Germany in October 2015. They, too, overcame injury last year (Savchenko’s torn ankle ligament) for silver at their two biggest events — Europeans and worlds.

Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov
Russia
2017 World bronze medalists
Grand Prix Starts: Russia, France

The present and future of Russian pairs. Tarasova, 22, and Morozov, 24, won the two biggest events before worlds last season — the Grand Prix Final and Europeans. At worlds, Tarasova sliced her leg on Morozov’s skate in a practice accident hours before short program. With 10 stitches, they went on win their first world medal.

Grand Prix Capsules: Men | Women | Pairs | Ice Dance | TV Schedule

Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford
Canada
2015, 2016 World champions
Grand Prix Starts: Canada, U.S.

Attempted last season to become the first pair in nearly 40 years to win three straight world titles. But they struggled as the campaign went on, notably on a throw triple Axel they eventually dropped from their arsenal, culminating in a seventh-place showing at worlds.

Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov
Russia
2014 Olympic silver medalists
Grand Prix Starts: Russia, Japan

Maybe the biggest wild card in all of figure skating. They looked primed for greatness after taking silver in Sochi — at ages 22 and 23, behind Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov (who are uncertain to defend their Olympic title). But injuries struck both skaters. Their season debut last year came at the Russian Championships in late December, where they upset Tarasova and Morozov. But they fell to fourth at Europeans and fifth at worlds, where they were 13th in the short program.

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MORE: Figure skating season broadcast schedule

Skylar Diggins-Smith has the opportunity to fill USA Basketball’s need

Skylar Diggins
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Skylar Diggins-Smith said making the U.S. Olympic team is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This is her second chance.

An ACL tear derailed her Rio 2016 hopes. That happened in a WNBA game on June 28, 2015.

Though Diggins-Smith was among 25 Olympic finalists named in January 2016, she didn’t return to game action until that May, four weeks after the 12-woman Olympic team was chosen.

The 27-year-old guard said she’s played for USA Basketball for 12 years, since before her standout Notre Dame career that led to her current stint with the Dallas Wings (formerly Tulsa Shock).

“This is the most clear my mind has been,” with USA Basketball, Diggins-Smith said from training camp in Seattle on Tuesday, ahead of a Thursday exhibition against China at Key Arena (10 p.m. ET, usab.com/live).

Signs point to Diggins-Smith making her major international tournament debut at September’s FIBA World Cup, the quadrennial world championship event.

Though Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi‘s surprising returns crowd the backcourt, the other Olympic gold medalist guard, Lindsay Whalen, retired from the national team.

Diggins-Smith’s play last season, her first full campaign back from the ACL tear, boosts her case. She made the All-WNBA First Team.

She also made the first team in 2014. That year, Diggins-Smith was among the final cuts for the world championship team less than a week before the tournament.

“Every time I come to USA Basketball, I think you have a tendency to kind of overthink,” Diggins-Smith said Tuesday. “You just want to do the right thing, don’t really want to make mistakes. … You want to do the right thing, and you press a little bit.”

USA Basketball has stressed finding its next stalwart point guard following five-time Olympian Teresa Edwards, three-time Olympian Dawn Staley (now the U.S. head coach) and the 37-year-old Bird, eyeing her fifth Olympics in 2020.

“Give me three guards that have separated themselves from everyone else in the WNBA to put themselves at the same level as Sue, Diana, Lindsay Whalen,” then-U.S. coach Geno Auriemma said after the Olympic team was named in April 2016. “You really start to look around and, you go, that is a huge question that has to be answered.”

“Obviously, there’s a need,” Staley said in February, listing point guards other than Bird at that camp.

The first name Staley mentioned was Diggins-Smith, for what it’s worth.

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MORE: Candace Parker finished with USA Basketball

USA Track and Field to honor 1968 Olympic team on 50th anniversary

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USA Track and Field begins a campaign this week to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Olympic team.

Members of the Mexico City Games team, one of the greatest track and field teams in history, will be honored at high-profile events the remainder of the year.

The campaign, “1968-2018: Celebrating Athletic Achievement and Courage,” culminates with a “Night of Legends” reunion in December at the USATF Annual Meeting in Columbus, Ohio, also attended by current U.S. stars.

The 1968 Olympic team is most remembered for Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who took gold and bronze in the 200m and were sent home after raising their black-gloved fists in a human rights salute during the national anthem.

The team also included gold medalists Bob Beamon (long jump), Dick Fosbury (high jump), Al Oerter (discus), Wyomia Tyus and Jim Hines (100m), Lee Evans (400m), Madeline Manning Mims (800m), Willie Davenport (110m hurdles), Bob Seagren (pole vault), Randy Matson (shot put), Bill Toomey (decathlon) and the men’s and women’s 4x100m and men’s 4x400m.

“The legacy of the greatest track & field team to ever be assembled is still felt 50 years later,” USATF CEO Max Siegel said in a press release. “These Olympians persevered through athletic challenges and social injustices, maintaining their composure and dignity when others may have fallen. It is USATF’s honor to pay homage to their achievements and bring the team together for an epic celebration at our Annual Meeting.”

U.S. track and field athletes will compete at two meets on NBC Sports and NBC Sports Gold this weekend — the Drake Relays and Penn Relays.

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WATCH: NBC Olympics documentary on 1968 Olympics