Ashley Wagner, Gracie Gold
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Ashley Wagner takes figure skating break; Gracie Gold set to return

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Ashley Wagner is taking her first competitive break after 11 seasons as a senior figure skater, sitting out the fall Grand Prix series, while Gracie Gold is scheduled to compete for the first time since January 2017.

“After the craziness of last season, I decided to take a breather and sit out of this Grand Prix season,” was posted on Wagner’s Instagram. “My passion for the sport burns very bright, but after 11 seasons on the circuit I am ready for a bit of a break! I am continuing to train and take this day by day, but I’m allowing myself the opportunity to open up the definition of what skating means to me!”

Wagner, a 2014 Olympic team event bronze medalist and 2016 World silver medalist, and 2014 Olympic champion Adelina Sotnikova of Russia were the notable singles skaters missing from the Grand Prix assignments published by the International Skating Union on Thursday.

Gold, a two-time U.S. champion who was fourth at the 2014 Olympics, is the newsworthy name on the entry lists.

GRAND PRIX ENTRIES: Men | Women | Pairs | Ice Dance

She announced Sept. 1 that she was seeking professional help “after recent struggles on and off the ice,” then in October said she was in treatment for an eating disorder, depression and anxiety. Gold attended January’s U.S. Championships but had not announced anything regarding a possible return to skating.

The Grand Prix is the equivalent of figure skating’s regular season. The world’s best skaters each compete twice out of six events in October and November, with the top six per discipline qualifying for December’s Grand Prix Final, a prelude to the world championships in March.

This fall’s headliners are Olympic champions Alina Zagitova and Yuzuru Hanyu and silver medalists Yevgenia Medvedeva and Shoma Uno as well as U.S. champions Nathan Chen and Bradie Tennell.

The six Grand Prix series events are Skate America, Skate Canada, Grand Prix Finland (replacing Cup of China), NHK Trophy (Japan), Rostelecom Cup (Russia) and Internationaux de France. The Grand Prix Final is in Vancouver.

Wagner, 27, is the most accomplished U.S. woman over the last decade, taking three national titles, five Grand Prix wins and three Grand Prix Final medals. At her last competition, she placed fourth at the U.S. Championships in January, missing the three-woman Olympic team.

Wagner then withdrew from the Four Continents Championships and declined a spot at March’s world championships after PyeongChang Olympian Karen Chen gave up her spot after the Winter Games.

Sotnikova, 21, has skated just once on the Grand Prix circuit since taking the Sochi Olympic title over Yuna Kim four years ago and hasn’t competed anywhere since the start of 2017. Sotnikova has not announced retirement, though, unlike her Sochi teammate and fellow gold medalist Yulia Lipnitskaya.

Other big names missing from Grand Prix assignments already said they are taking a break from skating (Adam RipponMirai NagasuMaia Shibutani and Alex ShibutaniJavier Fernandez, Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot), retiring (Patrick ChanMeagan Duhamel and Eric Radford) or are simply not expected to compete again (Tessa Virtue and Scott MoirMeryl Davis and Charlie WhiteTatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov).

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Ginny Fuchs hopes to emerge from OCD, tearful Olympic experience

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None of the boxers at this week’s U.S. Olympic Trials competed at a prior Olympics, but flyweight Ginny Fuchs remembers the specifics of her one Olympic experience in Rio.

Fuchs, who won the 2016 Olympic trials but failed to clinch a spot at the Games in international qualifiers, was nonetheless named team captain and brought to Rio as a sparring partner.

She had mixed feelings. Watching from the crowd as Claressa Shields repeated as Olympic champion on the final day of the Games was motivating. Fuchs had toyed with turning professional but, after talking to Shields, decided to forge another four years as an amateur for another chance to become an Olympian.

The Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony, two weeks before that Shields final, was too much for Fuchs to bear. She could not stay in the Athletes’ Village nor march with the U.S. delegation at the Maracana.

“I remember watching the Opening Ceremony at the place I was at with everybody,” she said. “I couldn’t watch. It was hard for me to watch. I went back to my room, cried and went to bed.”

Fuchs is favored to win the 51kg/112-pound division this week at Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino in Lake Charles, La., with finals streaming live on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app on Sunday (4-7 p.m. ET). It’s one of five women’s Olympic weight classes, up from three in 2012 and 2016, the first two editions of the Games for female boxers.

No boxer can clinch an Olympic spot this week, but failing to make a final would all but end Tokyo hopes.

Fuchs’ toughest opponent in this Olympic cycle — which included an undefeated 2017 and a 2018 World bronze medal among more than 130 fights — may be herself. Fuchs has been open about struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

It started in fifth grade.

“I can remember the first time I was on the school bus, and I was looking at the ground and looking at everybody’s backpacks on the floor,” said Fuchs, a 31-year-old from the Houston area. “And an instant thought came in mind, like, Oh my god. Everybody’s backpack is getting contaminated by this dirty floor on the bus.”

She cited a more recent example: spending up to 40 minutes washing her hands searching for that “perfect clean feeling.” Fuchs found boxing via a boyfriend after she was kicked off the LSU cross-country running team as a freshman walk-on for damaging school property in a prank.

She said the disorder hit her hardest this year. In January, she was driving to a Walmart three times a day to buy cleaning supplies, according to The New York Times.

She underwent intensive therapy and skipped October’s world championships, where she could have established herself as a clear Olympic gold-medal favorite.

“I still am going to probably do therapy for the rest of my life,” Fuchs said. “Maybe not as intense as I’m doing it right now, but it’s almost like training for boxing.

“You’ve got to keep training to keep winning in boxing. So I’ve got to keep training my OCD thoughts and how to handle and manage it. … Boxing is giving me hope almost. Like OK, outside the ring and in my room and the bathroom, I feel like [OCD] controls me and feel trapped. But I have this environment in this space in the gym, in the boxing ring, where I can be myself. And not let it attack me in a way where I can still enjoy life and not be trapped.”

Should Fuchs make the final of her division in Lake Charles, she will advance to a January camp and tournament, after which the U.S. roster for Olympic qualifying will be named.

If selected, Fuchs would head to a North and South American Olympic qualifying event in early spring in Buenos Aires to clinch the spot she could not secure four years ago. If necessary, she could get a second chance at a global qualifier in May in Paris.

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Yulia Efimova has lawyer ready if Russia ban affects her

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Yulia Efimova, the Russian swimmer who earned two Rio Olympic silver medals after initially being excluded from the Games for serving a prior doping ban, is bracing for another legal fight after the latest sanctions against her nation.

On Monday, Russia was banned from the 2020 and 2022 Olympics and the next four years of world championships in Olympic sports due to more recent anti-doping violations. However, its athletes can still compete as neutrals, if meeting specific anti-doping criteria, similar to how they did at the PyeongChang Winter Games.

Efimova was initially barred from the Rio Olympics under an IOC mandate that any Russian who previously served a doping ban would be ineligible due to the country’s anti-doping violations at that time.

Efimova appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which ruled that IOC stipulation unenforceable. She went on to earn 100m and 200m breaststroke silver medals and develop a rivalry with American Lilly King, who said Efimova should not have been eligible.

It’s unclear from Monday’s ruling whether Efimova will be allowed to compete as a neutral, should Russia accept the sanctions or any appeal to CAS by the nation be denied.

“I will behave in a similar way,” to 2016, Efimova said, according to RT.com. “I have already hired a lawyer. There is a rule that a person can’t be punished twice for the same offense. If you violate a driving code or instigated a brawl you will not be punished twice for that. I hope it will work, but I cannot be sure of [a positive outcome].

“Right after my race at the Rio Games, I said that this doping controversy was not over, it was just the beginning, and we would have problems in the future. It was quite clear. And with every new year the situation is only getting worse and worse.”

Efimova, 27 and the two-time reigning world 200m breast champion, was banned 16 months between 2013 and 2015 after testing positive for a steroid. A FINA panel ruled that Efimova was not intentionally trying to cheat but was negligent in failing to read the label of a GNC store supplement.

“Yes, long ago I made a doping violation,” Efimova said this week, according to RT. “But there are a great number of U.S. and European athletes who have a similar situation regarding doping, and they are competing without any restrictions. If you want to introduce those regulations, they must be equally applied to all athletes, not only Russian competitors.”

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