NHL players in Sochi “all but a forgone conclusion”

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After avoiding the Olympic discussion during the entire 113-day NHL lockout, and then putting it off again so the league could get itself situated for the start of an abbreviated season, it looks like we finally have some good news about NHL players heading to Sochi next February.

“It’s highly likely, just short of a foregone conclusion,” Bob McKenzie said on TSN, “that the National Hockey League will be shutting down for 16 days in the middle of next season to allow its players to participate in the Olympics.”

McKenzie added that the only thing keeping this decision from being shoved into the sure thing column is the NHL and the NHLPA’s desire to lock up a deal with the IOC and IIHF that would include better access to players, use of images and video, and better accommodations and tickets for the NHL. Or “basically being treated as if it was a major sponsor of the Olympics,” McKenzie explained.

It doesn’t hurt that two of the league’s top stars, Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin, are Russian and pushing hard to play at their hometown Olympics, or that the NHL needs a win with after alienating at least a few fans with the most recent lockout. So there’s really no reason to hold the players out other than scheduling.

There’s no timetable set, but May has been marked as a reasonable – if not broad – target date for a final decision by Hockey News, but don’t be surprised if we have to wait until the end of the season.

Chinese figure skating judges banned for biased Olympic scoring

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Two Chinese figure skating judges were suspended by the International Skating Union for biased judging at the PyeongChang Olympics.

Chen Weiguang and Huang Feng had “preferential marking” for top Chinese skaters Jin Boyang (fourth place in PyeongChang) and the silver medalist pairs’ team of Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, respectively, according to the ISU.

Chen was banned two years and excluded from the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. Huang got a one-year ban.

Chen awarded her highest grades of execution scores of the men’s competition to Jin, as well as her second-highest program components scores, trailing only gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu. Both sets of scores, in both the short and long programs, were out of line with the other eight judges.

“There is evidence of preference for the Chinese skater and prejudice against his strongest competitors,” an ISU report read. “Her marks were completely unrealistic.”

The pairs’ judge Huang “obviously favored his pair also vis-à-vis the other top candidates for the Olympic gold medal,” the ISU said in a report, referencing inflated scores for Sui and Han and lower scores for gold and bronze medalists Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot of Germany and Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada.

Huang was warned one month before the Olympics by the ISU for biased judging at the December 2017 Grand Prix Final pairs’ event.

Both suspensions are subject to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

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MORE: Adam Rippon opines on figure skating future

Javier Fernandez to skip Grand Prix, still compete next season

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Javier Fernandez, who in PyeongChang became the first Spanish Olympic figure skating medalist, will skip the fall Grand Prix series but return for January’s European Championships, which could be his final competition.

Europeans will be Fernandez’s focus for the season, his agent said Tuesday.

Fernandez, 26, added an Olympic bronze medal to his 2015 and 2016 World titles. He has said that his third Olympics in PyeongChang would be his last. But Fernandez did not say he would retire after the Winter Games, though he did skip the world championships in March.

Fernandez now plans to compete in his 13th straight European Championships in Minsk in January. He won the last six titles. It’s unknown if he will continue on to the world championships in Saitama, Japan, in March.

In Fernandez’s absence, the top male singles skaters in the fall Grand Prix season should be double Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, PyeongChang silver medalist Shoma Uno and American Nathan Chen, who was fifth at the Olympics after a disastrous short program but ran away with March’s world title by the largest margin in history.

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MORE: Adam Rippon opines on figure skating future