Meryl Davis, Charlie White

NHK Trophy preview, broadcast times

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Four weeks into the Grand Prix season, fans will see the strongest field yet at the NHK Trophy in Tokyo on Friday and Saturday.

The lineups are impressive from American and international perspectives with reigning ice dance World champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White making their second Grand Prix appearance after winning Skate America and the season debut of Javier Fernandez, the reigning World bronze medalist.

Here’s the broadcast schedule:

Universal Sports online broadcast schedule
Friday — 12:50 a.m. (pairs/men’s/women’s short programs)
Friday — 10:05 p.m. (short dance/pairs free)
Saturday — 10 p.m. (free dance)

NBC broadcast schedule
Sunday — 1:30-3:30 p.m.

Here are event-by-event preview:

Men
While Fernandez will be one to watch, so will almost the entire men’s field, which includes 2010 Olympic bronze medalist Daisuke Takahashi.

Takahashi stumbled in his Grand Prix opener last month, finishing fourth at Skate America. Americans Adam Rippon and Max Aaron beat Takahashi in Detroit, Rippon registering a personal best on his way to silver while Aaron was third.

It will be an excellent weekend for the Americans — Rippon and Aaron are joined by three-time U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott – to measure themselves against Fernandez and Takahashi, as well as Japan’s Takahito Mura and Nobunari Oda, the latter who won bronze at Skate Canada two weeks ago.

Abbott, specifically, will look for a strong showing after finishing a disappointing sixth at Skate Canada. He was ninth at the 2010 Vancouver Games.

Women
Japan has a strong contingent among the ladies as well, most notably Mao Asada, the 2010 Olympic silver medalist and two-time world champion. Asada will look to build on her Skate America win with her triple Axel and strong spins. Countrywoman Akiko Suzuki, 28, was second a week later at Skate Canada.

Gracie Gold, 18, who won silver at the U.S. Championships in January, took bronze at Skate Canada and will have two more weeks under her belt with veteran coach Frank Carroll, whom she began working with in September. Gold is joined by Mirai Nagasu, the 2008 U.S. champion who was fourth at the Vancouver Games.

Russia’s Alena Leonova is making her Grand Prix season debut, though the 2012 World silver medalist was a disappointing 13th at the same competition this year. More eyes might be on Yelena Radyonova, 14, who was third at Skate America but is ineligible for the Olympics because of age restrictions.

Ice Dance
Davis and White look not only to win gold in Tokyo, but also to capture their 14th straight Grand Prix title, a streak dating to 2009 and includes Skate America in October.

It’s that event that gives the World champions confidence. They scored 188.23 in Detroit, seven points higher than Canadian rivals Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir at Skate Canada the following week.

Italy’s Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte, second at Skate America, will push Davis and White at NHK.

American siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani were third at Skate America, where they debuted their Michael Jackson medley free dance, Alex falling on a transitional passage. Russians Yelena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov are another couple to watch, having placed fifth at the 2012 World Championships.

Pairs
Russia’s best bet for an Olympic gold medal in figure skating is in pairs, where Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov are the reigning World champions. Volosozhar and Trankov broke their own world records at Skate America and shouldn’t run into too much trouble to win again in Tokyo.

U.S. champions Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir hope to improve from sixth in Detroit.

Yuna Kim sets return from foot injury

Lawmakers choke back tears, scream at Olympic sport leaders for sex-abuse scandal

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The tears and anger this time came from lawmakers who spent the day fuming over a growing sex-abuse problem in Olympic sports that leaders have taken too much time to solve while devoting too little money for the fixes.

“I just hope everyone here realizes the time to talk is over, and you need to walk your talk,” Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., said Wednesday shortly after choking back tears while questioning leaders of the U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Center for SafeSport.

The hearing of the House subcommittee was filled with both substance and spectacle — the latter coming mostly courtesy of a five-minute burst from Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Ga., who told the USOC’s acting CEO, Susanne Lyons, “you should resign your position now,” and tore into USA Gymnastics CEO Kerry Perry and the rest of the panel for not uttering the exact words: “I’m sorry.”

“If you don’t want to say you’re sorry, I don’t want to talk to you,” said Carter, who represents the district where a lawsuit that triggered the mushrooming scandal in gymnastics was filed.

In fact, members on the panel of U.S. sports executives did apologize to the victims, whose numbers grow almost daily and whose pain was most heart-wrenchingly displayed during the sentencing hearing for Larry Nassar, the Michigan State doctor who also worked for the U.S. gymnastics team.

But set against the USOC’s slow-moving reforms, to say nothing of the raw numbers presented by SafeSport CEO Shellie Pfohl, some of the apologies felt hollow.

The USOC started talking about reforming its sex-abuse policy in 2010 after a scandal was exposed inside of USA Swimming. From then, it took seven years to open the SafeSport center to independently investigate sex-abuse claims made by Olympic athletes. Pfohl described an office that has been overwhelmed in the 14 months it has been in business.

— When it opened in March 2017, Pfohl said the center received 20 to 30 calls a month. In the wake of the #MeToo movement and the Nassar case, that has increased to about 20 to 30 calls per week.

— SafeSport operates on a budget of $4.3 million a year, $1.55 million of which was recently added as part of the USOC’s mission to bolster its response to the abuse issue. That brought the USOC’s contribution to $3.1 million. (By comparison, the USOC gave the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, in charge of Olympic drug testing in the United States, $3.7 million in 2016. Its budget is more than $19 million.)

— The budget is enough for 14 full-time employees, which includes five full-time investigators. Seven additional investigators work on a contract basis. The center has fielded 840 reports over 14 months. Reports have come in regarding 38 of the 49 national governing bodies.

— Part of the delay in opening the SafeSport center came because the USOC met reluctance from almost everyone in funding, both from outside and inside the Olympic movement. The NGBs are charged on a sliding scale, depending on their size. USA Swimming contributed only $43,000 this year, “but we’re one of the larger NGBs, and based on who we are, we could provide more resources,” CEO Tim Hinchey said.

Pfohl said she wouldn’t turn it down.

Meanwhile, she is still waiting for paperwork to apply for a $2.5 million grant the government wrote into this year’s budget. (The government gave $9.5 million to USADA in 2016.)

The witnesses testified to a continued lack of uniformity in sex-abuse policies among the NGBs, despite efforts that date to at least 2013. Some publish full lists of banned coaches and athletes. Some distribute them only to members of the organizations. Under terms of a recently passed law to protect athletes, the NGBs are supposed to be audited randomly by the SafeSport center, but that project is hamstrung because resources do not exist.

Meanwhile, the role of the USOC in overseeing it all remains confusing.

Brought up more than once was an exchange during a deposition for a sex-abuse lawsuit in which a USOC lawyer was asked if protecting athletes was a top priority for the federation.

“The USOC does not have athletes,” answered Gary Johansen — speaking to the reality that, except during the Olympics, athletes technically fall under the umbrella of their individual sports.

Lyons said that mindset will change.

“We do hold ourselves responsible, and if there’s a failing, it’s from not properly exercising our authority,” she said.

One of the best examples of the USOC using that authority has been the top-to-bottom housecleaning it demanded from USA Gymnastics.

Most news about the federation’s changes, however, has been delivered in long news releases. Wednesday marked the first time Perry has made public comments since her hiring in December. She left after the hearing without taking questions.

“I’m glad you’re here today, but a lot of people have wanted to hear from you since you took the job,” Dingell said.

But Dingell didn’t really like what she heard — “I don’t hear a sense of urgency,” she said — and she was not alone.

“As compared to how much money a district attorney’s office has, or how much money a Title IX office has at a school, it’s not in the same ballpark at all,” Nancy Hogshead-Makar, Olympic swimmer and outspoken critic of the USOC’s efforts, said of the SafeSport budget. “Shellie desperately needs more money.”

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Lindsey Vonn, Ronda Rousey among athletes featured on Shark Week

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Olympic medalists Lindsey Vonn and Ronda Rousey headline an athlete roster appearing on Discovery Channel’s Shark Week in two months.

They follow Michael Phelps‘ much talked about Shark Week shows last year.

Vonn will appear on a show called “Monster Tag.” Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski are also included.

They “will join forces with top shark scientists to learn crucial information about the ocean’s top predators,” according to Discovery Channel.

Rousey, a 2008 Olympic judo bronze medalist, will dive with a mako shark in “Uncaged: Shark vs. Ronda Rousey.” The title is similar to “Phelps vs. Shark: Great Gold vs. Great White” from last year.

“First, Rousey, in a cage, dives into the ring with several lightweight shark species in the waters off Fiji and then moves onto the main event in New Zealand where she’ll ‘free dive uncaged’ with the heavyweight mako shark,” according to Discovery Channel.

More on Shark Week from Discovery Channel is here.

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