Ashley Wagner

Preview: Wagner, Chan, Virtue/Moir look for golds at Paris Grand Prix

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Back in the city of love, American Ashley Wagner would very much like to defend her title this weekend at the Trophee Eric Bompard, the fifth Grand Prix of the figure skating season.

Wagner won in Paris a year ago, leading up to her second straight U.S. Championship in January. A silver medalist at Skate America last month, the Los Angeles-based Wagner faces a pair of Russians who also have Grand Prix medals this season in Anna Pogorilaya and Adelina Sotnikova, who were first and second at Cup of China this month.

Reigning Olympic ice dance champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada will headline alongside Wagner and their countryman, three-time reigning world champion Patrick Chan.

Here’s the broadcast schedule (all times Eastern):

Universal Sports online broadcast schedule
Friday — 2 p.m. (pairs/men’s)
Friday — 8 p.m. (short dance/ladies)
Saturday — 1 p.m. (pairs/free dance)

NBC broadcast schedule
Sunday — 4:30-6 p.m.

Here are event-by-event previews:

LADIES
Wagner will take comfort in her score from Skate America compared to Pogorilaya’s in China, 193.81 to 178.62. The American will arrive in Paris continuing to solidify her triple-triple combination, which she landed twice in Detroit and gained confidence off of.

France’s Mae Berenice Meite will lead the home effort, though she shouldn’t pose much of a threat to the top spot, having been 11th at the World Championships in March.

Wagner’s countrywoman, Christina Gao, will look to build confidence in Paris after a fourth-place finish at Skate Canada. The Boston-based Gao, who is taking the year off from Harvard, has been fifth at the last four U.S. Championships, but will likely need third or better come January to make the trip to Sochi.

Yuna Kim pulled out of Paris earlier this season. She’s set to make a comeback from a foot injury next month in Croatia.

MEN
Chan’s gap over the world’s other top men shrank with a controversial win at Worlds in March and skating with some trepidation last month at Skate Canada. China’s Yan Han, Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu and the U.S.’ Jason Brown, 18, will all be chasing medals alongside the still-favored Chan in Paris.

Yan, the 2012 world junior champion, could be Chan’s biggest rival this weekend. The 17-year-old scored 245.62 to win the Cup of China. Chan tallied 262.03 in winning Skate Canada.

Brown, while he lacks a quadruple jump, made a strong senior debut at Skate America last month, subbing in for an injured Evan Lysacek and scoring one of the season’s highest short programs. Consistency will be the key for the teen who ended fifth in Detroit after a shaky free skate.

France’s Florent Amodio, a two-time national champion, will have the support of the home crowd.

ICE DANCE
Virtue and Moir looked happy — though not elated — after winning their fifth Skate Canada and will skate in Paris for the first time in two years, having won there in 2008 and 2011.

The Canadians will look to improve their twizzles and match rivals Meryl Davis and Charlie White in going two-for-two in Grand Prix events this year.

Two other top-10 ranked couples appear in Paris — France’s Nathalie Pechalat and Fabrian Bourzat (sixth at March’s World Championships) and Russia’s Yelena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov (fourth at a deep NHK Trophy in Japan last week).

Davis and White registered a 186.65 in Tokyo, down from 188.23 in Detroit, but still higher than Virtue and Moir’s 181.03 at Skate Canada, a mark upon which the Canadians will seek to improve.

PAIRS
There is a possibility Canada wins three golds should Chan and Virtue and Moir hold their form and the pairs team of Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford shine. The reigning world bronze medalists were a disappointing third at Skate Canada last month, however.

Vancouver silver medalists Pang Qing and Tong Jian, fifth at Worlds this year, also factor into the pairs discussion, as do 2012 U.S. champions Caydee Denney and John Coughlin. Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov are a team to watch, as well, the Russians having been seventh at the World Championships in March. They are making their Grand Prix season debut.

Plushenko withdraws from Russian Grand Prix event

Simone Biles returns to the gym, going from mental drain to physical pain

Simone Biles
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For Simone Biles, this was supposed to be the stretch run of a legendary career.

Instead, she returned to her gym on May 18 with long-term thoughts of waiting 14 months until the Tokyo Olympics. And the immediate aches of a world-class gymnast who just missed nearly two months of regular training.

“After that amount of time off, it kind of sucks because your body hurts and then you get really sore,” Biles said in a pre-recorded ESPNW interview that aired Thursday. “So you just have to get back into the swing of things. But it felt nice to see my coaches, my teammates, and just to be back on the equipment and in the environment.”

In that same Texas gym three months ago, Biles had a far different outlook. One that would have put fear into any gymnast who still harbored ambition of ending her near-seven-year win streak.

“I never felt more ready this early in the season,” she said. “I was so ready for the Olympics to be this year.”

Biles repeated in interviews the last two months that the Olympic postponement to 2021 was devastating. Thoughts zig-zagged: How do I go on another year, at age 23, in a sport recently dominated by (but not limited to) teenagers?

“I’m getting pretty old,” she said in the interview published Thursday. “Will I be at the top of my game?”

Biles proved the last two years — after a year off — that she can win — and comfortably — while not at her best. She grabbed the 2018 World all-around title by a record margin — with two falls. Last year, she became the most decorated gymnast in world championships history. In Tokyo, she can become the first woman to repeat as Olympic all-around champion, and the only one older than 20, in more than 50 years.

This for a gymnast whose early goal was to earn a college scholarship. Biles did, to UCLA, but had to give it up by turning professional.

“So I’ve exceeded that,” Biles said. “And then I wanted to go to world championships and Olympics, and I’ve been to five worlds and one Olympic Games. So, I’d be more than happy [to walk away].”

After gymnastics, Biles has another goal — to be a voice for foster kids. She was in foster care multiple times before being adopted at age 6 by grandparents Ron and Nellie.

Those plans, along with so much else for Biles and so many others, have been pushed back a full year.

“I was already being mentally drained and almost, not done with the sport, but just going into the gym and feeling tired and being like, OK, I’m going to get my stuff [done], get out,” she said. “We have this one end goal, and now that it’s postponed another [year], it’s just like, how are we going to deal with that? We’re already being drained, and so it’s to keep the fire in the sport within yourself alive.”

MORE: Top U.S. gymnasts disagree with Tokyo Olympic age rule

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2022 Pan Pacific Championships canceled as swimming calendar shifts

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The Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, a quadrennial major international meet, will not be held in 2022 “out of respect for the recent changes to the international sporting calendar,” according to a press release.

The Pan Pacs’ charter nations — the U.S., Australia, Canada and Japan — agreed to the move. The 2026 event will be held in Canada, which was supposed to be the 2022 host.

The decision came after the 2021 World Championships were moved to May 2022, following the Tokyo Olympics moving from 2020 to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The quadrennial multi-sport Commonwealth Games — which includes Australia and Canada, but not the U.S. or Japan — are scheduled for July 27-Aug. 7, 2022.

“Organizing a third major championships in that window presented several challenges,” according to the Pan Pacs release.

Pan Pacs mark the third-biggest major international meet for U.S. swimmers, held in non-Olympic, non-world championships years.

MORE: Caeleb Dressel co-hosts a podcast. It’s not about swimming.

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