Johnny Weir, Tara Lipinski

Johnny Weir, Tara Lipinski preview Skate America

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The post-Olympic figure skating season begins in earnest this weekend at Skate America, the first of seven events in the Grand Prix series.

Here’s a look at the men’s and women’s fields in Hoffman Estates, Ill., with analysis from NBC Olympic figure skating analysts Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski. (NBC will have live coverage of the women’s free skate Sunday from 4-6 p.m. ET)

Men (short program — Friday, 9:30 p.m. ET; free skate — Saturday, 9:40 p.m.)

Both U.S. Sochi Olympians are in the field — Jason Brown and Jeremy Abbott, who were ninth and 12th at the Olympics, respectively.

Brown, 19, made his Grand Prix debut at Skate America last year and finished fifth, filling in for 2010 Olympic champion Evan Lysacek.

Brown, the youngest U.S. Olympic men’s singles skater since 1976, won his first senior international title at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany, in his season debut in September. He did so without a quadruple jump, which he hopes to add to his arsenal once he’s more comfortable with it.

Weir said the quad is important for Brown to grab the reins as a leading man as the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics approach. Lipinski echoed how vital the four-revolution jump is.

“I feel among the judges no one has really taken [Brown] that seriously as a technical threat to other skaters, because the quad is what everyone is looking for,” Lipinski said.

Abbott, who is 10 years older than Brown, planned to retire after the 2013-14 season but felt reinvigorated after finishing fifth at the World Championships in March. The four-time U.S. champion is back for another season, in part, to try to win his first World Championships medal in March.

“I find it very endearing and charming just the way that he’s looking at the rest of his career,” Lipinski said. “He just really wants to do it for himself. I wonder how that will change his performance and how he changes as a competitor with a new outlook.”

Brown and Abbott’s biggest competition at Skate America will come from Sochi Olympic bronze medalist Denis Ten of Kazakhstan and Japan’s Tatsuki Machida, who won Skate America last year, finished second at the World Championships and fifth at the Olympics.

“My personal favorite of the field is Machida,” Weir said of the 24-year-old. “He is so strong technically. He’s growing as an artist. He really does something interesting every time he’s on the ice.”

Jeremy Abbott, rebuilt and motivated, begins 10th season

Women (short program — Saturday, 2:30 p.m.; free skate — Sunday, 4 p.m.)

U.S. champion Gracie Gold seeks her first senior international title and a better performance than her third-place effort at Nebelhorn last month. Gold was fourth at the Olympics and fifth at the World Championships, better results than anybody else in this weekend’s Skate America field.

“I know [Gold] had sort of a rough offseason this summer, maybe some growing pains, and just troubles with her consistency,” Lipinski said. “But obviously she is the top American to beat. And coming into this event of Skate America there’s no reason she shouldn’t walk away with the gold.”

The other Americans are 2010 Olympian Mirai Nagasu and Samantha Cesario, who was fifth at the 2014 U.S. Championships. But Gold’s biggest threat appears to be Russian Elena Radionova, the two-time reigning World junior champion who was third at Skate America as a 14-year-old last year.

Radionova was too young to compete in Sochi, but she took part in the post-competition exhibition gala. That’s where Lipinski saw her skate live for the first time and nudged Weir, saying this would be the woman to watch moving forward.

“We say that every year there’s a new little Russian, but this one is really, really good,” Lipinski said. “She has this fire, and she’s consistent. And it’s going to be hard, obviously, as she grows into her body. She’s very limby. She has this little deer look with she’s out on the ice.”

Gracie Gold calls audible, adds lyrics for post-Olympic season

The pairs field includes Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim, the only U.S. pair competing this season with Olympics or World Championships experience, and Russia’s Yuko Kavaguti and Aleksander Smirnov, who were fourth at the 2010 Olympics.

The ice dance field includes Sochi Olympians Maia and Alex Shibutani and Madison Chock and Evan Bates, the top U.S. couples with Olympic champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White taking the season off.

NBC figure skating broadcast schedule

Cyclist in induced coma after Tour of Poland crash

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Dutch cyclist Fabio Jakobsen was put into an induced coma Wednesday after suffering injuries in a crash on the final stretch of the Tour of Poland, organizers said.

A massive crash at the finish of the first stage resulted in Dylan Groenewegen‘s disqualification from the race.

Leading a bunch sprint, Groenewegen veered toward the right barrier, pinching countryman Jakobsen, who barreled into the barrier meters from the finish line.

Jakobsen went head over heels, his bike went airborne and the barriers exploded onto the road, causing more cyclists to crash.

Jakobsen was airlifted to a hospital in serious condition and was put into an induced coma, the Tour de Pologne press office said.

Groenewegen crossed the finish line first but was disqualified, giving Jakobsen the stage win, according to the stage race website.

Groenewegen, a 27-year-old Jumbo-Visma rider, owns four Tour de France stage wins among the last three years.

The International Cycling Union (UCI) “strongly condemned” Groenewegen’s “dangerous” and “unacceptable” behavior. It referred Groenewegen’s actions to a disciplinary commission for possible sanctions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Figure skating Grand Prix Series will be held as ‘domestic’ competitions

Skate America
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Figure skating’s Grand Prix Series will go ahead as scheduled this fall, with modifications due to the coronavirus pandemic, the International Skating Union decided Monday.

Each of the series’ six tops around the globe will be “a domestic run event,” limited to skaters of the event’s host country, who regularly train in the host country and from a respective geographical area. The number of disciplines and skaters at each event are to be worked out.

The Grand Prix Series, held annually since 1995, is a six-event fall season, qualifying the top six skaters and teams per discipline to December’s Grand Prix Final. The annual stops are in the U.S., Canada, China, France, Russia and Japan, leading up to the Final, which is held at a different site each year.

The Final is the second-biggest annual competition after the world championships, which are typically in late March. The Final is still scheduled for Beijing, though whether or when it can be held will be discussed.

The series begins in late October with Skate America, which debuted in 1979 and has been held every year since 1988 as the biggest annual international competition in the U.S. Skate America’s site is Las Vegas, just as it was in 2019.

Skaters typically compete twice on the Grand Prix Series (three times if they qualify for the Final). ISU vice president Alexander Lakernik said skaters will be limited to one start in the six-event series before the Final, according to a Russian media quote confirmed by Phil Hersh.

The ISU has not confirmed or denied Lakernik’s assertion.

Most, if not all, top-level U.S. skaters train in the U.S. or Canada. That makes the first two Grand Prix stops — Skate America and Skate Canada — likely destinations. Grand Prix assignments have not been published.

“I appreciate the ISU is open to adapting competitive formats and is working to give athletes opportunities to compete,” Evan Bates, a U.S. ice dance champion with Madison Chock who trains in Montreal, wrote in a text message to Hersh. “This announcement gives reassurance that the ISU is doing their best to ensure a season will still take place. Of course, it’s hard to predict what will happen, and we’re not sure about what country we would compete in. It would probably depend on what the quarantine rules are at that time.”

The January 2021 U.S. Championships are scheduled for San Jose, Calif. The March 2021 World Championships are set for Stockholm.

In July, the ISU canceled the Junior Grand Prix Series for skaters mostly ages 13 to 18, including two-time U.S. champion Alysa Liu, who cannot enter the senior Grand Prix until 2021.

Other early season senior international competitions scheduled for September were also canceled or postponed.

U.S. Figure Skating said in a statement that it will have more details on the Grand Prix Series in the coming weeks after collaborating with an ISU-appointed group.

“This is a great example of the figure skating community coming together to ensure that the world’s premier figure skating series will continue during these challenging times,” the statement read. “Figure skaters want to compete and figure skating fans from all around the world want to see their favorite athletes skate, and this format will ensure just that.”

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