Gracie Gold

Gracie Gold in 3rd after Skate America short program

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U.S. champion Gracie Gold has work ahead of her if she’s to win her first senior international title at Skate America on Sunday.

She sat behind Russians Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (67.41 points, video here) and Elena Radionova (65.57, video here) after the short program in Hoffman Estates, Ill., on Saturday. Gold scored 60.81 (video here).

Gold two-footed a landing on her opening triple-triple jump combination but didn’t fall as she did in her season debut in Germany last month, when she was a disappointing third in a weaker field. She erred on a final spin, though.

Tuktamysheva, 17, who didn’t make Russia’s Olympic team, had the cleanest short program.

Radionova, the two-time reigning World junior champion, was third at Skate America last year but too young for the Sochi Olympics. Radionova’s program Saturday included Jennifer Lopez‘s “Aint it Funny,” with Lopez’s vocal lyrics, allowed under a new rule this season. The Lopez song came out in 2001, when Radionova was 2 years and 10 days old.

NBC will air coverage of the women’s free skate Sunday (4-6 ET).

The women’s figure skating scene is largely changed from before the Sochi Olympics. Silver medalist Yuna Kim retired. World champion Mao Asada is taking the season off. As is Olympic and World bronze medalist Carolina Kostner.

Tatsuki Machida leads Americans after men’s short program

What’s left is a Russian-heavy crowd, led by Olympic champion Adelina Sotnikova and World silver medalist Yulia Lipnitskaya, who have yet to debut this season.

Gold, who was fourth at the Olympics and fifth at the World Championships in March, is the top returning non-Russian this season.

On Saturday, American Mirai Nagasu, who placed fourth at the 2010 Olympics, fell on her opening triple flip and popped the second jump of a combination. She scored 49.29 points for 10th place.

Nagasu, third at the 2014 U.S. Championships but left off the three-woman U.S. Olympic team, scored 9.67 fewer points Saturday than Samantha Cesario, who was fifth at the U.S. Championships. Cesario stood fourth after the short program.

Earlier, Russians Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov topped the pairs short program with 69.16 points. U.S. pairs were third, fourth and fifth — Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier (61.08), Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim (60.61) and Madeline Aaron and Max Settlage (58.41).

Russian Olympic pairs champions Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov pulled out of Skate America and the Grand Prix season on Oct. 1 due to Trankov’s shoulder injury.

Kavaguti and Smirnov were the top Russian pair at the 2010 Olympics, placing fourth, but missed most of last season, including the Sochi Olympics, due to Smirnov’s knee injury.

A U.S. pair hasn’t won a Skate America title since 2006, a World Championships medal since 2002 and an Olympic medal since 1988.

Skate America continues Saturday with the free dance (8 p.m. ET) and men’s free skate (9:30).

Johnny Weir, Tara Lipinski preview Skate America

World champion wins doping case citing bodily fluids from boyfriend

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — A world champion canoeist won a doping case Monday after persuading a tribunal that her positive test was caused by bodily fluid contamination from her boyfriend.

The International Canoe Federation (ICF) ended its investigation into 11-time world champion Laurence Vincent Lapointe, who tested positive for a steroid-like substance in July. She faced a four-year ban and could have missed her event’s Olympic debut at the Tokyo Games.

The Canadian canoe sprint racer and her lawyer detailed in a news program that laboratory analysis of hair from her then-boyfriend showed he was likely responsible for a tiny presence of ligandrol in her doping sample.

“The ICF has accepted Ms. Vincent Lapointe’s evidence which supports that she was the victim of third-party contamination,” the governing body said in a statement, clearing her to return to competition.

The legal debate is similar to tennis player Richard Gasquet’s 2009 acquittal in the “cocaine kiss” case. The Court of Arbitration for Sport accepted Gasquet’s defense that kissing a woman who had taken cocaine in a Miami nightclub, after he had withdrawn injured from a tournament, caused his positive test.

The 27-year-old Vincent Lapointe was provisionally suspended for almost six months and missed the 2019 World Championships, which was a key qualifying event for the Tokyo Olympics. American 17-year-old Nevin Harrison won the 200m world title in her absence.

She can still qualify for the Olympic debut of women’s canoe sprint events with victory at a World Cup event in May in Germany.

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U.S. women’s soccer team begins Olympic qualifying, which should rest on one match

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The U.S. women’s soccer team has never been in danger in Olympic qualifying, but that doesn’t change this fact: It must win on Feb. 7 to reach the Tokyo Games.

The CONCACAF tournament begins Tuesday in Houston, where the world champion Americans face world No. 72 Haiti. The last two group games are against No. 68 Panama on Friday and No. 37 Costa Rica on Feb. 3. The top two nations from the group advance to Feb. 7 semifinals.

The U.S. roster, with 18 of its 20 players coming from the 2019 World Cup team, is here.

Since CONCACAF qualifies two nations to the Olympics, the semifinals are the deciding games.

Should the U.S. win its group, it would face the runner-up from the other group in a winner-goes-to-Tokyo match. The other group (world ranking):

Canada (8)
Mexico (37)
Jamaica (53)
St. Kitts and Nevis (127)

Chaos could result in the unlikely event that either the U.S. or Canada finishes second in its group, and the two North American powers play a semifinal.

The U.S. is undefeated in Olympic qualifying history, since the tournament format began in 2004 — 15-0 with a goal differential of 88-1 (not counting matches played once they’ve already clinched qualification). The lone goal allowed came in a group-stage match in 2008, when the U.S. was already assured a spot in the semifinals.

Still, the U.S. knows the feeling of one poor outing in an important match. In 2010, it lost to Mexico in a winner-to-the-World Cup match. The U.S. was forced to win a last-chance, home-and-home playoff against a UEFA team — Italy — for the last spot in the World Cup.

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