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Tara Lipinski, Johnny Weir preview Grand Prix Final women’s, ice dance events

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Every woman in the Grand Prix Final field has lost this season, and with the reigning World champion not even making the six-skater event, the competition is one of the most open in recent memory.

U.S. Olympians Gracie Gold and Ashley Wagner will look to break up recent Russian and Japanese dominance in Barcelona this week.

Mao Asada, the most decorated in the exclusive field, will try to become the first singles skater to win five Grand Prix Final titles, a full decade after her first crown.

Icenetwork.com will provide live coverage of all Grand Prix Final programs for subscribers. NBC will air coverage Dec. 20 from 4-6 p.m. ET.

Here’s the schedule:

Thursday
Pairs short program — 2:30 p.m. ET
Men’s short program — 3:55 p.m. ET

Friday
Short dance — 1:05 p.m. ET
Pairs free skate — 2:20 p.m. ET
Women’s short program — 3:55 p.m. ET

Saturday
Free dance — 11:25 p.m. ET
Women’s free skate — 1:45 p.m. ET
Men’s free skate — 3 p.m. ET

Here are women’s and ice dance previews with thoughts from NBC Olympics analysts Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir:

Women’s Field (Best Grand Prix qualifying total score)
Yelena Radionova (211.32) — World bronze medalist
Yevgenia Medvedeva (206.76) — World junior champion
Satoko Miyahara (203.11) — World silver medalist
Gracie Gold (202.80) — Olympics, Worlds fourth-place finisher
Ashley Wagner (202.52) — Grand Prix Final bronze medalist
Mao Asada (197.48) — Three-time World champion

Preview
Last season’s Grand Prix Final and World champion, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, struggled this fall and failed to qualify. That coupled with the fact that no women won both of their Grand Prix series events for the first time since 2006 gives everyone in the field a shot at gold.

Medvedeva and Radionova, two Russians born in 1999 who combined to win the last three World junior titles, may be the most reliable.

Gold, the top qualifier into this event, has six times finished between fourth and sixth in individual standings at the Olympics, Worlds and Four Continents Championships. A medal in her first Grand Prix Final would be a breakthrough.

Wagner, who won Skate Canada in October but finished fourth at NHK Trophy two weeks ago, has already been there, finishing second or third at each of the last three Grand Prix Finals. Another top-three would break her consecutive-podiums tie with Michelle Kwan for the American record.

Then there’s Asada, who won her first Grand Prix Final title in 2005 at age 15. The Japanese icon is shaking off rust after taking the 2014-15 season off. She won the Cup of China in October and then took third at NHK Trophy.

Lipinski’s Take
“If [Asada] skates fairly clean, it’s a shoo-in for her, especially if she lands the triple Axel. Mentally, she’s so far ahead of where these other skaters are at just because she’s gone to two Olympics and been up against the best in the world, someone like Yuna Kim. I think she has the wisdom and this calmness on the ice and this feeling of comfort that she gives to the audience and to the judges that pretty much no other skater out there can do.”

“Yevgenia has been my favorite new surprise of the season. We are used to all these new Russians, new little teenagers popping up … you wonder if Yevgenia can sustain this type of skating the next few years before [the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics], but it’s exciting to watch because she’s so tough. I can feel that when she takes the ice. She has this steely look in her eyes. … As much as I think Mao will have it in the bag if she skates clean, I think Yevgenia is possibly the person who can bring home the gold.”

“[Gold] has always technically been so good that there’s no doubt in my mind she can win any event that she enters, but this is the first year that I actually sense a new Gracie, a Gracie that’s much more comfortable in her skin, much more comfortable in a competition setting. … But she does struggle getting two great skates out there [in one competition]. At the final, there’s no room, especially in the short program, to bury yourself.”

“Ashley, obviously her last event didn’t go so well, but you can’t really base anything on track record when it comes to her just because she’s feisty. Yeah, she’ll have a bad competition, but she’ll come out the next one guns blazing and nail it. … Ashley really brings a performance value that a lot of the other girls don’t have. Yes, you have to hit the jumps, but when you sell a program like Ashley does, that makes a huge difference.”

Weir’s Take
“The ladies are super interesting. For all this talk about the Russian teenagers, they didn’t really fare that well in the Grand Prix [season]. My personal favorite is Yevgenia Medvedeva, the Skate America champion and a barely silver medalist at Grand Prix Russia. She is, to me, the brightest star that Russia has produced. I love [Yulia] Lipnitskaya, I love Radionova, I love the other Russian ballerinas, but for me, Yevgenia, she has the whole package. She can spin. I actually feel her when she’s skating. The jumps are impeccable. For me, she’s my favorite. But Gracie Gold and Ashley Wagner, both in the Final, very exciting for the U.S. Gracie has been skating wonderfully in the Grand Prix series. I definitely think it’s going to come down to Medvedeva, Gracie Gold and probably Yelena Radionova.”

MORE: Gracie Gold reflects on being in France during Paris attacks

Ice Dance Field
Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje — Canada
Madison Chock/Evan Bates — U.S.
Anna Cappellini/Luca Lanotte — Italy
Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani — U.S.
Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue — U.S.
Yekaterina Bobrova/Dmitry Soloviyev — Russia

Preview
The U.S. put three ice dance teams into a Grand Prix Final for the first time, an impressive feat bolstered by the fact that the first U.S. Olympic ice dance champions, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, are not competing this season.

All three qualified U.S. dance teams won one of the six Grand Prix series events this fall and made the podium in their other Grand Prix starts.

The most decorated of the trio are Chock and Bates, who took silver at last season’s Worlds and Grand Prix Final. The Shibutani siblings’ top international finish was a bronze medal at the 2011 Worlds. Hubbell and Donohue qualified for their first Grand Prix Final.

But any predictions must begin with Weaver and Poje, who have won five straight Grand Prix series titles, including last season’s Grand Prix Final. The Canadians were upset at last season’s World Championships by the French couple of Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who sat out this Grand Prix season due to Papadakis’ concussion.

Lipinski’s Take
“I’m excited to see Kaitlyn and Andrew against Madison and Evan because their styles are so different. I flip-flop back and forth as to which one is going to perform better. … Kaitlyn just steals the show for me when she’s out there, and I feel like Andrew is the perfect frame for their picture, strong and solid. It just lets her emotionally bring it home. … The storytelling on Madison and Evan’s part is what grabs me. It’s not this chemistry-filled, powerful skating that you get from Kaitlyn and Andrew, but it’s this beautiful, classical style that’s very unique to them.”

Weir’s Take
“Three American teams is really impressive. My personal favorite, Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, I think they bring something so special to the ice. They’re really in tune with their emotions. Nothing seems forced or fake to me with them. That’s what I like to see in my dancers. But you’ve got Cappellini and Lanotte, who are another favorite of mine going back to their very Italian, rich, sophisticated style, and I like that, too. But of course you’ve got the [2014 Grand Prix Final] gold and silver medalists coming to the competition as well in Weaver/Poje and Chock/Bates. But my personal favorites are the Italians and Hubbell/Donohue.”

MORE: Ashley Wagner eyes history at Grand Prix Final after ‘disaster’ in Japan

Lance Armstrong timeline: cancer, Tour de France, doping admission

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A look at the rise and fall of Lance Armstrong, who beat testicular cancer to win a record seven Tour de France titles, then was found guilty of and admitted to doping for the majority of his career …

Aug. 2, 1992: Armstrong, then a 20-year-old amateur cyclist who had left triathlon because it wasn’t an Olympic sport, makes his Olympic debut at the Barcelona Games. He finishes 14th in the road race as the top American, missing a late breakaway. “I don’t think it was one of my better days, unfortunately,” Armstrong said on NBC. “Last couple weeks, everything has been perfect, but today, I just didn’t have what it took.” A week later, Armstrong finished last of 111 riders in his pro debut.

Aug. 29, 1993: Wins the world championships road race, becoming the second U.S. man to win a senior road cycling world title after three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond. Armstrong prevails by 19 seconds over Spain’s Miguel Indurain, who won five straight Tours de France from 1991-95. “I’m not sure I’m cut out to be a Tour racer,” Armstrong said, according to the Chicago Tribune. “I love the Tour de France; it’s my favorite bike race, but I’m not fool enough to sit here and say I’m going to win it. For the time being, I’m a one-day rider.”

Aug. 3, 1996: After failing to finish three of his first four Tour de France appearances (and placing 36th in the other), is sixth in the Atlanta Olympic time trial. “This was a big goal and something that I wanted to do well in and wanted the American people to see success,” Armstrong said on NBC. “The legs just weren’t there to win or to medal. I have to move forward and look to the next thing.”

Oct. 2, 1996: Diagnosed with testicular cancer. A day later, he undergoes surgery to have the malignant right testicle removed. Five days later, he begins chemotherapy. Six days later, Armstrong holds a press conference to announce it publicly, saying the cancer spread to his abdomen (and, later, his brain). He described it as “between moderate and advanced” and that his oncologist told him the cure rate was between 65 and 85 percent. “I will win,” Armstrong says. “I intend to beat this disease, and further, I intend to ride again as a professional cyclist.”

Oct. 27, 1996: Betsy Andreu later testifies that, on this date, Armstrong told a doctor at Indiana University Hospital that he had taken performance-enhancing drugs; EPO, testosterone, growth hormone, cortisone and steroids. Andreu said she and others were in a room to hear this. Her husband, Frankie Andreu, an Armstrong cycling teammate, confirmed her recollection to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). Armstrong, in admitting to doping in 2013, declined to address what became known as “the hospital room confession,” which he previously refuted.

January 1997: Establishes the Lance Armstrong Foundation, later called Livestrong, to support cancer awareness and research. Is later declared cancer-free.

Feb. 15, 1998: Returns to racing. Later in September, finishes fourth in his Grand Tour return at the Vuelta a Espana, one of the three Grand Tours after the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France.

1999 Tour de France: Achieves global fame by winning cycling’s most prestigious event in his first Tour de France start since his cancer diagnosis. Armstrong was not a pre-event favorite, but he won the opening 4.2-mile prologue to set the tone. He won all three time trials and, by the end, distanced second-place Alex Zulle by 7 minutes, 37 seconds in a Tour that lacked the previous two winners — Jan Ullrich and Marco Pantani. Armstrong faced doping questions during the three-week Tour. An Armstrong urine sample revealed a small amount of a corticosteroid, after which Armstrong produced a prescription for a cream to treat saddle sores to justify it. “There’s no secrets here,” Armstrong said after Stage 14. “We have the oldest secret in the book: hard work.”

2000 Tour de France: With Ullrich and Pantani in the field, Armstrong crushed them on Stage 10, taking the yellow jersey by four minutes. He ends up winning the Tour by 6:02 over Ullrich, who over the years became the closest thing Armstrong had to a rival. In a Nike commercial that debuted in January that year, Armstrong again attacked his critics, saying, “Everybody wants to know what I’m on. What am I on? I’m on my bike, busting my ass six hours a day. What are you on?”

Sept. 30, 2000: Takes bronze in the Sydney Olympic time trial, behind Russian Viatcheslav Ekimov (a teammate on Armstrong’s Tour de France teams) and Ullrich. Armstrong would be stripped of the bronze medal 12 years later for doping. “I came to win the gold medal,” he said on NBC. “When you prepare for an event and you come and you do your best, and you don’t win, you have to say, I didn’t deserve to win.”

2001 Tour de France: Third straight Tour title. In Stage 10 on the iconic Alpe d’Huez, Armstrong gave what came to be known as “The Look,” turning back to stare in sunglasses at Ullrich, then accelerating away to win the stage by 1:59 over the German. “I decided to give a look, see how he was, then give a little surge and see what happened,” Armstrong said after the stage. Also that year, LeMond gives a famous quote to journalist David Walsh on Armstrong: “If it is true, it is the greatest comeback in the history of sport. If it is not, it is the greatest fraud.”

2002 Tour de France: Fourth title in a row — by 7:17 over Joseba Beloki sans Ullirch and Pantani — with few notable highlights. Maybe the most memorable, French fans yelling “Dope!” as he chased Richard Virenque (another disgraced doper) up the esteemed Mont Ventoux. Armstrong would be named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year.

2003 Tour de France: By far the closest of the Tour wins — by 1:01 over Ullrich — with two very close calls. In Stage 9, Armstrong detoured through a field to avoid a crashing Beloki, who broke his right femur and never contended at a Grand Tour again. In Stage 15, Armstrong’s handlebars caught a spectator’s yellow bag. He crashed to the pavement, remounted and won the stage, upping his lead from 15 seconds to 1:07 over Ullrich.

2004 Tour de France: Record-breaking sixth Tour de France title. Jacques AnquetilEddy MerckxBernard Hinault and Indurain shared the record of five, and now share the record again after Armstrong’s titles were stripped. Earlier in 2004, the Livestrong yellow bracelet/wristband is introduced. Tens of millions would be sold. He skips the 2004 Athens Olympics, which began three weeks after the Tour ended.

April 18, 2005: Announces he will retire after the 2005 Tour de France. “My children are my biggest supporters, but at the same time, they are the ones who told me it’s time to come home,” Armstrong says. On the same day, former teammate and 2004 Olympic time trial champion Tyler Hamilton is banned two years for blood doping.

2005 Tour de France: Finishes career with seventh Tour de France title. Armstrong remains defiant until the end. In his victory speech atop a podium on the Champs-Elysees, he says with girlfriend Sheryl Crow looking on, “The last thing I’ll say, for the people that don’t believe in cycling, the cynics and the skeptics, I”m sorry for you. I’m sorry you can’t dream big. And I’m sorry you don’t believe in miracles.” A month later, French sports daily newspaper L’Equipe publishes a front-page article headlined, “Le Mensonge Armstrong” or “The Armstrong Lie.” It reports that six Armstrong doping samples at the 1999 Tour de France showed the presence of the banned EPO.

Sept. 9, 2008: Announces comeback, the reason being “to launch an international cancer strategy,” in a video on his foundation’s website. In his 2013 doping confession, Armstrong says he regrets the comeback. “We wouldn’t be sitting here if I didn’t come back,” he tells Oprah Winfrey on primetime TV.

2009 Tour de France: Finishes third, 5:24 behind rival Astana teammate and Spanish winner Alberto Contador. “I can’t complain,” Armstrong said on Versus after the penultimate stage finishing atop Mont Ventoux. “For an old fart, coming in here, getting on the podium with these young guys, not so bad.” USADA later reported that scientific data showed Armstrong used EPO or blood transfusions during that Tour, which Armstrong denied in 2013 when admitting to doping earlier in his career.

2010 Tour de France: Finishes 23rd in his last Tour de France. Armstrong races after former teammate Floyd Landis admits to doping and accuses Armstrong and other former teammates of doping during the Tour de France wins. “At some point, people have to tell their kids that Santa Claus isn’t real,” Landis says in a “Nightline” interview that aired the final weekend of the Tour.

Feb. 16, 2011: Announces retirement, citing tiredness (in multiple respects) at age 39. “I can’t say I have any regrets. It’s been an excellent ride. I really thought I was going to win another Tour,” Armstrong said, according to The Associated Press. “Then I lined up like everybody else and wound up third.”

Aug. 24, 2012: USADA announces Armstrong is banned for life, and all of his results dating to Aug. 1, 1998, annulled, including all seven Tour de France titles. Armstrong chose not to contest the charges, which were first sent to him in a June letter, though he did not publicly admit to cheating. USADA releases details of the investigation in October. The International Cycling Union chooses not to contest USADA’s ruling, formally stripping him of the Tour de France titles. “Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling,” UCI President Pat McQuaid says. In November, a defiant Armstrong tweets an image of him lying on a couch in a room with seven framed Tour de France yellow jerseys on the walls.

Jan. 17, 2013: Admits to doping during all of his Tour de France victories in the Oprah confession that airs on primetime TV. “I viewed this situation as one big lie that I repeated a lot of times,” Armstrong says in a pre-recorded interview. “It’s just this mythic, perfect story, and it wasn’t true.” Armstrong said he did not view it as cheating while he was taking PEDs because others did, too. On the same day, the International Olympic Committee strips Armstrong of his 2000 Olympic bronze medal.

MORE: Giro, Vuelta overlap in new cycling schedule

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Anna Veith retires, leaves Austrian Alpine skiing in unfamiliar territory

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Anna Veith has retired from Alpine skiing, leaving Austria without an active woman who has won a World Cup overall title for the first time in 27 years.

Veith announced her retirement on a German-language live stream interview Saturday after a montage of career highlights set to Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor.” She was in tears after watching a series of video messages from the likes of fellow champion ski racers Marcel HirscherTina Maze and Lara Gut.

“I‘m ready for the next chapter,” was posted on Veith’s Instagram minutes later. “My heart and head are telling me it‘s time to do something new. And so, I have decided to retire from ski racing.
Skiing is my whole life. It has made me who I am today and will always be something I’m passionate about. I am so grateful for the opportunities I’ve had, to learn and achieve in the past fifteen years. I’ve been able to fulfil my childhood dreams and more.”

Veith, 30, won the overall, the biggest annual prize in ski racing, in 2014 and 2015. Lindsey Vonn was in between major leg injuries. Mikaela Shiffrin was still on the rise.

Veith, then Anna Fenninger, blossomed into the world’s best skier in her early 20s. After winning the 2014 Olympic super-G, she finished first or second in five of her last six starts of that World Cup season to overtake a retiring German Maria Hoefl-Riesch for the crown.

The following year, Veith again came from behind, this time edging Slovenian Tina Maze in the last race of the season.

Everything changed on Oct. 21, 2015. Veith crashed in training, tearing ligaments and the patellar tendon in her right knee, three days before the start of the season. She missed 14 months of races.

Veith, after a 2016-17 season-ending left knee surgery, returned to the top of a World Cup podium in December 2017. At her last Olympics in PyeongChang, Veith skied into first place from the 15th bib in the super-G, looking to cap an improbable ride to a repeat gold medal.

Then something more surprising happened: World champion snowboarder Ester Ledecka beat Veith’s time by .01 from the 26th starting position, relegating Veith to silver. Pre-race medal contenders are usually done by bib 20. Ledecka’s best prior World Cup race finish was a seventh.

Veith tore another right knee ligament in January 2019, then returned this past season with a best finish of seventh.

With Veith’s retirement, Austria has zero active Olympic or World Cup overall champions in women’s Alpine skiing. Austria, the most successful Olympic Alpine nation in history, had at least one active World Cup overall champion every day since Anita Wachter‘s crown in 1993.

In the most recent abbreviated World Cup season, Austria had zero women win a discipline or overall title, though Nicole Schmidhofer won the 2017 World super-G title and the 2019 World Cup downhill season crown.

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