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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

Nathan Chen calls 3 quads at Skate America ‘a given’

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When Nathan Chen won Skate America in 2017, he competed two quadruple jumps in the short program and one downgraded quad in the free skate.

When Chen won the event in 2018, he did one under-rotated quad (which was also given an edge call) in the short and three in the free.

For Skate America this weekend (Oct. 18-20, streaming live on the NBC Sports “Figure Skating Pass”), two-time and reigning world champion Chen told reporters on Monday’s media teleconference that three quads in the free skate was “a given.”

“Honestly, I don’t really know exactly,” Chen said, after admitting he gets asked this question a lot and usually ends up giving a “vague” answer. “I have ideas. I want to push three. I want to push four… As of now, I think three is a given. But beyond that, we’ll see.”

Chen completed six quads to win the free skate at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, where he ultimately finished fifth.

He’ll skate to La Boheme for the short program in Las Vegas, choreographed by Shae-Lynn Bourne, and selections from “Rocket Man” for the free skate, choreographed by Marie-France Dubreuil. Bourne is a former ice dancer and choreographs programs for many singles skaters as well as pair teams. Dubreuil is a noted former ice dancer and current dance coach, training the top teams in the world at her school in Montreal.

Chen explained that both of the choices were the choreographers’ picks, and he had to sit on the music for a day or two before committing to skating to it. Ultimately, he likes when choreographers are able to find something that they think suits him.

“I love to listen to Elton John,” Chen said. “I don’t necessarily feel as though I’m an embodiment of his character, per se. But I do feel that no matter how you listen to music there are always many ways to interpret it. The way that we’re approaching it is not necessarily that I’m trying to be Elton John but mostly that we’re trying to interpret his music and share his music.”

And compared to last season, when he was a freshman at Yale University, classes this time around are “a lot harder,” the sophomore said. In general though, he’s a lot more comfortable trying to balance both skating and his studies.

“Skating is always tough, always a challenge,” he said. “But I would say, relative to last season, skating might be a little bit on the easier side. I think classes are definitely a lot harder… You have to really grind for a long period of time or else you don’t do well.”

Luckily for Chen, Skate America is aligned with Yale’s scheduled fall break.

MORE: Figure skating season broadcast schedule

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Check out a free trial of the Figure Skating Pass during Skate America from Oct. 18-20. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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Simone Biles reveals one thing she cannot do: Wear all her medals at once

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Three days after raising the record for world championship medals to 25, Simone Biles said her career total is a bit too much to wear at once.

“I’ve worn all five of them (from one world championship) for one time, but they’re pretty heavy, so I can’t imagine 25,” Biles said Wednesday on the “Today” show.

MORE: Mother and daughter share world championship experience

Last week, Biles became the first gymnast to win five gold medals at the world championships. She and her teammates ran away with the team gold, and she won the all-around by a staggering 2.1 points. She then won the vault, balance beam and floor exercise. Only a fifth-place finish in the uneven bars kept her from a sweep.

One event that stood out for her was the ever-challenging balance beam.

“Out of all of my performances this past week, the beam performance was one of my favorites, because I did it exactly like practice, and that’s what I’ve been training to do,” Biles said. “So it definitely helped my confidence.”

GYM WORLDS: Finals Results

Biles had her breakout performance at age 18, her first year in senior competition, in the 2013 world championships with a four-medal performance, including gold in the all-around and floor exercise. In 2014, she won those events again, along with the team event and the balance beam, and added a fifth medal on the vault. She matched that performance in 2015, then switched the vault and beam in her four-gold, five-medal performance in the 2016 Olympics.

After a post-Olympic break, she returned for the 2018 world championships to win medals in all six events, including four golds and a silver on the uneven bars, historically her least successful event.

She didn’t win six medals this year, but she took five golds for the first time. This year’s championships are also special because they’re almost certainly her last, with next year’s Olympics expected to be her last major competition.

Given all that, she’ll make more of an effort to go back and watch what she did.

“Most of the time I don’t want to see it, but this world championships was one of the best out of all five of them, so I definitely wanted to see my performances, so afterward, I would go and try to find it with my coach,” Biles said.

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