Gracie Gold, Ashley Wagner trail after Grand Prix Final short program

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U.S. champions Gracie Gold and Ashley Wagner are at the bottom of the standings, trailing Russian leader Yevgenia Medvedeva after the Grand Prix Final short program in Barcelona on Friday.

Medvedeva, the reigning World junior champion, cleanly landed all of her jumps and scored a personal-best 74.58 points going into Saturday’s free skate.

“I skated the maximum that I can do,” Medvedeva said through a translator at a press conference, adding, according to the International Skating Union, “I tried to perfect what I do and it has worked, I have started to skate better and more like an adult.”

Gold, the 2014 U.S. champion in her first Grand Prix Final, doubled a planned triple flip and two-footed another jump landing. She scored 66.52 points for fifth place of six skaters.

“It wasn’t what I wanted to do here,” Gold said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “I still feel strong going into the long program knowing that my free skate is one of the best. This wasn’t my goal.”

Wagner, a three-time U.S. champion seeking her fourth straight Grand Prix Final podium, fell on the second jump of a triple-triple combination. She tallied 60.04 points and is in last place after the short program for a second straight Grand Prix Final.

“Today was sloppy,” Wagner said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “The great thing about the Grand Prix Final is that it’s a bonus to be here, which means it’s a bonus to be able to compete.”

Last year, Wagner improved from sixth after the short program to earn bronze at the Grand Prix Final, the most prestigious annual figure skating competition outside of the World Championships.

“I would love to be able to do something very similar to what I pulled off last year,” Wagner said. “I’m up against a very difficult field, and tomorrow is another day. I’m also getting sick of saying that tomorrow is another day.”

Japan’s Mao Asada, seeking to become the first singles skater to win five Grand Prix Finals, was in great shape until her last jump. She singled a planned triple Lutz and is in third place with 69.13 points, behind Medvedeva and another Russian, Yelena Radionova.

“I made one major mistake today, and I regret that, but overall performance I don’t think it was too bad,” Asada said through a translator at a press conference.

Icenetwork.com will provide live coverage of Saturday’s free skates (ice dance at 11:25 a.m. ET, women at 1:45 p.m., men at 3 p.m.) for subscribers. NBC will air coverage Dec. 20 from 4-6 p.m. ET.

Earlier Friday, Russian Olympic pairs silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov recorded the second-highest pairs free skate score in the decade-old scoring system en route to gold.

They posted 154.60 points, .06 shy of the mark set by fellow Russians Tatyana Volozoshar and Maksim Trankov at 2013 Skate America.

Stolbova and Klimov, who also topped Thursday’s short program, finished 12.77 points ahead of Canadian World champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford. Russians Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov took bronze.

Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim, the first U.S. pair to make a Grand Prix Final since 2007, finished in last place (seventh overall) after they both fell in their free skate.

In the short dance, Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje scored 72.75 to lead by 1.11 over U.S. rivals Madison Chock and Evan Bates. They went one-two at last year’s Grand Prix Final.

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USOC fires official as Larry Nassar report released

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The U.S. Olympic Committee fired chief of sport performance Alan Ashley in the wake of an independent report released Monday that said neither he nor former CEO Scott Blackmun elevated concerns about the Larry Nassar sexual abuse allegations when they were first reported to them.

The 233-page independent report detailed an overall lack of response when the USOC leaders first heard about the Nassar allegations from the then-president of USA Gymnastics, Steve Penny.

Blackmun resigned in February because of health concerns.

The report says the USOC took no action between first hearing of the allegations in July 2015 and September 2016, when the Indianapolis Star published an account of Nassar’s sex abuse. The report concludes that lack of action allowed Nassar to abuse dozens more girls over the 14 months of silence.

Nassar is serving decades in prison on charges of child pornography and for molesting young women and girls under the guise of medical treatment; many of his accusers testified in heart-wrenching detail at his sentencing hearing.

Though Ashley was the only one to get fired in the immediate aftermath of its release, the report paints a harsh picture of leadership of the entire U.S. Olympic movement, from the offices of the USOC to what it portrays as an essentially rogue, unchecked operation at the Karolyi Ranch in Texas — the training center run by Bela and Martha Karolyi where some of the abuse occurred.

The report concludes that one of Penny’s key objectives was to keep the allegations under wraps, to avoid “sending shockwaves through the community,” as he said in a conversation with an FBI agent.

Meanwhile, Penny is portrayed as repeatedly trying to get the FBI to investigate Nassar, but the report concludes “the investigation appears to have languished … for over seven months” in the FBI’s Detroit office. USAG took the allegations to the FBI’s Los Angeles office, but not until the newspaper report came out did that office take action.

The report says Penny notified Blackmun and Ashley that Nassar had retired in September 2015, but that both leaders had deleted the email, which referenced Nassar by name.

The report details the USOC’s relationships with the sports organizations it oversees as too deferential and not involved enough in policymaking to ensure athlete safety.

“In this governance model, the USOC exerted its broad statutory authority and monetary influence over individual sports primarily for the purpose of encouraging success at the Olympic Games, effectively outsourcing any decisions regarding on-the-ground child-protective practices to the NGBs,” the report states.

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U.S. figure skating rankings going into national championships

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A discipline-by-discipline look at U.S. figure skaters’ best season scores with no more top-level events until the U.S. Championships from Jan. 24-27 in Detroit …

Men
1. Nathan Chen — 282.42
2. Chen — 280.57
3. Chen — 271.58
4. Jason Brown — 263.42
5. Brown — 256.33
6. Brown — 234.97
7. Vincent Zhou — 234.25
8. Brown — 233.23
9. Zhou — 225.75
10. Camden Pulkinen — 223.95

Chen is on his way to a third straight national title, while Brown has been a pleasant surprise this fall after changing coaches in the offseason. The Sochi Olympian and 2015 U.S. champion even beat Chen in one program on the Grand Prix Series. Zhou, after placing sixth in PyeongChang, has struggled with under-rotations on jumps but is still in the driver’s seat for one of three world championships spots.

Women
1. Bradie Tennell — 206.41
2. Tennell — 202.41
3. Ting Cui — 199.79
4. Mariah Bell — 198.96
5. Tennell — 197.78
6. Bell — 196.60
7. Tennell — 192.89
8. Bell — 190.25
9. Bell — 188.97
10. Ashley Lin — 181.21

Two world team spots for the women. Tennell and Bell are the top returning veterans this season, but remember that 2017 U.S. champion Karen Chen has yet to compete with a foot injury. Then there are Ting, 16, and Alysa Liu, a 13-year-old who isn’t age eligible for junior or senior worlds but can compete in the senior division at nationals. Liu landed triple Axels in both programs at sectionals last month, scoring 212.97 points (though domestic scores are often inflated and not comparable with international scores).

Ice Dance
1. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue — 205. 35
2. Hubbell/Donohue — 200.82
3. Hubbell/Donohue — 200.76
4. Hubbell/Donohue — 197.42
5. Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker — 184.63
6. Hawayek/Baker — 184.04
7. Hawayek/Baker — 181.47
8. Rachel Parsons/Michael Parsons — 180.95
9. Lorraine McNamara/Quinn Carpenter — 180.57
10. Christina Carreira/Anthony Ponomarenko — 180.22

The only active U.S. couple to beat Hubbell and Donohue in direct competition is Madison Chock and Evan Bates, but the two-time world medalists missed the entire fall season due to Chock’s ankle surgery. With Olympic bronze medalists Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani sitting out this season and maybe done competing altogether, Hubbell and Donohue will be clear favorites to repeat as national champions.

Three U.S. couples will go to worlds. Hawayek and Baker, after qualifying for their first Grand Prix Final, are primed to go back after placing 10th last season. The status of Chock and Bates will largely determine who rounds out the world team.

Pairs
1. Tarah Kayne/Danny O’Shea — 191.43

2. Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Chris Knierim — 190.49
3. Knierim/Knierim — 182.84
4. Ashley Cain/Timothy LeDuc — 181.56
5. Kayne/O’Shea — 177.69
6. Knierim/Knierim — 177.22
7. Deanna Stellato/Nathan Bartholomay — 176.44
8. Cain/LeDuc — 175.06
9. Stellato/Bartholomay — 174.91
10. Stellato/Bartholomay — 174.78

Kayne and O’Shea, who likely would have made the Olympic team if the U.S. qualified more than one pair for PyeongChang, surprised by posting that 191 at the last event of the Grand Prix Series three weeks ago. The U.S. has just one pair at worlds this season for the first time since 1984 and last earned a medal in 2002. Kayne and O’Shea and the Knierims are ranked Nos. 9 and 10 in the world this season. Cain is recovering after falling head-first on the ice from a botched lift on Friday night.

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