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MLB players may balk at Olympic baseball

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Baseball appears set to return to the Olympics for the 2020 Tokyo Games. Major leaguers may balk.

“It’s not going to happen. I don’t think it’s fathomable,” Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw said.

Astros shortstop Carlos Correa wasn’t sure he’d play for a gold medal even if he could.

“2020 will be my year before free agency,” he said. “We’ll see in 2020 what my situation is, and we’ll go from there.”

Baseball became a medal sport for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics but was dropped for the 2012 London Games and won’t be played this year in Rio de Janeiro.

With the 2020 Games in Japan, where baseball is popular, the International Olympic Committee executive board voted this week to support a six-nation tournament that year in both baseball and women’s softball. The full IOC is to vote in August.

Chicago Cubs star Kris Bryant is torn.

“I wore ‘USA’ across my chest one time in college, and it was an awesome experience. It’d be fun to do that again,” he said. “But baseball season’s so long the way it is. You play 162 games and to add another two weeks, I don’t know if it would be the best decision for ourselves and our bodies.”

Because the Tokyo Olympics are from July 24-Aug. 9, Major League Baseball would have to interrupt its schedule, a 162-game-in-183-day grind that has little flexibility unless owners and the players’ association are willing to cut games — and lose revenue.

“I will not comment until I have a chance to review the recommendation,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday.

Speaking to the Associated Press Sports Editors in April 2015, Manfred sounded reticent.

“The Olympics are a challenge because of the calendar,” he said then. “They are particularly a challenge when the site is halfway around the world and the date falls in the middle of our regular season.”

He urged the World Baseball Softball Confederation to push for inclusion in multiple Olympics, which could become a bargaining position in negotiations among MLB, the MLBPA and the IOC.

“Conceptually, I think it would be good for our game, for baseball generically defined, to be an Olympic sport,” Manfred told APSE. “I think it would be a mistake for our sport to make an arrangement with the Olympics whereby we go in for Tokyo and not have some commitment that the Olympics were going to commit to baseball over the longer haul.”

The IOC wants the top players to appear in the Olympics. The NBA has sent its players since 1992 and the NHL since 1998 — although the NHL has not yet committed for the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

At the 2008 Olympic baseball tournament, only those not on 25-man big league rosters as of late June were allowed to compete. The American prospects there included Jake Arrieta, who struck out seven over six innings to beat China. Stephen Strasburg defeated the Netherlands and lost to Cuba, which eliminated manager Davey Johnson‘s team in the semifinals.

“With regard to professional players competing in the games, as we have stated publicly in the past, we are committed to finding the best possible and most reasonable solution for 2020,” union head Tony Clark said.

Wedded to routine and used to the comforts of spacious big league clubhouses, baseball players are reluctant to divert from their norm. It has taken effort from management and the union to persuade them of the benefits of regular-season games that have been played in Australia, Japan, Mexico and Puerto Rico.

“You could get a quality representation of each country if you were open to it,” San Francisco catcher Buster Posey said. “I think that would be the problem, getting everybody on board. I think it’d be pretty difficult — not just players obviously, but owners and management.”

MLB and the union are partners in the World Baseball Classic, a quadrennial tournament for national teams whose fourth edition is scheduled for next March. But with the Olympics, they wouldn’t split any revenue. And teams likely would lobby for certain players not to risk getting hurt while with national teams.

And then there is the problem of inactivity for players who don’t go to Japan during an Olympic break.

“It depends on if the players not playing with those national teams would be OK with it, having those two weeks off,” said Minnesota outfielder Max Kepler, who has played for Germany. “They’d probably be a little rusty from all that.”

Baltimore’s Adam Jones thinks there are just too many obstacles for major leaguers to participate.

“I think it would have to be Triple-A guys,” he said.

MORE: Best baseball players to play in Olympics

Dominik Paris, world champion skier, suffers season-ending injury

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Italian Dominik Paris, the reigning world champion in the super-G, suffered a season-ending ACL tear in a training crash Tuesday ahead of this weekend’s speed races in Kitzbuehel, Austria.

Paris crashed in super-G training not far from the hallowed World Cup venue, slipping into a curve and damaging his right knee. He also suffered a fibula microfracture, according to the Italian federation.

“My season ends here,” he said, according to the International Ski Federation (FIS). “Unfortunately while I was sliding, the inside ski caught too much and the ligament broke. There is not much to add. In the next few days we will evaluate, together with the medical staff, how to proceed.”

Paris won his third Hahnenkamm downhill title last year and was one of the favorites for Saturday’s downhill, the most prestigious annual race in the sport. NBC Sports Gold streams live coverage for “Snow Pass” subscribers at 5:30 a.m. ET.

Paris, 30, won a pair of downhills in Bormio in December among five total podiums this season.

In his absence, Swiss Beat Feuz and German Thomas Dressen lead the podium contenders.

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It’s Nathan Chen’s time at nationals for a feat 32 years in the making

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Nathan Chen can join Brian Boitano in U.S. figure skating history this week, a decade after holding Boitano in the palm of his hands with a program set to music from “Kung Fu Panda.”

Chen seeks a fourth straight national title in Greensboro, N.C. He would be the seventh man to do so since World War II. Five of the previous six won Olympic titles — Dick Button, Hayes Jenkins, David Jenkins, Scott Hamilton and, most recently, Brian Boitano from 1985-88.

Boitano remembered the first time he met Chen. He and Kristi Yamaguchi were compelled to leave their seats to find the teeny, tiny wunderkind who performed that program to the 2008 DreamWorks film.

“He was taking off his skates, and he probably came up to our waist,” Boitano said. “We knew when we saw him back then that he was going to be something special. He was really quiet. He’s still very quiet.”

In an interview last week, Chen focused on the present — coming back from a two-week cold or flu bug — rather than the perspective.

“I don’t like to typically think about that,” Chen said when asked about his streak. “It’s just different [from year to year]. It’s not really necessarily easier or harder.”

It is also different from previous eras. The last five men to win four in a row did it all in one Olympic cycle, then stepped away from competition after the Winter Games. That was back when turning professional meant the end of an Olympic career.

“It was kind of the norm back then,” Hamilton said. “After that it was kind of back and forth a lot [until Chen]. The business of skating changed so skaters could stay in a lot more, a lot longer. With all the money they brought in, they were able to prevent skaters from turning professional. So that brought in a different approach to nationals.”

NATIONALS PREVIEWS: Nathan Chen | Alysa Liu | Vincent Zhou | Pairs | TV Schedule

Both Hamilton and six-time (non-consecutive) U.S. champion Todd Eldredge could think of just one name to compare Chen’s dominance in the history of U.S. men’s skating: Button, who won the first seven national titles after World War II, plus two Olympic golds.

Button earned national and world titles as a Harvard student. Chen is on a two-season win streak while majoring in statistics and data science at Yale. Button was the first skater to land a double Axel and a triple jump of any kind. Chen was the first to land six quads in one free skate.

Eldredge coaches skaters at the same rink where Chen trains when Chen visits his Southern California-based coach Rafael Arutunian. He is awed by watching Chen working out. Though Eldredge owns more national titles, he never felt the massive favorite status that accompanies Chen.

Eldredge competed in the post-Hamilton/Boitano era, when national champions began competing over multiple Olympic cycles. Eldredge ebbed and flowed from his first national title in 1990, when compulsory figures were still around, to 2002, when he defeated Timothy Goebel, then known as the Quad King.

“Physically, the demands of the sport take their toll on your body,” Eldredge said. “It’s hard to maintain that same level for that length of period of time.

“[In] 12 years [since Chen’s first national title], when he’s 29 years old, is he going to be able to continue to sustain that?”

All of the recent top U.S. men competed in multiple Olympic cycles. The last multiple national champion was Jeremy Abbott, who earned two titles each in two different Olympic cycles. Abbott finished his career in a third Olympic cycle, placing fifth at the 2015 U.S. Championships. Abbott didn’t remember that Chen made his senior nationals debut that year, finishing eighth at age 15.

“For me, winning the third and the fourth [titles] were harder because I started thinking about winning,” Abbott said. “After the second one, I was heading into a new quad and I was two-time U.S. champion. Then my focus was, oh, I’m expected to win. So that was a harder mental game rather than just focusing on making an Olympic team. The expectation now that I’ve done this twice in a row, I’m expected to win again and again and again.”

Abbott and Chen came up in the era of the points-based judging system instituted in 2004.

“Now with the way the scoring system is very different [from the old 6.0], cumulative points, if you have a bad day as a national champion, that’s it. You can’t get the points,” Eldredge said. “[In previous eras], if a certain skater was, I’ll say politically supposed to be the champion, you got a higher score, and rightfully so in most cases.”

Chen has the benefit of going into competitions knowing the kind of advantage he has in base value points from his jumping arsenal. He won last year’s national title by 58 points. This international season, he is 80 points clear of the next-highest-ranked U.S. man, Jason Brown.

“I don’t think that the try-to-push technique is necessarily my goal here,” at nationals, Chen said. “Hopefully just to maintain my body, maintain my health and try to prepare myself for the second half of the season.”

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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. 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.