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Golf faces uncertain Olympic future due to numerous dropouts

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AKRON, Ohio (AP) — For the longest time, golf’s biggest headache in preparing for a return to the Olympics was getting a new course built in Rio de Janeiro.

That seems like a nuisance compared with its next major hurdle.

Who’s going to play?

Ten eligible players over the last two months have pulled out of the Olympics, six of them specifically citing concerns about the Zika virus. The last week alone was particularly devastating to a sport wanting to make a good impression after being gone from the games for 112 years.

Rory McIlroy, a four-time major champion with the broadest global appeal among young stars, was the most prominent player to withdraw. That was until Tuesday when Jason Day, the No. 1 player in the world, said he would not be going. Shane Lowry and Branden Grace are planning to start families and will stay home because of Zika.

That’s four players from the top 25 who won’t be in Rio, and dread that more might follow.

One of them might be Jordan Spieth, who described his Olympic position Tuesday as “uncertain.”

“I’ve always been excited about the possible opportunity, but there’s quite a few different factors that would turn somebody away from going. It’s not just one, there’s quite a few factors,” Spieth said, mentioning Zika, security and reports of violence.

The International Golf Federation stopped responding to each withdrawal because it was repeating the same statement: It is disappointed, but understands that each player has to decide on his own.

“Unfortunately with what’s going on with Brazil and Rio with the Zika virus, there’s a small chance it could happen, and I just can’t put my family through that, especially with the future children we’re looking at having,” Day said.

While the sport is assured a spot in 2020 in Tokyo, the International Olympic Committee will vote next year to decide if golf stays longer than that. And it doesn’t help when there’s an All-Star roster of players who won’t be there for whatever reasons.

Because countries are limited to two players (a maximum of four if they are among the top 15), only 18 players from the top 50 will be in Rio – as of Tuesday.

IGF executive director Antony Scanlon, who has been involved in nine Olympics, believes golf still can put on a good show.

“We gave a commitment to have the best players there,” Scanlon said. “The decision they’re making are personal. We can’t make those decisions for them. All you can do is understand the decision they’re making. After the games, we’ll have two worthy champions, gold medalists that history will look back on. When the IOC members come to the venue, they’re going to have a great time. They’ll experience a sport where you can get close to the players and see their passion and determination.

“All we can do is make sure we deliver a great event.”

It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way.

When golf made its pitch to get back into the Olympics for the first time since St. Louis in 1904, the IGF presented video support from Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson and other top players who offered enthusiasm and unconditional support for Olympic competition.

That was in 2009, before Brazil was devastated by political corruption and an economic meltdown, before concerns over polluted water and whether Rio could provide adequate security. And that was before Zika.

Brazil has been the hardest hit by the outbreak of Zika, a mosquito-borne virus linked to severe birth defects and possible neurological problems in adults. Charl Schwartzel and Lowry said if the Olympics were anywhere else, they would be there.

“The Olympic committee has to look at this and go, ‘Look, it was a weird situation, so don’t penalize golf because of a weird situation,'” Bubba Watson said.

But is it as simple as blaming it on Rio?

No women eligible for the Olympics have dropped out, and they would seem to be at greater risk from Zika. Then again, the women do not have the chance to play on a big stage like the Olympics. All three of their U.S. majors are held the week before the men’s majors and often get lost in coverage.

The perception is that Zika is an easy way out from going to South America for an Olympic competition that has little history behind it in golf. And the leading organizations did themselves no favors by cramming their biggest events into the summer ahead of the games. The final two majors, the British Open and PGA Championship, will be held in the month before the competition in Rio.

After the Olympics, PGA Tour players go right into the lucrative FedEx Cup, and then for Americans and Europeans, it’s off to the Ryder Cup and its flag-waving fervor.

“Other athletes have been training four and eight years to go to the Olympics. I can see why they’re going because it’s the pinnacle of their sport,” Lowry said. “It’s not the pinnacle of golf yet. It could be in 20 years’ time. But it’s not like winning the U.S. Open or winning the Masters or playing in the Ryder Cup.”

MORE: Tiger Woods wishes Olympic golf tournament had ‘more quality’ field

Vincent Zhou withdraws from 2019 Grand Prix events

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Reigning World bronze medalist Vincent Zhou withdrew from his fall Grand Prix assignments, Cup of China and Rostelecom Cup, U.S. Figure Skating announced on Thursday.

“It’s really difficult to balance classes and training at the same time,” said Zhou, who is in the middle of his freshman year at Brown University. “I want to perform at the highest level on the ice and in the classroom, and I have not been able to dedicate the necessary time to my skating with my rigorous class schedule. Unfortunately, the timing of my midterms has fallen right in the middle of an important training period for me this fall. This was a tough decision because I love to perform in front of the fans, but this is the best decision for me right now.”

Cup of China is set for Nov. 8-10 in Chongqing, China, while Rostelecom Cup will take place in Moscow, Nov. 15-17. While Skate America concluded this weekend in Las Vegas, next weekend, the skating world turns to Kelowna, British Columbia for Skate Canada.

MORE: Final Skate America takeaways

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.

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2019-20 Alpine skiing season TV schedule

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NBC Sports and Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA will combine to air every Alpine skiing World Cup race this season.

Coverage is spread among NBC, NBCSN and Olympic Channel. Every race streams live on NBC Sports Gold’s “Snow Pass.”

Mikaela Shiffrin headlines the October-through-March circuit that includes stops in the U.S. (Killington, Vt., for the women and Beaver Creek, Colo., for the men).

Shiffrin eyes her fourth straight World Cup overall title — not done by a woman in 45 years — and will likely ascend to No. 3 on the career wins list behind Ingemar Stenmark and Lindsey Vonn.

The retirements of Vonn, Marcel Hirscher and Aksel Lund Svindal leave openings for other young skiers to fill as the Winter Olympic cycle hits its midpoint.

MORE: NBC Sports Gold launches 2019-20 Snow Pass

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2019-20 Alpine skiing World Cup broadcast schedule

Date Time (ET) Event Network
Oct. 26 5 a.m. Women’s GS – Soelden NBC Sports Gold
Oct. 27 5 a.m. Men’s GS – Soelden NBC Sports Gold
Nov. 23 7 a.m. Women’s SL – Levi Olympic Channel
6 p.m.* Women’s SL – Levi NBCSN
Nov. 24 7 a.m. Men’s SL – Levi Olympic Channel
Nov. 30 12:30 p.m. Women’s GS – Killington NBCSN
2 p.m. Men’s DH — Lake Louise Olympic Channel
3:30 p.m.* Women’s GS – Killington NBC
6 p.m.* Women’s GS – Killington Olympic Channel
9 p.m.* Men’s DH — Lake Louise NBCSN
Dec. 1 12:30 p.m. Women’s SL – Killington NBC
2 p.m. Men’s SG — Lake Louise NBC
6 p.m.* Men’s SG — Lake Louise Olympic Channel
7:30 p.m.* Women’s SL – Killington NBCSN
Dec. 6 12:30 p.m. Men’s SG – Beaver Creek NBCSN
2:30 p.m. Women’s DH – Lake Louise Olympic Channel
11 p.m.* Women’s DH – Lake Louise NBCSN
Dec. 7 1 p.m. Men’s DH – Beaver Creek Olympic Channel
2:30 p.m. Women’s DH – Lake Louise Olympic Channel
11 p.m.* Men’s DH – Beaver Creek NBCSN
Dec. 8 1 p.m. Women’s SG – Lake Louise Olympic Channel
2:30 p.m. Men’s GS – Beaver Creek Olympic Channel
5 p.m.* Men’s GS – Beaver Creek NBC
6 p.m.* Women’s SG – Lake Louise NBCSN
Dec. 14 4:30 a.m. Women’s SG – St. Moritz Olympic Channel
7 a.m. Men’s GS — Val d’Isere Olympic Channel
9:30 p.m.* Women’s SG – St. Moritz NBCSN
Dec. 15 6:30 a.m. Men’s SL — Val d’Isere Olympic Channel
7:30 a.m. Women’s PSL – St. Moritz Olympic Channel
8 p.m.* Women’s PSL – St. Moritz NBCSN
Dec. 17 7:30 a.m. Women’s GS — Courchevel Olympic Channe
6 p.m.* Women’s GS — Courchevel NBCSN
Dec. 20 6 a.m. Men’s SG — Val Gardena Olympic Channel
Dec. 21 4:30 a.m. Women’s DH – Val d’Isere Olympic Channel
5:45 a.m. Men’s DH — Val Gardena Olympic Channel
8:30 p.m.* Men’s DH — Val Gardena NBCSN
Dec. 22 6 a.m. Men’s GS – Alta Badia Olympic Channel
7 a.m. Women’s SC – Val d’Isere Olympic Channel
7:30 p.m.* Women’s SC – Val d’Isere NBCSN
Dec. 23 12 p.m. Men’s PGS – Alta Badia Olympic Channel
Dec. 28 4:15 a.m. Women’s GS – Lienz NBC Sports Gold
5:30 a.m. Men’s DH — Bormio Olympic Channel
Dec. 29 4 a.m. Women’s SL — Lienz NBC Sports Gold
8 a.m. Men’s SC – Bormio Olympic Channel
Jan. 4 10 a.m. Women’s SL — Zagreb Olympic Channel
2 p.m.* Women’s SL — Zagreb NBCSN
Jan. 5 11:30 a.m. Men’s SL — Zagreb Olympic Channel
Jan. 6 1 a.m.* Men’s SL — Zagreb NBCSN
Jan. 8 2:30 p.m. Men’s SL – Madonna di Campiglio Olympic Channel
Jan. 11 5:45 a.m. Women’s DH — Altenmarkt NBC Sports Gold
7 a.m. Men’s GS — Adelboden Olympic Channel
11:30 p.m.* Men’s GS — Adelboden NBCSN
Jan. 12 3:15 a.m. Women’s SC — Altenmarkt NBC Sports Gold
7:30 a.m. Men’s SL — Adelboden Olympic Channel
Jan. 13 1 a.m.* Men’s SL — Adelboden NBCSN
Jan. 14 12 p.m.* Women’s SL — Flachau NBC Sports Gold
Jan. 17 8 a.m. Men’s SC — Wengen Olympic Channel
Jan. 18 6:30 a.m. Men’s DH — Wengen Olympic Channel
8 a.m. Women’s GS — Sestriere Olympic Channel
8 p.m.* Men’s DH — Wengen NBCSN
9 p.m.* Women’s GS — Sestriere NBCSN
Jan. 19 5:30 a.m. Women’s PSL — Sestriere Olympic Channel
7 a.m. Men’s SL — Wengen Olympic Channel
8 p.m.* Women’s PSL — Sestriere NBCSN
9 p.m.* Men’s SL — Wengen NBCSN
Jan. 24 5:30 a.m. Men’s SG — Kitzbuehel NBC Sports Gold
Jan. 25 3:30 a.m. Women’s DH – Bansko Olympic Channel
5:30 a.m. Men’s DH — Kitzbuehel NBC Sports Gold
9 a.m.* Women’s DH – Bansko NBCSN
Jan. 26 3 a.m. Women’s SG – Bansko Olympic Channel
4:30 a.m. Men’s SL — Kitzbuehel NBC Sports Gold
12:30 p.m.* Women’s SG – Bansko NBCSN
Jan. 27 1 p.m.* Men’s DH/SG – Kitzbuehel NBCSN
3 p.m.* Men’s SL – Kitzbuehel NBCSN
Jan. 28 11:45 a.m. Men’s SL — Schladming NBC Sports Gold
Feb. 1 3:30 a.m. Women’s DH — Rosa Khutor Olympic Channel
5:30 a.m. Men’s DH – Garmisch Olympic Channel
12:30 p.m.* Men’s DH – Garmisch NBCSN
Feb. 2 3 a.m. Women’s SG — Rosa Khutor Olympic Channel
7:30 a.m. Men’s GS – Garmisch Olympic Channel
4 p.m.* Men’s GS – Garmisch NBCSN
Feb. 8 5:30 a.m. Women’s DH — Garmisch Olympic Channel
7 a.m. Men’s SL – Chamonix Olympic Channel
2 p.m.* Women’s DH — Garmisch NBCSN
Feb. 9 5 a.m. Women’s SG – Garmisch Olympic Channel
7 a.m. Men’s PGS — Chamonix Olympic Channel
4:30 p.m.* Women’s SG – Garmisch NBCSN
Feb. 14 10 p.m. Men’s DH — Yanqing Olympic Channel
Feb. 15 7 a.m. Women’s GS – Maribor Olympic Channel
10 p.m. Men’s SG — Yanqing NBCSN
11:30 p.m.* Women’s GS — Maribor NBCSN
Feb. 16 7:30 a.m. Women’s SL — Maribor Olympic Channel
9:30 p.m.* Women’s SL — Maribor NBCSN
Feb. 21 11 p.m. Men’s GS — Naeba Olympic Channel
Feb. 22 4:30 a.m. Women’s DH — Crans-Montana Olympic Channel
11 p.m. Men’s SL — Naeba Olympic Channel
11:30 p.m.* Women’s DH — Crans-Montana NBCSN
Feb. 23 7:30 a.m. Women’s SC — Crans-Montana Olympic Channel
4:30 p.m.* Women’s SC — Crans-Montana NBCSN
Feb. 29 4:30 a.m. Women’s SG — La Thuile Olympic Channel
6:30 a.m. Men’s SG — Hinterstoder NBC Sports Gold
March 1 12 a.m.* Women’s SG — La Thuile NBCSN
3:45 a.m. Men’s SC — Hinterstoder NBC Sports Gold
8 a.m. Women’s SC — La Thuile Olympic Channel
March 7 5 a.m. Men’s DH — Kvitfjell Olympic Channel
6:30 a.m. Women’s GS — Ofterschwang Olympic Channel
March 8 12 a.m.* Women’s GS — Ofterschwang NBCSN
1 a.m.* Men’s DH — Kvitfjell NBCSN
4:30 a.m. Men’s SG — Kvitfjell Olympic Channel
6:30 a.m. Women’s SL — Ofterschwang Olympic Channel
March 9 1 a.m.* Women’s SL — Ofterschwang NBCSN
March 12 8 a.m. Women’s PSL — Are NBC Sports Gold
March 13 11 a.m. Women’s GS — Are Olympic Channel
5 p.m.* Women’s GS — Are NBCSN
March 14 10 a.m. Men’s GS — Kranjska Gora Olympic Channel
11 a.m. Women’s SL — Are Olympic Channel
March 15 3:30 a.m. Men’s SL — Kranjska Gora NBC Sports Gold
March 18 3:30 a.m. Men’s DH — World Cup Finals Olympic Channel
5 a.m. Women’s DH – World Cup Finals Olympic Channel
2:30 p.m.* Men’s DH — World Cup Finals NBCSN
3:30 p.m.* Women’s DH – World Cup Finals NBCSN
March 19 4 a.m. Women’s SG – World Cup Finals Olympic Channel
5 a.m. Men’s SG – World Cup Finals Olympic Channel
11 a.m.* Women’s SG – World Cup Finals NBCSN
March 20 6 a.m. Team Event – World Cup Finals Olympic Channel
11 a.m.* Team Event – World Cup Finals NBCSN
March 21 6 a.m. Men’s GS — World Cup Finals Olympic Channel
7 a.m. Women’s SL — World Cup Finals Olympic Channel
March 22 12 a.m.* Men’s GS — World Cup Finals NBCSN
1 a.m.* Women’s SL — World Cup Finals NBCSN
6 a.m. Women’s GS — World Cup Finals Olympic Channel
7 a.m. Men’s SL — World Cup Finals Olympic Channel
March 23 12 a.m.* Women’s GS – World Cup Finals NBCSN

*Delayed broadcast