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Soccer: Neymar, Marta thriving as tournament enters semis

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The field’s been shuffled in Rio for both men’s and women’s soccer.

The world’s No. 1 women’s team, the United States of America, is out.

The reigning gold medalists on the men’s side, Mexico, didn’t make it to the knockout rounds.

And we could very well be headed for the same final in both tournaments: Brazil and Germany.

While the pairing calls to mind bad vibes for Brazilians stemming from a 7-1 shellacking at the 2014 World Cup, these are still two very different teams.

Here are some things to watch as Neymar and Marta look to lead their host country to double gold.


Tuesday’s women’s semifinals — WATCH LIVE

Brazil vs. Sweden — Noon EDT
Canada vs. Germany — 3 p.m. EDT
Gold medal match — 4:30 p.m. EDT Friday

Marta and the Brazil women had a pair of blowouts to start the tournament before drawing 0-0 with Brazil and needing a shootout after another scoreless match versus Australia in the quarterfinals. It’s hard to imagine them being held off the board again, but Sweden coach Pia Sundhage is coming off a clinical shutdown of the reigning World Cup champion United States women’s national team. Anything’s possible, but look for Brazil to break out having clobbered Sweden 5-1 in the group stage.

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL - AUGUST 12: Marta #10 of Brazil celebrates their 0-0 (7-6 PSO) win over Australia during the Women's Football Quarterfinal match at Mineirao Stadium on Day 7 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on August 12, 2016 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. (Photo by Pedro Vilela/Getty Images)
(Photo by Pedro Vilela/Getty Images)

On the other side, the tournament’s two leading scorers match wits when Germany’s Melanie Behringer (four goals) and Canada’s Janine Beckie (three) meet in Brazil. Don’t think of these women as strictly finishers, as they’ve been dynamite playmakers. Germany will be favored, but Canada has perhaps the finest women’s attacker of all-time in Christine Sinclair. She’ll likely make a different on Tuesday, as might Melissa Tancredi. She scored both goals as Canada beat Germany 2-1 to claim Group F.


Wednesday’s men’s semifinals — WATCH LIVE

Brazil vs. Honduras — Noon EDT
Nigeria vs. Germany — 3 p.m. EDT
Gold medal match — 4:30 p.m. EDT Saturday

Brazil’s path to the gold medal match will have the same obstacles as most of its previous matches, albeit ratcheted up a notch. Honduras is one of the most physical, nastiest programs in the world, and persistent infringement is headed Neymar’s way. Still, the Brazilians will be widely expected to win.

On the other side of the bracket, Germany’s Serge Gnabry has been fantastic. The Arsenal youngster has been a gamechanger, but both he and Germany will have to deal with a big, gifted Nigeria team that has thrived despite controversy over travel and pay.

20-year-old Nigerian striker Oghenekaro Etebo continues to make a name for himself. Entering the games with five goals in 7 games for the senior national team, he’s added four in Rio with the U-23 side. It’s safe to say Portuguese third-tier side Feirense is getting calls.

The edge is Germany’s, but there’s no good reason to bet against Mikel John Obi (or John Obi Mikel, for those inclined to his longtime Chelsea name).

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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