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Skate Canada preview, broadcast schedule

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Last we saw Scott Moir in top-level international competition, he smooched the Olympic rings for a second straight Winter Games.

Turns out it wasn’t a kiss goodbye.

Moir and partner Tessa Virtue make their Grand Prix series return this weekend at Skate Canada in Mississauga, Ontario, after two full seasons away from competition.

The Canadian ice dancers won Olympic gold at Vancouver 2010 — when Moir said he “french-kissed” the Pacific Coliseum ice rings — and silver in 2014 behind American training partners Meryl Davis and Charlie White. (Davis and White also took a post-Sochi break and remain sidelined but not retired)

Virtue and Moir, who have been performing in ice shows the last two years, reportedly decided in July 2015 to come back but kept it silent until last February. Moir said they wanted one more shot at an Olympics, but he had to lose his “beer gut” first.

They officially returned at a lower-level event in Canada four weeks ago, easily winning with the highest-scoring short dance of their career (in international competition) and the highest total score in the world this season.

“There’s a little bit of rust,” Moir told media then. “Nerves, a lot of tension and a lot of pressure that comes with this quote-unquote comeback.”

The attention will only increase.

Virtue and Moir face a field this week that includes Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates, who earned medals at the last two world championships, and Italians Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte, the 2014 World champions.

A sixth Skate Canada title would set them up for a showdown with two-time reigning world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France in their next Grand Prix start at NHK Trophy on Thanksgiving weekend. The two couples happen to train together in Montreal.

“I think we have to earn that term to be associated as rivals to Gabriella and Guillaume, we are not quite there yet for sure, but they have taken the ice dance world to an entirely different level in the last few years,” Virtue said, according to the Canadian Olympic Committee.

Also at Skate Canada, Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu and three-time world champion Patrick Chan duel for a second straight year. Chan upset Hanyu last season in Chan’s first Grand Prix since he took silver behind Hanyu at the Sochi Olympics.

Chan was not as smooth the rest of his comeback season, placing fourth at the Grand Prix Final and fifth at the world championships. Hanyu dominated after his Skate Canada defeat until being upset by Spanish training partner Javier Fernandez at a second straight world championships.

In lower-level events earlier this fall, Chan took second to 17-year-old American Nathan Chen, while Hanyu became the first skater to land a quadruple loop in competition en route to a victory.

The last two women’s world champions face off at Skate Canada in Russians Yevgenia Medvedeva and Elizaveta Tuktamysheva.

Medvedeva, 16, hasn’t lost in nearly one year, winning her early-season event, the free-skate-only Japan Open, over the rest of the top five from last season’s worlds.

Tuktamysheva won the 2015 World title in the most dominating performance outside of Yuna Kim‘s heyday. She landed a triple Axel en route to that gold and talked of adding a quadruple jump for 2015-16.

But she struggled last season, failing to qualify for the Grand Prix Final and placing eighth at the Russian Championships. This fall, she placed second and fourth in lower-level events, keeping her firmly behind Medvedeva in the Russian pecking order.

In pairs, world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford go for their third straight Skate Canada title. Americans Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier can all but clinch a Grand Prix Final berth if they match their runner-up finish from Skate America last week.

Skate Canada broadcast schedule (all times Eastern):

Friday Women’s short program 2:57 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Friday Pairs short program 4:48 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Friday Short dance 7:30 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Friday Men’s short program 9:08 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Women’s, men’s short programs midnight-2 a.m. UniHD
Saturday Women’s free skate 2:27 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Pairs free skate 4:34 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Men’s free skate 6:57 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Free dance 9:15 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Sunday Free skates midnight-3 a.m. UniHD
Sunday Women’s free skate 5-6 p.m. NBC, NBC Sports app
Monday Women’s free skate (re-air) 8-9 p.m. UniHD

Key skater short program times (Friday ET):

Elizaveta Tuktamysheva — 3:23 p.m.
Mirai Nagasu — 3:30 p.m.
Satoko Miyahara — 4:10 p.m.
Yevgenia Medvedeva — 4:23 p.m.
Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford — 5:02 p.m.
Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier — 5:35 p.m.
Madison Chock/Evan Bates — 7:36 p.m.
Anna Cappellini/Luca Lanotte — 8:02 p.m.
Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir — 8:22 p.m.
Patrick Chan — 9:41 p.m.
Yuzuru Hanyu — 9:48 p.m.

MORE: Full figure skating season broadcast schedule

Ragan Smith finds joy in college gymnastics after life-changing decision

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Ragan Smith, after her first two weeks of college gymnastics, quickly pointed out the coolest part of competing for the Oklahoma Sooners. It’s the noise that erupts on the last pass of her floor exercise, or upon her dismount off the uneven bars or balance beam.

They are similar sounds to what drew her to commit to Oklahoma back in 2015, when she was 15 years old.

“The girls in practice were all cheering for each other,” she recalled in a phone interview earlier this month.

Last spring, Smith called Oklahoma coach K.J. Kindler with a request. The Texan wanted to enroll at OU that summer, a year earlier than planned. Originally, Smith committed to the university with the intention of deferring until after the 2020 Olympic season.

Smith, a Rio Olympic alternate in her first year at the senior elite level, began this Olympic cycle in 2017 by winning the U.S. all-around title. Granted, the triumph came during Simone Biles‘ one-year break. But consider that Smith’s margin of victory — 3.4 points — was greater than Biles’ average margin for her four national titles from 2013-16.

Everything changed for Smith on Oct. 6, 2017. Minutes before she was to compete as the favorite in the world championships all-around, she suffered an ankle injury warming up on vault (reportedly three torn ligaments). She was withdrawn from the meet and fought injuries for the rest of her elite career.

In calling Kindler last spring, Smith signaled she was ready to move on from Olympic-level or “elite” gymnastics. It is possible for collegians to compete at U.S. Championships or Olympic trials, but no woman with NCAA experience has made any of the last three Olympic teams.

“I felt like my time was done in elite,” said Smith, whose mother and aunt competed for Auburn and Maryland, respectively. “I really just wanted to move on with my life and everything.”

Kindler was walking in an academic center on campus when Smith called her last spring.

“[Smith] said, ‘I was in the shower, and I was thinking, and I think I really, really want to come,'” Kindler said. “‘My body is ready to be done with elite gymnastics, and my mind is ready to move forward, and I would love to come to school this year. Is there a spot for me?’

“We saved a spot in case she changed her mind [about waiting until after the Olympics], but the plan was always for her to defer. We never talked about anything else, so I was very surprised by the phone call.”

Kindler urged Smith to think it over. Discuss it with her elite coach, 1991 World all-around champion Kim Zmeskal.

“[Zmeskal] and I had a really good understanding of what Ragan’s goals were, which is why I think it had to be Ragan’s decision,” Kindler said. “I didn’t want to place any influence on anything. Kim thinks the world of Ragan. She was in full support. Her and I texted back and forth and spoke about it. She said she wanted Ragan to think about it a little bit, and she did do that, and still had decided that this was for her. I think Kim supported that decision, just as I said I would support whatever she wanted to do.”

Smith shared the news on July 7.

“I have moved on from the 1st chapter of my life and on to the 2nd,” was posted on her Instagram, accompanied by a photo of her in a crimson leotard. “I am so excited to be joining the class of 2019.”

Smith joined the defending national champion program, one that captured three of the last four NCAA titles. By enrolling a year early, Smith gets to be teammates with senior Maggie Nichols.

Nichols was second to Biles at the 2015 U.S. Championships, making her a bona fide contender for the Rio Olympic team. Early in 2016, Nichols tore a meniscus on a vault landing and underwent arthroscopic knee surgery. She announced retirement from elite gymnastics two days after finishing sixth at the Olympic trials, one spot behind Smith, and not being named to the Olympic team.

Last season, Nichols became the first woman to repeat as NCAA all-around champion in 12 years.

Smith said she has already benefited from Nichols’ experience, coming to her with questions to aid her transition.

“What an incredible opportunity to have Ragan and Maggie on the same team,” Kindler said.

The Sooners are 9-0 this year and 26-0 since the start of 2019. Smith was named Big 12 Newcomer of the Week each of the season’s first three weeks. Not incredibly surprising, given Smith’s pedigree.

Perhaps more notable: Kindler said Smith hasn’t had a single ankle problem since arriving in Norman in July.

Back in August 2018, Smith said the ankle still hurt sometimes, that she had not completed a practice without pain that whole year and a coach joked to her, “You already have a 100-year-old body.”

Smith is competing easier routines collegiately than as an elite, as is the norm. But Kindler found that her passion for the sport has not waned.

“As an elite athlete, you don’t necessarily have to learn anything when you come to college,” Kindler said. “In fact, you can scale back what you’re doing, but I feel like she has a real eagerness to continue to refine what she’s doing and to learn new skills. She wants to continue to get better, and I love that about her.”

At her first college meet, Smith remembered the feeling of adrenaline brought on by competing not just for herself, but for women with whom she will call teammates week in and week out for the coming years.

“I didn’t want to let go of elite because it’s been, like, my whole life and my dream and everything,” said Smith, who was inspired by McKayla Maroney‘s 2012 Olympic vault and then had a dog named Rio. “But at the same time, my mind was telling me to come to college and have fun. I’m glad I made that decision, because I love it here.”

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Dustin Johnson wonders if Olympic golf will properly fit into his schedule

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Dustin Johnson, the world’s fifth-ranked golfer, said he isn’t sure the Tokyo Olympics will fit well into his schedule, assuming he qualifies for what will be a very competitive U.S. team of four.

“Obviously representing the United States in the Olympics is something that, you know, definitely be proud to do,” he said when asked if the Ryder Cup and the Olympics are goals this year. “But is it going to fit in the schedule properly? I’m not really sure about that, because there’s so many events that are right there and leading up to it. So you know, I’m still working with my team to figure out what’s the best thing for me to do.”

Johnson, the 2016 U.S. Open winner and world No. 1 in 2017 and 2018, is the third-highest ranked American at the moment behind Brooks Koepka (who also spoke about the Olympics on Tuesday, saying they’re not as important as majors) and Justin Thomas.

Johnson is ranked one spot ahead of Tiger Woods, who has voiced intent to play in Tokyo should he qualify.

But the current world rankings, based on a two-year, rolling window of results, do not exactly mirror Olympic qualifying, which takes into account only results after the 2018 U.S. Open. Rankings guru @VC606 on Twitter has Thomas, Koepka, Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay as the current U.S. top four in Olympic qualifying. Woods is fifth and Johnson seventh.

The cutoff to determine the Olympic field of 60 golfers overall is after the U.S. Open in June.

The Olympic golf tournament is July 30-Aug. 2. There is no PGA Tour event that weekend. The FedEx Cup Playoffs start two weeks after the Olympics. Last season, Johnson did not play the tournaments that will immediately precede and follow the Olympics — the 3M Open and the Wyndham Championship.

Johnson did qualify for the Rio Olympics but withdrew a month before the Games, citing Zika virus concerns as other golfers did.

“This was not an easy decision for me, but my concerns about the Zika virus cannot be ignored,” Johnson said in a statement at the time. “[Wife] Paulina and I plan to have more children in the near future, and I feel it would be irresponsible to put myself, her or our family at risk.”

Paulina gave birth to their second son in June 2017.

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