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Ashley Wagner sees Grand Prix Final hopes drift with lowest career finish

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Ashley Wagner is likely to miss the Grand Prix Final after several under-rotated jumps in her Cup of China free skate led to the worst Grand Prix finish in her 10-year career.

Wagner, who last season ended a 10-year U.S. women’s podium drought with silver at the world championships, placed sixth at Cup of China on Saturday (full results here). It’s the first time in her 25 Grand Prix starts that she finished outside the top five.

Wagner went into the Beijing event riding that world silver and a Skate America win in October. A podium finish in China would have put her into the Grand Prix Final for a fifth straight year.

Instead, it looks like the U.S. will be without a female singles skater at the Grand Prix Final for the first time since 2008. U.S. champion Gracie Gold struggled this fall, and the third 2014 U.S. Olympian, Polina Edmunds, hasn’t competed since January due to a foot injury.

NBCSN and the NBC Sports app will air Cup of China coverage Sunday at 11 p.m. ET.

Wagner was fifth in Friday’s short program after she doubled the back end of a planned triple-triple combination and fell another spot Saturday.

Wagner could still make December’s Grand Prix Final if other skaters under-perform at next week’s NHK Trophy, but she’s already looking to the U.S. Championships in January.

“I work too hard to skate like that,” was posted on her Twitter account. “I also will take this for what it is and move on. See you all at Nationals.”

Russian Yelena Radionova won Cup of China to become the third woman to qualify for the Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual competition. The top six skaters per discipline in the Grand Prix series make the final.

There are four women at NHK Trophy, the last qualifying event, who have realistic chances of making the Grand Prix Final. The simplest scenario is this: If three of the four repeat their results from their first Grand Prix, Wagner won’t make the final.

Also at Cup of China, Olympic silver medalist Patrick Chan overcame world bronze medalist Jin Boyang to claim the men’s title. Chan joins Javier Fernández and Shoma Uno in the Grand Prix Final field.

Jin falling from first after the short program to second was helpful for the hopes of a U.S. man qualifying for the Grand Prix Final for the first time since 2011.

Going into NHK Trophy three U.S. men are among those in the running for the final three available spots.

U.S. champion Adam Rippon is the clubhouse leader, but he will be passed by Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, should Hanyu finish fourth or higher at NHK.

Olympian Jason Brown and 17-year-old phenom Nathan Chen will also skate at NHK with a shot at the Grand Prix Final. Brown is definitely in if he makes the podium. Chen controls his own destiny only with a win but could make it with a lower finish and some help.

If Hanyu has a disastrous performance (fifth or lower), the U.S. could put three men in the Grand Prix Final.

World silver medalists Maia and Alex Shibutani qualified for their third straight Grand Prix Final by winning Cup of China on Saturday. The siblings won both of their Grand Prix events in one season for the first time.

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Grand Prix Final Standings (Top 6 Qualify)
Men
1. Javier Fernández (ESP) — 30 points (qualified)
2. Patrick Chan (CAN) — 30 (qualified)
3. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 28 (qualified)
4. Adam Rippon (USA) — 22
5. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 20

Skating at NHK Trophy
Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — Will qualify if 3rd or higher
Jason Brown (USA) — Will qualify if 3rd or higher
Oleksii Bychenko (ISR) — Will qualify if 2nd or higher
Nathan Chen (USA) — Will qualify if 1st

Women
1. Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 30 points (qualified)
2. Yelena Radionova (RUS) — 28 (qualified)
3. Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN) — 26 (qualified)
4. Ashley Wagner (USA) — 20

Skating at NHK Trophy
Anna Pogorilaya (RUS) — Will qualify if 4th or higher
Maria Sotskova (RUS) — Will qualify if 3rd or higher
Wakaba Higuchi (JPN) — Likely qualify if 3rd or higher
Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — Likely qualify if 3rd or higher

Pairs
1. Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot (GER) — 30 points (qualified)
2. Yu Xiaoyu/Zhang Hao (CHN) — 28 (qualified)
3. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 24 (qualified)
4. Julianne Séguin/Charlie Bilodeau (CAN) — 22
5. Natalja Zabijako/Alexander Enbert (RUS) — 22

Skating at NHK Trophy
Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford (CAN) — Will qualify if 4th or higher
Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — Will qualify if 3rd or higher
Wang Xuehan/Wang Lei (CHN) — Will likely qualify if 2nd or higher

Ice Dance
1. Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) — 30 points (qualified)
2. Yekaterina Bobrova/Dmitry Soloviyev (RUS) — 26 (qualified)
3. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 26 (qualified)
4. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 26 (qualified)
5. Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje (CAN) — 24

Skating at NHK Trophy
Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — Will qualify if 3rd or higher
Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir (CAN) — Will qualify if 3rd or higher

Top Grand Prix Season Scores
Men
1. Javier Fernández (ESP) — 292.98 (Rostelecom Cup)
2. Javier Fernández (ESP) — 285.38 (Trophée de France)
3. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 285.07 (Rostelecom Cup)
4. Patrick Chan (CAN) — 279.72 (Cup of China)
5. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 279.34 (Skate America)
6. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 278.54 (Cup of China)
7. Denis Ten (KAZ) — 265.26 (Trophée de France)
8. Jason Brown (USA) — 268.38 (Skate America)
9. Adam Rippon (USA) — 267.53 (Trophée de France)
10. Patrick Chan (CAN) — 266.95 (Skate Canada)

Women
1. Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 221.54 (Trophée de France)
2. Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 220.65 (Skate Canada)
3. Anna Pogorilaya (RUS) — 215.21 (Rostelecom Cup)
4. Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN) — 206.45 (Skate Canada)
5. Yelena Radionova (RUS) — 205.90 (Cup of China)
6. Maria Sotskova (RUS) — 200.35 (Trophée de France)
7. Ashley Wagner (USA) — 196.44 (Skate America)
8. Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN) — 196.00 (Cup of China)
9. Yelena Radionova (RUS) — 195.60 (Rostelecom Cup)
10. Wakaba Higuchi (JPN) — 194.48 (Trophée de France)

Pairs
1. Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford (CAN) — 218.30 (Skate Canada)
2. Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot (GER) — 210.59 (Trophée de France)
3. Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot (GER) — 207.89 (Rostelecom Cup)
4. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 206.94 (Trophée de France)
5. Yu Xiaoyu/Zhang Hao (CHN) — 203.76 (Cup of China)
6. Yu Xiaoyu/Zhang Hao (CHN) — 202.08 (Skate Canada)
7. Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres (FRA) — 198.58 (Trophée de France)
8. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 197.96 (Cup of China)
9. Natalya Zabiyako/Alexander Enbert (RUS) — 197.77 (Rostelecom Cup)
10. Julianne Séguin/Charlie Bilodeau (CAN) — 197.31 (Skate America)

Ice Dance
1. Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 193.50 (Trophée de France)
2. Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir (CAN) — 189.06 (Skate Canada)
3. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 188.24 (Skate Canada)
4. Yekaterina Bobrova/Dmitry Soloviyev (RUS) — 186.68 (Rostelecom Cup)
5. Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) — 185.75 (Skate America)

6. Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) — 185.13 (Cup of China)
7. Piper Gilles/Paul Poirier (CAN) — 182.57 (Skate Canada)
8. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 182.13 (Rostelecom Cup)
9. Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje (CAN) — 181.54 (Cup of China)
10. Anna Cappellini/Luca Lanotte (ITA) — 180.35 (Skate Canada)

Amy Cragg to withdraw from U.S. Olympic marathon trials

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Defending champion Amy Cragg will miss the Feb. 29 U.S. Olympic marathon trials with an illness, according to her social media.

“The Trials are the reason I have shown up every day for the last four years, so this has been an extremely difficult decision,” was posted on her social media. Cragg later said she had Epstein-Barr virus, according to multiple reports.

Cragg, 36, was among the favorites to grab three Olympic spots at trials in Atlanta, despite not having competed over 26.2 miles since the February 2018 Tokyo Marathon.

She withdrew from the 2018 Chicago Marathon with a hamstring injury and also scratched a month before the 2019 Chicago Marathon, citing signs pointing to needing more time after the previous year’s injury.

Cragg, fourth at the 2012 Olympic trials, relegated Des Linden and Shalane Flanagan to second and third at the 2016 trials. Linden and Flanagan went on to win the Boston and New York City Marathons, respectively, ending long U.S. women’s victory droughts.

Cragg went on to finish ninth in Rio and earn a 2017 World bronze medal, the first world championships marathon podium finish for an American woman since the first worlds in 1983.

Cragg could still make the Tokyo Olympic team in the 10,000m if she races at track trials in June. She won the 2012 Olympic trials 10,000m but hasn’t raced the distance on the track since May 2017.

“Right now my only goal is to get healthy so that I can train at the level needed to be competitive,” Cragg said in an emailed message from her agent. “That being said, the reason I am still in this sport is because of the Olympic Trials and Olympics. It is what excites me more than anything, so it is something I would still love to do.”

With Cragg absent and Flanagan retired, Linden is the only woman in next week’s field with Olympic marathon experience.

Other favorites include Olympic 10,000m runner Molly Huddle, world championships 10,000m runner Emily Sisson and Jordan Hasay, the second-fastest U.S. female marathoner in history.

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Galen Rupp, after tumult, finds familiarity before Olympic marathon trials

Galen Rupp
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As Galen Rupp bids for a fourth Olympics, and perhaps become the first man or woman to win the Olympic marathon trials twice outright, he found some rare familiarity these days on the roads Feb. 8.

“Feeling like my old self again,” Rupp said Wednesday of winning a low-key half marathon in Mesa, Ariz., his first completed race in 16 months and since parting from now-banned, career-long coach Alberto Salazar. “It’s obviously been a long year and a half.”

Rupp clocked 61 minutes, 19 seconds on a downhill course. It’s faster than any half marathon by an American recorded by World Athletics since the start of 2019. Granted the downhill, but Rupp also said he was instructed by new coach Mike Smith to make it a controlled effort.

“He didn’t want me to run all-out, didn’t want me to really push and put myself in a big hole,” Rupp said, noting he was still in heavy training. “You don’t want to break that [training] up and put yourself in a deficit by having a massive effort.”

Mesa answered questions about Rupp’s readiness for the Olympic trials in Atlanta on Feb. 29 (NBC, 12-3 p.m. ET). Even to the two-time Olympic medalist himself. Rupp said he started the half marathon with a little bit of doubt — given recent left ankle and calf injuries — but felt early on that everything would be fine.

“It really put my mind at ease,” he said. “I’m going to be good for the marathon.”

His last two marathons did not go well.

At the 2018 Chicago Marathon, Rupp dropped from the leaders around mile 19 and finished fifth in a title defense. An Achilles injury flared up near the end. He underwent surgery later that month for two tears. Doctors said the ankle had been “a ticking time bomb.”

“They said I was really lucky to have as good of health as I had and manage it as I did,” Rupp said.

He went a full year before racing again, at the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 13, 12 days after Salazar’s ban was announced. Even that was a rushed comeback, Rupp said after dropping out around mile 23 with a calf injury.

“I’m not going to say it was a wake-up call,” Rupp said, “but I think I was a little bit stubborn before Chicago.”

Rupp said he ran through pain in training to get to the start line four months ago. He had trouble walking for several days after the abbreviated race and focused on physical therapy for about two months. He resumed normal, pain-free training in December.

By early January, Runner’s World reported that Oregon-based Rupp found a new Flagstaff-based coach in Smith, who leads a Northern Arizona University program that won the last three NCAA men’s cross-country titles.

“The biggest thing to me was Mike’s philosophy in coaching was very similar to the program that I was under for so many years,” said Rupp, who was for more than a decade part of the Nike Oregon Project, which was shut down last fall after Salazar’s ban for doping violations (which he appealed). Rupp wasn’t implicated by USADA and has a clean drug-testing record. “What I love most about it was Mike’s honesty and how forthright he was about everything. You could tell he wasn’t just saying what I wanted to hear or say, ‘We’re just going to do whatever you’ve been doing and try and replicate that.’ You’ve got to keep evolving and trying new things.”

Smith declined an interview request through NAU until after trials. He agreed to coach Rupp after about a month of communication and hard questions, according to Runner’s World.

“Because of its timing and the headlines I was reading like everyone else at the time, this was not a road I wanted to go down,” Smith said, according to the report. “To be honest, it was just easiest to turn it down. I’m actually — as crazy as this sounds — really proud I did not.

“What I found out by getting to know Galen was that there was much more going on than the picture portrayed of him, and I wish the world knew that. I have never seen someone more all-in in my life.”

Rupp, asked his toughest moment of the last two years, said he moves forward.

“Throughout any hardships and setbacks, I felt a lot of gratitude that I had as good of a run as I did with my health and everything going well for as long as I did,” he said. “It can be easy to get angry and get down, like why me, but I do believe that things always work out. There’s a reason behind all this stuff.”

Which brings Rupp to Atlanta next week for the first time in his life, aside from airport layovers. The race is unlike any other he has contested. The course is unusually hilly. The format — Americans only, top three make the Olympic team — makes for different tactics than the World Marathon Majors that Rupp is used to.

In 2016, Rupp entered as a favorite but without any marathon experience. He won convincingly, pulling away from now-retired Meb Keflezighi by 68 seconds.

The field is deeper this year. Seven Americans broke 2:11 in 2019. Only one did in 2015. But Rupp, at his best, is in his own class.

His personal best 2:06:07, from his last healthy marathon in 2018, is 1:49 faster than the second-fastest in the trials field in this Olympic cycle (Leonard Korir). The next-fastest, Scott Fauble, is more than three minutes behind by personal bests.

“I can confidently go in and say that I’ve put in the work for this, just like I know that I put in the work in 2016,” Rupp said. “Of course, you want to go in and have good races, feeling confident and being on a roll like I was several years ago. But I think that’s why that race in Mesa was so important to show, more to myself, that hey, you’re ready to go. You can still run well. You haven’t lost everything. Surgery didn’t wipe you out.”

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