NHK Trophy preview, broadcast schedule

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A U.S. figure skating drought can end this week.

It has been five years since an American man qualified for the sport’s most exclusive event, the Grand Prix Final. Never before in the event’s two-decade history had the U.S. men been shut out of back-to-back Grand Prix Finals.

The last of six qualifying competitions for December’s Grand Prix Final is this week’s NHK Trophy in Sapporo, Japan. Three U.S. men are still in the running for the three remaining Grand Prix Final berths, including two who are competing at NHK.

First, there is Jason Brown, a 2014 Olympian and 2015 U.S. champion. Brown finished second at his first qualifying event, Skate America, last month. That means he will qualify for the Grand Prix Final with a podium finish in Sapporo, and perhaps even if he finishes fourth.

Brown has been in this position before. Two years ago, he also took silver at Skate America. But he stumbled in the short program of his second qualifier and finished fifth.

Brown would have made the 2014 Grand Prix Final over Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu had Hanyu scored .16 of a point lower at that season’s NHK Trophy (or if American Jeremy Abbott scored .16 higher). It was an agonizing miss for Brown, who rebounded to finish fourth at the 2015 World Championships but missed most of last season with a back injury.

Hanyu and Brown headline this week’s NHK Trophy men’s field. While Hanyu is the heavy favorite to win, Brown’s podium chances are also strong. They are the only two men in Sapporo who have Grand Prix gold or silver medals to their names.

Perhaps the most intriguing skater in the field is Nathan Chen, a 17-year-old American. Chen attempted five quadruple jumps in his Trophée de France free skate two weeks ago and finished fourth overall.

If Chen finishes second or higher at NHK, he will almost surely qualify for the Grand Prix Final. He would be the youngest man to make the six-skater Grand Prix Final since Hanyu in 2011.

Then there’s 2016 U.S. champion Adam Rippon, who is not competing at NHK. Rippon is the clubhouse leader in the standings for the last three available Grand Prix Final spots by virtue of his third-place finishes at Skate America and Trophée de France.

If NHK goes to plan, with Hanyu and Brown finishing one-two, then Hanyu, Brown and Rippon will take the final three spots in the Grand Prix Final. It would mark the first time since 2009 that the U.S. puts multiple men into the Grand Prix Final.

Meanwhile, there are likely to be zero U.S. women in the Grand Prix Final for the first time since 2008.

Like Rippon, Ashley Wagner is the clubhouse leader for the three remaining available Grand Prix Final spots. But she damaged her chances by placing sixth at last week’s Cup of China.

Russians Anna Pogorilaya and Maria Sotskova will pass Wagner if they are on form and make the podium (or perhaps lower) at NHK. Essentially, the same goes for lesser favorites Wakaba Higuchi and Satoko Miyahara of Japan, though with only three Grand Prix Final spots available, only one of them needs to be on form (with the Russians) to KO Wagner.

The most compelling head-to-head at NHK will be in ice dance, between two-time reigning world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France and Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. Virtue and Moir returned this year after taking two full seasons off following silver medals in Sochi.

MORE: U.S., world champion figure skaters join Mannequin Challenge

NHK Trophy broadcast schedule (all times Eastern)

Friday Pairs short program 12:20 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Friday Women’s short program 2:10 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Friday Men’s short program 5:11 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Friday Short dance 10:45 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Friday Women’s, men’s short programs 8-10 p.m. UniHD
Saturday Pairs free skate 12:35 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Women’s free skate 2:57 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Men’s free skate 5:30 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Free dance 9:45 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Pairs free skate 8:30-9:30 p.m. UniHD
Sunday Free dance 3-4 p.m. UniHD
Sunday NHK Trophy 4-6 p.m. NBC, NBC Sports app

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)

IOC looks for ways Russian athletes ‘who do not support war’ could compete as neutrals

Thomas Bach
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GENEVA (AP) — Russian athletes who do not endorse their country’s war in Ukraine could be accepted back into international sports, competing under a neutral flag, IOC president Thomas Bach said in an interview published Friday.

“It’s about having athletes with a Russian passport who do not support the war back in competition,” Bach told Italian daily Corriere della Sera, adding, “We have to think about the future.”

Most sports followed IOC advice in February and banned Russian teams and athletes from their events within days of the country’s military invasion of Ukraine.

With Russians starting to miss events that feed into qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics, an exile extending into next year could effectively become a wider ban from those Games.

In an interview in Rome, Bach hinted at IOC thinking after recent rounds of calls with Olympic stakeholders asked for views on Russia’s pathway back from pariah status.

“To be clear, it is not about necessarily having Russia back,” he said. “On the other hand — and here comes our dilemma — this war has not been started by the Russian athletes.”

Bach did not suggest how athletes could express opposition to the war when dissent and criticism of the Russian military risks jail sentences of several years.

Some Russian athletes publicly supported the war in March and are serving bans imposed by their sport’s governing body.

Olympic gold medalist swimmer Yevgeny Rylov appeared at a pro-war rally attended by Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Gymnast Ivan Kuliak displayed a pro-military “Z” symbol on his uniform at an international event.

Russian former international athletes are being called up for military service in the current mobilization, according to media reports. They include former heavyweight boxing champion Nikolai Valuev and soccer player Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.

Russians have continued to compete during the war as individuals in tennis and cycling, without national symbols such as flags and anthems, even when teams have been banned.

Bach told Corriere della Sera it was the IOC’s mission to be politically neutral and “to have the Olympic Games, and to have sport in general, as something that still unifies people and humanity.”

“For all these reasons, we are in a real dilemma at this moment with regard to the Russian invasion in Ukraine,” he suggested. “We also have to see, and to study, to monitor, how and when we can come back to accomplish our mission to have everybody back again, under which format whatsoever.”

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How did U.S. women’s basketball replace its legends? It starts with Alyssa Thomas.

Alyssa Thomas
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If this FIBA World Cup marks the beginning of a new era of U.S. women’s basketball, it is notable, if not remarkable, that no player has been more visible than Alyssa Thomas.

Thomas is making her global championship debut in Sydney. She is the only woman on the team in her 30s. Rarely, if ever, has a player who waited this long to put on a U.S. uniform made such an impact out of the gate. Certainly not since the last major tournament in Australia, when 30-year-old Yolanda Griffith starred at the 2000 Olympics.

Over the last week, Thomas leads the U.S. in minutes played and is one of two players to start all seven games along with Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP. She ranks fourth on the team in scoring (10.6 points per game), is tied for second in rebounding (6.7), second in assists (4.6) and first in steals (2.7).

The Americans, with their new breakthrough power forward, face China in Saturday’s final, seeking a fourth consecutive world title and 60th consecutive victory between Olympic and world championship play dating to 2006.

“She takes a lot of pressure off of us,” two-time WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson said after Thomas had 13 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in a quarterfinal win over Serbia. “I think she’s the glue of this team, the X-factor of this team, because that’s her game and that’s her style.”

Thomas earned the nickname “Baby Bron Bron” at the University of Maryland for her LeBron James-like play. USA Basketball took notice in 2013, when she was one of six collegians named to a 33-player national team training camp.

But that participation was the last of Thomas’ bullet points on her USA Basketball bio for another nine years, until she was named to the FIBA World Cup qualifying team last February.

Thomas had to wait her turn.

The U.S. was loaded in the frontcourt in the 2010s with more established players — Candace ParkerTina CharlesSylvia FowlesBrittney GrinerElena Delle Donne — and then Stewart and Wilson came along, becoming arguably the two most valuable Americans in the last Olympic cycle.

Thomas produced, to that point, the best WNBA season of her career in 2020, but tore an Achilles playing overseas in January 2021, ruling out any chance of making the Tokyo Olympic team. (Thomas was not in the 36-player national team pool at the time of her injury.)

The combination of players’ absences this year — Charles, after three Olympic golds, ceded to younger players, Fowles retired and Griner is being detained in Russia — and Cheryl Reeve becoming head coach created an opportunity.

Thomas seized it, leading the Connecticut Sun to the WNBA Finals, where she recorded triple-doubles in the last two games of a series loss to the Las Vegas Aces. Then she boarded a plane to Sydney for her first major international experience and has similarly flourished.

Jennifer Rizzotti, part of the USA Basketball selection committee, said the 6-foot-2 Thomas combines the movement of Lindsay Whalen, the passing of Parker and the physicality of Rebekkah Brunson. She plays with labrum tears in each shoulder. There’s no single player like her.

“There’s definitely some post players that have that point forward mentality, but not quite with the guard skills that Alyssa has,” Rizzotti said. “I don’t see anybody, including guards, that can do what she does in the open court. Then you talk about how disruptive she is defensively and her ability to guard one through five. A’ja can guard one through five, Stewie can guard one through five, but nobody’s as disruptive as Alyssa is. On the perimeter and off the ball.”

Thomas also fit what Reeve, who succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, was looking for in retooling the roster following the retirement of Sue Bird and possible end of Diana Taurasi‘s national team career at age 40.

“[Reeve] made it clear that she was hoping with the guard turnover that we would be able to play faster, more athletically, more possessions in the game,” Rizzotti said. “And therefore, she wanted to have post players that could push tempo, that could facilitate and kind of fit in with a ball-handling, passing mentality from the trail spot.”

Still, Thomas did not expect to be putting on a USA jersey this year. “Shocked” is the word USA Basketball chose to describe her reaction to making this team.

“It was kind of a surprise,” she said, according to USA Basketball. “I had just really taken my name out of it.”

Rizzotti said Thomas is an example — a very successful one, it turns out — of an asset in the eyes of the selection committee: patience.

“I think a lot of players feel like if they don’t make the USA national team right away, it’s never going to happen,” she said. “You get the comments like, oh, it’s political, or they keep inviting the same guys back. And it’s not true.”

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