Johnny Weir, Tara Lipinski
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Tara Lipinski, Johnny Weir preview Grand Prix Final

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With the Pyeongchang Olympics coming in 14 months, any year-out figure skating predictions will lean heavily on what happens at this week’s Grand Prix Final.

The top six per discipline from around the world gather in Marseille, France, to crown the best skaters of the first half of the season.

The fields include every reigning world champion. The broadcast schedule is here.

NBC Olympic figure skating analysts Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir offered their takes on the men’s, women’s, pairs and ice dance favorites:

Men
Field (Highest Grand Prix season score)
1. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 301.47
2. Javier Fernández (ESP) — 292.98
3. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 285.07
4. Patrick Chan (CAN) — 279.72
5. Nathan Chen (USA) — 268.91
6. Adam Rippon (USA) — 267.53

Preview
Hanyu can become the first singles skater to win four straight Grand Prix Finals in the event’s 22-year history. The Japanese Olympic champion broke his own scoring records at this event last year, but he is not a heavy favorite. Fernandez, the two-time reigning world champion, is the only men’s skater to go undefeated in the fall. Chen and Rippon are the first U.S. men to qualify for a Grand Prix Final since 2011.

Lipinski’s Take
It’s Yuzu’s to lose, but then there are times you never know what you’re going to get from Yuzu. He could skate flawlessly, or he has these crazy falls and the program kind of falls apart and you can have Javi or Patrick Chan swooping in. … Chen is definitely a dark horse. If there are mistakes (from others), and he does his job, you can’t deny the technical difficulty in his program (six total quadruple jumps).

Weir’s Take
What Yuzuru did was very good at the NHK Trophy (two weeks ago), but he wasn’t in the normal state where he would have been maybe a year ago. But he does always bring it around the Grand Prix Final. … It’s huge that there are two American men in the Grand Prix Final. A year ago, we were looking at a world championships in the United States, thinking the Americans didn’t have a shot. Even if the Americans finish fifth and sixth, it’s a huge accomplishment.

Women
Field (Highest Grand Prix season score)
1. Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 221.54
2. Anna Pogorilaya (RUS) — 215.21
3. Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN) — 206.45
4. Yelena Radionova (RUS) — 205.90
5. Maria Sotskova (RUS) — 200.35
6. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 198.00

Preview
Medvedeva hasn’t lost in more than one year and is a clear favorite to repeat. It very well could be a Russian sweep, given Pogorilaya has been the clear No. 2 this season, and Radionova has made the podium in both of her Grand Prix Final appearances. No U.S. women are in the field for the first time since 2008.

Lipinski’s Take
Medvedeva is sort of like Yuzu. She’s at a different level. I haven’t seen a skater like her in a long time. You talk about the complete package, whether it’s artistry or technical ability. She has that. She has this unique personality on the ice. She has this charisma that captures the audience. She has a tough, competitive mental outlook when she steps on the ice.

Weir’s Take
Yevgenia Medvedeva is definitely in a class by herself, but should she make a small mistake, Anna Pogorilaya has been looking very strong this year. And (Pogorilaya) has the woman image on the ice. She’s the woman among girls.

Pairs
Field (Highest Grand Prix season score)
1. Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford (CAN) — 218.30
2. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 206.94
3. Yu Xiaoyu/Zhang Hao (CHN) — 203.76
4. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 197.96
5. Natalya Zabiyako/Alexander Enbert (RUS) — 197.77
6. Julianne Séguin/Charlie Bilodeau (CAN) — 197.31

Preview
Duhamel and Radford, the two-time reigning world champions, became heavy favorites after the withdrawal of Germans Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot due to Savchenko’s ankle injury last week. Duhamel and Radford are the only pair in the field that owns medals together from any major international competition (Olympics, world championships, Grand Prix Final).

Lipinski’s Take
I love Savchenko and Massot, I really do, but there’s something over these past few years with the Canadians, that when I watch them, I feel their fire. I don’t know if it’s their personalities or attack they have. It’s more of a personal preference.

Weir’s Take
The pairs has been a year of growth. Nobody has really delivered a stellar performance at any of the Grand Prixs yet. So I think Duhamel and Radford are definitely looking for that moment where they are the class of the field. I’m really missing (2015 Grand Prix Final champions Ksenia) Stolbova (injured) and (Fedor) Klimov this season.

Ice Dance
Field (Highest Grand Prix season score)
1. Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir (CAN) — 195.84
2. Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 193.50
3. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 188.24
4. Yekaterina Bobrova/Dmitry Soloviyev (RUS) — 186.68
5. Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) — 185.75
6. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 175.77

Preview
Two weeks ago at NHK Trophy, Virtue and Moir handed Papadakis and Cizeron their first defeat in nearly two years. The Canadians, who took gold and silver at the last two Olympics, are back after a two-season break from competition. A U.S. couple has made the Grand Prix Final podium nine straight times, and that streak figures to live on with the same three couples qualified from last season.

Lipinski’s Take
Tessa and Scott sort of dominated the French in their first matchup, but you have to remember the French made a lot of costly mistakes. If they both skate cleanly at the final, it should be much closer. If either of them have mistakes and leave the door open, it’s the Shibs (Shibutanis). 

Weir’s Take
My favorites of the season, it’s definitely the French. If their technique is solid, and they’re on point at the Grand Prix Final, they can overtake the Canadians, even though they lost to them by a considerable amount at NHK Trophy.

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April Ross, Alix Klineman back atop Olympic beach volleyball qualifying

April Ross, Alix Klineman
FIVB World Tour
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Two-time Olympic medalist April Ross and new partner Alix Klineman moved back on top of the U.S. Olympic beach volleyball qualifying standings by winning an event in Itapema, Brazil this week.

Ross, who split from Kerri Walsh Jennings in 2017, and Klineman beat Canadians Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes 25-23, 18-21, 15-10 in Sunday’s final for their third title in 11 FIVB World Tour tournaments together.

“Every victory is important, but this counts for more,” Klineman said, according to the FIVB. “We want to send a message and we want to be consistently the best.

Ross and Klineman supplanted Walsh Jennings and her new partner, Brooke Sweat, for the lead in the early U.S. Olympic qualifying rankings with still more than a year of events ahead.

1. Ross/Klineman – 3,240 (5 events played)
2. Walsh Jennings/Sweat – 3,100 (7 events)
3. Day/Flint – 2,180 (5 events)
4. Hughes/Ross — 2,000 (4 events)
5. Larsen/Stockman — 1,840 (5 events)
6. Sponcil/Claes — 1,600 (3 events)

Each team’s 12 best results from Sept. 1, 2018, to June 14, 2020, go into the Olympic qualifying rankings. That means Ross and Klineman are comfortably in front, having played two fewer events than Walsh Jennings and Sweat, who lost in the quarterfinals in Itapema.

The top two U.S. pairs come June 15, 2020, provided they’re ranked high enough internationally, will qualify for Tokyo. Most of the qualifying events, including the ones with the most points available, are still to come this summer.

Ross, 36, picked up Klineman, 29, after Walsh Jennings didn’t join her in signing a domestic AVP contract in 2017. The 6-foot-5 Klineman primarily played indoor the previous decade, including at Stanford from 2007-10 after being the Gatorade National Player of the Year coming out of high school.

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Katie Ledecky extends 5-year win streak

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Katie Ledecky extended a five-year domestic win streak by taking the 200m freestyle at the Tyr Pro Swim Series at Bloomington on Saturday.

In her last full meet before July’s world championships, Ledecky clocked 1:55.80 to beat training partner Simone Manuel by 1.44 seconds for her second win in as many days. Ledecky is also entered in Sunday’s 800m free on the last day of the meet.

Ledecky, who also cruised to a 400m free victory on Friday, ranks third in the world in the 200m free this year, behind Australian Ariarne Titmus and Swede Sarah Sjöström (the Olympic silver medalist who is not expected to race the 200m free at worlds).

Ledecky, a five-time Olympic champion, hasn’t lost a 200m, 400m, 800m or 1500m free final at a domestic meet since Allison Schmitt beat her in a 200m free on Jan. 18, 2014 when Ledecky was 16 years old.

BLOOMINGTON: Full Results

But Ledecky lost the two biggest 200m frees of this Olympic cycle so far, at the 2017 World Championships and the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships. Italian veteran Federica Pellegrini handed Ledecky her first individual final defeat at a major international meet at 2017 Worlds.

Ledecky dropped to third in the 200m free at Pan Pacs in Tokyo last year, beaten by younger swimmers Taylor Ruck of Canada and Rikako Ikee of Japan.

Ruck, who like Ledecky trains at Stanford, is in Bloomington, but she chose not to swim the 200m free on Saturday. She instead swam the 200m backstroke about 45 minutes after the 200m free and was upset by 17-year-old Regan Smith. Smith won in 2:06.47, moving to No. 3 in the world this year.

In other events Saturday, Ella Eastin captured the 400m individual medley in 4:37.18, taking 1.25 seconds off her personal best and moving to fifth in the world this year. Eastin is not on the world championships team after an untimely bout with mono before qualifying meets last summer.

Blake Pieroni won the men’s 200m free in 1:47.25. No American ranks in the top 20 in the world this year. World silver medalist Townley Haas did not enter Bloomington.

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