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IOC, IIHF, NHL bosses to meet regarding Olympic hockey

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The head of the International Olympic Committee is joining high-level talks over whether the world’s best hockey players will participate when the South Korea Winter Olympics begin 12 months from now, two people familiar with the meeting told The Associated Press on Thursday.

The IOC and the International Ice Hockey Federation requested a meeting Friday with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL Players Association Executive Director Don Fehr, the people said on condition of anonymity because the development was not formally announced.

The meeting is the first to include IOC President Thomas Bach, IIHF President Rene Fasel, Bettman and Fehr regarding the NHL’s participation in the 2018 Olympics, they said.

Fasel has been talking and meeting with Bettman and Fehr for months, trying to make sure the top hockey players compete in a sixth straight Olympics.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said last weekend league owners are leaning against it .

“If the status quo remains, I don’t expect us to be in the Olympics,” Daly said during last weekend’s All-Star break.

The NHL has been the only professional sports league that pauses its season to allow its athletes to participate in the Olympics. It simply might not be willing to do that again next season.

The IOC has provided some compensation in the past, paying for travel and insurance expenses to get hockey’s best to each Winter Olympics since 1998. The IOC, though, doesn’t want to continue that practice. It spent about $14 million to cover travel and insurance for NHL players for the 2014 Olympics in Russia. Even if travel and insurance costs are covered, however, there’s no guarantee the league and union will agree to go to South Korea.

While Friday’s meeting might move the parties closer to a decision, it might take months for it to be resolved. Before the last Winter Olympics in Russia, a decision was not made until the previous summer.

The NHL is hoping to have a resolution sooner than later so that it can set next season’s schedule.

PyeongChang is 14 hours ahead of New York, making it difficult for TV viewers in North America to watch the games, and South Korea isn’t a market the NHL is as excited about as China’s in the 2022 Olympics.

Most players have expressed interest in playing for their home nations and competing for Olympic gold. Washington star Alex Ovechkin has said that he would play for Russia in PyeongChang even if the NHL doesn’t stop its season for players to participate.

Capitals owner Ted Leonsis said he will support Ovechkin and others if they choose to defy the league’s wishes next year.

“It’s a players’ league,” Leonsis said Wednesday. “If Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby and Nick Backstrom tell us, ‘We want to go play for our country,’ how am I going to say no? I might get fined. I might get punished in some way, but I feel I’m in partnership with Nick and Braden and Alex. It’s a tough decision.”

MORE: 2018 Olympic hockey groups set

Chinese figure skating judges banned for biased Olympic scoring

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Two Chinese figure skating judges were suspended by the International Skating Union for biased judging at the PyeongChang Olympics.

Chen Weiguang and Huang Feng had “preferential marking” for top Chinese skaters Jin Boyang (fourth place in PyeongChang) and the silver medalist pairs’ team of Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, respectively, according to the ISU.

Chen was banned two years and excluded from the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. Huang got a one-year ban.

Chen awarded her highest grades of execution scores of the men’s competition to Jin, as well as her second-highest program components scores, trailing only gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu. Both sets of scores, in both the short and long programs, were out of line with the other eight judges.

“There is evidence of preference for the Chinese skater and prejudice against his strongest competitors,” an ISU report read. “Her marks were completely unrealistic.”

The pairs’ judge Huang “obviously favored his pair also vis-à-vis the other top candidates for the Olympic gold medal,” the ISU said in a report, referencing inflated scores for Sui and Han and lower scores for gold and bronze medalists Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot of Germany and Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada.

Huang was warned one month before the Olympics by the ISU for biased judging at the December 2017 Grand Prix Final pairs’ event.

Both suspensions are subject to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

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MORE: Adam Rippon opines on figure skating future

Javier Fernandez to skip Grand Prix, still compete next season

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Javier Fernandez, who in PyeongChang became the first Spanish Olympic figure skating medalist, will skip the fall Grand Prix series but return for January’s European Championships, which could be his final competition.

Europeans will be Fernandez’s focus for the season, his agent said Tuesday.

Fernandez, 26, added an Olympic bronze medal to his 2015 and 2016 World titles. He has said that his third Olympics in PyeongChang would be his last. But Fernandez did not say he would retire after the Winter Games, though he did skip the world championships in March.

Fernandez now plans to compete in his 13th straight European Championships in Minsk in January. He won the last six titles. It’s unknown if he will continue on to the world championships in Saitama, Japan, in March.

In Fernandez’s absence, the top male singles skaters in the fall Grand Prix season should be double Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, PyeongChang silver medalist Shoma Uno and American Nathan Chen, who was fifth at the Olympics after a disastrous short program but ran away with March’s world title by the largest margin in history.

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MORE: Adam Rippon opines on figure skating future