U.S. women struggle to open Four Continents Championships

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Three U.S. women dug considerable holes in Thursday’s short program at the Four Continents Championships, a tune-up for next month’s world championships.

Mirai Nagasu was fifth, botching a triple loop landing. Mariah Bell was seventh, stepping out of a triple flip landing and failing to perform a triple-triple combination. Karen Chen, the surprise U.S. champion, was 12th, falling on a double loop.

“It was definitely a rough performance,” Chen said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “I came here with higher expectations, and I was hoping I would be able to put out my best. Unfortunately that didn’t happen.”

Canada’s Gabrielle Daleman scored 68.25 points to lead countrywoman Kaetlyn Osmond by .04 going into the free skate Saturday at the 2018 Olympic venue in Gangneung, South Korea. Full results are here.

The U.S. standings are concerning not only because worlds are in six weeks, but also because worlds results determine the number of Olympic entries each nation gets.

For the U.S. to earn the maximum three women’s spots at the Olympics, its top two of three skaters at worlds must have placements that add up to no more than 13. Last year, the top U.S. women at worlds were second and fourth, adding up to six, comfortably under 13.

The Americans aren’t looking anywhere near that strong this season.

Nagasu isn’t on the worlds team. Chen and Bell are after finishing first and third at nationals in January. As is U.S. silver medalist Ashley Wagner, who is skipping Four Continents to prepare for worlds.

The field will be much stronger at worlds than at Four Continents, with Europeans joining the mix. Russia will send three medal contenders to worlds. Italian Carolina Kostner, the Olympic bronze medalist, will be there. Japan’s best skater, Satoko Miyahara, is out of Four Continents with a hip injury.

The short dance at Four Continents went to form, with Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir topping the field with 79.75 points. They were followed by Americans Maia and Alex Shibutani with 76.59 and Madison Chock and Evan Bates with 74.67.

Virtue and Moir have been the top couple this season after taking two seasons off following their silver medal in Sochi. The Shibutanis and Chock and Bates rank Nos. 3 and 4 in the world behind France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who are not at Four Continents.

The pairs short produced a surprise with Canada’s two-time world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford in third after Radford fell on a triple Lutz. They trail China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong by 6.44 points going into Saturday’s free skate.

The top U.S. pair was Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim in sixth in their first competition of the season. They’ve been out due to her unspecified abdominal issue that lasted from April to November and required three surgeries.

“It wasn’t our biggest score, but it’s the best we’ve ever felt skating,” Scimeca Knierim said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “Health-wise, I’m back at 100 percent, and I’m getting close to 100 percent strength-wise. I feel like my body is almost back to where it used to be, and I’m sure by the time worlds comes around, I’ll be there.”

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World champion wins doping case citing bodily fluids from boyfriend

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — A world champion canoeist won a doping case Monday after persuading a tribunal that her positive test was caused by bodily fluid contamination from her boyfriend.

The International Canoe Federation (ICF) ended its investigation into 11-time world champion Laurence Vincent Lapointe, who tested positive for a steroid-like substance in July. She faced a four-year ban and could have missed her event’s Olympic debut at the Tokyo Games.

The Canadian canoe sprint racer and her lawyer detailed in a news program that laboratory analysis of hair from her then-boyfriend showed he was likely responsible for a tiny presence of ligandrol in her doping sample.

“The ICF has accepted Ms. Vincent Lapointe’s evidence which supports that she was the victim of third-party contamination,” the governing body said in a statement, clearing her to return to competition.

The legal debate is similar to tennis player Richard Gasquet’s 2009 acquittal in the “cocaine kiss” case. The Court of Arbitration for Sport accepted Gasquet’s defense that kissing a woman who had taken cocaine in a Miami nightclub, after he had withdrawn injured from a tournament, caused his positive test.

The 27-year-old Vincent Lapointe was provisionally suspended for almost six months and missed the 2019 World Championships, which was a key qualifying event for the Tokyo Olympics. American 17-year-old Nevin Harrison won the 200m world title in her absence.

She can still qualify for the Olympic debut of women’s canoe sprint events with victory at a World Cup event in May in Germany.

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U.S. women’s soccer team begins Olympic qualifying, which should rest on one match

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The U.S. women’s soccer team has never been in danger in Olympic qualifying, but that doesn’t change this fact: It must win on Feb. 7 to reach the Tokyo Games.

The CONCACAF tournament begins Tuesday in Houston, where the world champion Americans face world No. 72 Haiti. The last two group games are against No. 68 Panama on Friday and No. 37 Costa Rica on Feb. 3. The top two nations from the group advance to Feb. 7 semifinals.

The U.S. roster, with 18 of its 20 players coming from the 2019 World Cup team, is here.

Since CONCACAF qualifies two nations to the Olympics, the semifinals are the deciding games.

Should the U.S. win its group, it would face the runner-up from the other group in a winner-goes-to-Tokyo match. The other group (world ranking):

Canada (8)
Mexico (37)
Jamaica (53)
St. Kitts and Nevis (127)

Chaos could result in the unlikely event that either the U.S. or Canada finishes second in its group, and the two North American powers play a semifinal.

The U.S. is undefeated in Olympic qualifying history, since the tournament format began in 2004 — 15-0 with a goal differential of 88-1. The lone goal allowed came in a group-stage match in 2008, when the U.S. was already assured a spot in the semifinals.

Still, the U.S. knows the feeling of one poor outing in an important match. In 2010, it lost to Mexico in a winner-to-the-World Cup match. The U.S. was forced to win a last-chance, home-and-home playoff against a UEFA team — Italy — for the last spot in the World Cup.

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