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Tonga flag bearer debuts at cross-country skiing world championships

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Tonga’s famous flag bearer from the Rio Olympics made his cross-country skiing competition debut at the world championships on Thursday, a step as he hopes to compete in PyeongChang.

His first race, after taking up the sport a month ago, went about as expected.

Pita Taufatofua was 153rd of 156 finishers in the 1.6km sprint freestyle qualification. Full results are here.

It took Taufatofua 5 minutes, 44.72 seconds to complete the course in Lahti, Finland, which is about 10,000 miles from Tonga. The top qualifier clocked 3:11.72.

Taufatofua managed to beat two skiers from Venezuela and one from Montenegro but fell well short of the cutoff to advance to the quarterfinals. That’s typically the top 30 skiers.

“In terms of what I have to develop, pretty much everything,” Taufatofua said one month ago in an Olympic Channel interview. “I’m coming from the beginning, absolute beginner.”

Taufatofua could qualify for the PyeongChang Olympics next winter because cross-country skiing is inclusive at the Winter Games. For Sochi, skiers qualified from Bermuda, Brazil, Dominica and Togo.

In Rio, Taufatofua lost his opening Olympic taekwondo match by mercy rule, two weeks after his shirtless, oiled-up appearance in the Opening Ceremony.

In 2014, Bruno Banani became the first Tongan to compete at a Winter Olympics, placing 32nd in men’s luge. He was later the subject of a documentary. Banani gained fame starting in early 2012, when the story of his name was widely publicized. Banani’s real name is Fuahea Semi, but he changed it to the name of his German clothing sponsor as a marketing ploy.

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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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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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