Gracie Gold, Ashley Wagner
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Grand Prix figure skating assignments announced; Olympic champions absent

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Nathan ChenAshley WagnerKaren Chen and Maia and Alex Shibutani headline Skate America in November, highlighting this fall’s Grand Prix assignments announced Friday.

Gracie Gold is at Cup of China and Internationaux de France, also in November.

U.S. champion Nathan Chen and Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu will both debut at Rostelecom Cup, the first of six Grand Prix events, in late October.

That will mark an early season test for Chen, an 18-year-old who beat Hanyu at the Four Continents Championships at the PyeongChang Olympic venue last February but fell to sixth at worlds won by Hanyu in April.

Chen’s top challengers at Skate America in Lake Placid, N.Y., are world bronze medalist Jin Boyang of China and training partner and 2016 U.S. champion Adam Rippon.

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Wagner, a three-time U.S. champion coming off her least successful season in six years, and the surprise U.S. champion Karen Chen are both entered in Skate Canada in October and Skate America.

Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva, the two-time reigning world champion, is entered in Rostelecom Cup and NHK Trophy in Japan. She’ll face Olympic bronze medalist Carolina Kostner of Italy in both events, as well as Mariah Bell and Mirai Nagasu, who finished three-four at the U.S. Championships in January.

The two-time U.S. champion Gold, who changed coaches after a disastrous season, will get an up-close look at Russian world junior champion Alina Zagitova at her two events in China and France.

Polina Edmunds, the youngest U.S. competitor across all sports at the Sochi Olympics at age 15, is entered in France as well. Edmunds hasn’t competed since the January 2016 U.S. Championships due to a bone bruise in her right foot.

Sochi Olympic champion Adelina Sotnikova is not entered in any Grand Prix events.

She has not competed since placing sixth at the December 2015 Russian Championships but recently hired four-time Olympic medalist Yevgeny Plushenko as a new coach.

Also absent from the Grand Prix lists are Olympic pairs champions Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov after Volosozhar gave birth to their daughter Feb. 16.

The Russian pair hasn’t competed since finishing sixth at the 2016 World Championships, their first time outside the top two in 19 top-level international competitions together.

Sotnikova and Volosozhar and Trankov could still be added to Rostelecom Cup as there are open spots for Russians in each discipline at that event.

Skate America, the biggest annual international event in the U.S., is one month later in this season’s calendar, taking place Thanksgiving weekend.

Here’s the full Grand Prix schedule:

Rostelecom Cup (Moscow) — Oct. 20-22
Skate Canada (Regina) — Oct. 27-29
Cup of China (Beijing) — Nov. 3-5
NHK Trophy (Osaka) — Nov. 10-12
Internationaux de France (Grenoble) — Nov. 17-19
Skate America (Lake Placid) — Nov. 24-26
Grand Prix Final (Nagoya, Japan) — Dec. 7-10

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Olympic, world champion lugers pull out of World Cup event over safety

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U.S. Olympic silver medalist Chris Mazdzer and other top lugers are skipping this weekend’s World Cup stop in Winterberg, Germany, citing unsafe track conditions.

“This was brought to the attention of the FIL [International Luge Federation] and yet again we were told that everything is ok,” was posted on Mazdzer’s Instagram. “I realize that a boycott is a lose-lose situation and there are no winners. But I have no other option at this point. I feel personally that this track is not safe for doubles sleds or for athletes who do not have adequate numbers of runs.”

An FIL spokesperson said Friday that Mazdzer’s choice was “his individual decision” and declined further comment ahead of races scheduled Saturday and Sunday.

USA Luge said in a Friday statement that it will not participate in the World Cup and would communicate its concern for athlete safety to the FIL.

Two-time U.S. Olympian Summer Britcher said she was boycotting via Instagram, calling it “a farce of a World Cup.” Top lugers said athletes suffered serious injuries in training runs.

“I love this sport, but after too many decisions too many times that disregard 1-the safety of the athletes, and 2- the integrity and fairness of our sport, I have grown a great disdain for the International Luge Federation, and those who make these decisions,” was posted on Britcher’s account. “I will not race this weekend. I do not believe the track is safe, I do not believe it has been prepared to a World Cup standard, and I do not believe that the International Federation and Winterberg World Cup organisers should get away from this with no consequences.”

Britcher’s post noted that her team notified coaches and the technical director that the track was unsafe after her first training run Wednesday.

“Our concerns, and the concerns of the rest of the athletes from other nations throughout the day were not taken seriously,” Britcher posted.

Britcher said that several coaches attempted to fix the track for several hours on Thursday after athletes refused to train.

Olympic champion David Gleirscher of Austria and World Cup standings leader Roman Repilov of Russia and the top doubles teams of Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken and Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt of Germany also posted on Instagram that they’re skipping the Winterberg World Cup, the penultimate stop of the season, for safety reasons.

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Lara Gut-Behrami gets first win in 2 years; Mikaela Shiffrin’s lead shrinks

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Swiss Lara Gut-Behrami, the last woman other than Mikaela Shiffrin to win a World Cup overall title, notched her first World Cup race victory in two years on Friday. Meanwhile, chasers gained on the absent Shiffrin in this season’s overall standings.

Gut-Behrami led a host-nation one-two in a downhill in Crans-Montana. She was followed by downhill standings leader Corinne Suter (eight tenths behind) and Austrian Stephanie Venier (.92 back). Full results are here.

Shiffrin has not raced since the unexpected death of her father on Feb. 2. She has not announced if or when she will return this season.

Slovakian Petra Vlhova was fourth on Friday for her best career World Cup speed race finish. Vlhova, Shiffrin’s top rival in slalom the last few seasons, moved to 104 points behind Shiffrin in the World Cup overall standings through 27 of 40 scheduled races.

Race winners receive 100 points on a descending scale through the 30th-place skier. The season runs through March 22.

American Breezy Johnson was fifth, tying her best World Cup finish in nearly two years. Italian Federica Brignone tied for seventh, moving 77 points shy of Shiffrin’s lead.

Vlhova or Brignone can pass Shiffrin with similar finishes in Saturday’s downhill (4:30 a.m. ET, Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and NBC Sports Gold) and a podium in Sunday’s combined (7:30 a.m. ET, Olympic Channel and Gold).

Gut-Behrami, a 25-time World Cup race winner, was the world’s top skier in 2016. She was in second place to Shiffrin in the 2017 World Cup overall standings when she ruptured her left ACL and sustained meniscus damage. Shiffrin since won the last three overall titles.

Friday marked Gut-Behrami’s first win since Jan. 21, 2018. She recently went nearly one year between podium finishes.

“Sometimes, I’ve been struggling with myself and putting myself under pressure because I wanted to do it again,” Gut-Behrami said. “Then I started thinking, and then I made mistakes.”

Suter, who came into the season without a World Cup win, leads the downhill season standings by 120 points. She can clinch her first World Cup discipline title in Saturday’s penultimate downhill.

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