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‘Next Olympic Hopeful’ searches for new crossover Olympians

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DENVER (AP) — America’s got talent, and the leaders at the U.S. Olympic Committee are turning on the TV cameras to find it.

The quest for gold and America’s insatiable appetite for reality television are merging this summer with an Olympic scouting camp — titled “The Next Olympic Hopeful” — that will ultimately be packaged as part of a two-hour broadcast on NBCSN in August.

Instead of earning a final rose, eight athletes from an original cast of 100 will find themselves competing for spots on future U.S. Olympic teams.

“For a few years, we’ve been thinking a lot about talent transfer. High-level athletes around the country playing one sport or another who may not make it to the top of that sport,” said Alan Ashley, the USOC’s chief of sport performance. “This is a chance for them to look at Olympic sports, to transfer over and get involved.”

Lest we all start jumping off the couch and warming up, there are a few caveats:

— In the first phase of the project, the USOC is looking only for athletes for cycling, rugby and the sliding sports of bobsled and skeleton.

— The USOC is in search of “elite” athletes, and is focusing much of its attention toward college rosters.

— The individual sports have lofty requirements to even be considered for the initial tryout roster of 50 men and 50 women: For example, a rugby hopeful would need to squat around two times his or her weight for three repetitions; a man trying out for bobsled or skeleton would need to broad jump nearly 11 feet (at most NFL scouting combines, about a dozen players reach that distance).

The idea of crossover athletes at the Olympics nothing new, of course.

Patriots special teamer Nate Ebner is one of three players to wear NFL uniforms who went on to earn a spot on the U.S. rugby team in the reintroduction of that sport to the Olympics last year.

And track stars (see Lolo Jones), football players (see Herschel Walker) and people who do both (see Willie Gault) have long been crossing from their original sports to ride bobsled in the Winter Olympics.

But where the individual sports organizations and athletes were often left to discover each other on their own in the past, now they’ll get some institutional help from the USOC, which will host the 100 candidates at the Olympic Training Center in July for a week’s worth of workouts. They’ll be searching for eight athletes — one man and one woman for each of the four sports — to become eligible for financial, training and medical services as they prepare to compete for their spot on the Olympic team in their sport.

“It’s great the USOC is jumping into this,” said Darrin Steele, the CEO of USA Bobsled and Skeleton. “From Day 1, we said, ‘Hey, we’re perfect for it.’ We know it’s not a golden ticket onto the team. It’s a screening process. It’s throwing a very wide net and trying to appeal to athletes who might not realize what the possibilities are.”

Make it or not, they will get air time.

Team USA will feature the camps on its social websites. Then, NBCSN will swoop in with a two-hour recap of the action, complete with — of course — an announcement of the eight winners.

Steele says he’s not against using a bit of showbiz in the name of success.

“I don’t see it as an issue,” he said, “because the only way you make our team is if you’re able to help us win.”

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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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