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Lilly King ready for ‘awkward’ first encounter with Yulia Efimova at worlds

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Lilly King doesn’t know how she’ll react when she sees Yulia Efimova for the first time since the Rio Olympics next week.

King does know this: There is nothing she wants to say to her Russian rival at the world championships in Budapest.

“I’ll let my swimming do the talking,” King said in a phone interview from the U.S. swim team’s training camp in Croatia on Tuesday. “It’s obviously going to be very awkward, that first encounter, but it’s going to happen. I’m ready for it.”

King and Efimova, after King won their memorable Rio Olympic 100m breast duel, should be in close proximity throughout next week.

They’re the top two seeds in all three breaststrokes, meaning they could face off for gold in finals Tuesday (100m breast), next Friday (200m breast) and the last Sunday (50m breast). A full broadcast schedule is here.

Yes, King is aware of the world rankings.

“I’ve checked it, and I’m honestly totally fine with it,” she said. “That’s about what I expected. Nobody else can really swim with us, in my opinion. I’m excited to race her again, excited for more of our rivalry to continue.”

King feels differently than a year ago, when she made her major international meet debut in Rio. Whereas Efimova had won world titles in the 100m and 200m breaststrokes between the London and Rio Games.

“I guess I kind of have a target on my back now,” King said. “I was a nobody last summer.”

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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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