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Nathan Chen, top U.S. women open figure skating season

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Nathan Chen opens his season, while three of the top female contenders for the U.S. Olympic team also compete at the U.S. International Classic in Salt Lake City starting Thursday.

The lower-level event will stream live on Icenetwork.com for subscribers (all times Eastern):

Pairs short program — Thursday, 6:30 p.m.
Men’s short program — Thursday, 8:30 p.m.
Short dance — Friday, 3:20 p.m.
Women’s short program — Friday, 5 p.m.
Pairs free skate — Friday, 6:50 p.m.
Men’s free skate — Friday, 9 p.m.
Free dance — Saturday, 6:30 p.m.
Women’s free skate — Saturday, 8:30 p.m.

Chen, the 18-year-old who landed a record seven quadruple jumps en route to the U.S. title in January, is the headliner. He is expected to ease into the season, attempting fewer quads on Thursday and Friday in his hometown.

It would be surprising if Chen doesn’t win, even with watered-down programs. The field also includes 2013 U.S. champion Max Aaron, who was ninth at last year’s nationals, and Japanese bronze medalist Takahito Mura.

Picking a women’s winner is not as clear-cut.

Three of the top four women from January’s U.S. Championships face off in an early test ahead of the fall Grand Prix series and nationals in January. The U.S. Olympic team (three men, three women, three dance couples, one pair) will be selected by a committee after nationals, taking into account results in the Grand Prix series.

So Karen ChenMariah Bell and Mirai Nagasu have greater incentive to be in strong form this week. An early win against countrywomen could set the tone to make it to PyeongChang.

Chen, the surprise U.S. champion, fell twice in her short program in this event last year and finished third, behind Japanese star Satoko Miyahara and Bell.

Bell is coming off a surprise year where she finished third at nationals. But she struggled with nerves at worlds in the early spring and ended up 12th.

Then there’s Nagasu, the 2010 Olympian who finished fourth at the last two nationals. She has been training a triple Axel and even without it could leap past Chen and Bell this week given her international experience.

An interested onlooker may be Ashley Wagner, the U.S. silver medalist who is expected to make her international season debut next month.

But the favorite this week could be Japanese Marin Honda, a 16-year-old world junior champion making her senior international debut. Honda owns the top personal-best score in the field.

The pairs field includes the top two American couples from last season — Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim and Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier.

U.S. bronze medalists Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue lead the ice dance entrants.

Also this weekend, U.S. Olympian Jason Brown takes on world silver medalist Shoma Uno at the Lombardia Trophy in Italy.

Brown finished third at last year’s nationals and seventh at worlds after overcoming a stress fracture in his right fibula. Nathan Chen, Brown, Vincent Zhou and Adam Rippon are the frontrunners for the three Olympic men’s spots.

Lombardia Trophy will also mark the senior international debut of Russian Alina Zagitova, the reigning world junior champion and a training partner of Olympic gold-medal favorite Yevgenia Medvedeva.

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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 (not counting matches played once they’ve already clinched qualification). 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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