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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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MORE: Five storylines for figure skating season

Serena Williams, reclusive amid pandemic, returns to tennis eyeing Grand Slam record

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Serena Williams travels with “like 50 masks” and has been a little bit of a recluse since early March and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t have full lung capacity, so I’m not sure what would happen to me,” Williams said Saturday, two days before the start of the WTA’s Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky., her first tournament since playing Fed Cup in early February. “I’m sure I’ll be OK, but I don’t want to find out.”

Williams, 38, has a history of blood clots and pulmonary embolisms. She faced life-threatening complications following her Sept. 1, 2017, childbirth that confined her to a bed for six weeks. She said her daily routine was surgery and that she lost count after the first four.

More recently, Williams enjoyed “every part” of the last six months at home in Florida, her longest time grounded since her teens.

“I’ve been a little neurotic, to an extent,” on health and safety, she said. “Everyone in the Serena bubble is really protected.”

Williams is entered to play next week in Lexington and at consecutive tournaments in New York City later this month — the Western & Southern Open and U.S. Open, the latter starting Aug. 31.

Williams is the highest-ranked player in the Lexington field at No. 9. Others include 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, older sister Venus Williams and 16-year-old Coco Gauff.

She has been bidding ever since having daughter Olympia to tie Margaret Court‘s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles, albeit many of Court’s crowns came before the Open Era and, notably at the Australian Open, against small fields lacking the world’s best players. Williams reached the last two Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals, losing all of them.

She showed her seriousness in committing early to this year’s U.S. Open by installing a court at home with the same surface. Three of the top 10 female singles players already said they will skip the U.S. Open due to travel and/or virus concerns, including No. 1 Ash Barty.

“Tennis is naturally a socially distanced sport, so it was kind of easy to go back and just walk on my side of the court and have my hitter walk on his side of the court,” Williams said.

The French Open starts two weeks after the U.S. Open ends. Williams was asked if she will fly to Europe for tournaments this autumn.

“I see myself doing it all, if it happens,” she said.

The Tokyo Olympics are too far away to make plans.

“We’ll have to kind of wait to see what happens in the fall,” she said. “One thing I have learned with this pandemic is don’t plan.”

MORE: Past U.S. Open champions get wild cards

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Conseslus Kipruto tests positive for coronavirus, canceling world-record bid

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Conseslus Kipruto, the Olympic and world 3000m steeplechase champion, tested positive for the coronavirus without symptoms, which will keep him from a world-record chase on Friday, according to his social media.

The Kenyan was to race in the first in-person Diamond League meet of the year in Monaco on Friday.

“Our World is going through a challenging period and we all have to take our responsibilities,” was posted. “Unfortunately my covid-19 test, as part of the Monaco-protocol, came back positive and therefore I can’t be part of the Monaco Diamond League.

“I don’t have any symptoms and I was actually in great shape. I was planning to go for the WR: it has stayed too long outside Kenya. As the World & Olympic Champion I feel strongly its something I should go for as well.”

Kipruto, 25, is the 14th-fastest steepler in history with a personal best of 8:00.12. The world record is 7:53.63, set by Kenyan-born Qatari Saif Saaeed Shaheen in 2004.

Last year, Kipruto won the world title by .01, extending a streak of a Kenyan or Kenyan-born man winning every Olympic or world title in the event since the 1988 Seoul Games. He was sidelined by a stress fracture in his left foot until opening his season extremely late on Aug. 24.

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Our World is going through a challenging period and we all have to take our responsibilities. Unfortunately my covid-19 test, as part of the Monaco-protocol, came back positive and therefore I can’t be part of the Monaco Diamond League on August 14th. I don’t have any symptoms and I was actually in great shape. I was planning to go for the WR: it has stayed too long outside Kenya. As the World & Olympic Champion I feel strongly its something I should go for as well. Wish to thank Monaco for all the work they have done and I wish them and my colleagues a wonderful competition. Athletics is back and I will be back as well. Anyone willing to organise a steeple once I can be cleared? @diamondleaguemonaco #nike #quarantine #WR #Kenya

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