Nathan Chen debuts new jump, wins Olympic season opener (video)

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Only three quadruple jumps for Nathan Chen this week, yet the U.S. champion still made history.

The 18-year-old phenom landed his first quad loop in competition, becoming the first skater to master five different four-revolution jumps minus the one quad no man can land — the Axel.

Chen isn’t ready to unleash them all in one competition yet, though. He landed a quad flip and quad Lutz in addition to the loop between two programs at the U.S. International Classic in Salt Lake City on Thursday and Friday.

Chen won his Olympic season debut at the rink where he began skating as a toddler.

He tallied 275.04 points, distancing 2013 U.S. champion Max Aaron by 13.48 points at a lower-level event featuring none of the sport’s international contenders. Full scores are here.

Chen scored 18.58 more points than his season debut last year, when he attempted seven quads and fell on three. But he wasn’t fully satisfied, lamenting doubling a planned quad toe loop Friday.

Afterward, he reportedly shot down chatter that he could attempt seven quads in one free skate later this season.

“That’s a little crazy talk, I think,” Chen said, according to the Deseret News. “I think that there’s a lot of potential with the programs that I have right now. Adding a bunch of quads is not really the main priority. It’s building back to where I was, and to keep on evolving the rest of the program.”

Where was Chen last winter? In a class by himself in number of quads.

He landed a record seven quads at the U.S. Championships in January and again at the Four Continents Championships at the PyeongChang Olympic venue in February, when he beat Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu. He was sixth at the world championships, attempting a record six quads in the free skate alone but falling twice.

Chen is preparing for the bigger events this fall and winter, starting with his Grand Prix debut at Rostelecom Cup in Russia in a month.

Earlier Friday, Japan’s Marin Honda topped the women’s short program in Salt Lake City. The 16-year-old world junior champion from 2016 landed all of her jumps cleanly for 66.90 points.

Three of the top four women from last season’s U.S. Championships also skated in an early preview of competition for three Olympic spots. The team will be chosen after nationals in January.

U.S. champion Karen Chen, silver medalist Mariah Bell and fourth-place finisher Mirai Nagasu each struggled with jumps Friday.

Chen, no relation to Nathan, put her hand down on a triple loop, under-rotated a triple toe loop and scored 66.18 points.

“There was a few minor mistakes, but overall I’m very happy that I was able to stand up on everything,” she said.

Bell fell on the second half of a jumping combination and tallied 60.68.

“I have a lot of improving to do,” Bell said. “It definitely was not my best, by far, but it’s an OK place to start [the season].”

Nagasu attempted a triple Axel — rarely seen in women’s skating — but two-footed the landing, stepped out of another jump and performed a triple-double combination rather than a triple-triple. She still bettered Bell with 63.81 points.

“I’ve been nailing that triple Axel in practice; I really wanted to land it,” Nagasu said. “I’m like mad, but proud of myself at the same time.”

The women’s free skate in Salt Lake City is Saturday at 8:30 p.m. ET, streamed on Icenetwork.com for subscribers.

Also Friday, Russian Alina Zagitova won the lower-level Lombardia Trophy in Italy with a point total that ranks her fourth all-time — 218.46.

Only world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva (Zagitova’s training partner) and the last two Olympic champions — Adelina Sotnikova and Yuna Kim — have scored higher under the system in place since 2003.

It’s impressive that Zagitova, the 2017 World junior champion, posted that score so early in a season. And that she did it in her senior international debut.

She edged Japanese Wakaba Higuchi by .83 of a point. Olympic bronze medalist Carolina Kostner was third, 20.1 points behind.

The Lombardia Trophy men’s free skate — with world silver medalist Shoma Uno leading U.S. Olympian Jason Brown by 21.86 points — is Saturday. The event is streamed live here.

The figure skating season continues next week with the last two male world champions — training partners Hanyu and Javier Fernandez — facing off at the Autumn Classic in Montreal. Medvedeva also makes her international season debut in Slovakia.

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MORE: Olympic figure skating season starts with September must-sees

Major League Baseball sponsors U.S. Olympic softball team

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NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Baseball is using its financial muscle to support the U.S. women’s softball team, which already is assured a spot in the Tokyo Olympics while the American men’s baseball team struggles to qualify.

MLB announced an agreement Thursday to become presenting sponsor of the women’s “Stand Beside Her” tour, a slate of exhibition games leading up to the Olympic tournament from July 22-28.

“We’re both bat and ball sports. Even though we’re not the same sport, there are so many similarities that you just can’t ignore,” said Kim Ng, MLB’s senior vice president for baseball operations. “It was important for us to make sure that they have this acknowledgment and recognition of their ability and their talent.”

Softball began as an Olympic sport for the 1996 Atlanta Games. The U.S. won gold medals in 1996, 2000 and 2004 with players that included Dot Richardson, Jennie Finch and Jessica Mendoza, then lost to Japan in the 2008 gold-medal game.

Baseball and softball were dropped for the next two Olympics, then restored for this year, when the U.S. and Japan will be joined by Australia, Canada, Italy and Mexico for games in Fukushima and Yokohama but not Tokyo. The sports are likely to be dropped for 2024 in Paris but could return four years later in Los Angeles.

The U.S. men’s baseball team stumbled in its first attempt to qualify, wasting a ninth-inning lead against Mexico in the final game of the Premier12 tournament in November and losing in the 10th. The U.S. has two more chances to join Israel, Japan, Mexico and South Korea in the Olympic field: an Americas tournament in Arizona from March 22-26 and a final tournament in Taiwan from April 1-5.

MLB is not allowing players on 40-man big league rosters to compete in qualifying, and few top pitching prospects were at the November tournament.

Softball has no such issues. The Olympics are the sport’s highest-profile event.

“The platform for us is 10 times bigger,” American outfielder Haylie McCleney said. “For us, it’s a great opportunity for people that have never watched softball before, people that have only followed it at the collegiate level, to really see how fun our game is to watch, how pure it is. If people are baseball fans, I guarantee they’re going to love softball because it’s pretty much just a faster game – it’s shorter, it’s quicker, it’s more entertaining to watch, in my opinion.”

The 2008 gold-medal softball game took 1 hours, 45 minutes — less than half the 3:45 average for this year’s World Series.

As part of the deal with MLB, the softball team’s official training facility will be at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach, Florida, the old Dodgertown spring training camp.

MLB Network will include programming from the tour, which currently starts Feb. 4 in Tampa and has about three dozen stops.

The U.S. women’s soccer team has attracted huge television audiences. MLB sees softball as an opportunity for the sport’s growth.

“These are world-class athletes,” Ng said. “Because we have not been in the Olympics for the last 12 years, they just haven’t had that stage. So it’s really important at this point that we show as much support as we can for them.”

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MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

Rafael Nadal advances at Australian Open; American back on Slam stage

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Rafael Nadal joined Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open third round, sweeping Argentine Federico Delbonis 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-1 on Thursday.

Nadal, whose lone Australian Open title came in 2009, gets countryman Pablo Carreno Busta in Saturday’s third round. He could face No. 23 Nick Kyrgios of Australia in round four, but neither Federer nor Djokovic until the final.

No. 4 Daniil Medvedeva and No. 2 Karolina Pliskova and No. 4 Simona Halep were also winners Thursday. Friday’s third-round action is headlined by defending champion Naomi Osaka facing 15-year-old U.S. phenom Coco Gauff.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

The only top-20 seed to lose Thursday was No. 20 Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic. American CiCi Bellis bounced her 6-4, 6-4.

This was a big deal for Bellis: Two full years and four right arm operations have come and gone since she was last healthy enough to participate in a Grand Slam tournament.

Bellis was something of a teen prodigy. In her very first tour-level match, at age 15 at the 2014 U.S. Open, she stunned 12th-seeded Dominika Cibulkova, an Australian Open runner-up, to become the youngest American to win a match at Flushing Meadows in 28 years.

She reached No. 35 in the rankings at 17, when she won WTA Newcomer of the Year honors.

Then came the series of health problems, including for torn tendons in her wrist, to shorten a bone in her arm and for bone spurs in her elbow. All the time away from the tour has her at No. 600 in the rankings currently, but she was able to get into the draw in Australia via the protected ranking rule.

In other action, U.S. Open runner-up Medvedev  found himself seated in the nosebleed section at Margaret Court Arena, even though he was playing his second-round match there.

That’s because the No. 4-seeded Russian found himself dealing with something he said happens to him a couple of times each year: a nosebleed.

Medvedev blotted his nose with a towel and then was treated by a trainer while his 7-5, 6-1, 6-3 over Spanish qualifier Pedro Martinez was delayed for more than five minutes late in the second set.

“Can happen to me sometimes. Doesn’t usually happen during the match, so I had to stop (playing). Usually takes like four minutes — three, four minutes. … But it’s nothing,” Medvedev said.

MORE: Another top U.S. tennis player cools on Olympics

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