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Grand Prix figure skating: Five ice dance couples to watch

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Five ice dance couples to watch this fall as the Grand Prix season starts this week …

Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir
Canada
2017 World champions, 2010 Olympic champions
Grand Prix Starts: Canada, Japan

Hoping this season to become the second couple to win multiple Olympic titles. Virtue and Moir took two seasons off after taking silver behind Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White in Sochi (Davis and White won’t defend their Olympic title). They returned last year for one more Olympic run and went undefeated en route to a third world title.

Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron
France
Two-time world champions
Grand Prix Starts: China, France

Went from 13th at the 2014 Worlds to winning in 2015, becoming the youngest world champs in the event in 40 years. Repeated in 2016. Went head-to-head with Virtue and Moir three times last season and were beaten every time. Train with Virtue and Moir in Montreal.

Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani
U.S.
Two-time world medalists
Grand Prix Starts: Russia, U.S.

The siblings were the top U.S. couple the last two seasons — world silver in 2016 and bronze in 2017 — after placing ninth at their first Olympics in Sochi. But they have also been challenged — and outscored at times — by two domestic rivals detailed below. And they have never beaten Virtue and Moir. The Shibutanis don’t have to face any of the other four couples listed here in their two Grand Prix assignments.

Grand Prix Capsules: Men | Women | Pairs | Ice Dance | TV Schedule

Madison Chock/Evan Bates
U.S.
Two-time world medalists
Grand Prix Starts: China, France

Succeeded Davis and White as the top U.S. couple in 2015, grabbing world silver behind the French. But dropped to second behind the Shibutanis (former training partners) at the last two nationals and were seventh at last season’s worlds after Bates’ big mistake on twizzles in the free dance.

Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue
U.S.
Top U.S. couple in 2017 Worlds short dance
Grand Prix Starts: Canada, Japan

Generated buzz at worlds by placing third in the short dance behind the favored Canadians and French. They were in line to beat Chock and Bates for the first time in five years and the Shibutanis for the first time ever. But Donohue fell in the free dance (after Hubbell fell at nationals), and they plummeted to ninth. The U.S. has three Olympic ice dance spots available, and the couples listed above are heavy favorites to be the trio named after nationals in January.

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MORE: Figure skating season broadcast schedule

2018 Rugby World Cup Sevens TV, streaming schedule

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The Rugby World Cup Sevens, held in the U.S. for the first time, airs live on NBC, NBCSN and Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from San Francisco’s AT&T Park.

NBC Sports’ TV coverage totals more than 30 live hours. NBC Sports Gold will also stream live, commercial-free coverage of every match with its “Rugby Pass.”

NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app will stream all NBC Sports and Olympic Channel TV coverage.

The Rugby World Cup Sevens is the biggest standalone competition outside of the Olympics for an event that debuted at the Rio Games. Traditional 15-a-side rugby was played at the Olympics in 1900, 1908, 1920 and 1924.

Like the Olympics, the World Cup takes place every four years, now in the middle of every Olympic cycle, with men’s and women’s competitions at the same site.

New Zealand is the defending World Cup champion for men and women, though Fiji took the men’s Olympic title and Australia the women’s gold in Rio.

The U.S. finished fifth (women) and sixth (men) in this season’s World Series standings, though the U.S. men won the only World Series leg played in the U.S. in Las Vegas in March.

The U.S. men are led by Perry Baker, the 2017 World Player of the Year, and Carlin Isles, the 2018 World Series leader in tries. The U.S. women feature Naya Tapper and Rio Olympian Alev Kelter, two of the top scorers from the World Series.

The NBC Sports broadcast team includes U.S. Olympian and Super Bowl champion Nate Ebner as a studio analyst. Leigh Diffey and Bill Seward are on play-by-play, and Ahmed Fareed hosts on-site studio coverage.

Former USA Sevens captain Brian Hightower, U.S. Rugby Hall of Fame member Dan Lyle, former Premiership Rugby and English international prop Alex Corbisiero and World Rugby Hall of Famer Phaidra Knight will provide game and studio commentary.

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Day Time (ET) Network Coverage Highlights
Friday 1 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Men’s Qualifiers
4-7 p.m. Olympic Channel Men’s Qualifiers
7 p.m.-1 a.m. NBCSN Women’s Quarters/Men’s Round of 16
Saturday 12:25-3 p.m. Olympic Channel Women’s Semifinal 1
3-5 p.m. NBC Women’s Semifinal 2
5-6 p.m. Olympic Channel Men’s Challenge Quarters
6:30-11:30 p.m. NBCSN Men’s Quarters/Women’s Finals
Sunday 11:55 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Olympic Channel Men’s Bowl/Challenge Semifinals
2:30-5 p.m. NBC Men’s Semifinals
5-7 p.m. Olympic Channel Men’s Bowl Finals
7-10 p.m. NBCSN Men’s Finals

Denis Ten, Olympic medalist figure skater, dies

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Denis Ten, the 2014 Olympic figure skating bronze medalist from Kazakhstan, died after he reportedly was stabbed in Almaty on Thursday.

The International Skating Union and the Kazah Olympic Committee confirmed Ten’s death.

Ten, 25, competed in three Olympics and earned world championships silver and bronze medals in 2013 and 2015.

At 16, Ten was the youngest men’s competitor at Vancouver 2010 and finished 11th in his Olympic debut; he was also only the second singles skater Kazakhstan had ever sent to the Olympics.

Ten made unexpected history in 2013, becoming the first skater from Kazakhstan to win a world championships medal. After experiencing health setbacks at the start of his 2014 Olympic season, he was the biggest question mark among the top men in Sochi, but he surprised by becoming the first skater from Kazakhstan to earn an Olympic medal.

Ten struggled through health issues leading into his last Olympics in PyeongChang, where he placed 27th. Those Winter Games were nonetheless special to Ten, who was of South Korean descent; his great-grandfather was a famous general who fought for Korean independence, and there is a statue and memorial dedicated to him in Wonju, a town 35 miles southwest of PyeongChang.

Ten also played a significant role as an ambassador for his hometown Almaty’s bid for the 2022 Winter Games. Beijing got the Games over Almaty in an IOC members vote in 2015.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.