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Karen Chen, Ashley Wagner duel at Skate Canada; preview

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The top two U.S. female figure skaters go head-to-head at Skate Canada, live on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA on Friday and Saturday.

U.S. champion Karen Chen and 2016 World silver medalist Ashley Wagner open their Olympic seasons in earnest at the second of six Grand Prix events leading up to the Grand Prix Final in December.

Three-time world champion Patrick Chan, U.S. Olympian Jason Brown and world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir also headline the fields in Regina, Saskatchewan.

The Skate Canada broadcast schedule on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA (all times Eastern):

Friday — STREAM LINK
Women’s Short — 3 p.m.
Short Dance — 5 p.m.
Men’s Short — 8 p.m.
Pairs Short — 10 p.m.

Saturday — STREAM LINK
Women’s Free — 1 p.m.
Free Dance — 3 p.m.
Men’s Free — 7 p.m.
Pairs Free — 9 p.m.

NBCSN will air a highlights show Sunday from 11:30 p.m.-1 a.m. ET.

All coverage will stream on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app. Olympic Channel coverage will also stream on Olympicchannel.com and the Olympic Channel app.

Women
The field here is deep, but let’s start with the Americans.

Karen Chen (no relation to U.S. men’s champion Nathan Chen) still needs to prove the kind of consistency associated with the three-time U.S. champion Ashley Wagner.

While the 18-year-old Chen won her first national title last season (in a huge upset) and finished a strong fourth at worlds, she has never placed better than fifth in four Grand Prix starts. And she was third at a smaller international event in Salt Lake City last month, outscored by Mirai Nagasu, who was fourth at nationals.

Chen must get through much more experienced skaters to reach the podium on Saturday.

Wagner, 26, made her senior international debut at Skate Canada a full decade ago and won this event in 2015. But she has something to prove as well. Wagner’s last season was her least successful in six years. She already threw out her Olympic season free skate last month.

Instead, the favorites have to be Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond, Japanese Marin Honda and Russian Anna Pogorilaya.

Osmond won Skate Canada in her Grand Prix debut in 2012 at age 16. She struggled with injuries the next three seasons, making zero top-level podiums, but re-emerged last season to take silver at worlds. If Osmond is truly the top threat to Olympic super favorite Yevgenia Medvedeva, she’ll notch her biggest international win in five years on Saturday.

Honda, the 2016 World junior champion with 244,000 Instagram followers, won her senior international debut last month against a field that included three of the top four from the U.S. Championships. Japan has only two Olympic spots, so she must be on her game early this season to impress selectors.

Pogorilaya imploded at worlds — 13th place — but was arguably the world’s second-best skater last fall. The 19-year-old won both of her Grand Prix starts and was third at the Grand Prix Final. Russia is so deep that Pogorilaya is on the bubble for one of its three Olympic team spots, along with another Skate Canada entrant — Maria Sotskova.

Men
Shoma Uno 
is the clear favorite here. The world silver medalist posted the fourth-highest score of all time at a lower-level event to open the season last month. Though the diminutive 19-year-old descended to earth at the free-skate only Japan Open, he remains the only man in this field with a clear path to an Olympic medal.

Canadian Patrick Chan is far more accomplished, with three world titles and an Olympic silver medal already to his name. But he lacks the technical firepower to win a seventh Skate Canada crown if Uno is clean with all of his quadruple jumps.

Jason Brown is the class of the rest of this field. Will he land a fully rotated quadruple jump in competition for the first time? It would be a big step en route to a possible second Olympic berth come January, when he’ll be up against consistent quad men at nationals.

Pairs
Five of the top eight pairs from the last Grand Prix season are in this field, led by two-time world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada and 2017 World silver medalists Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot of Germany.

Duhamel and Radford struggled last winter, with a seventh-place finish at worlds, where they were looking to become the first pair to three-peat in nearly 40 years. Problems persisted with three falls in their free skate at a low-level event last month.

Savchenko and Massot aren’t yet Olympic eligible — the French-born Massot is finishing German citizenship tests. They are the favorites this week given their success last season before and after the Ukraine-born Savchenko tore an ankle ligament — two Grand Prix wins, then silver medals at Europeans and worlds.

The other podium contenders are Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres, France’s best pair in more than a decade, and Chinese Peng Cheng and Jin Yang.

U.S. champions Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier could really use two strong skates after finishing 20th at worlds and fourth against a weak field in Salt Lake City a month ago. They’re currently an underdog for the U.S.’ one Olympic spot in pairs.

Ice Dance
Tessa Virtue 
and Scott Moir went undefeated in their return last season after two years off. They’ve also won their last six starts at Skate Canada dating to 2007.

Nobody in this field should challenge the 2010 Olympic champions who already own the highest score in the world this season set last month.

The silver medal could go to Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue. They were on the brink of breaking out a season ago, but Hubbell fell at nationals and Donohue crashed at worlds. Shocking in top-level ice dance.

Canadian’s Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje are a great measuring stick for the Americans. They’ve been in the top five at worlds seven straight times but went winless last season in a step backward.

Bettering Weaver and Poje in Canada would be an important step to show that Hubbell and Donohue belong in Olympic medal talk.

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MORE: Gracie Gold in treatment for eating disorder, depression

WATCH LIVE: U.S. Figure Skating Championships rhythm dance, women’s free skate

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Can Bradie Tennell hold off 14-year-old Alysa Liu? The U.S. Figure Skating Championships crowns its female medalists on Friday, live on NBC Sports.

Action starts with the rhythm dance at 4:30 p.m. ET for NBC Sports Gold subscribers, with NBCSN broadcast coverage joining in at 5. The women start at 7:25 on Gold, with NBC TV coverage starting at 8.

LIVE STREAM: Rhythm dance — Gold | NBCSN | Skate Order
LIVE STREAM: Women’s free skate — Gold | NBC | Skate Order

Tennell topped Thursday’s short program with a clean slate of jumps, plus the highest artistic score.

She bettered Liu in the short program last year, too, but fell in the free skate to take silver. Liu, meanwhile, landed two triple Axels to win by 3.92 points and become the youngest U.S. champion in history.

Another skater to watch is Gracie Gold, the two-time U.S. champion competing at nationals for the first time in three years. Gold, lauded for her return from an eating disorder, depression and anxiety, struggled with jumps in the short and is in 13th place of 18 skaters.

In the rhythm dance, past U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue and Madison Chock and Evan Bates are expected to begin a duel that should come down to Saturday’s free dance.

Key Skate Times
5:32 p.m. — Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue
5:38 — Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker
5:44 — Madison Chock/Evan Bates
8:07 — Gracie Gold
10:03 — Karen Chen
10:11 — Amber Glenn
10:27 — Bradie Tennell
10:35 — Mariah Bell
10:43 — Alysa Liu

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NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Full Results

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

Iran’s only female Olympic medalist, who defected, eyes Tokyo Games as German or refugee

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LÜNEN, Germany (AP) — Iran’s only female Olympic medalist said Friday she wants to compete for Germany after defecting from her native country.

Kimia Alizadeh is trying to rebuild her life and career after she announced this month she had left Iran, citing sexism on the part of officials there.

“Even if I do not make it to the Olympics, it does not matter because I have made up my mind,” Alizadeh said at a meeting with journalists at a taekwondo club.

“I am sure that I will be judged by many, but I am just 21 years old and can attend world tournaments and future Olympics. However, I will spare no effort to get the best result at this time as well.”

She added she doesn’t expect ever to compete in Iran again.

Alizadeh was just 18 when she won bronze in taekwondo at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, catapulting her to instant fame at home. Despite Iran’s long history of victories in men’s wrestling and weightlifting, no Iranian woman had ever won a medal before.

However, Alizadeh was frustrated with life in Iran despite her Olympic success. In an Instagram post this month announcing she had left Iran, she accused Iranian officials of sexism and criticized wearing the mandatory hijab headscarf.

Alizadeh hasn’t given up hope of being able to compete at this year’s Olympics in Tokyo. However, getting there would require highly unusual exemptions from the usual rules on nationality switches and qualification, regardless of whether she tries to represent Germany or the International Olympic Committee’s refugee team.

Alizadeh spent time in the Netherlands before heading to Germany this week to meet with taekwondo officials there. The German Taekwondo Union has spoken up in favor of Alizadeh staying in the country in what it calls a first step toward her gaining nationality and becoming eligible to compete for Germany.

“If the German government assists me and I can go through this process as fast as possible, I might be able to make it to the Olympics, too,” she said.

In recent years, many Iranian athletes have left their country, citing government pressure. In September, the former world judo champion Saeed Mollaei moved to Germany after walking off the Iranian team at the world championships in Japan. He said Iranian officials had tried to force him to withdraw so as not to compete against an Israeli opponent.

Alireza Faghani, an Iranian international soccer referee, also left Iran for Australia last year.

Alizadeh said she just wants “a peaceful life,” and she’s not looking back.

“I have a great feeling to have made a decision for my life that would definitely change my future,” she said. “I think it is not even clear enough now and. in the years to come, I will understand what a good decision I made.”

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