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Yevgeny Plushenko makes PyeongChang predictions, talks figure skating evolution

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Yevgeny Plushenko, understandably, is quite pleased with what men’s figure skating looks like these days.

The Russian great, who helped usher in the quadruple jump era, watched at the season-opening Grand Prix event in Moscow as the last four men to skate each attempted at least three quads in their long programs.

“I’m so happy,” Plushenko told NBC Olympics’ Rachel Lutz in a sitdown interview Monday. “Because you remember 2010, nobody landed quads [other than me]. Not one. Nobody. I landed only myself, I landed short program and long program, and I lost [to American Evan Lysacek at the Vancouver Olympics]. You know? I would like to say for these such great athletes – men’s skaters – they move figure skating way forward. Right now, all quadruples. Nathan Chen, first skater ever [to do] five quadruples [in one program]. That’s awesome. That’s great, because figure skating, yes it’s theater, this is ballet, musical, yea? But of course it’s sport. That’s extreme, the sport is quadruples. So I’m grateful they move forward, way forward.”

Plushenko made a rare trip to the U.S. to perform in an ice show at Chelsea Piers in New York City, his first on-ice appearance in the States in 11 years.

Not everyone is thrilled with the quad arms race in men’s skating. Notably, three-time world champion Patrick Chan. But Plushenko has always commanded attention.

The Russian is one of two skaters in any discipline to earn four Olympic medals. He announced his retirement on March 31 at age 34.

Plushenko, whose last competition was the Sochi 2014 team event, now coaches Sochi women’s singles gold medalist Adelina Sotnikova, who will not defend her title in PyeongChang.

As for active skaters, Plushenko tapped Japanese Yuzuru Hanyu for gold.

That would mean Hanyu would accomplish the feat that Plushenko coveted in 2010 — becoming the first repeat Olympic men’s champion since Dick Button in 1952.

“[Hanyu] don’t need five quads, six quads,” Plushenko said, referencing the number of four-revolution jumps the likes of teenagers Chen and Shoma Uno are planning in free skates. “He need three quadruples. Maybe two [Salchows] and one toe loop. And that’s it.”

Hanyu has the total package that would allow him to win with fewer quads. If he skates clean.

Plushenko also liked Chen, Uno and two-time world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain as Olympic podium contenders.

“[Chen has] great, great, great, great technique,” Plushenko said. “So four, four skaters can be on the podium.”

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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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