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Grand Prix of France figure skating preview, TV schedule

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The fields for December’s Grand Prix Final are starting to take shape, and the news lies with the skaters who won’t be there.

Particularly on the men’s side. It’s likely that the three men who combined to win the last seven world championships (and 2014 Olympic gold) won’t be in Nagoya at the final.

Yuzuru Hanyu and Patrick Chan are definitely out. Javier Fernandez, in this week’s France Grand Prix field (facing Japanese star Shoma Uno), is virtually eliminated, too.

In an Olympic season, this is big. The Grand Prix Final is the second-most-important annual event behind worlds. It’s also the most exclusive, taking the top six skaters per discipline from the six-event fall Grand Prix series.

With the Olympics in three months, the Grand Prix Final will be the best single indicator of PyeongChang medal favorites.

This week’s France Grand Prix and next week’s Skate America are the last two qualifying events for the Grand Prix Final.

While the top U.S. stars go next week, the competition in Grenoble will sort out plenty before Skate America.

Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA will air live coverage, which will also stream for subscribers on NBCSports.com/live, the NBC Sports app, OlympicChannel.com and the Olympic Channel app.

Internationaux de France broadcast schedule
Friday

Women’s Short — 9-10:30 a.m. | SKATE ORDER | STREAM LINK
Short Dance — 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. | SKATE ORDER | STREAM LINK
Pairs Short — 12:30-2 p.m. | SKATE ORDER | STREAM LINK
Men’s Short — 2-4 p.m. | SKATE ORDER | STREAM LINK

Saturday
Women’s Free — 7:30-9:30 a.m. | SKATE ORDER | STREAM LINK
Free Dance — 9:30-11 a.m. | SKATE ORDER | STREAM LINK
Pairs Free — 1-2:30 p.m. | SKATE ORDER | STREAM LINK
Men’s Free — 3-5 p.m. | SKATE ORDER | STREAM LINK

MORE: Figure skating season broadcast schedule

Men
The rest of this fall is an opportunity for the new generation of male skaters. It starts this weekend with Shoma Uno, the diminutive, soft-spoken, baby-faced 19-year-old whose demeanor belies his athleticism.

Uno, the world’s second-best skater last season, has undoubtedly been No. 1 this fall. He’s the only man to break 300 points this season, which he did in both of his competitions in September (five quadruple jumps in a free skate) and October (four quads in a free).

A top-three finish Saturday puts Uno in a third straight Grand Prix Final.

His top challenger is two-time world champ Javier Fernandez, who is virtually assured of missing the Grand Prix Final for just the second time in six seasons. The Spaniard was shockingly sixth at his Grand Prix debut in China two weeks ago, reportedly slowed by a stomach bug. It was his worst Grand Prix finish in seven years.

There is a chance that two men from this field aside from Uno make their first Grand Prix Final.

If American Max Aaron, Israel’s Alexei Bychenko or Russian Alexander Samarin is runner-up to Uno or Fernandez this week, he’s likely into the six-skater final pending how Skate America shakes out.

Also watch Vincent Zhou, the U.S. silver medalist and world junior champion. Zhou came into this season as a favorite to grab one of the three U.S. Olympic men’s spots. He fell three times in his Grand Prix debut two weeks ago and is fighting with Aaron, Jason Brown and Adam Rippon for spots behind Nathan Chen going toward nationals.

Women
Perhaps the two biggest threats to Olympic favorite Yevgenia Medvedeva square off in Grenoble — Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond (world silver medalist) and Russian Alina Zagitova (world junior champion).

Each skater won her first Grand Prix start last month. A top-three finish for either this week is enough for a Grand Prix Final spot.

Osmond, 21, followed her surprise world silver medal from last season with personal-best short program and free skate scores at her first two events this fall.

Zagitova, 15, has scores this season bettered only by training partner Medvedeva.

American Polina Edmunds is a long shot for the podium here, but she could really use a decent performance.

Edmunds, the youngest U.S. Olympian across all sports in Sochi, competed for the first time in 20 months at a small event in October. She was 13th with three falls and eight under-rotated jumps. This is likely her last event before nationals in January, where she is looking like a big underdog to make the three-woman Olympic team.

Pairs
With every competition, China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong seem to be cementing Olympic favorite status. With the Chinese now qualified for the Grand Prix Final, this week is an opportunity for the top Russian pair to answer.

Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov won the two biggest events before worlds last season — the Grand Prix Final and Europeans. At worlds, Tarasova sliced her leg on Morozov’s skate in a practice accident hours before the short program. Ten stitches later, they went on win their first world medal — a bronze.

Tarasova and Morozov opened this season by winning a Grand Prix in Russia with the highest score in the world for the season. Sui and Han then topped it by 6.82 points two weeks ago and went even higher last week in their two events before December’s Grand Prix Final.

A top three puts Tarasova and Morozov back in the Grand Prix Final. They’re strong favorites this week, with the biggest challenge coming from France’s Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres.

The lone American pair in the field — U.S. silver medalists Marissa Castelli and Mervin Tran — are not eligible for the Olympics due to Tran not being a U.S. citizen.

Ice Dance
France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron injected suspense into the Olympic ice dance picture two weeks ago by breaking the world record total score.

That record had been held by Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who bettered the mark four times in an 11-month stretch from November 2016 to last month.

Virtue and Moir, Olympic gold medalists in 2010 and silver medalists in 2014, are undefeated in their comeback after taking the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons off. That included three wins over Papadakis and Cizeron, the 2015 and 2016 World champs, last season.

But last week, Virtue and Moir were unable to challenge Papadakis and Cizeron’s world record. If the French can score 199 or 200 points again this week, they arguably enter the Grand Prix Final as favorites.

There’s more drama ahead this week. Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje are likely battling for second place and a guaranteed Grand Prix Final spot.

Weaver and Poje outscored Chock and Bates by 5.51 points at each couple’s first Grand Prix last month, though they were not at the same events.

A third-place finish by either couple would put them in a tiebreaker scenario with Russians Yekaterina Bobrova and Dmitry Soloviyev for the last Grand Prix Final spot.

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Ginny Fuchs hopes to emerge from OCD, tearful Olympic experience

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None of the boxers at this week’s U.S. Olympic Trials competed at a prior Olympics, but flyweight Ginny Fuchs remembers the specifics of her one Olympic experience in Rio.

Fuchs, who won the 2016 Olympic trials but failed to clinch a spot at the Games in international qualifiers, was nonetheless named team captain and brought to Rio as a sparring partner.

She had mixed feelings. Watching from the crowd as Claressa Shields repeated as Olympic champion on the final day of the Games was motivating. Fuchs had toyed with turning professional but, after talking to Shields, decided to forge another four years as an amateur for another chance to become an Olympian.

The Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony, two weeks before that Shields final, was too much for Fuchs to bear. She could not stay in the Athletes’ Village nor march with the U.S. delegation at the Maracana.

“I remember watching the Opening Ceremony at the place I was at with everybody,” she said. “I couldn’t watch. It was hard for me to watch. I went back to my room, cried and went to bed.”

Fuchs is favored to win the 51kg/112-pound division this week at Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino in Lake Charles, La., with finals streaming live on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app on Sunday (4-7 p.m. ET). It’s one of five women’s Olympic weight classes, up from three in 2012 and 2016, the first two editions of the Games for female boxers.

No boxer can clinch an Olympic spot this week, but failing to make a final would all but end Tokyo hopes.

Fuchs’ toughest opponent in this Olympic cycle — which included an undefeated 2017 and a 2018 World bronze medal among more than 130 fights — may be herself. Fuchs has been open about struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

It started in fifth grade.

“I can remember the first time I was on the school bus, and I was looking at the ground and looking at everybody’s backpacks on the floor,” said Fuchs, a 31-year-old from the Houston area. “And an instant thought came in mind, like, Oh my god. Everybody’s backpack is getting contaminated by this dirty floor on the bus.”

She cited a more recent example: spending up to 40 minutes washing her hands searching for that “perfect clean feeling.” Fuchs found boxing via a boyfriend after she was kicked off the LSU cross-country running team as a freshman walk-on for damaging school property in a prank.

She said the disorder hit her hardest this year. In January, she was driving to a Walmart three times a day to buy cleaning supplies, according to The New York Times.

She underwent intensive therapy and skipped October’s world championships, where she could have established herself as a clear Olympic gold-medal favorite.

“I still am going to probably do therapy for the rest of my life,” Fuchs said. “Maybe not as intense as I’m doing it right now, but it’s almost like training for boxing.

“You’ve got to keep training to keep winning in boxing. So I’ve got to keep training my OCD thoughts and how to handle and manage it. … Boxing is giving me hope almost. Like OK, outside the ring and in my room and the bathroom, I feel like [OCD] controls me and feel trapped. But I have this environment in this space in the gym, in the boxing ring, where I can be myself. And not let it attack me in a way where I can still enjoy life and not be trapped.”

Should Fuchs make the final of her division in Lake Charles, she will advance to a January camp and tournament, after which the U.S. roster for Olympic qualifying will be named.

If selected, Fuchs would head to a North and South American Olympic qualifying event in early spring in Buenos Aires to clinch the spot she could not secure four years ago. If necessary, she could get a second chance at a global qualifier in May in Paris.

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Yulia Efimova has lawyer ready if Russia ban affects her

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Yulia Efimova, the Russian swimmer who earned two Rio Olympic silver medals after initially being excluded from the Games for serving a prior doping ban, is bracing for another legal fight after the latest sanctions against her nation.

On Monday, Russia was banned from the 2020 and 2022 Olympics and the next four years of world championships in Olympic sports due to more recent anti-doping violations. However, its athletes can still compete as neutrals, if meeting specific anti-doping criteria, similar to how they did at the PyeongChang Winter Games.

Efimova was initially barred from the Rio Olympics under an IOC mandate that any Russian who previously served a doping ban would be ineligible due to the country’s anti-doping violations at that time.

Efimova appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which ruled that IOC stipulation unenforceable. She went on to earn 100m and 200m breaststroke silver medals and develop a rivalry with American Lilly King, who said Efimova should not have been eligible.

It’s unclear from Monday’s ruling whether Efimova will be allowed to compete as a neutral, should Russia accept the sanctions or any appeal to CAS by the nation be denied.

“I will behave in a similar way,” to 2016, Efimova said, according to RT.com. “I have already hired a lawyer. There is a rule that a person can’t be punished twice for the same offense. If you violate a driving code or instigated a brawl you will not be punished twice for that. I hope it will work, but I cannot be sure of [a positive outcome].

“Right after my race at the Rio Games, I said that this doping controversy was not over, it was just the beginning, and we would have problems in the future. It was quite clear. And with every new year the situation is only getting worse and worse.”

Efimova, 27 and the two-time reigning world 200m breast champion, was banned 16 months between 2013 and 2015 after testing positive for a steroid. A FINA panel ruled that Efimova was not intentionally trying to cheat but was negligent in failing to read the label of a GNC store supplement.

“Yes, long ago I made a doping violation,” Efimova said this week, according to RT. “But there are a great number of U.S. and European athletes who have a similar situation regarding doping, and they are competing without any restrictions. If you want to introduce those regulations, they must be equally applied to all athletes, not only Russian competitors.”

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