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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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When Michael Phelps raced Libby Trickett at Duel in the Pool

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At the peak of his career, Michael Phelps was upstaged in a race by a swimmer who went four seconds slower.

Australian Libby Trickett did more than hold her own against Phelps to lead off the opening event of the 2007 Duel in the Pool, a mixed-gender 4x100m freestyle relay.

Trickett, then known as Libby Lenton shortly before she got married, became the first woman to break 53 seconds, while Phelps went 48.72 in a head-to-head at the Sydney 2000 Olympic swimming venue.

“I was trash-talking … asking what he has got and telling him if he is going to bring it tonight. I think deep down he was really scared of me,” Trickett said, joking, according to The Associated Press. “Before the race he said good luck. He is a good competitor to race against, and I will remember that for the rest of my life — that I raced against Michael Phelps.”

Australia went on to win the relay by 2.49 seconds, in large part because Trickett swam .31 faster than the women’s 100m free world record. Normally, relay leadoff swims are eligible to break individual world records.

But FINA later ruled that Trickett’s time was not record eligible because the mixed 4x100m free was not an approved event. (Mixed-gender relays debuted at the world championships in 2015 and will debut at the Olympics in Tokyo next year.)

“I am a little disappointed because I know in my heart what time I swam and that time is faster than the existing world record,” Trickett said in 2007, according to Swimming Australia. “However, having said that, the disappointment can take nothing away from the fact I now know I am capable of swimming under 53 seconds and I will continue to strive to improve every aspect of my swimming.”

Trickett broke the world record officially at the 2008 Australian Olympic Trials, clocking 52.88 to take .42 off German Britta Steffen‘s mark. The world record has since been lowered all the way to 51.71 by Swede Sarah Sjöström at the 2017 World Championships.

Phelps’ time was impressive, his second-fastest 100m free at the point in his career. He raced tired, two days after that year’s world championships finished in Melbourne. Phelps earned seven golds at those worlds, and he has said 2007 was his peak, rather than 2008.

He raced strategically against Trickett, not allowing her to draft off him in the adjacent lane.

“I remember going down the first lap, and she was kind of right at my shins,” Phelps said with a laugh, according to the Los Angeles Times. “I was like, ‘Oh, this is not good.’ I knew she would jump up on the lane line and kind of drag, the smart way to do it. I remember I was going right into the 50 [meter] wall, and I turned and went completely on the other side of the lane.”

Trickett won five golds at the 2007 Worlds and another four medals at the 2008 Olympics, though Steffen edged her for 100m free gold by .04.

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Who is Germany’s greatest Olympian?

Birgit Fischer-Schmidt
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The combined all-time German Olympic medal total (including East Germany and West Germany) trails only the United States and Russia/Unified Team/Soviet Union. Norway owns the most Winter Olympic medals of any single National Olympic Committee, but the Germany/East Germany/West Germany sum is actually greater. A look at five of Germany’s greatest Olympians …

Kathrin Boron
Rowing
Four Olympic Gold Medals

Alternated gold medals between double sculls and quadruple sculls from 1992 through 2004, the last one as a mom, tacking on a bronze in 2008. Boron also earned eight world titles. In 19 total Olympic and world championships starts, she collected 12 golds, five silvers, a bronze and a fourth. An ankle injury kept her out of the 1988 Olympics at age 18, or else she could have been the first woman to take gold at five Olympics.

Birgit Fischer-Schmidt
Canoe-Kayak
Eight Olympic Gold Medals

Considered by some the greatest Olympian in history. Fischer-Schmidt won 12 Olympic medals (in 13 career Olympic events) and 37 world championships medals from 1979-2005, scattered among four retirements, two childbirths and the 1984 East German boycott. Fischer-Schmidt retired after earning her last two world championships bronze medals in 2005 at age 43. Had Fischer-Schmidt extended to one more Olympics in 2008, she could have been on the same team as niece Fanny Fischer, who earned a gold of her own in Beijing.

Georg Hackl
Luge
Three Olympic Gold Medals

The only luger with three individual Olympic titles. Hackl was called the “Flying White Sausage” for his build and Bavarian roots, a nickname he opposed. His speed on the sled was not up for debate. Hackl finished second in singles and fourth in doubles in his Olympic debut in 1988. Then he won singles golds in 1992, 1994 and 1998 before bowing out in 2006. He then became a coach for the German team and its next luge great — 2010 and 2014 Olympic champion Felix Loch.

Claudia Pechstein
Speed Skating
Nine Olympic Medals

The only woman to compete in seven Winter Olympics. Pechstein owns Olympic titles in the 3000m, 5000m and team pursuit, the last medal of any color coming in 2006. At 48, she continues to race on the top international level, placing eighth, ninth and 11th at the world single distances championships in February, 28 years after her Olympic debut in Albertville, France. Pechstein served a two-year doping ban from 2009-11 over irregularities in her biological passport. She denied cheating and fought the ban in court for several years after its conclusion.

Isabell Werth
Equestrian
10 Olympic Medals

The most decorated Olympic equestrian with 10 medals and six golds. Werth, nicknamed the “Dressage Queen,” earned her first medals at the 1992 Barcelona Games and now, at 50, currently holds the Nos. 1 and 2 world rankings with two different horses. In 10 career Olympic events, she has never finished worse than second place. No other female Olympian can make that claim.

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