Nathan Chen, Ashley Wagner headline Skate America; preview, TV schedule

Nathan Chen, Ashley Wagner
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Nathan ChenAshley Wagner and Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani headline Skate America, live on NBC, NBCSN and the Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA this weekend.

Chen, Wagner and the Shibutani siblings, all reigning U.S. champions, seek berths in December’s Grand Prix Final, the biggest competition ahead of February’s Olympics.

The competition in Lake Placid, N.Y., is spread across three days.

Skate America broadcast schedule (all times ET)
Friday

Pairs Short — 6:30-7:30 p.m. (Olympic Channel) | SKATE ORDER
Men’s Short — 8-9:30 p.m. (Olympic Channel) | SKATE ORDER

Saturday
Pairs Free — 2-3:30 p.m. (Olympic Channel)
Men’s Free — 4-6 p.m. (NBC)
Short Dance — 7:30-9 p.m. (Olympic Channel) | SKATE ORDER
Women’s Short — 9-11 p.m. (NBCSN) | SKATE ORDER

Sunday
Free Dance — 2-3:30 p.m. (Olympic Channel)
Women’s Free — 4-6 p.m. (NBC)

All broadcasts will stream on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app. The Olympic Channel broadcasts will stream for subscribers on NBCSports.com/live, the NBC Sports app, OlympicChannel.com and the Olympic Channel app.

MORE: Figure skating season broadcast schedule

Men
Chen, the world’s second-ranked skater this season, will qualify for the Grand Prix Final with a finish of fourth or better. That shouldn’t be a problem.

The 18-year-old won his first two competitions this season, including beating Olympic and world champion Yuzuru Hanyu at his Grand Prix opener in Russia last month.

He landed six quadruple jumps between two programs in Russia but has the ability to add one or two more. He’ll face another quad king — China’s Jin Boyang, the world bronze medalist — in Lake Placid.

Both Chen and Jin should qualify for the Grand Prix Final, which takes the top six skaters per discipline from the fall Grand Prix series. The Final will be the single best indicator of Olympic medal favorites of all pre-Olympic competitions.

Chen broke out at last season’s Grand Prix Final, winning the free skate and placing second overall in his debut at the event. As of now, he’s a medal favorite along with Japan’s Shoma Uno, the top-ranked man in the world this season.

Chen’s training partner, Adam Rippon, will join him at the Grand Prix Final for a second straight year with a top-three finish at Skate America. It would mark an incredible comeback for the 28-year-old who was unable to defend his national title last season due to a broken foot.

The Olympic team of three men will be named after the U.S. Championships in January. The selections will be based not only on nationals results, but also on a skater’s body of work over the last two seasons.

Chen has all but wrapped up his first Olympic berth. Rippon can really boost his case with a second Grand Prix Final.

Women
Wagner, who also trains with Chen and Rippon in Southern California, is in must-win mode. Five of the six women’s spots for the Grand Prix Final are spoken for, and it will take a victory for Wagner to pass the clubhouse leader for the last spot.

Wagner has struggled since winning Skate America last season — sixth, seventh and third at her three international events. But this week’s field lacks Olympic medal favorites. It’s wide open.

Surprise world bronze medalist Gabrielle Daleman of Canada was sixth in her first two events this season.

Japanese Satoko Miyahara, the world’s second-best female skater last fall, missed last season’s worlds with a hip injury and then was sixth at her comeback event two weeks ago.

Then there’s Karen Chen, the surprise U.S. champion last season who turned more heads by placing fourth at worlds. She was seventh at her opening Grand Prix last month and is out of the running for the Grand Prix Final.

Another skater to watch is the third American in the field. Bradie Tennell, the top U.S. woman at last season’s junior worlds in seventh place, makes her senior Grand Prix debut.

Tennell actually has the highest score of any U.S. woman this season, 196.70 points at a low-level event in Italy in September. If Tennell can match it this week, she arguably becomes a favorite to make the three-woman Olympic team. She is ineligible for the Grand Prix Final because she didn’t receive two Grand Prix series assignments.

Ice Dance
The Shibutani siblings will make the Grand Prix Final with a finish of fourth or better.

No problem. The Skate America field lacks all of the other Olympic medal contenders from the U.S., Canada and France.

The Shibutanis go into Skate America seeking a repeat title and to reclaim the top spot in the U.S. rankings for the season.

U.S. bronze medalists Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue‘s score of 189.43 at Skate Canada bettered the Shibutanis’ total from Rostelecom Cup by .19 of a point.

Both couples’ scores are more than 10 points shy of the Olympic gold- and silver-medal favorites, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada.

The U.S. Olympic team of three dance couples will be named after nationals. It would be a complete surprise if the team is anything different than the Shibutanis, Hubbell and Donohue and Madison Chock and Evan Bates.

Those three U.S. couples should make up half of the Grand Prix Final field for a third straight year.

Pairs
Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot and Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford are the class of this field.

Savchenko and Massot (a Frenchman attempting to gain German citizenship to compete in the Olympics) will make the Grand Prix Final with a top-two finish. They haven’t been lower than second in any event since the 2016 Worlds.

Duhamel and Radford, the 2015 and 2016 World champions who struggled last season, bounced back to win Skate Canada last month. A podium at Skate America would be enough to reach a seventh straight Grand Prix Final, the longest active streak across all disciplines.

Neither pair has been within 10 points this season of Chinese world champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, who aren’t competing at Skate America but will be the favorites at the Grand Prix Final.

A competition within the competition at Skate America will happen in U.S. pairs. The first- and fourth-place finishers at from last season’s nationals, plus the top U.S. pair from last season’s worlds, are all in this field.

The U.S. can send only one pair to the Olympics. Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim are in the driver’s seat despite missing last season’s nationals due to her life-threatening abdominal condition.

The Knierims are 10 points clear of any other U.S. pair this season.

Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, who won the national title in the Knierims’ absence, struggled to a seventh-place finish at their opening Grand Prix last month.

Then there are Deanna Stellato and Nathan Bartholomay, who make a great story. Bartholomay is on his second partner since splitting with 2014 Olympic teammate Felicia Zhang.

Stellato, 34, is making her first Grand Prix appearance since 2000, when she was a singles skater in her only senior international season before injuries forced retirement.

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MORE: Gracie Gold to miss U.S. Championships, Olympics

Elena Fanchini, medal-winning Alpine skier, dies at 37

Elena Fanchini
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Elena Fanchini, an Italian Alpine skier whose career was cut short by a tumor, has died. She was 37.

Fanchini, the 2005 World downhill silver medalist at age 19, passed away Wednesday at her home in Solato, near Brescia, the Italian Winter Sports Federation announced.

Fanchini died on the same day that fellow Italian Marta Bassino won the super-G at the world championships in Meribel, France; and two days after Federica Brignone — another former teammate — claimed gold in the combined.

Sofia Goggia, who is the favorite for Saturday’s downhill, dedicated her World Cup win in Cortina d’Ampezzo last month to Fanchini.

Fanchini last raced in December 2017. She was cleared to return to train nearly a year later but never made it fully back, and her condition grew worse in recent months.

Fanchini won her world downhill silver medal in Italy in 2005, exactly one month after her World Cup debut, an astonishing breakout.

Ten months later, she won a World Cup downhill in Canada with “Ciao Mamma” scribbled on face tape to guard against 1-degree temperatures. She was 20. Nobody younger than 21 has won a World Cup downhill since. Her second and final World Cup win, also a downhill, came more than nine years later.

In between her two World Cup wins, Fanchini raced at three Olympics with a best finish of 12th in the downhill in 2014. She missed the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics because of her condition.

Fanchini’s younger sisters Nadia and Sabrina were also World Cup racers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

USA Boxing to skip world championships

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USA Boxing will not send boxers to this year’s men’s and women’s world championships, citing “the ongoing failures” of the IBA, the sport’s international governing body, that put boxing’s place on the Olympic program at risk.

The Washington Post first reported the decision.

In a letter to its members, USA Boxing Executive Director Mike McAtee listed many factors that led to the decision, including IBA governance issues, financial irregularities and transparency and that Russian and Belarusian boxers are allowed to compete with their flags.

IBA lifted its ban on Russian and Belarusian boxers in October and said it would allow their flags and anthems to return, too.

The IOC has not shifted from its recommendation to international sports federations last February that Russian and Belarusian athletes be barred, though the IOC and Olympic sports officials have been exploring whether those athletes could return without national symbols.

USA Boxing said that Russian boxers have competed at an IBA event in Morocco this month with their flags and are expected to compete at this year’s world championships under their flags.

“While sport is intended to be politically neutral, many boxers, coaches and other representatives of the Ukrainian boxing community were killed as a result of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, including coach Mykhaylo Korenovsky who was killed when a Russian missile hit an apartment block in January 2023,” according to the USA Boxing letter. “Ukraine’s sports infrastructure, including numerous boxing gyms, has been devastated by Russian aggression.”

McAtee added later that USA Boxing would still not send athletes to worlds even if Russians and Belarusians were competing as neutrals and without their flags.

“USA Boxing’s decision is based on the ‘totality of all of the factors,'” he said in an emailed response. “Third party oversite and fairness in the field of play is the most important factor.”

A message has been sent to the IBA seeking comment on USA Boxing’s decision.

The women’s world championships are in March in India. The men’s world championships are in May in Uzbekistan. They do not count toward 2024 Olympic qualifying.

In December, the IOC said recent IBA decisions could lead to “the cancellation of boxing” for the 2024 Paris Games.

Some of the already reported governance issues led to the IOC stripping IBA — then known as AIBA — of its Olympic recognition in 2019. AIBA had suspended all 36 referees and judges used at the 2016 Rio Olympics pending an investigation into a possible judging scandal, one that found that some medal bouts were fixed by “complicit and compliant” referees and judges.

The IOC ran the Tokyo Olympic boxing competition.

Boxing was not included on the initial program for the 2028 Los Angeles Games announced in December 2021, though it could still be added. The IBA must address concerns “around its governance, its financial transparency and sustainability and the integrity of its refereeing and judging processes,” IOC President Thomas Bach said then.

This past June, the IOC said IBA would not run qualifying competitions for the 2024 Paris Games.

In September, the IOC said it was “extremely concerned” about the Olympic future of boxing after an IBA extraordinary congress overwhelmingly backed Russian Umar Kremlev to remain as its president rather than hold an election.

Kremlev was re-elected in May after an opponent, Boris van der Vorst of the Netherlands, was barred from running against him. The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in June that van der Vorst should have been eligible to run against Kremlev, but the IBA group still decided not to hold a new election.

Last May, Rashida Ellis became the first U.S. woman to win a world boxing title at an Olympic weight since Claressa Shields in 2016, taking the 60kg lightweight crown in Istanbul. In Tokyo, Ellis lost 3-0 in her opening bout in her Olympic debut.

At the last men’s worlds in 2021, Robby Gonzales and Jahmal Harvey became the first U.S. men to win an Olympic or world title since 2007, ending the longest American men’s drought since World War II.

The Associated Press and NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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