Bradie Tennell leads Olympic figure skating team; Ashley Wagner left off

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U.S. champion Bradie TennellMirai Nagasu and Karen Chen are going to PyeongChang. Ashley Wagner was left off the Olympic team.

A U.S. Figure Skating committee chose the three-woman Olympic team after the national championships free skate on Friday night.

The committee went with the top three finishers from nationals, though it could have strayed based on this criteria. Wagner was fourth and one of three Olympic alternates.

Tennell, 19, leads the team after winning her first senior national title as part of a breakout season.

The Chicagoland native was nearly flawless with jumps in San Jose, topping the short program and free skate one year after placing ninth at nationals.

“I knew it was an Olympic year, and I knew that somebody has to go, so I just kind of kept it in the back of my mind all season,” Tennell, who missed six months between the last two years due to back injuries, said Friday night. “The first time it entered my mind was when I won my junior title back in 2015, and probably the reason I thought that is that a lot of previous Olympic team members have won junior titles, so I thought, ‘Ooh, this is the first step to making the Olympics.’”

Tennell is the top U.S. woman overall this season, ranking 14th in the world. A U.S. women’s medal in PyeongChang against the top skaters from Russia, Japan, Canada and Italy would be a tall ask.

Nagasu is going back to the Olympics eight years after she finished fourth in Vancouver and 10 years after her national title as a 14-year-old.

Nagasu bawled Friday night, and for good reason.

She was tearfully left off the 2014 Olympic team of three women, despite finishing third at nationals. A committee put fourth-place Wagner on the Sochi team because of the aforementioned criteria.

“I’m aware that I’m the oldest here tonight, but I really feel like the comeback kid,” Nagasu, whose two programs at nationals were highlighted by triple Axels (though with messy landings), said Friday night. “I cannot wait for the decision to come out because I cannot wait to be that 5-year-old girl who began this journey.”

Chen, the youngest team member at 18, edged Wagner for bronze by 2.4 points on Friday night.

The 2017 U.S. champion and fourth-place finisher at 2017 Worlds said she was bedridden by sickness all Thursday.

“I’m just so proud of myself that I was able to forget about all the pain I was in and just keep reminding myself that I trained so hard for this moment and I’m not going to let some stupid sickness win,” Chen said.

Wagner, a three-time U.S. champion and the only American woman to win an individual Olympic or world medal in the last decade.

The 2016 World silver medalist tried to rally from a fifth-place short program with a brand-new free skate to “La La Land” but struggled with jumps and was given lower-than-usual artistic scores overall.

Afterward, Wagner said she was underscored and criticized judges (video here). She said she deserved to be put on the team like she was in 2014.

U.S. Figure Skating president Sam Auxier disagreed and said the 13 committee members’ decision was unanimous.

“We’d be having a different conversation if she had done a clean [triple-triple] combination in the short and hit the level four spin [in the free skate],” said Auxier, who was part of the committee. “She’s a great athlete, and hopefully she will stay in the sport.”

The committee looked at results from the last year in picking the team, and Wagner is coming off her two worst seasons in several years. Chen’s better results from 2017 Nationals and Worlds boosted her case.

“Clearly, Bradie and Mirai with their scores and their performances were easy one and two,” Auxier said. “The discussion between Karen and Ashley was pretty academic. Karen was fourth at worlds last year; Ashley seventh. Then third versus fourth at this U.S. Championships. So it was very straightforward, clear criteria for selecting Karen as the third member of the team.”

Wagner was named to the team for the Four Continents Championships in three weeks.

“As an athlete, I’m allowed to be mad,” was posted on Wagner’s social media after the Olympic team was named. “As a senior competitor with over 10 years of experience, I’m allowed to question things. At the end of the day, I laid out my best and I’m going home proud! Congrats to the lovely ladies of the team, you’ve got me in your cheering squad now!”

The U.S. Championships continue Saturday with the pairs’ and men’s free skates. A full broadcast schedule is here.

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Adam Jones, five-time MLB All-Star, becomes Olympic eligible

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Should the U.S. qualify for baseball’s Olympic return, a five-time MLB All-Star could be eligible for its roster in Tokyo. And he has interest.

Outfielder Adam Jones signed with the Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s domestic league, which, unlike MLB, will take an Olympic break next summer to allow players to take part in the first Olympic baseball tournament in 12 years.

Jones, 34, made no mention of Olympic eligibility in a social media post announcing the signing. His Instagram avatar is a photo of him in a Team USA jersey from the World Baseball Classic.

Jones’ agent later said that Jones does have interest in playing for the U.S. in Tokyo, should an American team qualify in the spring.

“To play over in Japan has always been a desire of Adam’s, and the timing worked out that the Olympics happens to be played in Tokyo the first year of his contract,” Jones’ agent wrote in an email. “It wasn’t one of the factors on his decision BUT more of a [sic] addition to the overall package to decide to go.”

Jones called being part of the U.S.’ 2017 WBC title, “probably the best experience of my life so far, especially with sports,” according to The Associated Press. He was one of five players to be on the U.S. team at each of the last two World Baseball Classics.

The U.S. still faces a difficult task to qualify for the Tokyo Games. It lost to Mexico last month in its first of up to three chances at qualifying tournaments, using a roster of mostly double-A and triple-A caliber players.

Major Leaguers are not expected to be made available for qualifying or for the Tokyo Games.

The next two qualifying tournaments will be in late March (an Americas qualifier in Arizona) and early April (a final, global qualifying event in Chinese Taipei). It remains to be seen how MLB clubs will go about releasing minor leaguers for a tournament that will take place during spring training.

Jones could become the third player with prior MLB All-Star experience to compete at the Olympics from any nation, joining Australian catcher Dave Nilsson and Canadian pitcher Jason Dickson.

Jones made five All-Star teams during an 11-year stint with the Baltimore Orioles from 2008-18 before playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season.

Many players competed at the Olympics before making an MLB All-Star team, including Stephen Strasburg and Jason Giambi.

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Russia boxers to boycott Olympics if sanctions not lifted

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Russian boxers will only take part in the Tokyo Olympics if doping sanctions forcing them to compete as neutral athletes are overturned, the general secretary of the Russian Boxing Federation told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Umar Kremlev said he has spoken with the Olympic boxing team and they “unanimously” rejected the conditions laid out by the World Anti-Doping Agency as punishment for manipulating doping data.

The WADA sanctions, announced on Monday, ban the use of the Russian team name, flag or anthem at a range of major sports competitions over the next four years, including next year’s Olympics.

“They said we won’t go without our flag and anthem,” Kremlev said. “We aren’t going for medals, but for that feeling that I brought the highest honor home for my country.”

Separately, the speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament said Russia could create an alternative to the Olympics.

“This ruling show the clear crisis in international sports institutions. I believe that Russia could host its own games at home,” Valentina Matvienko said in comments reported by the Interfax news agency.

There is a precedent. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Soviet Union refused to compete in the Olympics and hosted its own Spartakiads — named after the ancient rebel slave Spartacus — with a strong socialist slant. However, the Soviet Union began competing at the Olympics in 1952 and Russians generally take great pride in the country’s Olympic achievements since then.

If the sanctions aren’t overturned, Kremlev said Russian boxers would prefer to turn pro rather than compete at the Olympics.

“A world champion (in professional boxing) is better known than an Olympic champion,” Kremlev said, adding the Russian anthem would be played before pro title fights.

Kremlev said boxers are being asked to shoulder the blame for offenses committed in other sports. He said they would still stay at home even if Russia’s athletes in other sports decided to take part.

“If other sports are guilty and people have breached the WADA code, why are we punished?” he said. “We are for honest sport and against doping. We want our sport to be clean … If someone breaks the rules, we push them out.”

Russia is a major power in amateur and Olympic boxing. It hosted both men’s and women’s world championships this year, finishing at the top of the medals table at the women’s event and second in the men’s championships. The International Olympic Committee has taken direct charge of boxing at the Tokyo Olympics after criticizing chronic financial problems and infighting at the International Boxing Association.

Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov talked up Russia’s chances of overturning the WADA sanctions.

“I think that there is every basis to appeal the decision, because our experts have presented their position, and they have the same database as WADA does,” Kolobkov said in comments reported by state news agency TASS. “There is an answer to every question and the whole process is ahead of us.”

The official decision on whether to dispute the sanctions will be made on Dec. 19 by the Russian anti-doping agency’s supervisory board, but senior figures, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, have signaled their preference for taking the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

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