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Hubbell and Donohue upset Shibutanis for 2018 national ice dance title, both make Olympic team

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Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, the newly-crowned national ice dance champions for 2018, were named to their first Olympic team, U.S. Figure Skating announced Sunday evening.

Joining them are this year’s silver and bronze national medalists, Maia and Alex Shibutani and Madison Chock and Evan Bates. The Shibutanis competed in Sochi, finishing ninth, and Chock and Bates placed eighth in Sochi. Bates also competed in Vancouver with a different partner.

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue made up a 3.23-point deficit from the short dance to overcome two-time national champions Maia and Alex Shibutani for the gold at the U.S. National Figure Skating Championships in San Jose, California on Sunday evening.

Hubbell and Donohue captured four national bronze medals before their first win in 2018, where their bluesy Beth Hart program scored 118.02 points for an overall score of 197.12. They’ve never competed at the Olympics, but will now be seen as the U.S.’ number one team heading into PyeongChang.

“It really puts us in line with what we intend to be, podium-wise, for PyeongChang,” Donohue said on the NBC broadcast. As he predicted after Thursday’s short dance: “This is our year to upset.”

In ice dance especially, an Olympic-year national title is seen as a reputation boost to enter the Olympics as their country’s national champion.

As reigning Olympic ice dance champion Meryl Davis (with partner Charlie White) said on Friday, “In particular in ice dance, you really want to be team number one out of your country. To go into the Olympic Games as the number one team from the United States is really a big statement. [The teams at nationals are] not just looking ahead to the Olympics, they really want to perform their best here so they can go into the Olympics as team number one.”

The “Shib Sibs,” as they’re affectionately known by fans and on their YouTube channel, were vulnerable after Maia got caught up and stumbled briefly on a step sequence. The Shibutanis’ “Paradise” by Coldplay free dance earned 114.60 points for a silver medal-winning overall score of 196.93 points. The Shibutanis most recently earned the bronze medal ahead of Hubbell and Donohue at the Grand Prix Final. They competed at the Sochi Olympics four years ago, placing ninth.

Rounding out the podium for bronze were Chock and Bates, whose “Imagine” by John Lennon cover free dance earned 118.99 points, and 196.60 points overall.

A quick study of the numbers: (full results here)

  • Chock and Bates actually won the free dance by 0.97 points
  • Gold and silver medals were separated by 0.19 points
  • Silver and bronze medals were separated by 0.33 points
  • Hubbell and Donohue’s overall winning score of 197.12 puts them fifth among high-scoring nationals performances (the other scores belong to the Shibutanis, Chock and Bates, and Davis and White)

The U.S. can send three dance teams to the 2018 Olympics, and the heavy favorites for those spots are Hubbell and Donohue, the Shibutanis, and Chock and Bates. The Olympic team announcement is expected from U.S. Figure Skating on Sunday at 8:55 p.m. ET.

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MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for PyeongChang Olympics

Larry Nassar judge, Olympians back USOC oversight push in Congress

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DENVER (AP) — The judge who sentenced former sports doctor Larry Nassar to prison and a group of Olympians are backing an effort to create a commission to look into the operations of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Michigan Judge Rosemarie Aquilina joined the athletes and Colorado’s U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette in Denver on Monday to announce the planned introduction of the bipartisan bill Tuesday in the House. It mirrors one introduced in January by Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner in the Senate, a standard practice in Congress. It would set up a panel of 16 people, half of them Olympians or Paralympians, with subpoena power.

Aquilina urged people to ask their congressional representatives to support the legislation and add their names as co-sponsors. Aquilina said she became involved because this wasn’t a partisan issue, but a “human thing. This is justice for everybody. Isn’t that what judges are supposed to be — about equal justice?”

“It’s troubling for me to hear that money and medals are valued more than the safety of athletes. We have to flip that script,” added Aquilina, who sentenced Nassar to what equates to life in prison. “How is it that the Olympics do not protect their athletes? That’s their company. That’s their bread and butter.”

The latest legislation to establish the commission comes six months after a congressional report in the wake of the Nassar sex-abuse case that recommended a review of the law that governs the USOC and how the USOC can use its authority to more actively protect athletes.

USOC spokesman Mark Jones said in a statement they will “continue to work constructively with both the House and the Senate to create healthy and safe environments for the American athletes we serve.”

Among the panel’s duties would be to evaluate how responsive the national governing bodies of each Olympic sports are to the athletes, and whether the U.S. Center for SafeSport has proper funding to effectively respond to any future reports of harassment and sexual assault. In addition, the panel would review the diversity of the USOC’s board members, its finances and whether it’s achieving its stated goals.

Gardner said he’s talked to former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice about serving on the panel. “That’s likely the kind of caliber that we need,” Gardner said.

Olympic champions Nancy Hogshead-Makar, BJ Bedford and Norm Bellingham, along with Paralympic gold medalist Sarah Will were among those in attendance.

“No amount of gold medals are worth putting the health and safety of our athletes at risk,” DeGette said. “When the very body that Congress created to care for our athletes becomes more concerned about winning and protecting a brand than the athletes themselves — it’s time for change.”

Rob Koehler said he believes this will be a big step forward for athletes. He’s the director general of a group called Global Athlete, which is designed to help athletes gain a more represented voice.

“It’s time to make sure there is independent oversight, that the government takes a brave leadership role, not only for the United States but as an example for other countries, that it’s no longer acceptable for sport to self-govern itself,” Koehler said. “It’s all about the athletes. We lose focus of that. This movement is about celebrating athletes’ victories, and the growth potential is there.”

MORE: ‘This is not Burger King’: Nassar request denied by Aquilina

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Luca Urlando breaks Michael Phelps butterfly record

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Luca Urlando, the grandson of an Italian Olympic hammer thrower, appears to be the U.S. successor to Michael Phelps in the 200m butterfly.

Urlando, 17, broke Phelps’ national 17-18 age group record in Phelps’ trademark event on Friday night, clocking 1:53.84 at a Tyr Pro Series meet in Clovis, Calif. Phelps’ mark (1:53.93) was set in 2003, when it doubled as the world record. Urlando previously broke high school age group records held by Phelps and Caeleb Dressel in 25-yard pools.

Urlando is now the third-fastest American in history in the 200m butterfly behind Phelps and Tyler Clary. He also ranks third in the world this year behind Hungarians Kristof Milak and Tamas Kenderesi.

But Urlando will not be at July’s world championships as that team was decided in 2018.

Last summer, Urlando was the highest-ranking U.S. swimmer not to make the Pan Pacific Championships team, though it was initially announced that he did make it.

Had Urlando made Pan Pacs and then swum .17 faster there than he did at nationals, he would have made the team for July’s world championships. Urlando went to Junior Pan Pacs instead last summer and did not swim faster than at nationals.

Should Urlando make the Tokyo Games, he is in line to be the youngest U.S. Olympic male swimmer since 2000, when a 15-year-old Phelps made his Olympic debut.

His grandfather, Giampaolo Urlando, threw the hammer for Italy at the 1976, 1980 and 1984 Olympics with a best finish of seventh. He originally was fourth at Los Angeles 1984 before being disqualified for testosterone.

Luca’s father, Alessandro Urlando, holds the University of Georgia school record in the discus. Luca, a rising Sacramento high school senior, is committed to Georgia.

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