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How U.S. chooses figure skating roster for Olympic team event

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U.S. Figure Skating said its roster for the Olympic team event will be chosen in the same process as in 2014, which is a little complicated.

Basically, U.S. Figure Skating creates four sets of rankings.

First, a ranking of the four disciplines based on overall strength. That would likely be ice dance, then men, then women and finally pairs.

Then, a ranking is created within each discipline of each of the three individual skaters and dance couples, using the criteria for Olympic team selection earlier this month. (There is no ranking for pairs, because the U.S. only has one pair in PyeongChang.)

This means that the U.S. champions in each discipline won’t necessarily get first choice on which team event program(s) they would like to skate.

NBCOlympics.com: What is the figure skating team event?

U.S. Figure Skating could, for example, determine that national ice dance silver medalists Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani have a better overall resumé than gold medalists Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue.

Using those rankings, which U.S. Figure Skating does not make public, skaters pick the team event short and long programs, with input from team officials.

Keep in mind that the U.S. can sub out skaters between the short and long programs in two of the three disciplines other than pairs (U.S. pairs champs Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim must skate both programs).

Use 2014 as an example. Skaters from that team detailed the selection process in interviews last spring.

Ice dance was the highest-ranked of the disciplines. The top ice dance couple was Meryl Davis and Charlie White, the world champions who chose to skate both programs.

“We had our best chance if we did not swap out our dance teams,” Gracie Gold said last spring. “We needed Meryl and Charlie [for medal hopes].”

The next highest-ranked discipline was the women, led by the U.S. champion Gold.

“They were like, we would have you do both [team event programs, but] we think that’s a lot for you to do, Opening Ceremonies, then both [team event programs] and have a week and a half and do both again [in the individual event],” Gold said. “They said, we want you to do the long program. So I said yes. That made sense for me.”

NBCOlympics.com: More on figure skating

Who would skate the women’s short program in the team event? Surprise U.S. silver medalist Polina Edmunds or Ashley Wagner, who finished fourth at nationals but was the top American internationally that season?

Wagner. She skated the short program.

Then came the men. U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott chose the short program but left the free skate open.

“So then they asked me, Jeremy wants to do the short, will you do long?” U.S. silver medalist Jason Brown said. “Obviously, I wasn’t going to say no.”

Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir skated both pairs programs.

The U.S. earned bronze behind Russia and Canada. The U.S. is expected to take bronze again next week, with Russia and Canada battling for gold.

Some obvious questions:

  • If ice dance is again the top-ranked discipline, which couple gets first choice? Hubbell and Donohue after their first national title, or the three-time world medalists Shibutani siblings?
  • Will Nathan Chen choose to skate both programs or to rest up for the men’s competition the following week? If Chen doesn’t skate both, who is the second-ranked man – U.S. silver medalist Vincent Zhou in his first senior international season or fourth-place Adam Rippon, a veteran?
  • The U.S. women’s rankings might also differ from nationals results since gold medalist Bradie Tennell has little senior international experience, while teammates Mirai Nagasu and Karen Chen finished fourth at previous Olympics and world championships, respectively.

Answers come next week.

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Rafael Nadal can tie Roger Federer’s Slam record with 13th French Open

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For all of the many qualities contributing to Rafael Nadal’s unprecedented superiority at the French Open — the bullwhip of a high-bouncing lefty forehand, the reflex returns, the cover-every-corner athleticism, the endless energy and grit — there’s one element that stands above all the rest.

According to the opponent Nadal beat in the last two finals in Paris, anyway.

“You go into the match knowing that even your best tennis, even if you play it over three, four hours, might not be enough. I mean, if you do it, you maybe have a little chance, but you have to go to your limit on every single rally, every single point,” Dominic Thiem, who won the U.S. Open less than two weeks ago, told The Associated Press.

“That makes it not easy to go into the match,” Thiem said. “And that’s the mental part, I guess.”

When main-draw competition begins Sunday at Roland Garros, Thiem and every other player in the men’s bracket will be pursuing Nadal as the 34-year-old from Spain pursues history.

If Nadal manages to claim a 13th French Open championship — extending his own record for the most singles trophies won by anyone at any major tennis tournament — he would, more significantly, also collect his 20th Grand Slam title overall, tying Roger Federer’s record for a man.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Nadal’s tally elsewhere: four U.S. Opens, two Wimbledons, one Australian Open.

He spoke Friday in Paris about what “probably are the most difficult conditions for me ever in Roland Garros” — a lack of matches in 2020; a new brand of tennis balls (“super slow, heavy”); cooler weather and plenty of rain in the forecast.

“But you know what?” Nadal said. “I am here to fight and to play with the highest intensity possible.”

Asked recently about the possibility of catching the 39-year-old Federer, out for the rest of the season after a pair of operations on his right knee, Nadal expressed a sentiment he’s uttered before.

Climbing the Grand Slam list, Nadal said, is “not an obsession at all.”

“I know that you put a lot of attention on all of this,” he replied when the topic was raised last week at the Italian Open, Nadal’s first tournament since February because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Of course I would love to finish my career with 25, but (that’s) something that probably will not happen. I’m going to keep fighting to produce chances, and then when I finish my career, let’s see, no?” he said. “I just want to keep enjoying tennis. And that’s it. If I am playing well, I know I normally have my chances. If not, going to be impossible. That’s it.”

There is, of course, another great of the game playing during this era and, like Nadal, gaining on Federer.

That would be No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic, who had won five of seven major titles to raise his total to 17 before being disqualified at the U.S. Open for accidentally hitting a line judge with a ball while walking to a changeover.

In this oddest of years, the Grand Slam season will drawing to a close in France; the clay-court major was postponed from May until now because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Roland Garros is the last Slam, the last opportunity of this season. So we all know who the main favorite is there: Obviously, it’s Nadal. And everything that he has achieved there, losing maybe a couple matches in his entire career on that court … is probably the most impressive record that anybody has on any court,” Djokovic said. “So, yeah, of course you would put him right there in front as a favorite to win it.”

For the record: Nadal has won 93 of 95 matches in the French Open and his last 21 in a row.

So what makes him so dominant there?

“He’s an unbelievably great tennis player. Probably on clay, a little bit better than on the other surfaces,” Thiem said. “He’s left-handed, which makes it very uncomfortable. And then his forehand, the topspin on the clay, it’s cruel to play.”

Thiem takes notes and hopes to emulate aspects of Nadal’s game.

So do others.

In Rome, for example, two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep and one of her coaches, Artemon Apostu-Efremov, caught one of Nadal’s training sessions.

“We were watching the way he hits the ball, the acceleration, the energy he has on the court and the way he practices 100%. It’s always an inspiration,” Apostu-Efremov said.

“This dedication on the court and focus on court,” he said, “it’s something that, for sure, could be transferred to Simona.”

Nadal wound up losing his third match in Italy, which is neither ideal form nor the sort of prep work he is accustomed to ahead of Roland Garros.

Still, Nadal at the French Open is unlike anyone else, anywhere else.

“Regardless of how he feels, I’m sure he’ll find a way,” said Stefanos Tsitsipas, a 2019 Australian Open semifinalist seeded No. 5 in Paris. “He always finds a way, every single year. Clay is his surface. I’m sure he’s going to do well.”

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Skate America will not have fans

Skate America
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Skate America, the top annual international figure skating competition held in the U.S., will not have spectators in Las Vegas from Oct. 23-25.

U.S. Figure Skating said the restriction was “due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in strict accordance with the Nevada Gaming Control Board guidelines.”

Skate America is the first top-level event of the season, kicking off the six-stop Grand Prix Series leading up to December’s Grand Prix Final, which is scheduled this season for Beijing.

The series has already been modified to restrict fields to skaters from the host country or to the event closest to their training location.

Grand Prix fields have not been announced, though two-time world champion Nathan Chen said last month he hoped to go for a fourth straight Skate America title.

Chen trains in California. Most, if not all, top U.S. skaters train in the U.S. or Canada, which means they will compete in Skate America or Skate Canada if they participate in the Grand Prix Series at all.

Two-time U.S. women’s champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough to compete on the Grand Prix until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

Skaters are limited to one Grand Prix start this season. In past seasons, they’ve typically competed twice.

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