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Softball set to return to Olympics as first event on Tokyo 2020 schedule

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Softball, returning to the Olympics after a 12-year absence, is scheduled to kick off the 2020 Tokyo Games, two days before the Opening Ceremony.

The preliminary master schedule for the Tokyo Olympics was published Wednesday, with the first softball game scheduled for 10 a.m. local time on the Wednesday before the Opening Ceremony.

The first game is scheduled to be held in Fukushima, the site of 2011 nuclear plant meltdowns caused by an earthquake and tsunami 155 miles north of Tokyo. The International Olympic Committee and Tokyo organizers have been eager to use the Games as a symbol of recovery from the 2011 disaster

Traditionally, soccer has been the first sport to have action at a Summer Olympics, one or two days before the Opening Ceremony. While soccer is again scheduled to have matches that same Wednesday, they start later than 10 a.m.

The Tokyo 2020 schedule is subject to change and certainly not a final version — swimming, diving and synchronized swimming schedules are still to be determined, but those sports do not typically start before the Opening Ceremony.

Softball was added in 1991 to the Olympic program to debut at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The U.S. won the first three gold medals before softball and baseball were narrowly voted off the Olympic program in 2005/06 (a 52-52 IOC vote for softball, with a majority needed to stay in the Olympics), with the 2008 Beijing Games being the last edition. Japan won the last Olympic softball gold medal 10 years ago.

Then on Aug. 3, 2016, baseball and softball were among five sports added for the 2020 Tokyo Games only, at the request of Tokyo Olympic organizers. Baseball and softball are not guaranteed to remain on the Olympic program in Paris in 2024.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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USOC fires official as Larry Nassar report released

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The U.S. Olympic Committee fired chief of sport performance Alan Ashley in the wake of an independent report released Monday that said neither he nor former CEO Scott Blackmun elevated concerns about the Larry Nassar sexual abuse allegations when they were first reported to them.

The 233-page independent report detailed an overall lack of response when the USOC leaders first heard about the Nassar allegations from the then-president of USA Gymnastics, Steve Penny.

Blackmun resigned in February because of health concerns.

The report says the USOC took no action between first hearing of the allegations in July 2015 and September 2016, when the Indianapolis Star published an account of Nassar’s sex abuse. The report concludes that lack of action allowed Nassar to abuse dozens more girls over the 14 months of silence.

Nassar is serving decades in prison on charges of child pornography and for molesting young women and girls under the guise of medical treatment; many of his accusers testified in heart-wrenching detail at his sentencing hearing.

Though Ashley was the only one to get fired in the immediate aftermath of its release, the report paints a harsh picture of leadership of the entire U.S. Olympic movement, from the offices of the USOC to what it portrays as an essentially rogue, unchecked operation at the Karolyi Ranch in Texas — the training center run by Bela and Martha Karolyi where some of the abuse occurred.

The report concludes that one of Penny’s key objectives was to keep the allegations under wraps, to avoid “sending shockwaves through the community,” as he said in a conversation with an FBI agent.

Meanwhile, Penny is portrayed as repeatedly trying to get the FBI to investigate Nassar, but the report concludes “the investigation appears to have languished … for over seven months” in the FBI’s Detroit office. USAG took the allegations to the FBI’s Los Angeles office, but not until the newspaper report came out did that office take action.

The report says Penny notified Blackmun and Ashley that Nassar had retired in September 2015, but that both leaders had deleted the email, which referenced Nassar by name.

The report details the USOC’s relationships with the sports organizations it oversees as too deferential and not involved enough in policymaking to ensure athlete safety.

“In this governance model, the USOC exerted its broad statutory authority and monetary influence over individual sports primarily for the purpose of encouraging success at the Olympic Games, effectively outsourcing any decisions regarding on-the-ground child-protective practices to the NGBs,” the report states.

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U.S. figure skating rankings going into national championships

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A discipline-by-discipline look at U.S. figure skaters’ best season scores with no more top-level events until the U.S. Championships from Jan. 24-27 in Detroit …

Men
1. Nathan Chen — 282.42
2. Chen — 280.57
3. Chen — 271.58
4. Jason Brown — 263.42
5. Brown — 256.33
6. Brown — 234.97
7. Vincent Zhou — 234.25
8. Brown — 233.23
9. Zhou — 225.75
10. Camden Pulkinen — 223.95

Chen is on his way to a third straight national title, while Brown has been a pleasant surprise this fall after changing coaches in the offseason. The Sochi Olympian and 2015 U.S. champion even beat Chen in one program on the Grand Prix Series. Zhou, after placing sixth in PyeongChang, has struggled with under-rotations on jumps but is still in the driver’s seat for one of three world championships spots.

Women
1. Bradie Tennell — 206.41
2. Tennell — 202.41
3. Ting Cui — 199.79
4. Mariah Bell — 198.96
5. Tennell — 197.78
6. Bell — 196.60
7. Tennell — 192.89
8. Bell — 190.25
9. Bell — 188.97
10. Ashley Lin — 181.21

Two world team spots for the women. Tennell and Bell are the top returning veterans this season, but remember that 2017 U.S. champion Karen Chen has yet to compete with a foot injury. Then there are Ting, 16, and Alysa Liu, a 13-year-old who isn’t age eligible for junior or senior worlds but can compete in the senior division at nationals. Liu landed triple Axels in both programs at sectionals last month, scoring 212.97 points (though domestic scores are often inflated and not comparable with international scores).

Ice Dance
1. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue — 205. 35
2. Hubbell/Donohue — 200.82
3. Hubbell/Donohue — 200.76
4. Hubbell/Donohue — 197.42
5. Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker — 184.63
6. Hawayek/Baker — 184.04
7. Hawayek/Baker — 181.47
8. Rachel Parsons/Michael Parsons — 180.95
9. Lorraine McNamara/Quinn Carpenter — 180.57
10. Christina Carreira/Anthony Ponomarenko — 180.22

The only active U.S. couple to beat Hubbell and Donohue in direct competition is Madison Chock and Evan Bates, but the two-time world medalists missed the entire fall season due to Chock’s ankle surgery. With Olympic bronze medalists Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani sitting out this season and maybe done competing altogether, Hubbell and Donohue will be clear favorites to repeat as national champions.

Three U.S. couples will go to worlds. Hawayek and Baker, after qualifying for their first Grand Prix Final, are primed to go back after placing 10th last season. The status of Chock and Bates will largely determine who rounds out the world team.

Pairs
1. Tarah Kayne/Danny O’Shea — 191.43

2. Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Chris Knierim — 190.49
3. Knierim/Knierim — 182.84
4. Ashley Cain/Timothy LeDuc — 181.56
5. Kayne/O’Shea — 177.69
6. Knierim/Knierim — 177.22
7. Deanna Stellato/Nathan Bartholomay — 176.44
8. Cain/LeDuc — 175.06
9. Stellato/Bartholomay — 174.91
10. Stellato/Bartholomay — 174.78

Kayne and O’Shea, who likely would have made the Olympic team if the U.S. qualified more than one pair for PyeongChang, surprised by posting that 191 at the last event of the Grand Prix Series three weeks ago. The U.S. has just one pair at worlds this season for the first time since 1984 and last earned a medal in 2002. Kayne and O’Shea and the Knierims are ranked Nos. 9 and 10 in the world this season. Cain is recovering after falling head-first on the ice from a botched lift on Friday night.

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