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Vincent Zhou stumbles at U.S. International Classic

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Canada’s Nam Nguyen sits in first place after the short program at the U.S. International Classic competition in Salt Lake City, Utah on Thursday, marking the first true weekend of figure skating competition for the 2018-19 season. Nguyen totaled 80.28 points under the newly-implemented scoring system, which uses a Grade of Execution scale of -5 to +5. The previous scale, such as the one used in PyeongChang, was -3 to +3.

He leads Michal Brezina of the Czech Republic who scored 79.57 points and Ukraine’s Yaroslav Paniot with 74.97 points.

Jimmy Ma leads the American men, sitting fourth with 73.21 points. Vincent Zhou, who finished sixth at the PyeongChang Olympics, is sixth after scoring 61.72 points. Zhou invalidated two jumps in his program – a popped Salchow and a popped Axel – which received zero credit, and under-rotated the quad Lutz in his combination.

“The jumps weren’t really there today but I think the performance was good and I gave it my best efforts as I always do. I’m just starting my season so hopefully tomorrow goes better,” Zhou said, though his program featured three spins which all achieved Level 4s.

Earlier Thursday, Americans Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc took the lead in the pairs’ short program with 59.10 points. Cain called her fall on the throw triple Lutz a “weird mistake.”

LeDuc didn’t hold back on the team’s goals for the season.

“We’ve worked really hard this offseason to be ready to do everything that we want to do. We want to be U.S. champions, we want to get the two spots back for Team USA at Worlds,” he said, in reference to the single allotted spot for a Team USA pair at the 2019 World Championships.

Friday’s action from Salt Lake includes 2018 Worlds silver medalist ice dancers Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue in the rhythm dance (formerly short dance), plus the ladies’ short program and pairs’ and men’s free skates. All of the action is streaming live on NBC Sports’ Gold Figure Skating Pass (more on that here).

Also this weekend in the figure skating world, competition was underway at the Lombardia Trophy in Italy. After Thursday’s short programs, Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno from Japan leads the men’s field with 104.15 points and 2015 world champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva of Russia leads the ladies with 65.69 points. Russians Natalia Zabiiako and Alexander Enbert are currently first in the pairs’ field with 72.50 points. Competition in Bergamo continues Friday and Saturday.

Asbel Kiprop, Olympic 1500m champ, banned four years

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Kenyan Asbel Kiprop, the 2008 Olympic 1500m champion and a three-time world champ, was banned four years after testing positive for EPO in November 2017, according to track and field’s doping watchdog organization.

The ban is backdated to Feb. 3, 2018, when the 29-year-old was provisionally suspended after the failed test.

Kiprop repeatedly denied doping since last May, when he first acknowledged the positive test. Most recently, a 3,000-word defense from his lawyer was posted on Kiprop’s Facebook page.

Kiprop’s defenses included saying he was a victim of extortion and that he was offered “a reward” of becoming an anti-doping ambassador if he admitted guilt. The Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), the IAAF’s independent organization to monitor doping and corruption, denied the latter last May.

A disciplinary panel dismissed six defenses from exonerating him, including the possibility his sample was spiked, in handing out the four-year ban.

Kiprop, the pre-eminent 1500m runner of the last decade, can appeal the ban.

At 19, he finished second in the Beijing Olympic 1500m but was upgraded to gold a year later after Bahrain’s Rashid Ramzi failed a drug test. He is the youngest Olympic 1500m medalist of all time, according to the OlyMADMen.

Kiprop went on to earn three straight world titles in the 1500m in 2011, 2013 and 2015, matching the feats of retired legends Noureddine Morceli and Hicham El Guerrouj.

He struggled in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, finishing last in the London final with a hamstring injury and sixth in the Rio final won by American rival Matthew Centrowitz.

Kiprop has targeted El Guerrouj’s world record of 3:26:00, missing the mark by .69 of a second in 2015.

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Maggie Nichols is second woman in 20 years to repeat as NCAA all-around champ

Maggie Nichols
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Oklahoma junior and world champion gymnast Maggie Nichols became the first woman to repeat as NCAA all-around champion in 12 years, returning from a heel injury to compete on all four events for the first time since January on Friday.

Nichols, a Rio Olympic hopeful before being beset by a torn meniscus in 2016, joined 2004 Olympic silver medalist Courtney Kupets as the only women to win back-to-back NCAA all-arounds in the 2000s.

A junior, Nichols can next year join Jenny Hansen as the only women to three-peat in NCAA history.

Oklahoma goes for a third team title in four years on Saturday night against UCLA (featuring Olympic champions Madison Kocian and Kyla Ross), LSU and Denver.

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NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships Individual Results
All-Around
1. Maggie Nichols (Oklahoma) — 39.7125
2. Lexy Ramler (Minnesota) — 39.6625
2. Kyla Ross (UCLA) — 39.6625
4. Sarah Finnegan (LSU) — 39.65
5. Kennedi Edney (LSU) — 39.6

Vault
1. Kennedi Edney (LSU) — 9.95
1. Derrian Gobourne (Auburn)
1. Maggie Nichols (Oklahoma)
1. Kyla Ross (UCLA)

Uneven Bars
1. Sarah Finnegan (LSU) — 9.95

Balance Beam
1. Natalie Wojcik (Michigan) — 9.95

Floor Exercise
1. Alicia Boren (Florida) — 9.95
1. Lynnzee Brown (Denver)
1. Brenna Dowell (Oklahoma)
1. Kyla Ross (UCLA)