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Madison Hubbell, Zach Donohue earn U.S.’ 10th straight Skate America ice dance title

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Make it 10 straight Skate America titles for U.S. ice dance couples. Fittingly, it’s the first for Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue, the new mantle holders in the nation’s deepest figure skating discipline as the Beijing Olympic cycle begins.

Hubbell and Donohue, the U.S. champions and world silver medalists, distanced a field this weekend lacking anybody else from the top nine at the PyeongChang Olympics (where Hubbell and Donohue were fourth).

They could therefore afford a miscue at the end of Saturday’s rhythm dance, when Hubbell put too much weight sitting on Donohue’s knee. That caused Donohue to put his hands on the ice. She stumbled and stepped on one of his fingers.

No matter, they led by 3.42 points going into Sunday’s free dance, which they topped by 5.1. Hubbell and Donohue distanced silver medalists Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri of Italy by 8.52.

Their total — 200.82 — is the highest score in the world this season, granted Olympic silver medalists and world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France have yet to debut.

SKATE AMERICA: Full Results

U.S. couples have won 14 of the last 16 Skate America crowns.

It began with Tanith White and Ben Agosto, who earned five total golds surrounding a 2006 Olympic silver medal. Then came Meryl Davis and Charlie White, the best-ever U.S. dance team with four straight Skate Americas leading up to their 2014 Olympic title.

Madison Chock and Evan Bates won in 2014 and 2015, followed by siblings Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani in 2016 and 2017.

Hubbell and Donohue took six years before taking their turn at the top. They were third or fourth at every nationals between 2012 and 2017, then won the 2018 U.S. title. They were third in the Olympic short dance, but Donohue’s fall in the PyeongChang free dance helped allow the Shibutanis to take bronze.

The Shibutanis are taking at least this fall off from competition. Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the Olympic champions, are likely done competing.

That makes Hubbell and Donohue, after winning their second Grand Prix event on Sunday (and first in three years), not only the leading American couple, but also the top threats to training partners Papadakis and Cizeron.

Hubbell and Donohue go for another Grand Prix title at next week’s Skate Canada. They won’t face the French (outside of practice) until December’s Grand Prix Final at the earliest.

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. GO HERE to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season…NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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MORE: Nathan Chen wins Skate America by record margin

Asbel Kiprop, Olympic 1500m champ, banned 4 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)