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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

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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