Alina Zagitova, Yuzuru Hanyu make Grand Prix Helsinki rarity; schedule

Alina Zagitova, Yuzuru Hanyu
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Alina Zagitova and Yuzuru Hanyu are in this week’s Grand Prix of Helsinki field, marking the first top-level event with both reigning Olympic singles figure skating champions in 26 years.

The last was the 1992 World Championships with Kristi Yamaguchi and Viktor Petrenko.

The last time multiple Olympic singles champions (reigning or not) competed in the same event was when Brian BoitanoKatarina Witt and Petrenko came out of professional skating for the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Games (unless counting Yevgeny Plushenko and Yuna Kim at Sochi 2014, where Plushenko only did the team event).

Most gold medalists fade from competition after the Games, but both Zagitova and Hanyu have a full slate this season.

Each won lower-level events to start things off last month, but it begins in earnest at the first Grand Prix event ever held in Finland. NBC Sports Gold streams live coverage of every session starting Friday.

Day Time (ET) Event Network
Friday 9 a.m. Pairs’ Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
10:45 a.m. Women’s Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
12:45 p.m. Rhythm Dance NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
Saturday 6:30 a.m. Men’s Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
8:30 a.m. Pairs’ Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
11:30 a.m. Women’s Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
1:30 p.m. Free Dance NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
Sunday 7 a.m. Men’s Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
1 p.m. Highlights NBC | STREAM LINK

Neither PyeongChang gold medalist is untouchable this fall.

Zagitova proved mortal at the world championships in March, falling thrice in her free skate and finishing fifth, her only loss in a little more than a year of senior international competition. The 16-year-old won Nebelhorn Trophy a month ago with the world’s highest score this season by a whopping 17 points.

Only one other skater from this season’s top 10 is in the Helsinki field — Japanese Kaori Sakamoto, coming off her second straight Skate America silver medal.

Zagitova’s season ramps up in December, with likely showdowns with Olympic silver medalist and former training partner Yevgenia Medvedeva at the Grand Prix Final and Russian nationals.

Hanyu faces more of a test in Helsinki.

Though the Japanese megastar won his September opener in Canada, he ranks fifth in the world by scores on the young season. Among those he trails is Russian Mikhail Kolyada, the world bronze medalist who is in this week’s field.

As is Jin Boyang, the Olympic fourth-place finisher who competes for the first time since falling five times in the world championships free skate.

Hanyu may be targeting 280.57 points, the world-leading score posted by Nathan Chen at Skate America two weeks ago while attempting half his top-end number of quadruple jumps. He would do well to simply win his Grand Prix opener for the first time in his ninth season.

The Helsinki pairs’ and dance fields lack the singles star power with none of the top-five finishers from PyeongChang.

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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Elena Fanchini, medal-winning Alpine skier, dies at 37

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Elena Fanchini, an Italian Alpine skier whose career was cut short by a tumor, has died. She was 37.

Fanchini, the 2005 World downhill silver medalist at age 19, passed away Wednesday at her home in Solato, near Brescia, the Italian Winter Sports Federation announced.

Fanchini died on the same day that fellow Italian Marta Bassino won the super-G at the world championships in Meribel, France; and two days after Federica Brignone — another former teammate — claimed gold in the combined.

Sofia Goggia, who is the favorite for Saturday’s downhill, dedicated her World Cup win in Cortina d’Ampezzo last month to Fanchini.

Fanchini last raced in December 2017. She was cleared to return to train nearly a year later but never made it fully back, and her condition grew worse in recent months.

Fanchini won her world downhill silver medal in Italy in 2005, exactly one month after her World Cup debut, an astonishing breakout.

Ten months later, she won a World Cup downhill in Canada with “Ciao Mamma” scribbled on face tape to guard against 1-degree temperatures. She was 20. Nobody younger than 21 has won a World Cup downhill since. Her second and final World Cup win, also a downhill, came more than nine years later.

In between her two World Cup wins, Fanchini raced at three Olympics with a best finish of 12th in the downhill in 2014. She missed the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics because of her condition.

Fanchini’s younger sisters Nadia and Sabrina were also World Cup racers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

USA Boxing to skip world championships

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USA Boxing will not send boxers to this year’s men’s and women’s world championships, citing “the ongoing failures” of the IBA, the sport’s international governing body, that put boxing’s place on the Olympic program at risk.

The Washington Post first reported the decision.

In a letter to its members, USA Boxing Executive Director Mike McAtee listed many factors that led to the decision, including IBA governance issues, financial irregularities and transparency and that Russian and Belarusian boxers are allowed to compete with their flags.

IBA lifted its ban on Russian and Belarusian boxers in October and said it would allow their flags and anthems to return, too.

The IOC has not shifted from its recommendation to international sports federations last February that Russian and Belarusian athletes be barred, though the IOC and Olympic sports officials have been exploring whether those athletes could return without national symbols.

USA Boxing said that Russian boxers have competed at an IBA event in Morocco this month with their flags and are expected to compete at this year’s world championships under their flags.

“While sport is intended to be politically neutral, many boxers, coaches and other representatives of the Ukrainian boxing community were killed as a result of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, including coach Mykhaylo Korenovsky who was killed when a Russian missile hit an apartment block in January 2023,” according to the USA Boxing letter. “Ukraine’s sports infrastructure, including numerous boxing gyms, has been devastated by Russian aggression.”

McAtee added later that USA Boxing would still not send athletes to worlds even if Russians and Belarusians were competing as neutrals and without their flags.

“USA Boxing’s decision is based on the ‘totality of all of the factors,'” he said in an emailed response. “Third party oversite and fairness in the field of play is the most important factor.”

A message has been sent to the IBA seeking comment on USA Boxing’s decision.

The women’s world championships are in March in India. The men’s world championships are in May in Uzbekistan. They do not count toward 2024 Olympic qualifying.

In December, the IOC said recent IBA decisions could lead to “the cancellation of boxing” for the 2024 Paris Games.

Some of the already reported governance issues led to the IOC stripping IBA — then known as AIBA — of its Olympic recognition in 2019. AIBA had suspended all 36 referees and judges used at the 2016 Rio Olympics pending an investigation into a possible judging scandal, one that found that some medal bouts were fixed by “complicit and compliant” referees and judges.

The IOC ran the Tokyo Olympic boxing competition.

Boxing was not included on the initial program for the 2028 Los Angeles Games announced in December 2021, though it could still be added. The IBA must address concerns “around its governance, its financial transparency and sustainability and the integrity of its refereeing and judging processes,” IOC President Thomas Bach said then.

This past June, the IOC said IBA would not run qualifying competitions for the 2024 Paris Games.

In September, the IOC said it was “extremely concerned” about the Olympic future of boxing after an IBA extraordinary congress overwhelmingly backed Russian Umar Kremlev to remain as its president rather than hold an election.

Kremlev was re-elected in May after an opponent, Boris van der Vorst of the Netherlands, was barred from running against him. The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in June that van der Vorst should have been eligible to run against Kremlev, but the IBA group still decided not to hold a new election.

Last May, Rashida Ellis became the first U.S. woman to win a world boxing title at an Olympic weight since Claressa Shields in 2016, taking the 60kg lightweight crown in Istanbul. In Tokyo, Ellis lost 3-0 in her opening bout in her Olympic debut.

At the last men’s worlds in 2021, Robby Gonzales and Jahmal Harvey became the first U.S. men to win an Olympic or world title since 2007, ending the longest American men’s drought since World War II.

The Associated Press and NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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