Yuzuru Hanyu, Nathan Chen
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Assessing figure skating’s Grand Prix season at the midpoint

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The early figure skating season produced the usual dominance from Yuzuru Hanyu and Alina Zagitova, but also surprises, such as defeats for Yevgenia Medvedeva and a mild shakeup atop the pairs’ order.

We’re halfway through the Grand Prix campaign, with early favorites emerging for December’s Grand Prix Final, which takes the top six per discipline from the six-event series.

The most anticipated Final fields are singles, where Hanyu and Nathan Chen are expected to meet for the first time since PyeongChang. Hanyu repeated as Olympic champion in February, while Chen rebounded from a short-program disaster to top the free skate for fifth overall.

Likewise, the Grand Prix Final should feature Zagitova and former training partner Medvedeva in their first head-to-head since they were separated by 1.31 points in PyeongChang. That is assuming Medvedeva takes care of business at her second Grand Prix in two weeks.

A discipline-by-discipline look at the figure skating season so far …

Men
Top Season Scores
1. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 297.12
2. Nathan Chen (USA) — 280.57
3. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 277.25
4. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 276.20
5. Mikhail Kolyada (RUS) — 274.37
6. Keegan Messing (CAN) — 265.17
7. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 263.65
8. Cha Jun-Hwan (KOR) — 259.78
9. Michal Brezina (CZE) — 257.98
10. Keegan Messing (CAN) — 257.16
Jason Brown (USA) — 234.97
Jason Brown (USA) — 233.23
Vincent Zhou (USA) — 225.75

Favorites Hanyu, Chen and Uno won their opening Grand Prix events, though Chen’s jumping program at Skate America included half the quads he attempted in PyeongChang. Chen’s score from winning the Hanyu-less world championships last season would have taken gold at the Olympics. We’ve never seen Chen and Hanyu hit all of their jumps in the same competition. Brown and Zhou were fifth and sixth, respectively, in their Grand Prix openers, putting them all but out of the running for the Final.

Women
Top Season Scores
1. Alina Zagitova (RUS) — 238.43
2. Alexandra Trusova (RUS) — 221.44 (junior)
3. Alexandra Trusova (RUS) — 221 (junior)
4. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 219.71
5. Rika Kihira (JPN) — 218.16
6. Alina Zagitova (RUS) — 215.29
7. Kaori Sakamoto (JPN) — 213.90
8. Mai Mihara (JPN) — 209.22
9. Bradie Tennell (USA) — 206.41
10. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS) — 206.07
Bradie Tennell (USA) — 192.89
Mariah Bell (USA) — 190.25
Mariah Bell (USA) — 188.97
Ashley Lin (USA) — 181.21

Noticeably absent from the top-10 scores list is Medvedeva, who went undefeated for more than two years from 2015 through 2017, then finished second or third in her last four events dating to January. Perhaps the biggest story in skating the rest of the Grand Prix season will be whether Medvedeva, after finishing third at Skate Canada, can qualify for the Grand Prix Final. She may need to win in France in two weeks to lock up a spot. It’s looking like the Grand Prix Final will be all Russian and Japanese women after Tennell finished fourth at Skate America. The U.S. is searching for depth with Mirai Nagasu and Ashley Wagner taking indefinite breaks and Karen Chen missing her Grand Prix opener with a foot injury. Sochi Olympian Gracie Gold is set to compete in two weeks for the first time in nearly two years.

MORE: Figure skating season TV schedule

Pairs
Top Season Scores
1. Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres (FRA) — 221.81
2. Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres (FRA) — 210.21
3. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 206.42
4. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 204.85
5. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 201.08
6. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN) — 200.93
7. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 198.98
8. Natalya Zabiyako/Alexander Enbert (RUS) — 198.51
9. Aleksandra Boikova/Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 196.54
10. Natalya Zabiyako/Alexander Enbert (RUS) — 196.15
Ashley Cain/Timothy LeDuc (USA) — 181.56
Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Chris Knierim (USA) — 177.22
Ashley Cain/Timothy LeDuc (USA) — 175.06

Deanna Stellato/Nathan Bartholomay (USA) — 174.91

All the Olympic medalists are sitting out this fall or retired. The French burst through that opening. It’s not a huge surprise given they were fifth in PyeongChang and third at worlds. But James and Cipres were outscored by Tarasova and Morozov at each of the last four world championships and European Championships. Cain and LeDuc have an outside chance at the Final after their first Grand Prix medal at Skate America (bronze), but they likely need a silver in a deep Rostelecom Cup field next week.

Ice Dance
Top Season Scores
1. Madison Hubbell/Zach Donohue (USA) — 200.82

2. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 200.78
3. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 200.49
4. Madison Hubbell/Zach Donohue (USA) — 197.42
5. Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje (CAN) — 197.27
6. Victoria Sinitsina/Nikita Katsalapov (RUS) — 196.42
7. Charlene Guignard/Marco Fabbri (ITA) — 196.29
8. Victoria Sinitsina/Nikita Katsalapov (RUS) — 195.17
9. Piper Gilles/Paul Poirier (CAN) — 194.12
10. Charlene Guignard/Marco Fabbri (ITA) — 193.28
Rachel Parsons/Michael Parsons (USA) — 180.95
Lorraine McNamara/Quinn Carpenter (USA) — 180.57

The top returning couple this season, French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, has not competed internationally. They’ll now miss this week’s NHK Trophy after Cizeron hurt his back in a training fall last week. The Final was expected to be a showdown between Papadakis and Cizeron and training partners Hubbell and Donohue, who were fourth in PyeongChang and second at worlds behind the French. Papadakis and Cizeron would be ineligible for the Final with just one Grand Prix start. Instead, Hubbell and Donohue could have their hands full with Stepanova and Bukin. They were second at last season’s Russian Championships, but Bukin was not invited to the Olympics by the IOC. They later finished seventh at worlds. Two more promising U.S. couples, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker and the Parsons siblings, make their Grand Prix season debuts this week.

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MORE: Olympic pairs’ champions from Russia retire

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.

Grigory Rodchenkov, Russian doping whistleblower, still lives in fear

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His head covered in a black balaclava, adjusting dark goggles obscuring his eyes, Grigory Rodchenkov grows anxious if any part of his face can be seen.

Exposing Russia’s state-sponsorship doping scheme forced Rodchenkov into hiding in the United States five years ago. Revealing his current identity is still too risky for the chemist turned whistleblower, even in a video interview from an undisclosed location.

“It’s my security measures because I have physical threats to be assassinated,” Rodchenkov told The Associated Press. “And I want to live.”

Evidence from Rodchenkov that has already turned Vladimir Putin‘s Russia into international sporting outcasts continues to be used in cases against athletes along with data from his former laboratory in Moscow.

“Putin, he is quite logical. He separates opposition in two ways — enemies … betrayers,” Rodchenkov said. “I am falling in the betrayers’ category and all betrayers should be beheaded, cut, dead. So there is no doubt that he wants me to be dead.”

It has not deterred him from documenting his life story in “The Rodchenkov Affair: How I Brought Down Putin’s Secret Doping Empire,” revisiting how he conspired with his country to corrupt sports and then tries to show contrition by turning star witness.

Rodchenkov was the brains behind the Duchess cocktail of anabolic steroids and cover-up that turned Russia into a medal machine at the home Olympics in Sochi in 2014, topping the standings with 13 gold medals before disqualifications.

Russian spies ensured the Duchess would not be detected in doping tests as FSB agents used a hole in the wall of the Sochi laboratory to swap out the dirty samples with clean urine at night.

“For me, it was the end of doping control,” Rodchenkov said. “If we can do it, why others cannot?”

The doping cover-up extended beyond the Winter Olympics, into the Summer Games, Paralympics, world track and field championships and every major sport.

Some Russians were barred from competing at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Games and 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games as the International Olympic Committee remains opposed to blanket bans on countries.

So Russian athletes can still compete on the international stage if they can show they are clean, despite a four-year ban from major international sporting events being imposed on the nation last year for a fresh cover-up, including tampering with data gained from Rodchenkov’s former lab in Moscow.

“Sport is a part of Putin’s politics and showing to the West how good Russia is,” Rodchenkov said. “You cannot trust Russia. You cannot trust the certification authorities, and (anti-doping) laboratories cannot be allowed to be restored within the foreseeable future.”

Especially now, according to Rodchenkov, following constitutional changes allowing Putin to run for two more six-year terms, in 2024 and 2030,

“Until 2036,” Rodchenkov said, “no trust.”

But why now trust Rodchenkov as he presents a virtuous image at odds with his deep collusion with the state to cheat?

“When you are laboratory director and you have 50 employees and you are reporting to your high ups at the ministry, I could not even think about morals,” he said, dismissing concerns about any long-term damage to the health of athletes he allowed to be pumped with steroids.

“It’s extremely debatable and still ungrounded,” he said. “We see the generation who is now in the end of their lives of 70s and 80s, which are still … in a good physical condition after steroid programs.”

Go back four decades and Rodchenkov was starting out in a Soviet system learning how to manipulate doping controls.

“I had honestly, I’m sorry, but I had huge feelings of accomplishment,” he said. “Those athletes I helped to (win) were extremely talented and I could not understand, with the coach, how he or she may lose to others. The only explanation was doping. Then using some programs, we won gold medals. Honestly it was like leveling the field.

“Again, ‘morals’ is maybe vocabulary from American life but not from Soviet and Russian. In (the) Soviet (Union) it was the Soviet moral, in Russia there is no morals.”

It helps when the athletes are compliant.

“This is the huge problem of the militarization of Russia sport,” Rodchenkov said. “They follow orders, they are disciplined but they cannot tell the truth because they have given the oath to the Russian state and consider foreigners as potential enemies or even actual enemies. That’s why in Russia there are three ways – lying, cheating and denying.”

Rodchenkov has had to convince the world he has shed those ways and is coming clean. More of the cases he helped to cover-up could soon come to light after the World Anti-Doping Agency shared data – of samples tested up to 2015, and tampering that continued into 2019 – that was retrieved from the Moscow testing lab at the heart of the state-backed doping program.

“The problem is that the people from outside cannot understand what is going on inside sports,” he said. “Only whistleblowers could do that. But in corrupted countries you have to escape and we need to be preserved.”

For Rodchenkov that means living a life constantly in fear of being recognized as happened on a train in the US.

“It was a student,” he recalled. “I told him, `Forget you are meeting me, yes it’s me, don’t tell anyone.’ … I disappeared again.”

MORE: Russia track and field faces expulsion if it misses deadline

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Noah Lyles, more world champs race in Monaco; TV, live stream schedule

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Noah Lyles headlines a bevy of world champions slated for the first full-on Diamond League meet of the abbreviated track and field season, live on NBC Sports on Friday.

Monaco hosts the strongest fields of any meet since the world championships 10 months ago. Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and NBC Sports Gold air coverage on Friday at 2 p.m. ET.

Reigning world champions include Lyles (200m), Grant Holloway (110m hurdles), Donavan Brazier (800m) and Sam Kendricks (pole vault), and those are just the Americans.

Swede Mondo Duplantis, who twice raised the pole vault world record in February, takes on Kendricks in Monaco. Distance stars Sifan Hassan, Hellen Obiri, Beatrice Chepkoech, Timothy Cheruiyot and Joshua Cheptegei dot the fields, too.

The Diamond League season was due to start in April, but the coronavirus pandemic halted large-gathering track meets until now. Repurposed versions of Diamond League meets in Oslo and Zurich were held the last two months with fewer events and athletes and some entrants racing from different countries.

After Monaco, more Diamond League meets are scheduled for Stockholm (Aug. 23), Lausanne (Sept. 2), Brussels (Sept. 4), Naples (Sept. 17), Doha (Sept. 25) and China (Oct. 17).

Here are the Monaco entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

1:40 p.m. ET — Men’s Pole Vault
2:03 — Men’s 110m Hurdles
2:05 — Women’s High Jump
2:12 — Men’s 800m
2:17 — Women’s Triple Jump
2:19 — Women’s 5000m
2:42 — Men’s 400m Hurdles
2:50 — Women’s 100m
2:57 — Men’s 1500m
3:07 — Women’s 400m
3:13 — Men’s 5000m
3:32 — Men’s 200m
3:39 — Women’s 100m
3:47 — Men’s 3000m Steeplechase

Here are five events to watch (statistics via Tilastopaja.org):

Men’s Pole Vault — 1:40 p.m.
The top field event of the meet includes the reigning Olympic champion (Brazil’s Thiago Braz), reigning world champion (Kendricks) and the world-record holder (Duplantis, who must be the favorite here). Kendricks and Duplantis already went head-to-head this spring, competing virtually from respective home pole-vault setups. Kendricks took their first six head-to-heads, back when Duplantis was a teenager, but the Louisiana-born Swede won all four of their indoor duels in February. Duplantis is the clear Tokyo Olympic favorite until proven otherwise.

Men’s 800m — 2:12 p.m.
The top four from the 2019 World Championships are entered. Brazier, 23, caught fire the last year. He broke the American record to win the world title. He broke his own American indoor record in February. Then, last month, Brazier took 1.33 seconds off his 1500m personal best. Nobody in the Monaco field has beaten Brazier since the start of 2018.

Women’s 5000m — 2:19 p.m.
Ethiopian-born Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan in world champion at 1500m and 10,000m, but she’s lost four of five meetings with two-time world champion Hellen Obiri of Kenya at 5000m. Hassan appears to be gearing up to race the 5000m in Tokyo, though, saying last month her eye was on a 1500m-5000m Olympic double had the Games been held this year. The 1500m preliminary heats and the 5000m final are separated by about 12 hours at the Olympics next year. Also in this field: three-time Olympian and former American record holder Shannon Rowbury, set for her first Diamond League race in nearly three years and since the birth of daughter Sienna.

Men’s 1500m — 2:57 p.m.
Last we saw Kenyan Timothy Cheruiyot in a 1500m, he led wire-to-wire en route to a 2.12-second victory in the world championships final. Only one man has beaten Cheruiyot in three years, countryman Elijah Manangoi, who is provisionally suspended due to whereabouts failures. The Monaco field does include Norwegian Jakob Ingebrigtsen (second-fastest man of 2019), Ethiopian Yomif Kejelcha (indoor mile world-record holder), Pole Marcin Lewandowski (world bronze medalist) and Craig Engels (2019 U.S. champion who was 10th at worlds).

Men’s 200m — 3:32 p.m.
Lyles and younger brother Josephus Lyles go head-to-head for the first time since January 2017. Noah has lost just one outdoor 200m since placing fourth at the 2016 Olympic Trials coming out of high school. Josephus, primarily a 400m sprinter in his developmnt, last month took a half-second off a five-year-old 200m personal best. His new best time — 20.24 seconds — would have placed third at the 2019 USATF Outdoor Championships behind Noah (19.78) and Christian Coleman (20.02).

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