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Nathan Chen eyes Grand Prix Final spot in France; TV/stream schedule

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So far, so smooth for Nathan Chen as he balances Yale freshman life with an elite figure skating career. It’s test time again this week at Internationaux de France, the last qualifier for December’s Grand Prix Final.

The world champion can afford a C- or D-performance during his Thanksgiving class break. Breathing room after winning Skate America by the largest margin in history.

All Chen must do to earn a Grand Prix Final place is finish fifth or better in Grenoble against a field lacking top rivals Yuzuru Hanyu and Shoma Uno, who already qualified for the Final. The Final is the second-biggest annual competition, taking the top six skaters in the world from the fall Grand Prix Series.

Chen has been training 3,000 miles from his California-based coach, Rafael Arutunian. Though Arutunian expressed concern about the arrangement before Skate America, the early results showed that this unique situation could work.

“We’re still trying to figure it out as we go along,” Chen said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “I’m definitely fully committed to Rafael until the end of my career, really, so we’ll just have to play around with that and try to make the best scenario.”

Other headliners in France, such as Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva, have less wiggle room on Friday and Saturday, with live streams on NBC Sports Gold.

Day Time (ET) Event Network
Friday 9 a.m. Men’s Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
10:45 a.m. Rhythm Dance NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
12:30 p.m. Women’s Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
2:30 p.m. Pairs’ Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
Saturday 7:45 a.m. Men’s Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
10 a.m. Free Dance NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
1 p.m. Women’s Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
3 p.m. Pairs’ Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
Sunday 4 p.m. Highlights NBC | STREAM LINK

If Chen is looking to keep pace with Hanyu and Uno, though, he must win in France. The Japanese Olympic gold and silver medalists swept their Grand Prix starts.

Since Chen won Skate America with half of the eight quadruple jumps he attempted in PyeongChang, Hanyu surpassed him with the highest score in the world this season (297.12 to 280.57). But Hanyu is now uncertain for the Grand Prix Final since reinjuring his right ankle on Saturday.

Chen, Hanyu and Uno have not been in the same competition since the PyeongChang Olympics. Fortunately for Chen, the Grand Prix Final is again during one of his breaks from classes.

This week, Chen faces two-time world bronze medalist Jin Boyang, who has struggled since finishing fourth at the Olympics (one spot ahead of Chen). Sochi Olympian Jason Brown is also in the field, though he has never landed a clean, fully rotated quad in competition.

The women’s field is deeper, which could spell trouble for Medvedeva, who went undefeated for two years but has finished second or third in her last four competitions dating to January. The Olympic silver medalist took bronze at her first Grand Prix last month, which means she only automatically qualifies for the Final with a win this week. If she’s second, it could come to a tiebreak for the last spot at the Final.

And Medvedeva is not the highest-ranked skater in this week’s field. That honor falls on 16-year-old Japanese Rika Kihira, who landed two triple Axels in winning NHK Trophy two weeks ago. Only Olympic champion Alina Zagitova, already in the Final, has scored higher than Kihira this season.

U.S. champion Bradie Tennell would qualify for her first Grand Prix Final with a win this week, but that’s a tall order given the presence of Medvedeva and Kihira. Tennell beat Medvedeva in a lower-level September event, then struggled with the difficult triple Lutz-triple loop combination at Skate America and placed fourth.

This week’s ice dance and pairs’ fields feature the world’s best, all from France.

Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron compete on the top international level for the first time since earning a third world title in March. They missed an earlier Grand Prix due to Cizeron’s back injury, which excludes them from a Grand Prix Final matchup with American rivals and training partners Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue.

Instead this week, they face the next-best U.S. couple, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, who won NHK Trophy two weeks ago and have a great chance to make the Final for the first time.

Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres are the class of the pairs’ field, looking to become the first French to make a Grand Prix Final in the discipline since 2001. North Korean Olympians Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik are the third-ranked pair in the field and could make their first Grand Prix podium.

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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Tommy Ford ends U.S. men’s World Cup drought at Beaver Creek

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Tommy Ford earned his first World Cup win at age 30 and ended the U.S. men’s longest victory and podium droughts in two decades.

Ford won the giant slalom in Beaver Creek, Colo., on Sunday, the last North American race on tour this season. He prevailed by eight tenths of a second combining times over two runs.

Full results are here.

Ford became the first U.S. man to win a World Cup since Travis Ganong took a downhill on Jan. 27, 2017. He also became the first U.S. male podium finisher since Ted Ligety in January 2018. Both were the longest droughts for the program since the late 1990s.

Ford, a 2010 and 2018 Olympian who missed the 2014 Olympics due to a broken femur, had been working toward this moment. He finished a World Cup career-high fourth at the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, on Oct. 27. Last season, he had a pair of top-five results.

The men’s World Cup moves to Val d’Isere, France, next weekend for a giant slalom and slalom.

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Katie Ledecky wins race by 30 seconds, takes back No. 1 ranking

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In her last race of the year, Katie Ledecky ensured she would finish 2019 as the world’s fastest 1500m freestyler.

Ledecky clocked 15:35.98 at the U.S. Open in Atlanta, winning the longest event on the Olympic pool program by 29.97 seconds. Typical for Ledecky, who owns the nine fastest times in history. This one came in at No. 8. Full meet results are here.

Ledecky scratched the 1500m free final at the summer world championships due to illness. Italian Simona Quadarella went on to win that title in 15:40.89, which was the world’s fastest time this year until Saturday night.

“I didn’t have time on my mind at all today. I just wanted to have a consistent swim,” Ledecky, undefeated in 1500m free finals for nine years, said on NBCSN. “That’s probably the best mile that I’ve had in a while.”

The women’s 1500m freestyle debuts at the Olympics in Tokyo. Ledecky is expected to add that to her Rio Olympic individual lineup of 200m, 400m and 800m frees, assuming she is top two in each event at the June Olympic trials.

In other events Saturday, Erika Brown handed Simone Manuel a rare defeat in the 100m freestyle. Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, clocked 53.42 and lowered her personal best by .71 between prelims and the final. Brown moved from sixth to fourth in the U.S. rankings this year, upping her stock as a contender to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool via a top-six finish at trials.

Brown previously lowered her personal best in the 50m free on Thursday. She ranks third in the U.S. this year in that event.

Emily Escobedo dealt Lilly King a rare domestic defeat in the 200m breaststroke. Escobedo lowered her personal best by .87 and clocked 2:22.00, moving to seventh fastest in the world this year and remaining fourth among Americans.

In the men’s 200m breast, Olympic champion Dmitriy Balandin of Kazakhstan was beaten by Cody Miller, the Olympic 100m breast silver medalist. Both were slower than their best times this year.

The next significant swim meet is a Tyr Pro Series stop in Knoxville, Tenn., from Jan. 16-19.

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