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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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Mondo Duplantis, Sandi Morris miss attempts at pole vault records

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Sweden’s Mondo Duplantis and U.S. athlete Sandi Morris took turns attempting world records in the pole vault Wednesday at the Meeting d’Athlétsime Hauts-de-France Pas-de-Calais meet at Arena Stade Regional in Liévin, France, but both were unable to clear the bar.

Duplantis, aiming to set the world record for third time in February, had no misses leading up to his record attempts. U.S. vaulter Sam Kendricks, who has won the last two world championships, cleared 5.90m but dropped out after one attempt at 5.95m. Duplantis passed on that height, then cleared 6.07m to warm up for his shot at 6.19m, just shy of 20 feet, 3 3/4 inches.

Morris’ attempt to tie Jennifer Suhr‘s world indoor record of 5.03m from 2016 was more of a surprise. Morris holds the U.S. outdoor record at 5.00m but had never done better than 4.95m indoors. She won Wednesday’s competition with a clearance of 4.83m and asked to go immediately to 5.03m, or 16 feet, 6 inches.

Yelena Isinbayeva still holds the outdoor record of 5.06m, set in 2009. Morris is second on the all-time list and is the only athlete other than Isinbayeva or Suhr to clear 5 meters either indoors or outdoors.

In the men’s pole vault, Duplantis’ clearance of 6.18m Feb. 15 in Glasgow is the best vault indoors or outdoors.  Sergey Bubka still has the highest clearance outdoors at 6.14m. Bubka also held the indoor record of 6.15m for more than 20 years, finally losing it to Renaud Lavillenie in 2014. Duplantis cleared 6.17m Feb. 9 in Poland, then added another centimeter last week in Glasgow.

READ: Duplantis raises record in Glasgow

Duplantis, Lavillenie and Bubka are the only vaulters to clear 20 feet. Kendricks cleared 6.06m, or 19-10 1/2, last summer, the highest outdoor clearance by anyone other than Bubka.

Duplantis grew up in Louisiana and attended LSU for one year, setting the NCAA indoor (5.92m) and outdoor (6.00m) before turning pro, though he was upset in the NCAA final by South Dakota junior Chris Nilsen.

Also at Wednesday’s meet:

Ronnie Baker ran 6.49 seconds in the 60m semifinals and lowered that to 6.44 in the final, second only to Christian Coleman this season. Demek Kemp finished second and tied his personal best of 6.50.

Nia Ali and Christina Clemons finished 1-2 in the women’s 60m hurdles with identical times of 7.92. Ali is the reigning world champion and Olympic silver medalist in the 100m hurdles. She also won world indoor titles in 2014 and 2016.

Two Ethiopian runners set the fastest times of the season Samuel Tefera in the 1,500m (3:35.54) and Getnet Wale in the 3,000m (7:32.80). Wale was fourth in the 3,000m steeplechase in the 2019 world championships.

Pascal Martinot-Lagarde, racing in his home country of France, won the 60m hurdles in 7.47, second this season to Grant Holloway‘s 7.38 last week.

The World Athletics Indoor Tour ends Friday in Madrid. The world indoor championships originally scheduled for March in Nanjing, China, have been postponed a year due to the coronavirus outbreak.

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Susan Dunklee extends decade of surprises for U.S. biathletes

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When Susan Dunklee‘s time held up for second place in Friday’s 7.5km sprint, she became the first U.S. biathlete to win two world championship medals in her career and earned the sixth medal for the U.S. in world biathlon championship history.

Four of those medals have come in the past eight years.

First was Tim Burke, who had gained some fame among biathlon fans with his three World Cup podiums in the 2009-10 season and his relationship with German biathlete Andrea Henkel, who would win two Olympic gold medals and eight world championships before retiring and marrying Burke.

In that season, Burke led the World Cup briefly but faded and didn’t do well in the Olympics. But in 2012-13, he finished 10th in the World Cup overall and ended the American drought in the world championships, finishing second in the individual behind dominant French biathlete Martin Fourcade, who won his 11th non-relay world title Wednesday in the individual.

In 2017, Dunklee became the first U.S. woman to win a non-relay medal, taking the lead in the mass start after quickly knocking down all five targets in the last shooting and holding on for second. She didn’t come out of nowhere, having taken a few World Cup medals. That season, she ranked 10th overall in the World Cup.

Then came the stunner. Lowell Bailey, who had just one World Cup podium in a long career coming into the 2016-17 season, had bib 100 in the individual, a spot usually reserved for non-contenders. But he hit all 20 targets, always important in a race that penalizes athletes one minute per miss, and gutted it out through the last lap to keep a 3.3-second advantage and win the first world championship for a U.S. biathlete.

Like Dunklee, Bailey earned his medal in the midst of a strong season. The individual was won of his four top-10 finishes in the world championships, including a fourth-place finish in the sprint. He wound up eighth overall in the World Cup.

Bailey and Burke each stuck it out to compete in their fourth Olympics in 2018, then crossed the finish line together in their final race at the U.S. championships.

This season is their first in management. Bailey, also a bluegrass musician, is now U.S. Biathlon’s director of high performance. Burke is director of athlete development.

Dunklee, on the other hand, isn’t done. Her results slipped a bit after her 2017 breakthrough, but she has had some top 10s. When she shoots clean, as she did Friday, she’s a contender.

The first U.S. medal was in the first women’s world championship in 1984, when Holly Beatie, Julie Newman and Kari Swenson bronze in 3x5km relay. Swenson also finished fifth in the individual that year and returned to compete in the next two world championships after a harrowing experience in which she was abducted and shot, a story that inspired a film starring Tracy Pollan.

The only other U.S. medal in the world championships before Burke, Bailey and Dunklee was Josh Thompson‘s individual silver in 1987. The only athletes other than Burke, Bailey, Dunklee and Thompson to have World Cup podiums (excluding relays) are Jeremy Teela in 2009 and Clare Egan, who was third in a mass start last spring and is competing in the world championships this year.

U.S. Paralympians broke through with two gold medals on the first day of competition in the 2018 Paralympics.

READ: Kendall Gretsch, Dan Cnossen take gold

Wednesday saw another surprise finish for a U.S. biathlete. Leif Nordgren, whose career-best finish outside the relays is 16th, was the only athlete to go 20-for-20 on the shooting range and placed eighth in the individual.

The championships continue through through Sunday with the single mixed relay on Thursday, the men’s and women’s relays on Saturday, and the men’s and women’s mass starts on Sunday.

WATCH: World biathlon championships TV schedule

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