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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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Justin Morneau nixes Olympic baseball qualifying return

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Justin Morneau, the 2006 AL MVP with the Minnesota Twins, was taken off Canada’s Olympic baseball qualifying roster before he would have played his first competitive game in more than two years.

Morneau, 38, experienced an unspecified setback in training and was replaced on Canada’s roster for next month’s Premier12. The global tournament marks the first opportunity for many world baseball powers to qualify for the sport’s return to the Olympics.

Morneau never played in the Olympics before baseball was cut from the Games after 2008; active MLB players have never competed in the Games. But he was on Canada’s roster at all four World Baseball Classics from 2006 through 2017.

At November’s Premier12, the top nation from North and South America will qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. Japan and Israel are already qualified. Those that do not qualify will get another chance next year.

Morneau could become the second Major League Baseball MVP to play Olympic baseball as a medal sport. The other was Jason Giambi, who made the U.S. team in 1992, the same summer he was drafted in the second round by the Oakland Athletics.

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Kolohe Andino is first U.S. Olympic surfing qualifier; Kelly Slater faces last chance

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Kolohe Andino is the first American to qualify for surfing’s Olympic debut, which leaves one spot left for 47-year-old Kelly Slater to chase at the final contest of the season.

Andino, a 25-year-old Californian whose first name means “rascal” in Hawaiian, clinched his place in Tokyo on Friday at the penultimate stop on the World Surf League Championship Tour in Portugal. He is ranked fifth in the world, trailing a trio of Brazilians.

One more American man will join Andino on the Olympic team. It will be one of Slater, the 11-time world champion, John John Florence, the 2016 and 2017 World champion, and rising 22-year-old Hawaiian Seth Moniz.

Slater was handed a golden opportunity to qualify when Florence announced in early July that he tore an ACL for the second time in 13 months. Florence had won two of the first five events this season.

Slater has been chasing the sidelined Florence in the standings ever since. But it has not been easy.

Slater hasn’t made the quarterfinals in any of his last seven contests going into December’s finale — the prestigious Billabong Pipeline Masters on the North Shore of Oahu.

“Ninth place, to me, used to be a pretty awful result. I’m used to at least a quarterfinal on for most of my career,” he said in July, noting a back injury. “I’m not horrified by my results, but I’m also not surprised. Maybe other people are because everyone focuses on my age and that kind of thing. It’s not like I’m going to all of a sudden forget how to do this thing, you know?”

Slater, who won the Pipe Masters seven times between 1992 and 2013, must reach the quarterfinals at this year’s event to have any chance of passing Florence to qualify for the Olympics.

Complicating matters: Florence said in August it was his “goal to get better for Pipeline in case I have to come back and compete and gain points,” according to ESPN.com. If Florence does return for the December contest, and makes the quarterfinals, Slater could only pass him with a victory.

Moniz goes into the finale ranked one spot behind Slater, meaning he, too, can grab that second and final Olympic spot with a win or a runner-up.

Slater, who turns 48 on Feb. 11, would be the oldest U.S. Summer Olympic rookie competitor in a sport other than equestrian, sailing or shooting (or art competitions!) in the last 100 years, supplanting Martina Navratilova, according to the OlyMADMen.

MORE: Top U.S. surfer has links to Egg McMuffin, Guinness World Record holder

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