Yevgenia Medvedeva must rally to make Grand Prix Final

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Coach Brian Orser gave Yevgenia Medvedeva another post-short program pep talk Friday, this one after the Russian stood third at Internationaux de France, but within a half-point of first place.

“There’s a lot of pressure on the short program, OK?” Orser told the two-time world champion and Olympic silver medalist. “And we’re getting there. You’re a little bit behind, so guess what? Kill it in the long, just like we did at Skate Canada. … You’ve got to be feisty.”

The standings must change in Saturday’s free skate, or Medvedeva will fail to qualify for December’s six-skater Grand Prix Final, the biggest annual event outside of the world championships.

Her short program looked smooth until she doubled the back end of her planned triple-triple combination. She tallied 67.55 points, trailing Japanese Mai Mihara and Rika Kihira by .4 and .09, respectively.

U.S. champion Bradie Tennell is sixth after struggling with jumps, hurting her already minute chance of making the Grand Prix Final. Tennell almost surely must win, or it will mark a third straight season with no U.S. woman in the Final.

GP FRANCE: Full Results | TV/Stream Schedule

The two-time world champ Medvedeva finished second or third at her last four events dating to January, since withdrawing before last season’s Grand Prix Final with a broken bone in her right foot. She moved from Moscow to Toronto in the offseason, began training under Orser and rebounded from a seventh-place short program to finish third in her Grand Prix season debut at Skate Canada last month.

Orser referred to her leading Skate Canada free skate in his kiss-and-cry urging to Medvedeva on Friday.

“I feel more alive than after the short program at Skate Canada,” Medvedeva said, according to the International Skating Union “I have the opportunity to fight.”

Medvedeva will automatically make the Grand Prix Final by winning Saturday. If she finishes second, it may come down to a tiebreaker. Olympic champion and former training partner Alina Zagitova is already in the Final. The two Russians haven’t faced off since Zagitova edged Medvedeva for gold in PyeongChang by 1.31.

Mihara is the surprise leader in France despite under-rotating the back end of her triple-triple combo. She finished fourth at her last four Grand Prix starts but is now in position to make her first Grand Prix Final.

Kihira, who won her senior Grand Prix debut two weeks ago, is in third place after popping her opening Axel. Kihira, ranked second in the world this season, landed two triple Axels in her leading free skate at NHK Trophy two weeks ago.

Tennell struggled with her difficult, opening triple Lutz-triple loop combination, as she did en route to a fourth-place finish at October’s Skate America. She two-footed her Lutz landing and was unable to add a second jump, forcing her to tack a triple toe loop onto her triple flip later in the program. Three of her four jumps were called under-rotated.

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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Maya Moore withdraws from Olympic consideration

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Maya Moore, the U.S. second-leading scorer at the Rio Olympics, withdrew her name from Tokyo Olympic consideration and will skip a second straight WNBA season.

Moore is on hiatus from competitive basketball to focus on criminal justice reform. Specifically, the case of a man who was sentenced to 50 years in prison but Moore believes is innocent, according to The New York Times.

USA Basketball confirmed Wednesday’s Times report that Moore took her name out of consideration for the 12-player Tokyo Olympic team, which is expected to be named in late spring or early summer.

“We are going to miss Maya tremendously, but we also respect her decision,” U.S. women’s national team director Carol Callan said, according to the report. “A player of Maya’s ability does not walk away from the gym lightly. Everyone feels it. The thing that makes her so special is her approach, her dedication, which has always been contagious for our team.”

Moore last played for the U.S. in major competition at the Rio Olympics. She was one of the leaders on a team that earned a sixth straight gold medal. Moore started all eight games and averaged 12 points per game, second on the team behind fellow former University of Connecticut star Diana Taurasi.

Breanna Stewart, another former UConn standout, entered the starting lineup at the 2018 FIBA World Cup in Moore’s absence and earned tournament MVP. Stewart is returning after missing the entire 2019 WNBA season with an Achilles tear.

Moore also started five games at the 2012 London Olympics as the team’s youngest player.

Moore, 30, said “this is not the time” to retire, according to the Times, but it’s unknown when she might return to the national team or to the WNBA, where she won four titles and an MVP with the Minnesota Lynx from 2011-18.

“I got to experience the best of my craft, and I did that multiple times,” Moore said, according to the report. “There is nothing more I wish I could experience.”

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Major League Baseball sponsors U.S. Olympic softball team

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NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Baseball is using its financial muscle to support the U.S. women’s softball team, which already is assured a spot in the Tokyo Olympics while the American men’s baseball team struggles to qualify.

MLB announced an agreement Thursday to become presenting sponsor of the women’s “Stand Beside Her” tour, a slate of exhibition games leading up to the Olympic tournament from July 22-28.

“We’re both bat and ball sports. Even though we’re not the same sport, there are so many similarities that you just can’t ignore,” said Kim Ng, MLB’s senior vice president for baseball operations. “It was important for us to make sure that they have this acknowledgment and recognition of their ability and their talent.”

Softball began as an Olympic sport for the 1996 Atlanta Games. The U.S. won gold medals in 1996, 2000 and 2004 with players that included Dot Richardson, Jennie Finch and Jessica Mendoza, then lost to Japan in the 2008 gold-medal game.

Baseball and softball were dropped for the next two Olympics, then restored for this year, when the U.S. and Japan will be joined by Australia, Canada, Italy and Mexico for games in Fukushima and Yokohama but not Tokyo. The sports are likely to be dropped for 2024 in Paris but could return four years later in Los Angeles.

The U.S. men’s baseball team stumbled in its first attempt to qualify, wasting a ninth-inning lead against Mexico in the final game of the Premier12 tournament in November and losing in the 10th. The U.S. has two more chances to join Israel, Japan, Mexico and South Korea in the Olympic field: an Americas tournament in Arizona from March 22-26 and a final tournament in Taiwan from April 1-5.

MLB is not allowing players on 40-man big league rosters to compete in qualifying, and few top pitching prospects were at the November tournament.

Softball has no such issues. The Olympics are the sport’s highest-profile event.

“The platform for us is 10 times bigger,” American outfielder Haylie McCleney said. “For us, it’s a great opportunity for people that have never watched softball before, people that have only followed it at the collegiate level, to really see how fun our game is to watch, how pure it is. If people are baseball fans, I guarantee they’re going to love softball because it’s pretty much just a faster game – it’s shorter, it’s quicker, it’s more entertaining to watch, in my opinion.”

The 2008 gold-medal softball game took 1 hours, 45 minutes — less than half the 3:45 average for this year’s World Series.

As part of the deal with MLB, the softball team’s official training facility will be at the Jackie Robinson Training Complex in Vero Beach, Florida, the old Dodgertown spring training camp.

MLB Network will include programming from the tour, which currently starts Feb. 4 in Tampa and has about three dozen stops.

The U.S. women’s soccer team has attracted huge television audiences. MLB sees softball as an opportunity for the sport’s growth.

“These are world-class athletes,” Ng said. “Because we have not been in the Olympics for the last 12 years, they just haven’t had that stage. So it’s really important at this point that we show as much support as we can for them.”

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