Kaitlin Hawayek, Jean-Luc Baker signal ice dance arrival at Grand Prix Final

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By Jean-Christophe Berlot and Nick Zaccardi

When U.S. ice dancer Jean-Luc Baker returned from his first Grand Prix win with partner Kaitlin Hawayek last month, he had something to say to French training partner Guillaume Cizeron, one half of the world’s best couple.

“We missed you,” Baker told Cizeron, who withdrew before the event, NHK Trophy in Japan, with a minor back injury. “But … thank you.”

Baker was of course joking with Cizeron, who with Gabriella Papadakis won a third world title last March, but a full-strength French couple would have won NHK. Instead, Hawayek and Baker, whose best U.S. Championships finish is fourth, became the seventh U.S. couple to win a Grand Prix.

The Americans still earned their place in this week’s Grand Prix Final with enough cushion that Papadakis and Cizeron’s NHK absence didn’t matter. Even if Papadakis and Cizeron skated in Japan — and won — Hawayek and Baker would have qualified for the sport’s most exclusive competition as the sixth and last couple. They were fourth at their second Grand Prix in France, Hawayek skating with her leg stitched after a practice accident.

The duo seems to now have reached the very elite of world skating.

After missing the PyeongChang Olympics by one spot at a deep nationals, Hawayek and Baker won January’s Four Continents Championships and, after the season, joined Papadakis and Cizeron’s training group in Montreal.

The leave from the U.S. ice dance hotbed of Detroit came as one of their coaches, 1998 Olympic silver medalist Anjelika Krylova, moved home to Moscow.

Hawayek and Baker became the latest couple to cross the border. They followed Canadian Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue, the other U.S. couple in the Grand Prix Final and this week’s favorite with all of the Olympic medalists absent. Madison Chock and Evan Bates train in Montreal as well, but have yet to debut this season.

Hawayek said new coaches Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon immediately noted the flaws of a couple whose website displays Pro Football Hall of Fame coach George Allen‘s quote, “Winning is the science of being totally prepared.” They’re also working with a musical specialist on interpretation.

“It’s our fifth season together. We’re old now,” Hawayek joked. “With experience comes maturity.”

But they couldn’t practice on ice together for two months after Baker, the son of a British ice dancer and pairs’ skater, sustained his second concussion in three years in August. They tell that story through their free dance to music from The Irrepressibles, a Baroque British ensemble.

“Maybe it’s not too visible to an external eye, but for us, as we skate, it is completely,” Baker said. “It helps us emotionally.”

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 to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating 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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MORE: How to watch the Grand Prix Final

Figure skating Grand Prix Series will be held as ‘domestic’ competitions

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Figure skating’s Grand Prix Series will go ahead as scheduled this fall, with modifications due to the coronavirus pandemic, the International Skating Union decided Monday.

Each of the series’ six tops around the globe will be “a domestic run event,” limited to skaters of the event’s host country, who regularly train in the host country and from a respective geographical area. The number of disciplines and skaters at each event are to be worked out.

The Grand Prix Series, held annually since 1995, is a six-event fall season, qualifying the top six skaters and teams per discipline to December’s Grand Prix Final. The annual stops are in the U.S., Canada, China, France, Russia and Japan, leading up to the Final, which is held at a different site each year.

The Final is the second-biggest annual competition after the world championships, which are typically in late March. The Final is still scheduled for Beijing, though whether or when it can be held will be discussed.

The series begins in late October with Skate America, which debuted in 1979 and has been held every year since 1988 as the biggest annual international competition in the U.S. Skate America’s site is Las Vegas, just as it was in 2019.

Skaters typically compete twice on the Grand Prix Series (three times if they qualify for the Final). ISU vice president Alexander Lakernik said skaters will be limited to one start in the six-event series before the Final, according to TASS. The ISU has not confirmed or denied that report.

The January 2021 U.S. Championships are scheduled for San Jose, Calif. The March 2021 World Championships are set for Stockholm.

In July, the ISU canceled the Junior Grand Prix Series for skaters mostly ages 13 to 18, including two-time U.S. champion Alysa Liu. Other early season senior international competitions scheduled for September were also canceled or postponed.

MORE: World’s top skater leaves famed coach

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Ex-Michigan State gymnastics coach sentenced in case tied to Larry Nassar

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LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A former Michigan State University head gymnastics coach was sentenced Tuesday to 90 days in jail for lying to police during an investigation into ex-Olympic and university doctor Larry Nassar.

Kathie Klages, 65, was found guilty by a jury in February of a felony and a misdemeanor for denying she knew of Nassar’s abuse prior to 2016 when survivors started to come forward publicly. She also was sentenced to 18 months of probation.

Klages testified at trial, and in a tearful statement Tuesday, that she did not remember being told about abuse. She said she had been seeing a therapist to try to remember the conversations and apologized to victims if they occurred.

“Even when I don’t express it to others, I struggle with what I’ve been accused of and what my role in this tragedy may have been,” she said in court.

Two women testified in November 2018 that in 1997 they told Klages that Nassar had sexually abused them and spoke Tuesday in court ahead of the sentencing. One of the women, Larissa Boyce, testified that Klages held up a piece of paper in front of the then-16-year-old and said if she filed a report there could be serious consequences for Boyce.

“I am standing here representing my 16-year-old self who was silenced and humiliated 23 years ago and unfortunately, all of the hundreds of girls that were abused after me,” Boyce said.

If the case had not involved Nassar, her lawyer has said, Klages would never have been found guilty. Nearly 200 letters were submitted to the judge on Klages’ behalf, her lawyer, Mary Chartier, said in a court filing ahead of the hearing. She noted that Klages sent her granddaughter, daughter and son to Nassar for health care.

“Mrs. Klages was one of thousands of people, including the police and the parents who were present in the room during treatments, who were fooled by a master manipulator with a singular design,” Chartier said.

It’s “shameful” to say that Klages could have prevented the scandal, Chartier said.

“Numerous people were told about the procedure — nurses, athletic trainers at other schools, psychologists, doctors and a high school counselor — and they did nothing,” Chartier said, quoting investigation reports. “Most notably, police and prosecutors were aware of the procedures, and they did nothing. To ignore this and claim that Mrs. Klages could have stopped the devastation wrought by Mr. Nassar is just plain false.”

Nassar was sentenced in 2018 to 40 to 175 years in prison for decades of sexual abuse to hundreds of athletes.

Klages is the second person other than Nassar to be convicted of charges related to his serial molestation of young women and girls under the guise of medical treatment. The misdemeanor carried up to a 2-year prison sentence, while the felony carried up to a 4-year prison sentence.

Nassar’s boss at Michigan State, ex-College of Osteopathic Medicine Dean William Strampel, was sentenced to jail for crimes including neglecting a duty to enforce protocols on Nassar after a patient complained about sexual contact in 2014.

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MORE: British gymnastics stars speak up about abuse amid investigation