Nathan Chen repeats as Grand Prix Final champion, aces fall term

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Nathan Chen completed a perfect fall figure skating season. Now, for that Spanish exam back at Yale.

Chen landed three quadruple jumps — and fell on a fourth — in his free skate at the Grand Prix Final but still won the second-biggest annual international competition for a second straight year.

The world champion beat Japanese Olympic and world silver medalist Shoma Uno by 13.32 points. South Korean Cha Jun-Hwan was third at an event that lacked injured Japanese superstar Yuzuru Hanyu.

“I definitely did not do my greatest programs, both short and long, mistakes here and there,” said Chen, who also put his hands down on a quad in Thursday’s short program. “Basically right back to the books.”

Chen joined Tara Lipinski and Meryl Davis and Charlie White as Americans to win multiple Grand Prix Finals, but none of those previous skaters had an autumn quite like the 19-year-old world champion.

Chen enrolled at Yale, sprinkling in Grand Prix Series victories in October and November during class breaks and while studying 3,000 miles from his coach, Rafael Arutunian. He’s looking forward to more regular practice after next week’s final exams, when he flies home to California.

“It’s definitely been an aspect of my skating that’s lacking a little bit,” said Chen, who will go for a third straight U.S. title in late January. “I find practicing by myself or with [other] skaters … they’re not the level as the training mates in California.”

Uno continued his trend of making major podiums, but never the top step. He’s done that at four straight Grand Prix Finals, the last two world championships, the last two Four Continents Championships and in PyeongChang. Uno struggled with two of his four quads on Friday.

“I can definitely say it was not a good performance,” he said, according to the International Skating Union. “And I think every time I finish a competition I say the same thing. I performed today with the mindset that I would finally be able to make it. But it did not go well.”

The Grand Prix Final finishes Saturday with the women’s and pairs’ free skates and the free dance. A full broadcast schedule is here.

Men’s Results
Gold: Nathan Chen — 282.42
Silver: Shoma Uno — 275.10
Bronze: Cha Jun-Hwan (KOR) — 263.49
4. Michal Brezina (CZE) — 255.26
5. Keegan Messing (CAN) — 236.05
6. Sergei Voronov (RUS) — 226.44

In other events, U.S. champions and world silver medalists Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue took the ice dance lead by 2.23 points with their highest-scoring rhythm dance this season.

Hubbell and Donohue entered as favorites given none of the Olympic medalists are at the Final. They can notch the biggest win for a U.S. dance couple since Davis and White’s breakthrough at the Sochi Olympics.

None of the Olympic pairs’ medalists are at the Final, either. So Chinese Peng Cheng and Jin Yang took a surprise lead, while pre-event favorites Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov and Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres struggled with their side-by-side triple toe loops.

Short Dance
1. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 80.53
2. Charlene Guignard/Marco Fabbri (ITA) — 78.30
3. Victoria Sinitsina/Nikita Katsalapov (RUS) — 77.33
4. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 77.20
5. Tiffani Zagorski/Jonathan Guerreiro (RUS) — 72.98
6. Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker (USA) — 71.33

Pairs Short Program
1. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 75.69
2. Natalya Zabiyako/Alexander Enbert (RUS) — 75.18
3. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 74.04
4. Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres (FRA) — 71.51
5. Nicole Della Monica/Matteo Guarise (ITA) — 69.77
6. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 61.24

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Beach volleyball player’s dog becomes social media sensation

Mathias Berntsen
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Norwegian beach volleyball player Mathias Berntsen‘s dog, Kiara, captivated social media this weekend.

A video of Kiara peppering with Berntsen and a pair across the net on a grass field spread from Berntsen’s Instagram across platforms. Kiara now has 12,000 Instagram followers, more than twice the total of Berntsen.

Berntsen, 24, is one half of Norway’s second-best beach volleyball team.

He and partner Hendrik Mol are ranked 45th in the world and well outside the Tokyo Olympic picture (24 teams go to the Games), but could get in the mix depending on how qualification is amended once sports resume.

Berntsen and his cousin Mol are part of a group called the Beach Volley Vikings. Mol’s younger brother, Anders, and family friend Christian Sorum are the world’s top-ranked team (profiled here).

MORE: Beach volleyball players fly to Australia, learn event is canceled

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FIFA rules on Olympic men’s soccer tournament age eligibility

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For the first time since 1988, some 24-year-olds will be eligible for the Olympic men’s soccer tournament without using an over-age exception.

FIFA announced Friday that it will use the same age eligibility criteria for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 that it intended to use in 2020 — that players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997 are eligible, plus three over-age exceptions. FIFA chose not to move the birthdate deadline back a year after the Olympics were postponed by one year.

Olympic men’s soccer tournaments have been U-23 events — save those exceptions — since the 1992 Barcelona Games. In 1984 and 1988, restrictions kept European and South American players with World Cup experience ineligible. Before that, professionals weren’t allowed at all.

Fourteen of the 16 men’s soccer teams already qualified for the Games using players from under-23 national teams. The last two spots are to be filled by CONCACAF nations, potentially the U.S. qualifying a men’s team for the first time since 2008.

The U.S.’ biggest star, Christian Pulisic, and French superstar Kylian Mbappe were both born in 1998 and thus would have been under the age limit even if FIFA moved the deadline to Jan. 1, 1998.

Perhaps the most high-profile player affected by FIFA’s decision is Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus. The Manchester City star was born April 3, 1997, and thus would have become an over-age exception if FIFA pushed the birthdate rule back a year.

Instead, Brazil could name him to the Olympic team and still keep all of its over-age exceptions.

However, players need permission from their professional club teams to play in the Olympics, often limiting the availability of stars.

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