Hubbell, Donohue in position to defend ice dance title

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Defending national ice dance champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue are in prime position to win a back-to-back title. They scored 84.56 points in Friday’s rhythm dance, set to “Maria de Buenos Aires” to hold more than a two-point lead over the rest of the field.

Hubbell and Donohue received level 4s on each of their elements, though missed one keypoint in their Tango Romantica.

“Today we focused on being our best, and I’m sure these other two teams did the exact same thing,” Hubbell said after the event of her training partners.

“We’ll enjoy the fact that we came out on top today and go to bed feeling satisfied,” she added. “It will be lovely to be able to win another title and share that with my family that’s in the crowd. But no matter what, our focus is going to be on getting a performance that we’re proud of.”

Results: Rhythm dance

Madison Chock and Evan Bates competed in just their second competition of the season in Detroit — and second competition since being sidelined with injury for 10 months. In the time since, they moved to Montreal to train. They skated a clean program, including all level 4 elements and scored 82.33 points and are in second place heading into Saturday’s free dance.

Chock and Bates were the 2015 U.S. champions. Their rhythm dance was sharp and spot-on; the duo received level 4s on each element and hit all the keypoints in their pattern.

“I think back stage we were less relaxed, but when we took the ice, the calmness came over us,” Bates said afterward. “We have a really good connection. This is not our fist nationals. We have been doing this a really long time, despite the ten-month layoff.”

A third Montreal-based team, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, are in third after the rhythm dance. They earned 76.77 points. Hawayek and Baker have only ever been as high as fourth place at nationals.

They hit each of the keypoints in their pattern, and received level 4s on their twizzles and their lift. Their step sequence earned a level 3.

Three teams that each won bronze medals on the Grand Prix Series this fall currently sit in fourth, fifth, and sixth before Saturday’s free skate.

MORE: Tanith White analyzes the ice dance field

Earlier Friday, the junior ice dance competition wrapped up with brother and sister duo Caroline and Gordon Green taking the top spot. The siblings totaled 172.54, followed by Avonley Nguyen and Vadym Kolesnik 1.48 points back for the silver medal.

Eliana Gropman and Ian Somerville tallied 155.46 points for bronze, edging out another brother and sister team, Oona and Gage Brown, who were fourth with 153.67 points.

Results: Junior ice dance 

As a reminder, you can watch the U.S. Championships 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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Adam Jones, five-time MLB All-Star, becomes Olympic eligible

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Should the U.S. qualify for baseball’s Olympic return, a five-time MLB All-Star could be eligible for its roster in Tokyo. And he has interest.

Outfielder Adam Jones signed with the Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s domestic league, which, unlike MLB, will take an Olympic break next summer to allow players to take part in the first Olympic baseball tournament in 12 years.

Jones, 34, made no mention of Olympic eligibility in a social media post announcing the signing. His Instagram avatar is a photo of him in a Team USA jersey from the World Baseball Classic.

Jones’ agent later said that Jones does have interest in playing for the U.S. in Tokyo, should an American team qualify in the spring.

“To play over in Japan has always been a desire of Adam’s, and the timing worked out that the Olympics happens to be played in Tokyo the first year of his contract,” Jones’ agent wrote in an email. “It wasn’t one of the factors on his decision BUT more of a [sic] addition to the overall package to decide to go.”

Jones called being part of the U.S.’ 2017 WBC title, “probably the best experience of my life so far, especially with sports,” according to The Associated Press. He was one of five players to be on the U.S. team at each of the last two World Baseball Classics.

The U.S. still faces a difficult task to qualify for the Tokyo Games. It lost to Mexico last month in its first of up to three chances at qualifying tournaments, using a roster of mostly double-A and triple-A caliber players.

Major Leaguers are not expected to be made available for qualifying or for the Tokyo Games.

The next two qualifying tournaments will be in late March (an Americas qualifier in Arizona) and early April (a final, global qualifying event in Chinese Taipei). It remains to be seen how MLB clubs will go about releasing minor leaguers for a tournament that will take place during spring training.

Jones could become the third player with prior MLB All-Star experience to compete at the Olympics from any nation, joining Australian catcher Dave Nilsson and Canadian pitcher Jason Dickson.

Jones made five All-Star teams during an 11-year stint with the Baltimore Orioles from 2008-18 before playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season.

Many players competed at the Olympics before making an MLB All-Star team, including Stephen Strasburg and Jason Giambi.

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Russia boxers to boycott Olympics if sanctions not lifted

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Russian boxers will only take part in the Tokyo Olympics if doping sanctions forcing them to compete as neutral athletes are overturned, the general secretary of the Russian Boxing Federation told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Umar Kremlev said he has spoken with the Olympic boxing team and they “unanimously” rejected the conditions laid out by the World Anti-Doping Agency as punishment for manipulating doping data.

The WADA sanctions, announced on Monday, ban the use of the Russian team name, flag or anthem at a range of major sports competitions over the next four years, including next year’s Olympics.

“They said we won’t go without our flag and anthem,” Kremlev said. “We aren’t going for medals, but for that feeling that I brought the highest honor home for my country.”

Separately, the speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament said Russia could create an alternative to the Olympics.

“This ruling show the clear crisis in international sports institutions. I believe that Russia could host its own games at home,” Valentina Matvienko said in comments reported by the Interfax news agency.

There is a precedent. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Soviet Union refused to compete in the Olympics and hosted its own Spartakiads — named after the ancient rebel slave Spartacus — with a strong socialist slant. However, the Soviet Union began competing at the Olympics in 1952 and Russians generally take great pride in the country’s Olympic achievements since then.

If the sanctions aren’t overturned, Kremlev said Russian boxers would prefer to turn pro rather than compete at the Olympics.

“A world champion (in professional boxing) is better known than an Olympic champion,” Kremlev said, adding the Russian anthem would be played before pro title fights.

Kremlev said boxers are being asked to shoulder the blame for offenses committed in other sports. He said they would still stay at home even if Russia’s athletes in other sports decided to take part.

“If other sports are guilty and people have breached the WADA code, why are we punished?” he said. “We are for honest sport and against doping. We want our sport to be clean … If someone breaks the rules, we push them out.”

Russia is a major power in amateur and Olympic boxing. It hosted both men’s and women’s world championships this year, finishing at the top of the medals table at the women’s event and second in the men’s championships. The International Olympic Committee has taken direct charge of boxing at the Tokyo Olympics after criticizing chronic financial problems and infighting at the International Boxing Association.

Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov talked up Russia’s chances of overturning the WADA sanctions.

“I think that there is every basis to appeal the decision, because our experts have presented their position, and they have the same database as WADA does,” Kolobkov said in comments reported by state news agency TASS. “There is an answer to every question and the whole process is ahead of us.”

The official decision on whether to dispute the sanctions will be made on Dec. 19 by the Russian anti-doping agency’s supervisory board, but senior figures, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, have signaled their preference for taking the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

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