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U.S. Championships men’s preview: Nathan Chen’s imminent three-peat

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Nathan Chen can capture his third national title at the U.S. Championships this weekend in Detroit. His technical prowess leaves him largely unchallenged in the field, though familiar faces to the U.S. podium will look to take home medals of their own. PyeongChang Olympian Vincent Zhou and Sochi Olympian Jason Brown are the most likely candidates.

Zhou’s focus this season has been on integrating the artistic side of his skating with his own technical ability. Brown, the 2015 U.S. champion, moved to Toronto to train this season under Brian Orser.

The men’s short program is Saturday and the free skate is Sunday. Check out the full schedule and live streaming information here.

Nathan Chen three-peat possible

The last man to win three straight U.S. national titles was Johnny Weir, who won from 2004 to 2006. Chen attempts to match that feat in Detroit, and the reigning world champion should be relatively unchallenged on the ice. Chen, the Grand Prix Final winner and Yale freshman, has largely been training alone this season. California-based coach Rafael Arutunian has been “telecoaching” him from across the country while Chen has been in at school in New Haven, Connecticut.

MORE: Nathan Chen’s ambitious spring semester kicks off with U.S. Championships

Vincent Zhou focused on growth

Zhou missed the podium at both of his Grand Prix assignments, mostly due to strict under-rotation calls this season. He told reporters ahead of nationals that he’s been working to make the rotation on his jumps clearer. “That’s one of the things I hope people will see in Detroit because I have been training better in that aspect,” he said.

MORE: 3 questions with Vincent Zhou

Jason Brown

Brown left the only coach he’s ever had at the end of last season, when he missed the 2018 Olympics. Now in Toronto with Orser and Tracy Wilson, he’s training alongside double Olympic gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan. Brown still doesn’t have a quad, but his high artistic marks keep him in the conversation. His long-term goals circle around the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.

MORE: 3 questions with Jason Brown

Others to watch

Alex Krasnozhon was last year’s favorite to win the world junior championship, but an injury on a quad loop attempt forced him to withdraw in the middle of his free skate. He struggled with getting training back on track for this season, but is still a dark horse for the podium if he successfully hits his technically difficult programs.

Jimmy Ma’s viral “Turn Down for What” program from last year’s nationals will be followed up with another one to watch – his short program is set to “Mi Gente.”

Camden Pulkinen makes his senior national debut. He trains alongside Zhou in Colorado Springs and has made the Junior Grand Prix Final the past two seasons.

Veterans Tim Dolensky and Alex Johnson make their sixth and ninth national championships appearance, respectively. Both typically place inside the top 10 thanks to their clean, artistic programs.

MORE: Bradie Tennell and Mariah Bell challenged in ladies’ field by 13-year-old

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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Ginny Fuchs hopes to emerge from OCD, tearful Olympic experience

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None of the boxers at this week’s U.S. Olympic Trials competed at a prior Olympics, but flyweight Ginny Fuchs remembers the specifics of her one Olympic experience in Rio.

Fuchs, who won the 2016 Olympic trials but failed to clinch a spot at the Games in international qualifiers, was nonetheless named team captain and brought to Rio as a sparring partner.

She had mixed feelings. Watching from the crowd as Claressa Shields repeated as Olympic champion on the final day of the Games was motivating. Fuchs had toyed with turning professional but, after talking to Shields, decided to forge another four years as an amateur for another chance to become an Olympian.

The Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony, two weeks before that Shields final, was too much for Fuchs to bear. She could not stay in the Athletes’ Village nor march with the U.S. delegation at the Maracana.

“I remember watching the Opening Ceremony at the place I was at with everybody,” she said. “I couldn’t watch. It was hard for me to watch. I went back to my room, cried and went to bed.”

Fuchs is favored to win the 51kg/112-pound division this week at Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino in Lake Charles, La., with finals streaming live on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app on Sunday (4-7 p.m. ET). It’s one of five women’s Olympic weight classes, up from three in 2012 and 2016, the first two editions of the Games for female boxers.

No boxer can clinch an Olympic spot this week, but failing to make a final would all but end Tokyo hopes.

Fuchs’ toughest opponent in this Olympic cycle — which included an undefeated 2017 and a 2018 World bronze medal among more than 130 fights — may be herself. Fuchs has been open about struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

It started in fifth grade.

“I can remember the first time I was on the school bus, and I was looking at the ground and looking at everybody’s backpacks on the floor,” said Fuchs, a 31-year-old from the Houston area. “And an instant thought came in mind, like, Oh my god. Everybody’s backpack is getting contaminated by this dirty floor on the bus.”

She cited a more recent example: spending up to 40 minutes washing her hands searching for that “perfect clean feeling.” Fuchs found boxing via a boyfriend after she was kicked off the LSU cross-country running team as a freshman walk-on for damaging school property in a prank.

She said the disorder hit her hardest this year. In January, she was driving to a Walmart three times a day to buy cleaning supplies, according to The New York Times.

She underwent intensive therapy and skipped October’s world championships, where she could have established herself as a clear Olympic gold-medal favorite.

“I still am going to probably do therapy for the rest of my life,” Fuchs said. “Maybe not as intense as I’m doing it right now, but it’s almost like training for boxing.

“You’ve got to keep training to keep winning in boxing. So I’ve got to keep training my OCD thoughts and how to handle and manage it. … Boxing is giving me hope almost. Like OK, outside the ring and in my room and the bathroom, I feel like [OCD] controls me and feel trapped. But I have this environment in this space in the gym, in the boxing ring, where I can be myself. And not let it attack me in a way where I can still enjoy life and not be trapped.”

Should Fuchs make the final of her division in Lake Charles, she will advance to a January camp and tournament, after which the U.S. roster for Olympic qualifying will be named.

If selected, Fuchs would head to a North and South American Olympic qualifying event in early spring in Buenos Aires to clinch the spot she could not secure four years ago. If necessary, she could get a second chance at a global qualifier in May in Paris.

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Yulia Efimova has lawyer ready if Russia ban affects her

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Yulia Efimova, the Russian swimmer who earned two Rio Olympic silver medals after initially being excluded from the Games for serving a prior doping ban, is bracing for another legal fight after the latest sanctions against her nation.

On Monday, Russia was banned from the 2020 and 2022 Olympics and the next four years of world championships in Olympic sports due to more recent anti-doping violations. However, its athletes can still compete as neutrals, if meeting specific anti-doping criteria, similar to how they did at the PyeongChang Winter Games.

Efimova was initially barred from the Rio Olympics under an IOC mandate that any Russian who previously served a doping ban would be ineligible due to the country’s anti-doping violations at that time.

Efimova appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which ruled that IOC stipulation unenforceable. She went on to earn 100m and 200m breaststroke silver medals and develop a rivalry with American Lilly King, who said Efimova should not have been eligible.

It’s unclear from Monday’s ruling whether Efimova will be allowed to compete as a neutral, should Russia accept the sanctions or any appeal to CAS by the nation be denied.

“I will behave in a similar way,” to 2016, Efimova said, according to RT.com. “I have already hired a lawyer. There is a rule that a person can’t be punished twice for the same offense. If you violate a driving code or instigated a brawl you will not be punished twice for that. I hope it will work, but I cannot be sure of [a positive outcome].

“Right after my race at the Rio Games, I said that this doping controversy was not over, it was just the beginning, and we would have problems in the future. It was quite clear. And with every new year the situation is only getting worse and worse.”

Efimova, 27 and the two-time reigning world 200m breast champion, was banned 16 months between 2013 and 2015 after testing positive for a steroid. A FINA panel ruled that Efimova was not intentionally trying to cheat but was negligent in failing to read the label of a GNC store supplement.

“Yes, long ago I made a doping violation,” Efimova said this week, according to RT. “But there are a great number of U.S. and European athletes who have a similar situation regarding doping, and they are competing without any restrictions. If you want to introduce those regulations, they must be equally applied to all athletes, not only Russian competitors.”

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