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Can Nathan Chen, Alysa Liu lead an American skating rebound?

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DETROIT (AP) — The present and future of American figure skating were on display at last week’s national championships.

Nathan Chen and Alysa Liu were captivating, but it remains to be seen how much they can help the U.S. rebound on the international stage.

Chen, the reigning world champion, is rolling right along after winning a third straight title at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. His performance was expected, but the biggest new star to emerge at this competition was the 13-year-old Liu, who became the youngest person to win an individual championship in the event’s history.

“She’s the hope,” said Tara Lipinski, who won the national title at age 14 in 1997 and was supplanted by Liu as the youngest women’s champion. “Obviously, it’s been many years since there’s been a U.S. lady on an Olympic podium.”

The last time an American won an Olympic medal in women’s figure skating was in 2006, when Sasha Cohen took silver. The U.S. won bronze in the team competition at each of the past two Olympics, but the Americans came up empty in the men’s and women’s individual events in both Pyeongchang and Sochi.

In Chen, the Americans already have a high-flying star. He won the Olympic free skate last year with an unprecedented six quad jumps, and while a poor short program cost him a medal, he has three straight national titles and last year’s world title to his credit at age 19.

“He’s pushing the sport in ways that, growing up in the sport, I could have only dreamed,” said Jason Brown, who finished third over the weekend. “It’s really impressive, and he definitely pushes me to push every other boundary that I can.”

Chen defeated Vincent Zhou by over 58 points Sunday, and right now, the main question seems to be how well Chen can balance his skating with his studies at Yale. So far, so good, it seems.

“I really don’t mind the training atmosphere that I’m in. I’m really lucky and really honored to have the opportunity to be able to skate at Yale,” he said. “Some competitions have been really good, some competitions have not necessarily been so good under these circumstances, but ultimately, I feel like I’m improving competition to competition.”

Chen is skipping the Four Continents Championships in California next month but can try to defend his world title in Japan in March.

Liu, meanwhile, faces a more uncertain international future. After Lipinski won at nationals in ’97, she took gold at the Nagano Olympics the following year. Liu’s national title came three years before the next Olympics, and under the current age restriction, she’s not eligible to compete at Worlds until 2022.

That may be frustrating for those who want to see her compete on the biggest stage, but it could also stave off the pressure for a little while.

“There are some obvious places where I can be better and (I will keep) working on those,” she said. “Focusing on myself is what works for me. Just focusing on being the best version and best skater that I can be.”

Liu landed a rare triple Axel in her short program and two more in the free skate, so it’s only natural to view her as someone who can help the American women start closing the gap.

“There’s other countries that are producing talent that are 12- and 13-year-olds, doing quads and multiple quad jumps, and it’s impossible for the U.S. ladies to technically compete with that. They’re lagging so far behind,” said Lipinski, now a commentator with NBC. “Now she’s changing this, and I think she is setting the tone and is going to push the next generation of U.S. skaters.”

MORE: Lipinski calls Liu the future

As a reminder, you can watch Four Continents and the world 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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Breanna Stewart to miss entire WNBA season with Achilles injury

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Breanna Stewart, the world’s top female basketball player and one of the most dominant athletes of 2018, is expected to miss the entire upcoming WNBA season after rupturing an Achilles playing in Europe on Sunday, according to the Seattle Storm.

“The situation is still a shock to me,” was posted on Stewart’s social media. “I’m feeling every emotion possible at this point but just know that the bounce back will be real and I’ll be back better than ever.”

Stewart, 24, skyrocketed in this Olympic cycle.

The Storm’s franchise player went from playing the second-fewest minutes on the 2016 Olympic team as its youngest player to leading the U.S. per game in points (16.3) and minutes (27) at the 2018 World Championship tournament.

Stewart earned MVP honors at worlds, matching her WNBA season and Finals honors. She became the first player to earn all three MVPs in one year.

Stewart is still expected to be in play for the 2020 Olympic team, given the Storm expect her to make a full recovery by the start of the following WNBA season next spring.

Tamika Catchings made the 2008 Olympic team after tearing her right Achilles in September 2007.

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Caster Semenya leads Olympians in Time 100; streak hits 16 years

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An Olympian has made the Time 100 Most Influential list every year since its annual inception in 2004. South African runner Caster Semenya, soccer players Alex Morgan and Mo Salah and LeBron James kept the streak going in 2019.

It’s the fourth appearance for James (2005, 2013, 2017), extending his record for an athlete, and the first for Semenya, Morgan and Salah. Semenya made it in the “icons” category, while the other three are “titans.”

Two-time Olympic 400m hurdles champion Edwin Moses penned an essay about the two-time Olympic 800m champion Semenya, who is fighting a legal battle with the IAAF over a potential rule change limiting women’s testosterone levels in her events. If the rule goes into effect, Semenya’s dominance (three years undefeated at 800m) is expected to vanish.

“Caster Semenya has taught us that sex isn’t always binary, and caused us to question the justness of distributing societal benefits according to “male” and “female” classifications,” Moses wrote. “Ultimately, this incredibly difficult issue is a political one for sport to resolve. But however it is addressed, Semenya will have already made a singular historical contribution to our understanding of biological sex.”

Here are Olympians and Paralympians on past Time 100 lists, counting only athletes who competed in the Games before being listed:

2018 — Kevin Durant, Roger Federer, Chloe Kim, Adam Rippon
2017 — Simone Biles, LeBron James, Neymar
2016 — Usain BoltCaitlyn JennerKatie LedeckySania MirzaRonda Rousey
2015 — Abby Wambach
2014 — Cristiano Ronaldo, Serena Williams
2013 — LeBron James, Li Na, Lindsey Vonn
2012 — Novak DjokovicLionel MessiOscar Pistorius
2011 — Lionel Messi
2010 — Yuna KimSerena Williams
2009 — Rafael Nadal
2008 — Andre Agassi, Lance Armstrong, Oscar Pistorius
2007 — Roger FedererChien Ming-Wang
2006 — Joey CheekSteve Nash
2005 — LeBron James
2004 — Lance Armstrong, Paula Radcliffe, Yao Ming
2000 (20th Century) — Muhammad Ali

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