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Takeaways from U.S. Figure Skating Championships

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New champions. New records. In some cases, new faces. And for others, continued success.

Nathan Chen recorded his third consecutive win at nationals and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue made it two straight.

Alysa Liu, on the other hand, won her first title and was called “the future” of U.S. ladies’ skating. And Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc won the pairs event knowing the pressure is on their shoulders to win more spots for the U.S. at the world championships in March.

What does this all mean for the rest of the season? Or the years leading up to the Olympics?

Alysa Liu won’t compete again this season, but she says that gives her extra time to prepare for next year.

“Actually, I don’t know when my next competition is,” Liu told NBCSports.com/figure-skating on Sunday. “I’m actually going to Disneyland soon. I’m gonna do that and then I’m gonna practice, obviously. Try to improve everything.”

Liu, at 13, isn’t eligible for the world championships. (Bradie Tennell and Mariah Bell are filling the U.S. ladies’ two spots in Saitama, Japan in March.) It’s reasonable to think that her first competition of next season could be on the Junior Grand Prix series. The U.S. is hosting the second stop on that circuit in Lake Placid, New York over Labor Day Weekend.

Speaking of Tennell and Bell, though, they’re competing at the Four Continents Championships in Anaheim, Calif. beginning next week. Then they’ll go on to the world championships where there will be pressure to, among other things, win back a third spot for U.S. ladies at Worlds.

Nathan Chen gets it done again

Chen’s dazzling 228.80-point free skate score and eye-popping 342.22 total score secured his third straight U.S. title. His coach, Rafael Arutunian, was the only one left unimpressed.

“Raf is always the overachiever,” Chen said. “That’s why I am with him. Of course, there are things I can improve on.”

We’ll see him compete one more time when he aims to defend his 2018 world title, this time, in what is expected to be in a stacked field. Many skaters took off from worlds last year after the Olympics, but this year, that’s not the case.

Brian Orser has already said his pupil, Yuzuru Hanyu, should be at worlds despite missing time this season with injury. Hanyu is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and two-time world champion.

U.S. ice dance is as strong as ever

Hubbell and Donohue are last year’s Worlds silver medalists and won the Grand Prix Final in December, the first U.S. team to win gold there since 2013.

Madison Chock and Evan Bates own two World medals from prior seasons, and feel “rejuvenated” and “reinvigorated” after being sidelined for 10 months due to injury.

Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker won Four Continents last year and this year, won their first Grand Prix series gold medal and qualified for their first Grand Prix Final.

And that’s just the top three U.S. teams. Plus, they all train together in Montreal. If one team starts picking up the pace, or sneaking up the ranks, the other teams will see it coming.

“We are still incredibly lucky to have such depth in the U.S. field,” 2014 Olympic ice dance champion Charlie White told NBCSports.com/figure-skating. “The skating was just really phenomenal. The teams were in great shape, well prepared.”

Cain and LeDuc well aware of their role at Worlds

It will take a podium finish for U.S. pairs champions Cain and LeDuc to qualify the U.S. three spots at the 2020 World Championships. To earn two spots, they’ll have to finish inside the top 10 in March.

“We’ve been working toward that all year,” LeDuc said in an interview with us on Sunday.

“None of the pressure changes or anything like that,” Cain added. “Yes, we know now we’re the U.S. champions and we have a responsibility, but I think at this point we are ready to take on that responsibility. This is the year it was supposed to happen.”

Worlds, Four Continents still to come

Four Continents begins Feb. 5 in Anaheim, Calif. and invites skaters from essentially everywhere except Europe. The world championships begin in mid-March in Saitama, Japan.

Here’s a look at how many spots the U.S. has in each discipline at both events:

Worlds:

  • Ladies: 2
  • Men: 3
  • Dance: 3
  • Pairs: 1

Four Continents:

  • Ladies: 3
  • Men: 3
  • Dance: 3
  • Pairs: 3

MORE: Ice dance families host tailgate party outside Little Caesars Arena before free dance

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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IOC group proposes Olympic ‘host’ can be multiple countries

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International Olympic Committee members will decide next month whether to tweak the definition of an Olympic host to make it clear that it does not necessarily refer to a single city but can also mean multiple cities, regions and even countries, IOC President Thomas Bach said Wednesday.

“It’s not an encouragement to spread the Games out as much as possible,” Bach said in announcing the IOC’s executive board approved the measure. “It may be preferable to have a region as a signatory or an additional signatory of the host city contract rather than just a city, and therefore, we wanted to enjoy this flexibility. This, on the other hand, does not change our vision, our request and our focus on having not only an Olympic Village, but to have an Olympic center.”

It’s one of six proposed changes by a working group chaired by Australian IOC member John Coates to examine the bid process. Another is to make the timing of Olympic host city elections more flexible. Typically, hosts are elected seven years before the Games, though two years ago an exception was made in the double awarding of the 2024 and 2028 Games to Paris and Los Angeles.

Bach repeated that the proposals are “to avoid producing too many losers as we had it in the past candidature procedures.”

The IOC previously said in 2014, in announcing Agenda 2020, that it “will allow events held outside the host city or, in exceptional cases, outside the host country, notably for reasons of geography and sustainability.”

This shift manifests in Stockholm’s 2026 Winter Olympic bid plan to have sliding sports in Sigulda, Latvia, home of the nearest existing track for bobsled, luge and skeleton, rather than building a costly new track in Sweden.

IOC members will vote to choose the 2026 Winter Games host next month. The finalists are Stockholm and a joint Italian bid of Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo, after five other potential candidates were dropped for various reasons.

There is precedent for events held far from the Olympic host city. In 1956, Melbourne held the Summer Games and had equestrian events in Stockholm due to quarantine laws in Australia. Similarly, equestrian at the 2008 Beijing Games was held in Hong Kong.

Soccer matches are often held in cities across the host country. Recent Winter Olympics have had mountain events in a different city or area than arena events.

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IOC board recommends AIBA suspension, boxing stays in Olympics

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The International Olympic Committee executive board recommended that AIBA has its recognition as boxing’s international federation suspended but that the sport remains on the Olympic program at the 2020 Tokyo Games.

An IOC decision on the recommendation will be made next month. The IOC created a group to organize 2020 Olympic boxing qualifying and competition if AIBA will not be allowed to run it.

“We want to ensure that the athletes can live their dream and participate in the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 while drawing the necessary consequences for AIBA,” IOC president Thomas Bach said in a press release. “At the same time, we offer a pathway back to lifting the suspension, but there needs to be further fundamental change.”

The IOC said in October that boxing’s place in the Olympics was “under threat” after being introduced at the 1904 St. Louis Games and held at every Games since except Stockholm 1912.

In November, the IOC ordered an inquiry into AIBA, which has been in financial turmoil, faced claims of fixed bouts at the Rio Games and elected a president linked to organized crime.

That president, Uzbek Gafur Rakhimov, stepped aside in March to let an interim leader take charge but said he was not resigning. Rakhimov is on a U.S. Treasury Department sanctions list for suspected links to an organized crime group in former Soviet Union republics involved in heroin trafficking. He denies any wrongdoing.

“Serious governance issues remain, including breaches of the Olympic Charter and the IOC Code of Ethics regarding good governance and ethics, leading to serious reputational, legal and financial risks for the IOC, the Olympic Movement and its stakeholders,” the inquiry committee concluded. “AIBA has been unable to demonstrate a sustainable and fair management of refereeing and judging processes and decisions, increasing the lack of confidence that athletes can have in fair competitions.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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