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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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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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