Three U.S. ice dance teams train together in Montreal
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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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Weightlifting investigation finds doping cover-ups

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DÜSSELDORF, Germany (AP) — An investigation into the International Weightlifting Federation has found doping cover-ups and millions of dollars in missing money, lead investigator Richard McLaren said Thursday.

McLaren said 40 positive doping tests were “hidden” in IWF records and that athletes whose cases were delayed or covered up went on to win medals at the world championships and other events. The cases will be referred to the World Anti-Doping Agency.

“We found systematic governance failures and corruption at the highest level of the IWF,” McLaren said.

The International Olympic Committee said it was studying the report “very carefully,” adding that “the content is deeply concerning.”

McLaren said former IWF president Tamas Ajan was “an autocratic leader” who kept the board in the dark about finances and left officials fearing reprisals if they spoke out. Ajan received cash payments on behalf of the IWF as doping fines from national federations or sponsors, the report said, but what happened to some of the money is unclear.

McLaren said $10.4 million was unaccounted for, based on his team’s analysis of cash going in and out of the IWF over several years. Ajan denies any wrongdoing.

The largest fine recorded in the report was $500,000 paid by Azerbaijan. It’s unclear how that payment was made. On one trip to Thailand for a competition and conference, Ajan collected more than $440,000 across 18 cash payments, according to the report.

“Everyone was kept in financial ignorance through the use of hidden bank accounts (and transfers),” McLaren said. “Some cash was accounted for, some was not.”

McLaren said that the investigation found information which law enforcement “might be interested in,” and that he would cooperate with any later investigations. That was echoed by Ajan’s successor at the IWF.

“The activities that have been revealed and the behavior that has occurred in the years past is absolutely unacceptable and possibly criminal,” IWF interim president Ursula Garza Papandrea said.

She added that the IWF will pass on information to law enforcement if it indicates there were “potential crimes.”

McLaren said Ajan “permitted the (federation) elections to be bought by vote brokers” as he kept the presidency and promoted favored officials. Large cash withdrawals were made ahead of federation congresses, McLaren said, adding that voters were bribed and had to take pictures of their ballots to show to brokers.

The 81-year-old Ajan stepped down in April, ending a 20-year reign as president and a total 44 years in federation posts. A month before that he also gave up his honorary membership of the International Olympic Committee.

In a statement to Hungarian state news agency MTI, Ajan said the IWF’s finances were managed in a “lawful” manner with oversight from the board.

“All my life, I’ve abided by the laws, the written and unwritten rules and customs of the sport,” he said.

Ajan accused McLaren’s team of not giving him enough information to respond to the allegations about his conduct.

Ajan was a full IOC member between 2000 and 2010, voting to select Olympic host cities. A previous complaint about IWF finances in 2010 was closed by the IOC.

McLaren’s investigation was sparked in January when German broadcaster ARD reported financial irregularities at the federation and apparent doping cover-ups.

The focus of the investigation was on the period from 2009 through 2019. McLaren said he heard allegations of misconduct dating back as far as the 1980s, but chose to prioritize more recent matters with stronger evidence.

The World Anti-Doping Agency said it welcomed McLaren’s findings.

“Once WADA has had the opportunity to review that evidence as well as the report in full, the Agency will consider the next appropriate steps to take,” it said in a statement.

Some allegations regarding doping misconduct around the 2019 world championships in Thailand and involving athletes from Moldova were passed to the International Testing Agency, which is still investigating.

McLaren, a Canadian law professor, was WADA’s lead investigator for Russian doping and has judged cases at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Weightlifting’s reputation under Ajan had already been hit by dozens of steroid doping cases revealed in retests of samples from the Olympics since 2008.

Since he left office in April, the IWF has begun moving its headquarters from Ajan’s home country of Hungary to the Swiss city of Lausanne, where the International Olympic Committee is based.

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Gwendolyn Berry gets apology from USOPC CEO after reprimand for podium gesture

Gwen Berry
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Olympic hammer thrower Gwendolyn Berry said USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland apologized to her Wednesday “for not understanding the severity of the impact her decisions had on me,” after Berry was put on probation last August for one year after raising her fist at the end of the national anthem at the 2019 Pan American Games.

“I am grateful to Gwen for her time and her honesty last night,” Hirshland said in a statement. “I heard her. I apologized for how my decisions made her feel and also did my best to explain why I made them. Gwen has a powerful voice in this national conversation, and I am sure that together we can use the platform of Olympic and Paralympic sport to address and fight against systematic inequality and racism in our country.”

Berry and fencer Race Imboden were sent August letters of reprimand by Hirshland, along with each receiving probation, after each made a podium gesture at Pan Ams in Peru.

This week, Berry tweeted that she wanted a public apology from Hirshland. That tweet came after Hirshland sent a letter to U.S. athletes on Monday night, condemning “systemic inequality that disproportionately impacts Black Americans in the United States.”

Then on Wednesday night, Berry said she had a “really productive” 40-minute phone call with Hirshland, USATF CEO Max Siegel and other USATF officials.

“I didn’t necessarily ask for [an apology] from [Hirshland],” Berry said Thursday. Berry said she lost two-thirds of her income after Pan Ams, that sponsors dropped her in connection to the raised fist fallout.

“We came to some good conclusions,” Berry said of the group call. “The most important thing were figuring out ways to move forward. [Hirshland] was aware of things that she did and how she made me feel about the situation, and I was happy that I was able to express to her my grievances and she was able to express to me how she felt as well about the situation.”

Berry said her probation, which is believed to still be in effect, wasn’t discussed. She made a point to say that USATF has always been on her side.

“The conversation was more for awareness purposes, and we’ll probably have more conversations this week,” said Berry.

Berry also plans to participate in a U.S. athlete town hall Friday.

“First and foremost, we should and we will discuss how people are just feeling and how people are holding up because athletes in general, because of the pandemic and because of everything that’s been going on, I know a lot of people are in distress, they’re sad, they’re confused,” she said. “I think that’ll be the main point of the discussion. Just to make sure everybody’s OK. Just to see how everybody’s holding on.”

On Aug. 10, Berry raised her fist at the end of the national anthem after winning the Pan American Games title.

The next morning, Berry said the gesture, which drew memories of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico City Games, wasn’t meant to be a big message, but it quickly became a national story.

“Just a testament to everything I’ve been through in the past year, and everything the country has been through this past year,” she said then. “A lot of things need to be done and said and changed. I’m not trying to start a political war or act like I’m miss-know-it-all or anything like that. I just know America can do better.”

Berry said then that the motivation behind her gesture included the challenges overcome of changing coaches and moving from Oxford, Miss., where her family resides, to Houston.

“Every individual person has their own views of things that are going on,” she said. “It’s in the Constitution, freedom of speech. I have a right to feel what I want to feel. It’s no disrespect at all to the country. I want to make that very clear. If anything, I’m doing it out of love and respect for people in the country.”

Berry also said that weekend, according to USA Today, that she was standing for “extreme injustice.”

“Somebody has to talk about the things that are too uncomfortable to talk about. Somebody has to stand for all of the injustices that are going on in America and a president who’s making it worse,” Berry said, according to that report. “It’s too important to not say something. Something has to be said. If nothing is said, nothing will be done, and nothing will be fixed, and nothing will be changed.”

NBC Olympics senior researcher Alex Azzi contributed to this report.

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