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Event preview, how to watch Four Continents Figure Skating Championships

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The figure skating season continues for Bradie Tennell, Mariah Bell, Jason Brown, Vincent Zhou, and the formidable group of U.S. ice dancers at the Four Continents Championships this weekend in Anaheim, Calif.

The competition returns to the United States for the first time in seven years; Colorado Springs hosted in 2006, 2007, and 2012.

NBC Sports Gold’s “Figure Skating Pass” will live stream every program from Anaheim from competition. The action begins Thursday with the ladies’ short program.

NBCSN and NBC will also have live coverage of senior competition throughout the weekend.

Four Continents includes skaters from essentially everywhere but Europe, and is the final major tune-up event prior to March’s world championships.

Let’s take a closer look at each discipline in Anaheim:

ENTRIES: Ladies | Men | Pairs | Dance

Ladies

It’s entirely possible that Japan sweeps the ladies’ podium in Anaheim. Rika Kihira (the triple Axel-ing Grand Prix Final champion), Mai Mihara (gold and silver medalist the past two years at Four Continents), and Kaori Sakamoto (last year’s Four Continents champion and 2018 Olympian) will skate at Four Continents.

The American skaters include Bradie Tennell and Mariah Bell who finished with silver and bronze medals at nationals last month, respectively, plus Ting Cui, who finished fourth. Alysa Liu won nationals but is not age-eligible to compete at senior level international events, such as Four Continents or the world championships.

Men

Japan’s Shoma Uno boasts the most impressive resume in the men’s field. The Olympic and two-time Worlds silver medalist is joined by countrymen Keiji Tanaka and Kazuki Tomono in Japan. Uno will likely have to be clean to win, however.

China’s Boyang Jin, who has struggled internationally this season but finished fourth in PyeongChang, is also in the field.

Other notable men include South Korea’s Junhwah Cha who won bronze medals at both of his Grand Prix assignments this fall — plus a bronze in the Final — and Grand Prix Final qualifier Keegan Messing from Canada.

They’ll face a strong American contingent made up of Jason Brown, Vincent Zhou, and Tomoki Hiwatashi: the second, third and fourth place finishers from the national championships in January. The three-time U.S. champion, Nathan Chenwon’t compete in Anaheim but is expected at the upcoming world championships.

Pairs

The highly anticipated international season debut for Sui Wenjing and Han Cong highlights the pairs field. The PyeongChang silver medalists and 2017 world champions missed the fall Grand Prix Series as Sui recovered from a stress fracture in her foot.

Sui and Han’s teammates Peng Cheng and Jin Yang will also be in the hunt for the podium, as well as Canada’s Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro.

An American team could sneak onto the podium as well. Newly-crowned national champions Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc lead the charge, alongside national silver medalists Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier and fourth-place finishers Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea.

Kayne and O’Shea won the event last year, and were joined on the podium by Cain and LeDuc who earned silver.

Ice dance

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue have won everything they’ve entered this season: Skate America, Skate Canada, the Grand Prix Final, and the U.S. Championships. They could lead a U.S. dance podium sweep alongside their Montreal-based training mates Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, who finished second and third at nationals.

Canada’s Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, however, look to split up the Americans. They only competed once this season, winning the B-level Autumn Classic, and instead toured in shows throughout the fall. They won Four Continents in 2015.

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Four Continents Figure Skating Championships broadcast schedule (all times Eastern): 

Thursday

3:30 p.m.: Ladies’ short program (GOLD STREAM LINK), also on NBCSN beginning at 5 p.m.

9:15 p.m.: Men’s short program (GOLD STREAM LINK), also on NBCSN beginning at 11:30 p.m.

Friday 

2:45 p.m.: Pairs’ short program (GOLD STREAM LINK)

6 p.m.: Rhythm dance (GOLD STREAM LINK)

10 p.m.: Ladies’ free skate (GOLD STREAM LINK), also on NBCSN beginning at midnight

Saturday 

5 p.m.: Pairs’ free skate (GOLD STREAM LINK)

10 p.m.: Men’s free skate (GOLD STREAM LINK), also on NBCSN beginning at 11 p.m.

Sunday 

4 p.m.: Free dance (GOLD STREAM LINK), also on NBCSN beginning at midnight

Jordan Thompson, U.S. volleyball’s new weapon, took unique route to NCAA history

Jordan Thompson
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It was about this time last year that Jordan Thompson first appeared on the radar of U.S. women’s volleyball coach Karch Kiraly. Since, Thompson emerged as the youngest starter, and arguably a star, for the national team.

She goes into what could be her final weekend of college volleyball as one of the most dominant athletes in any sport. And one of the most unique stories in NCAA history.

Thompson plays not for a Big Ten or Pac-12 powerhouse, but for Cincinnati, a school that, before she arrived, never made it past the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The unranked Bearcats upset second-ranked Pittsburgh in the second round last Saturday. They play Penn State, winner of six of the last 12 NCAA titles, in the Sweet 16 on Friday.

In 33 games this season, Thompson has registered a Division I-leading 768 kills, which is 143 more than the next most prolific attacker. That margin of 143 is the same number that separates No. 2 from No. 31.

Last season, she had 827 kills, which was 240 more than anybody else and a single-season record (by 112 kills) since NCAA match formats shifted from 30-point to 25-point sets in 2008.

She is a contender, if not a favorite, to be AVCA National Player of the Year. All of the previous winners dating to 1985 came from schools that reached at least one Final Four.

On Oct. 4, a UCF player’s face caught the wrong end of a Thompson attack. Cincinnati teammates watching from the bench dropped to the floor in astonishment.

Thompson tallied 50 kills in one match alone on Nov. 3, becoming the first D-I player to do so in 20 years.

That happened on Senior Day. Before that match, Thompson received a plaqued No. 23 jersey and flowers.

She posed for a photo standing with her husband, former Cincinnati offensive lineman Blake Yager, her mother, Mary, whose bribes helped Thompson develop into an attacker, and her father, 1990s Harlem Globetrotter Tyrone Doleman (and brother of Pro Football Hall of Famer Chris Doleman).

Mary has been most instrumental, raising Thompson as a single mom in Minnesota. Thompson, who is 6 feet, 4 inches now, was always tall for her age.

She played youth basketball against older girls and grew frustrated by the physical contact. Kneepads weren’t comfort enough. She decided to give volleyball a try in middle school.

“She was very timid,” Mary said of her daughter, who has since gotten 10 tattoos, including one of a hummingbird. “She would tell me she didn’t want to hurt anyone on the other side of the net. I told her I would give her a dollar for every time she would whack it. And I would give her $10 if she would actually hit someone on the other end of the court.”

It took a while, but Thompson was motivated by her love of horses. The payouts from her mom went toward a saddle and a bridal. A box with horse equipment remains in the family garage back home.

“She was trying to build up her supplies to be able to one day say to me, look, I’ve got a saddle, I’ve got all of my tack, I’ve got stuff to clean the hooves, can we get a horse now?” Mary said. 

After just two years of club volleyball, Thompson received her first Division-I scholarship offer. It came from Syracuse. Thompson was a high school sophomore.

“In the back of my head, I’m thinking, I’m never going to get another offer, so I better take this one,” she said.

Thompson was intent on Syracuse for a year before a coaching change led her to decommit. She wasn’t sure if many schools knew she had reopened her recruiting. A Minnesota club teammate had committed to Cincinnati and suggested Thompson take a visit.

The Bearcats went 3-29 the season before she committed.

“I said, Jordan, you can play D-I at Texas. You can go to Nebraska,” Mary said. “She was like, no, no, I want to play all four years. I actually want to get playing time, mom. She really struggled believing how good she could be.”

The biggest obstacle came junior year. In a preseason training session, Thompson collided with that Minnesota club teammate, Jade Tingelhoff, and tore the UCL in her dominant, right arm. She was in an armpit-to-wrist brace for two months post-Tommy John surgery, including three weeks with her arm locked in place.

She couldn’t brush her hair, had a hard time brushing her teeth and found it difficult showering and getting dressed.

She still went to every Bearcats game and traveled with the team. Cincinnati went from 22-10 her sophomore season to 13-19 that year without her on the court.

“It ended up being OK,” Tingelhoff said. “She came back that next season — I’m not kidding — 10 times as better than she was even the previous year.”

As a redshirt junior, Thompson and her 827 kills helped Cincinnati to a 26-8 record and its first NCAA Tournament win in seven years. She also caught the eye of Kiraly by the end of that 2018 season.

“She was one of the elite players in all of college volleyball,” he said. “Probably the only one who came from a conference other than the ones known for producing the most NCAA champions, like the Big Ten and the Pac-12.”

By last spring break, Thompson had become a favorite of U.S coaches at a camp to help select teams for summer international tournaments.

She had a one-on-one conversation with Kiraly, the only person to own Olympic indoor and beach gold medals. The legend told her she had potential to play at the Pan American Games. Later, he upped the praise to say she was ready for the top-level Nations League, a precursor to Olympic qualifying.

Thompson made her national team debut in May. By August, she came off the bench to help spur a comeback in a crucial Olympic qualifying match. The next day, she was in the starting lineup for the U.S.’ final Olympic qualifier, where the Americans clinched a Tokyo 2020 berth.

“I think a lot people don’t know she is still in college,” two-time U.S. Olympic outside hitter Jordan Larson said then. “She still has one more year left.”

Agents reached out, but Thompson had no intention of giving up her final year of NCAA eligibility. She wanted to make history at Cincinnati. That was secured with the Sweet 16 berth.

With the new year, she will trade the Cincinnati red and black for Team USA colors. She will keep in mind what the U.S. coaching staff told the team during Olympic qualifying and what she called a dream summer.

“My big goal in life was I just wanted to be in the USA gym,” said Thompson, who is working on her master’s in criminal justice. “To hear that we’re all working towards this goal of trying to make this roster, and we are being looked as potential players to make that roster, my jaw dropped. To know that it’s even a remote possibility is mind-blowing.”

VIDEO: Brazil volleyball star faints during courtside interview

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Tahiti chosen for Olympic surfing competition at 2024 Paris Games

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Paris 2024 Olympic organizers want the surfing competition to be held in Tahiti, an island in French Polynesia that is about 9,800 miles from Paris.

It would break the record for the farthest Olympic medal competition to be held outside the host. In 1956, equestrian events were moved out of Melbourne due to quarantine laws and held five months earlier in Stockholm, some 9,700 miles away.

The Paris 2024 executive board approved the site Thursday — specifically, the village of Teahupo’o — and will propose it to the IOC. It beat out other applicants Biarritz, Lacanau, Les Landes and La Torche, all part of mainland France.

“If, ever, we have two alternatives, and where one alternative gives the athletes of a particular sport more closeness to the heart of the Games and allows them to enjoy the magic and the spirit of the Games better, then in the interest of the athletes, we prefer this solution,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in June when asked about Tahiti’s interest in hosting surfing.

Surfing will debut at the 2020 Tokyo Games but is not on the permanent Olympic program. Surfing was among sports added to the Paris 2024 program in June and could be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics

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