2018 World Championships gold and silver medalists/ AP

World Championships ice dance preview: France’s Papadakis, Cizeron vying for title No. 4

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The way the ice dance field breaks down at this weekend’s World Championships in Saitama, Japan, largely depends on how the teams that train in Montreal skate.

Two-time world silver medalists Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon (2006, 2007) have built a venerable dance school in Montreal. Teams, like two-time Olympic gold medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, have flocked there since France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron shot from 13th to first in a one-year span under their tutelage.

Papadakis and Cizeron have had an abbreviated season due to Cizeron’s concussion, but they are just as strong as they were last season. They missed their first Grand Prix assignment, meaning they couldn’t qualify for the Grand Prix Final, but still won Grand Prix France. Then in January, they won their fifth consecutive European title.

The couple, the 2018 Olympic silver medalists, are the heavy favorites in Japan, where they are contending for their fourth World title (2015, 2016, 2018). This season, the biggest change for the team is that they’re training with more of their direct competition than ever, including three American teams.

“Each one is quite friendly and has a lot of respect for the others. Each one works his or her best. Each one is fun to share the ice with,” Papadakis said in an interview with NBCsports.com/figure-skating.

As in the men’s discipline — where Nathan Chen, Jason Brown, and Vincent Zhou are first, second and fourth after Thursday’s short program — the American teams are looking particularly strong. Here’s a closer look at the U.S. teams, plus the other podium threats:

Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue, U.S.A.

Credentials: 2018 World silver medalists, 2018 Grand Prix Final champions, two-time U.S. champions, fourth in PyeongChang

Hubbell and Donohue won gold at the prestigious Grand Prix Final in December, the first U.S. dance team to do so since 2013. Then, they won their second consecutive U.S. national title in January. But at their next competition, Four Continents, they stumbled. They received only base credit on their opening stationary lift, which cost them around five points – that’s major in ice dance, especially in a field where podiums are often decided by just tenths or hundredths. The mistake dropped them from first all the way down to fourth place.

Worth noting: They skate their free dance to “Romeo & Juliet” and tell the story of the star-crossed lovers. Before the free dance at nationals, they watched the movie together, which helped them connect to the emotions behind the iconic performances in the film.

Madison Chock and Evan Bates, U.S.A.

Credentials: Two-time world medalists (silver, 2015; bronze, 2016), 2015 U.S. champions, 2019 Four Continents champions

Chock and Bates were sidelined by her ankle surgery and were away from competition for nearly 10 months following the 2018 World Championships. In the meantime, they moved to Montreal to train and reignite their passion for skating. They’ve rededicated themselves to the next Olympics – which would be the couple’s third together – and it shows in their skating. They were second at U.S. nationals in January and were lights-out at Four Continents to take the title.

Worth noting: They competed three times in five weeks in January and February, but utilized the lead-up time before worlds to recuperate. Their plan is still to peak in Japan, they told NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, U.S.A.

Credentials: 2019 U.S. bronze medalists, fifth at Four Continents, 10th at 2018 World Championships

Hawayek and Baker’s move to Montreal has brought marked improvement this season. They won their first Grand Prix gold medal in Japan, qualified for their first Grand Prix Final, notched their highest-ever finish at U.S. nationals and were named to the Four Continents and World Championship teams outright. Previously, they had competed at those events only after being called up from the alternate spot. They told NBCSports.com/figure-skating that put them in a tough spot.

“It’s really exciting for us to make that leap into this realm of skaters,” Hawayek said in that interview. “We’re really grateful that we train with the other two [teams] that are on the [U.S.] podium with us every day.”

Worth noting: Their move to Montreal came with its own setbacks, as Baker suffered a concussion early in the season. However, they did not miss any major competition and he has since said he’s back to normal and taking care of himself.

Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, Canada

Credentials: Three-time world medalists (silver, 2014; bronze, 2015, 2018), two-time Grand Prix Final gold medalists, three-time Canadian national champions, two-time Four Continents gold medalists

The skating world hasn’t seen much of Weaver and Poje in competition this season. They won the Grand Prix Final twice (2015, 2016) but skipped the circuit this season to perform in the Thank You, Canada tour with their fellow 2018 Olympians.

They returned to competitive ice in January for their third Canadian national title and in February, earned silver medals at Four Continents. The 2018 world bronze medalists could land on the podium again in Japan.

Worth noting: Their free dance music this season was also used by their friend Denis Ten, who was killed in his home city of Almaty, Kazakhstan in July.

“When the tragedy struck, we knew our mission in this program was to do it for Denis,” Weaver told NBCSports.com/figure-skating at their lone fall competition in September.

Honorable mention: Teams who qualified for the Grand Prix Final will also be in the mix: Russia’s Viktoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov (silver medalists), Italy’s Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri (bronze), plus fourth-place finishers Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin from Russia.

MORE: How to watch the World Figure Skating Championships | Sui Wenjing, Han Cong recapture world pair title | Alina Zagitova leads after ladies’ short program | Nathan Chen, Jason Brown in first and second after men’s short

As a reminder, you can watch 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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Tokyo Olympics have 3 months to decide virus impact, senior IOC member says

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TOKYO (AP) — Dick Pound, the longest-serving member of the IOC, estimates there’s a three-month window to decide the fate of the Tokyo Olympics, which are being threatened by the fast-spreading virus from China.

Pound, in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, did not sound alarmist. But he did speak frankly about the risks facing the Olympics, which open July 24.

Pound has been an International Olympic Committee member since 1978, 13 years longer than current President Thomas Bach.

“You could certainly go to two months out if you had to,” Pound said, which would mean putting off a decision until late May and hoping the virus is under control. “A lot of things have to start happening. You’ve got to start ramping up your security, your food, the Olympic Village, the hotels, The media folks will be in there building their studios.”

And if it got to the point of not going ahead, Pound speculated “you’re probably looking at a cancellation.”

“This is the new war and you have to face it. In and around that time, I’d say folks are going to have to ask: ‘Is this under sufficient control that we can be confident about going to Tokyo, or not?’”

China on Tuesday reported 508 new cases and another 71 deaths, 68 of them in the central city of Wuhan, where the epidemic was first detected in December.

The updates bring mainland China’s totals to 77,658 cases and 2,663 deaths. South Korea now has the second-most cases in the world with 977, including 10 deaths.

Clusters of the illness are now appearing in the Middle East and Europe. This could signal a new stage in the spread of the virus with four deaths reported in Japan.

Pound encouraged athletes to keep training. About 11,000 are expected for the Olympics, and another 4,400 for the Paralympics, which open on Aug. 25.

“As far as we all know you’re going to be in Tokyo,” Pound said. “All indications are at this stage that it will be business as usual. So keep focused on your sport and be sure that the IOC is not going to send you into a pandemic situation.”

The modern Olympics dating from 1896 have only been cancelled during wartime, and faced boycotts in 1976 in Montreal, in 1980 in Moscow and 1984 in Los Angeles — all in Pound’s memory.

The Olympics in 1940 were to be in Tokyo, but were called off because of Japan’s war with China and World War II.

Pound called uncertainty a major problem and repeated the IOC’s stance — that it’s depending on consultations with the World Health Organization, a United Nations body, to make any move. So far, the games are on.

“It’s a big, big, big decision and you just can’t take it until you have reliable facts on which to base it,” Pound said.

He said whatever advice the IOC is now getting, “it doesn’t call for cancellation or postponement of the Olympics. You just don’t postpone something on the size and scale of the Olympics. There’s so many moving parts, so many countries and different seasons, and competitive seasons, and television seasons. You can’t just say, we’ll do it in October.”

If changes have to be made, Pound said every option faced obstacles.

Pound said moving to another city seemed unlikely.

“To move the place is difficult because there are few places in the world that could think of gearing up facilities in that short time to put something on,” Pound said.

London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey has suggested the British capital as an alternative. Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike suggested that was an inappropriate offer, using the virus as political campaign fodder.

Pound said he would not favor a dispersal of events over various venues because that wouldn’t “constitute an Olympic Games. You’d end up with a series of world championships.”

He said it would be very difficult to spread around all these sports in a 17-day period with only a few months’ notice.

How about delaying for a year, but staying in Tokyo? Japan is officially spending $12.6 billion to organize the Olympics, although a national audit board says the country is spending twice that much.

“Then you have to ask if you can hold the bubble together for an extra year,” Pound said. “Then of course you have to fit all of this into the entire international sports schedule.”

Pound said the IOC has been building up an “emergency fund” for such circumstances, reported to be about $1 billion. That could fund international sports federations who depend on income from the IOC to operate — and the IOC itself.

“This would be what you normally call a force majeure,” said Pound, a Canadian lawyer by training, using the legal phrase for “unforeseeable circumstances.”

“It’s not an insurable risk and it’s not one that can be attributed to one or the other of the parties. So everybody takes their lumps. There would be a lack of revenue on the Olympic Movement side.”

Pound said the future of the Tokyo Games was largely out of the IOC’s hands, depending on the virus and if it abets.

“If it gets to be something like the Spanish Flu,” Pound said, referring to a deadly pandemic early in the 20th century that killed millions. “At that level of lethality, then everybody’s got to take their medicine.”

Six months to Tokyo Paralympics: Ten athletes to watch

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Ten Paralympic hopefuls to watch, six months out from the Tokyo Games Opening Ceremony on Aug. 25 …

Chuck Aoki (Rugby)
The U.S.’ top scorer, but still looking for a Paralympic title after bronze and silver medals in 2012 and 2016. Aoki’s father’s family is from Japan, immigrating to the U.S. in the early 1900s. His great-grandparents and grandparents were placed in World War II internment camps. Aoki switched from wheelchair basketball to rugby after seeing the 2005 Oscar-nominated documentary “Murderball.” He has been on the national team since 2009.

Shingo Kunieda (Tennis)
Japan is known for its tennis players (Naomi OsakaKei Nishikori), but Kunieda is by far the most accomplished. He owns a wheelchair record 23 Grand Slam singles titles, 21 Grand Slam doubles titles and three Paralympic gold medals. Japan earned 24 medals at the Rio Paralympics, but they were all silver or bronze.

Oksana Masters (Cycling)
Already a Paralympic rowing and Nordic skiing medalist, Masters bids for a second Games to add a road cycling medal to her haul. In Rio, she placed fourth in the road race and fifth in the time trial. At her last Paralympics in PyeongChang, Masters came back from a fractured right elbow to earn five medals, including two golds.

Evan Medell (Taekwondo)
The U.S. has a medal contender in taekwondo, which debuted as an Olympic medal sport in 2000 and is on the Paralympic program for the first time in Tokyo. Medell, a 22-year-old licensed diesel mechanic, is ranked No. 1 in the world in the K44 +75kg division after 2019 titles at the European and Parapan American Championships.

Morteza Mehrzad (Volleyball)
Iran dominates men’s sitting volleyball. None of its players were more noticeable in Rio than the 8-foot, 1-inch Mehrzad, who led the team in scoring in the gold-medal match. Mehrzad was also part of Iran’s 2018 World title team, a signal that he could return for another Paralympics in Tokyo.

Becca Meyers (Swimming)
Earned three golds and one silver in individual events at the Rio Games, plus broke three world records. Meyers followed that with medals across three different strokes (plus the individual medley) between the 2017 and 2019 World Championships. She has trained at both the North Baltimore Aquatic Club and the Nation’s Capital Swim Club, which produced Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky, respectively.

Becca Murray (Basketball)
The leading scorer on the U.S.’ Rio Paralympic champion team returned to the program in 2019 after two years away. Murray, who debuted at the Paralympics in 2008 at age 18 (and earned gold), looks to help the U.S. women bounce back from a 2018 World Championship sixth-place finish without her.

Daniel Romanchuk (Track and Field)
Eliminated in the heats of all his Rio Paralympic events as an 18-year-old. Now Romanchuk is a marathon superstar, winning the wheelchair division in Boston, Chicago, London and New York City in 2019. The University of Illinois product is expected to enter a range of distances in Tokyo, given he lowered 800m and 5000m world records on the track in his classification.

Allysa Seely (Triathlon)
Led a U.S. medals sweep in her classification in triathlon’s Paralympic debut in Rio. Followed with world championships medals in 2017 (silver), 2018 (gold in an undefeated season) and 2019 (silver).

Ben Thompson (Archery)
Upset the world No. 1 compound archer to win the world title in 2019. Ended the season with a No. 1 world ranking and Male Paralympic Athlete of the Year from the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee. Thompson competed in recent years with sister-in-law Megan‘s name on his arrow wraps. Megan fought breast cancer for years before her death in November as he was en route to the Team USA Awards.

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