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Nathan Chen headlines Skate America; Grand Prix assignments announced

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Nathan Chen will try to become the first male singles skater in 22 years to three-peat at Skate America. Chen’s return to the biggest annual international figure skating event in the U.S. highlights the Grand Prix season fields announced Thursday.

Chen, a two-time world champion who went undefeated last season, will try to join Scott Hamilton and Todd Eldredge as the only men to win three straight Skate America titles. The competition is in Las Vegas in October, kicking off the six-event Grand Prix Series leading up to December’s Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy.

GP Entries: Men | Women | Pairs | Dance

Joining Chen at Skate America are past U.S. champions and Olympians Jason BrownBradie Tennell and Karen Chen. Reigning U.S. pairs’ champions Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc and ice dance champs Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue are also slated for Las Vegas.

The top international names at Skate America include two-time world bronze medalist Jin Boyang of China, world silver medalist Elizabet Tursynbaeva of Kazakhstan and 15-year-old Russian champion Anna Shcherbakova in her senior Grand Prix debut.

Nathan Chen will also compete at Grand Prix France the first week of November, which would require him to skip classes at Yale. Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu is entered in two other Grand Prix events in Canada and Japan.

U.S. champion Alysa Liu, at 13, is too young for the senior Grand Prix. She will make her Junior Grand Prix debut in Lake Placid, N.Y., in August.

As previously announced, U.S. Olympians Ashley WagnerMirai Nagasu and Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani are skipping the Grand Prix Series as they continue to take indefinite breaks from skating. None have competed since the PyeongChang Olympics.

Also not in the Grand Prix fields, as expected, are Olympic medalists Adelina Sotnikova of Russia, Carolina Kostner of Italy and Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. They all sat out last season, too.

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MORE: Ice dance world medalists take competition break

Kelly Slater has an Olympic decision to make

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Surfing icon Kelly Slater is in great position to qualify for his sport’s Olympic debut in 2020, but he’s undecided about making a required event appearance this summer to stay eligible.

The top two U.S. male surfers in this season’s World Surf League final standings are in line to qualify for the Olympics.

Slater, a 47-year-old, 11-time world champion, is ranked third among Americans through six of 11 events, but the No. 2, two-time world champion John John Florence, is likely out for the rest of the season after an ACL tear.

If Slater keeps up his current pace of results, he will pass Florence’s point total by the end of the season in December.

“It appears as though I have to make a decision [on the Olympics] sooner than that,” Slater said after being eliminated from South Africa’s J-Bay Open in ninth place on Wednesday. “I’ve really got to figure out all the factors around that and make a decision in the next few weeks.”

Slater’s concern is the ISA World Surfing Games in Miyazaki, Japan, in September, an event that top Olympic hopefuls on the WSL tour are required to attend, barring illness or injury.

“I think I have to surf that event, and if I don’t, it may disqualify me,” he said (the International Surfing Association, the sport’s governing body, later confirmed it would disqualify him). “But I’m not sure if I want to go to Japan and compete right now.”

The ISA Games take place in the week between the next two WSL events, the latter hosted by Slater’s Surf Ranch wave pool in California.

“I’m not exactly sure how I feel about the Olympics right now, anyways,” said Slater, who last year said he was “50-50” on the Olympics when noting his differing thoughts on the qualification process and venue. “The point is, I’m not really focusing on it at this point. I’m trying to get myself back in the flow of the tour.”

Slater missed 13 tour stops between the 2017 and 2018 seasons after breaking a foot and having multiple surgeries.

He finished fifth, third, ninth, ninth and ninth in his five most recent events to get into Olympic qualifying position. He expected more after placing third in the two contests he entered healthy last season. Slater said he competed at J-Bay after straining his back “really bad” on Sunday, keeping him from surfing the three days before the contest.

“Ninth place, to me, used to be a pretty awful result. I’m used to at least a quarterfinal on for most of my career,” he said. “I’m not horrified by my results, but I’m also not surprised. Maybe other people are because everyone focuses on my age and that kind of thing. It’s not like I’m going to all of a sudden forget how to do this thing, you know?”

Slater, at 48, would be the oldest U.S. Summer Olympic rookie competitor in a sport other than equestrian, sailing or shooting (or art competitions!) in the last 100 years, supplanting Martina Navratilova, via the OlyMADMen.

“Right now in my head the focus is more on this tour than it is on the Olympics, but we’ll see,” he said. “I was starting this year with a lot of pressure on myself to try and make the Olympic team and think, maybe I’ll retire there next year and that will be the end for me. It put so much pressure on the start of the year for me that I didn’t feel like I could freely compete. It was putting too many things in my head. I needed to let that take a backseat and not worry about it. I’m just not really thinking about it a lot.”

MORE: Top U.S. surfer has links to Egg McMuffin, Guinness World Record holder

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China on brink of sweeping every gold medal at diving worlds

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Shi Tingmao joined Guo Jingjing as the only women to win three straight world titles in an individual diving event, giving China 11 gold medals in 11 events with two finals left in Gwangju, South Korea.

Shi, who swept the individual and synchronized springboard titles in Rio, claimed the 3m world title on Friday by 18.25 points with 391 total. Countrywoman Wang Han took silver, 5.8 points ahead of Australian Maddison Keeney.

Americans Sarah Bacon and Brooke Schultz missed the 12-woman final, placing 14th and 29th.

China, which has dominated the sport for two decades, is looking to sweep the golds at an Olympics or worlds for the second time after winning all 10 events in 2011. This year’s feat could be more impressive, should China win the last two events Saturday — a mixed-gender springboard and the men’s platform.

That’s because three mixed-gender events were added to the world program (but not the Olympic program) since 2011. And this year, China has not only won every gold but also taken every silver in the three individual Olympic program events thus far.

China is in strong position to go one-two in the men’s platform. Yang Jian and Yang Hao were nearly 70 points clear of the field in Friday’s semifinals.

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