Tokyo Paralympics: Five storylines with one year to go

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Five Paralympic storylines, one year until the Tokyo Opening Ceremony on Aug. 25, 2020 …

1. Operation Gold in Full Effect
Tokyo marks the first Games since the U.S. made two major shifts toward equality between the Olympic and Paralympic Movements. More recently, the U.S. Olympic Committee changed its name to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee in June. The USOPC had managed Olympic and Paralympic sport at the national level since the founding of U.S. Paralympics in 2001, but its name had not reflected it.

In September 2018, the USOPC made its Paralympic medal bonuses equal to those for Olympic medals, increasing Paralympic payouts as much as 400 percent. The move was retroactive for the PyeongChang Winter Games. U.S. Paralympians now receive $37,500 for each gold medal, $22,500 for silver and $15,000 for bronze.

2. The Rise of Daniel Romanchuk
Romanchuk had just turned 18 when he made his Paralympic debut in Rio, getting eliminated in the heats of all his events — 100m, 400m, 800m, 1500m and 5000m. He has since come to dominate the marathon, winning the wheelchair division in Boston, Chicago, London and New York City in the last year.

Romanchuk, who was born with spina bifida, is expected to enter a range of distances in Tokyo, given he also broke the 800m and 5000m world records in his classification last year. He could rival the versatility of Tatyana McFadden, who won three golds from 400m to 1500m in 2012 and four from 400m through 1500m in Rio.

“He has everything in his locker and has mastered all of it,” Brit David Weir, who owns Paralympic medals from every distance from 100m through the marathon, said after Romanchuk won the London Marathon on April 28.

3. Crossover Athletes
Some of the U.S.’ biggest recent Paralympic stars pulled double duty, earning medals at the Summer and Winter Games (Oksana Masters, McFadden). A few more recent Winter Paralympic champions are trying summer sports.

Josh Sweeney, a hockey player, competed in the Paralympic triathlon test event in Tokyo on Sunday. Jack Wallace, another hockey player, is competing this week at the world sprint kayak championships in Hungary.

Then there’s Kendall Gretsch, a 2018 gold medalist in biathlon and cross-country skiing who does triathlons. Gretsch is actually a three-time world champion triathlete, but her classification was not added to the Paralympic program until after the sport’s debut in Rio.

4. The Return of Russia
Russia was reinstated by the International Paralympic Committee in March following a two-and-a-half year ban for its doping problems. The IPC was adamant then that Russia’s status could be revoked again with any more slip-ups, but so far that has not happened.

“The Russian Paralympic Committee continues to fully cooperate with the IPC regarding the implementation of the post-reinstatement criteria,” IPC spokesperson Craig Spence said in an email Tuesday. “The RPC is in good standing with the IPC.”

Russia was barred from the Rio Games, four years after placing third in the total medal standings in London. Some Russians were allowed to compete in PyeongChang as neutral athletes, but, unlike the PyeongChang Olympics, that did not include a hockey team.

5. Eye on the Medal Standings
China has come to dominate the Paralympics, topping the total medal standings in 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016 by at least 40 medals each time, thanks in large part to its prowess in swimming and track and field, where buckets of medals are awarded.

Russia’s return should shake things up. The Russians increased their medal count at every Paralympics since separating from former Soviet Republics starting in 1996. They made it as high as No. 3 in the total medal standings in 2012 before being barred from Rio.

The U.S., meanwhile, was fourth in total medals in 2012 and 2016 and has not been in the top two since it hosted in Atlanta in 1996. Great Britain, Ukraine and Australia are the other Paralympic powers.

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MORE: Tokyo Olympics: 20 storylines with one year to go

WATCH LIVE: Nathan Chen in U.S. Figure Skating Championships free skate

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Nathan Chen tries to become the first man to win four straight U.S. figure skating titles since 1988, live on NBC Sports on Sunday.

NBC Sports Gold streams live coverage of the men’s free skate for subscribers starting at 2:30 p.m. ET in Greensboro, N.C. NBC joins with TV coverage at 3.

LIVE STREAM: Men’s Free Skate — Gold | NBC | Skate Order

Chen, a 20-year-old Yale sophomore, is undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics. He can become the seventh man since World War II to win four straight national titles.

Five of the previous six went on to earn Olympic gold, including Dick ButtonScott Hamilton and, most recently, Brian Boitano in 1988.

Chen carries a substantial 13.14-point lead from Saturday’s short program, where he landed two quadruple jumps on one week of full training following a flu bout.

The anticipated drama Sunday comes in the battle for silver and bronze medals and the last two world championships team spots.

Jason BrownAndrew TorgashevVincent Zhou and Tomoki Hiwatashi are separated by 8.78 points. Brown, the 2015 U.S. champion, and Zhou, the 2019 World bronze medalist, are the only men in the field other than Chen with world team experience.

Key Skate Times
5:01 p.m. (ET) — Vincent Zhou
5:18 — Tomoki Hiwatashi
5:26 — Andrew Torgashev
5:35 — Nathan Chen
5:43 — Jason Brown

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NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Full Results

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season 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.

Mikaela Shiffrin, with 66th World Cup win, moves one shy of career dream

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Mikaela Shiffrin has said one of her career dreams is to win in every discipline in one season. She is now one victory shy of realizing it.

Shiffrin earned her 66th World Cup victory — and her second in three days — at a super-G in Bansko, Bulgaria, on Sunday.

She prevailed by .29 of a second over Italian Marta Bassino and .70 over Swiss Lara Gut-Behrami. Gut-Behrami, the last skier other than Shiffrin to win a World Cup overall title back in 2016, earned her first podium in exactly one year.

Full results are here.

“Perfect weekend for me,” said Shiffrin, who moved one shy of recently retired Austrian Marcel Hirscher for third place on the World Cup career wins list. “The whole team is excited about the whole weekend, but especially today.”

She is en route to a fourth straight World Cup overall title. And she is a combined victory away from wins in all five disciplines in one season. Only Marc GirardelliPetra KronbergerJanica Kostelic and Tina Maze have done it.

“The thing that I’m most proud of right now is that I know how to win in slalom, [giant slalom], super-G and downhill, which I never expected that would really happen,” she said.

Shiffrin struggled with confidence during a winless stretch in early January, trying not to compare herself to last season, when she won a record 17 times. She still leads the men’s and women’s tours with six victories this season, a little more than halfway through.

“Every race is such a big fight, and I haven’t been the one on top of this fight every time,” she said. “Certainly I’ve been like sometimes the expectations that I have or that other people might have, I’m not quite living up to that. Sometimes it’s hard not to feel like I’m failing sometimes, even though this is still just an incredible season.”

There are two combined races left this season for Shiffrin to achieve the dream — Feb. 23 in Switzerland and March 1 in Italy. While combined — mixing a speed run and a technical run — might seem perfect for Shiffrin, she has one victory in four starts in the discipline between the World Cup and Olympics.

And Shiffrin is careful about her race schedule. She is undecided on entering a downhill and super-G next weekend at the 2014 Olympic venue in Russia.

“After this weekend my brain is a little bit dead,” she joked.

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