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Nathan Chen, speeding up as a sophomore, heads to France; TV, live stream schedule

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Yuzuru Hanyu gave his best Grand Prix performance in years last week. Nathan Chen can respond this week in what will likely be his last event before a showdown with Hanyu at December’s Grand Prix Final.

Chen and fellow reigning world champions Alina Zagitova and Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron headline Internationaux de France, streaming live for NBC Sports Gold subscribers on Friday and Saturday.

Chen is undefeated in full competition since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics. This week, he goes for an eighth straight Grand Prix victory, which would be the longest streak for a singles skater since the early 2000s.

His competition is stronger than at Skate America two weeks ago, when Chen dusted the field by 44 points. That’s because of the presence of Japanese Shoma Uno, who owns three silver medals between the Olympics and world championships. Albeit Uno ranks eighth in the world this season by top total scores.

Chen remains such a strong favorite that the real measuring stick is what the two-time Olympic champion Hanyu did at Skate Canada last week — six quads between two programs for 322.59 points. At Skate America, Chen landed five quads total for 299.09.

It’s Chen’s second straight year on this schedule, taking classes at Yale and training without California-based coach Rafael Arutunian on site. It’s already running smoother than in 2018. Chen struggled through illness to start last season, where he won Skate America with one fewer quad than two weeks ago.

“Last season, I started really slow,” Chen said on the Ice Talk podcast at Skate America. “This season, I definitely feel like I’m getting to things faster.”

A podium finish in France should put Chen in December’s Grand Prix Final, which takes the top six skaters from the fall Grand Prix season. Hanyu, who took silver to Chen at last year’s worlds while injured, can earn his place in the Final with a solid performance at NHK Trophy in Japan in three weeks.

Internationaux de France also marks the Grand Prix season debuts for Zagitova and Papadakis and Cizeron.

The 17-year-old Zagitova, the only skater who is a reigning Olympic and world champion, must this season stave off a group of younger Russian teens armed with triple Axels or quads. Zagitova, who has never landed a triple Axel or quad in competition, faces one of them this week in Alena Kostornaia, who landed two triple Axels (one under-rotated) in her senior international debut last month.

Papadakis and Cizeron aren’t feeling nearly as much heat going into their full-fledged season debut. They haven’t lost to a dance couple other than the recently retired Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir in almost five years. Look for them to chase this number: 209.55 — Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue‘s world-leading score for the season set at Skate America.

Hubbell and Donohue aren’t in Grenoble, but U.S. silver medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates could be the closest to the French this weekend.

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.

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Internationaux de France Broadcast Schedule

Day Time (ET) Event Network
Friday 9:30 a.m. Men’s Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
11:30 a.m. Rhythm Dance NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
1:15 p.m. Women’s Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
3 p.m. Pairs’ Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
Saturday 8:15 a.m. Men’s Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
10:30 a.m. Free Dance NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
2 p.m. Women’s Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
4 p.m. Pairs’ Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
Sunday 4-6 p.m. Highlights NBC | STREAM LINK

 

2021 Burton U.S. Open snowboarding event canceled

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The Burton U.S. Open, snowboarding’s most storied event, canceled its 2021 competition due to uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

“The truth is, we just can’t be sure it will be safe from a public health standpoint for us to host the event in 2021,” a statement read.

The U.S. Open, held since 1982, is usually around the first weekend in March, making it the season-ending event for many riders. Halfpipe champions include Shaun WhiteChloe KimKelly Clark and Ross Powers, who also earned Olympic gold medals.

Other 2020-21 winter sports events affected by the coronavirus pandemic include figure skating’s Junior Grand Prix. The first two stops of that eight-event series, scheduled for late August and early September in Canada and Slovakia, have been canceled.

The Italian Winter Sports Federation, which is due to put on the February 2021 World Alpine Skiing Championships in Cortina d’Ampezzo, made a formal request on Monday to postpone the event until March 2022, one month after the next Winter Olympics in Beijing. The International Ski Federation (FIS) council will decide July 1.

MORE: Takeaways from abbreviated 2019-20 winter sports season

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Kara Eaker eschews fear, back on balance beam to resume Olympic quest

Kara Eaker
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Kara Eaker hasn’t qualified for an Olympics yet, but she is already part of a historic club of U.S. gymnasts. The list goes, most recently, Eaker, Simone BilesKyla RossAly RaismanNastia LiukinShawn JohnsonShannon Miller and Dominique Dawes.

Those are the women who qualified for back-to-back balance beam finals at the sport’s highest level: Olympics or world championships. For Eaker (pronounced like acre), they came in her first two years as a senior gymnast in 2018 and 2019 (Biles and Johnson are the only other U.S. women to do that in the last 25 years.)

This was supposed to be Eaker’s Olympic year, but the coronavirus pandemic postponed the Games to 2021, after her Missouri high school graduation. It also kept her out of the gym for nearly two months until the GAGE Center reopened last week in Blue Springs, near Kansas City.

It was the longest Eaker had been off a regulation beam (and out of the gym) since she could remember. She began competing at age 5.

Eaker’s mom, Katherine, said her daughter never feared the four-inch-wide beam, but Eaker said the thought of returning last week “was definitely kind of scary at first.” That is, until one of her coaches eased her back with basics and work on a floor beam, one that’s not raised as high as the four feet you see in competition.

“By the time we were ready, and she was comfortable putting us back up there, it wasn’t scary,” Eaker said. “It felt normal.”

Eaker, adopted from a Chinese orphanage around age 1 in 2003 (her parents’ travel then delayed by SARS), excels on the senior elite stage with a level of normalcy.

Which is not entirely normal in this sport. She lives with her family, 10 minutes from her world-class gym. She still attends regular high school. She’s committed to continue gymnastics at the University of Utah after the Tokyo Olympics.

“I started out in dance, actually,” said Eaker, whose hobbies include robotics and calligraphy. “A little, little girl with the stuffed animal, twirling around in the dance room. And then we had our little recital and I just wasn’t … I couldn’t do the standing in front of an audience kind of thing.”

Her mom believes it was around Christmas. Eaker was 3 or 4.

“She just froze like a deer in the headlights, and all the other girls froze, too, because they were used to following her,” Katherine said. “Then she tried gymnastics. We had to drag her out [of the gym]. From then on, it was always, she’s first one in, last one out. Still is.”

The family, including Eaker’s father, Mark, retired Navy and a flight engineer, and younger sister, Sara, moved three times within Missouri in part to get Kara closer to GAGE to pursue what would eventually become an Olympic dream.

Gymnastics meets were appointment TV before Eaker entered kindergarten. She watched the Beijing Olympics, or perhaps an even earlier meet, while dancing around the living room in a leotard. Sometimes she mimicked the gold medalists by doing back bends. She continued to watch Beijing highlights, with Liukin and Johnson, on replay on YouTube.

Back at the gym, Eaker developed with the help of her coaches, plus future University of Nebraska gymnast Catelyn Orel, her “gym mom” under the GAGE program to pair older and younger athletes. Orel was a state champion on beam. Eaker proved a natural, too.

“A lot of the girls would get up there and have trouble balancing, but she just always seemed to do it just like she was on the floor,” her mom said. “She’s never really had a fear. Some girls get up there and are nervous. She just never seemed to be that way.”

In 2018, Eaker was 15, old enough to start competing on the senior level with the likes of Biles. Exactly 10 years after she would have watched Johnson win the Beijing Olympic beam title, Eaker finished second on beam at nationals behind Biles. She was invited to the world championships team selection camp, where she had the top beam score and placed sixth in the all-around. Six gymnasts would be chosen by a committee to travel to the world championships.

Eaker didn’t expect to make the team. In a large meeting with coaches and staff, the roster was announced. Eaker made it as the youngest member.

“It was a goal, but there were so many other girls and it was my first year as a senior,” she said. “I was very happy and surprised to make that team.”

Eaker again won beam at the 2019 World Championships selection camp. If Eaker endured adversity those first two years, it came at worlds.

In 2018, she fell on her mount in the beam final. The rest of her routine was medal-worthy gymnastics. She waited an eternal three minutes for her score, which placed her sixth. Eaker’s routine from the team final earlier that week would have earned silver.

In 2019, Eaker again qualified for the eight-woman beam final. The U.S. federation submitted an inquiry on her qualifying score, contesting a lower start value given to her. That backfired. Judges lowered Eaker’s score even more upon review, which took her out of the final. However, another gymnast who had qualified later withdrew due to injury. Eaker was back in the final, where she placed fourth.

She was asked afterward what she would take away from the meet.

“Just the experience of it all,” she said, composed. “How it makes me feel. How to use that [in the future].”

In 2021, Eaker will have to prove to a selection committee that she can be reliable on all four apparatuses. The Olympic team event size is four — with three gymnasts going per apparatus in the Olympic final — down from five in 2016, putting a greater emphasis on the all-around. Eaker could also be a candidate for one separate spot in individual events only.

“I definitely want to be seen as a great beam worker, but I also need to be a great all-arounder because they’re going to be looking at not just your one event,” said Eaker, who was third in the all-around at the 2019 Worlds selection camp. “You have to be able to benefit the team with your other events, even if they aren’t as strong as your [best] one.”

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