Anna Shcherbakova one step closer to Grand Prix Final

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Skate America champion Anna Shcherbakova of Russia is within striking distance of locking up a spot at the Grand Prix Final after leading the pack in the short program at the Cup of China on Friday.

Despite an edge call on the triple Lutz in her jump combination, Shcherbakova scored 73.51 points to out-distance Japan’s Satoko Miyahara by 4.6 points. Miyahara was called for under-rotations on the triple toe of her triple Lutz, triple toe combination as well as her solo triple loop.

The ladies’ short program rules don’t allow for quadruple jumps, but Shcherbakova executed two in her free skate at Skate America a few weeks ago. She’s expected to match that program content in her free skate in Chonqing.

A late addition to the field, American Amber Glenn, sits third with 67.69 points. In an event marred by under-rotations and edge calls, Glenn’s was the only clean short program.

Meanwhile, 2015 world champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva of Russia is fourth after falling on a triple Axel attempt. She won Cup of China in 2014. Countrywoman Sofia Samodurova, the reigning European champion, is fifth with 63.99 points.

China’s Yan Han and Jin Boyang lead the men’s field with 86.46 points and 85.34 points, respectively. Yan did not compete during the 2018-19 post-Olympic season, but Friday, skated to his short program from PyeongChang (“A Thousand Years” by Christina Perri) with a new coach.

Jin, a two-time world championships bronze medalist, placed sixth at Skate America earlier this season. He fell on an opening quad Lutz attempt, but put two quads in his short program with a quad toe, double toe combination.

Italy’s Matteo Rizzo is third with 81.72 points while American Camden Pulkinen, in his first season on the senior Grand Prix, sits fourth with 78.92 points. They each fell one time: Rizzo on a jump combination, and Pulkinen on his opening quad toe attempt.

In ice dance, Russians Viktoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov have a five-point lead over Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates headed into Saturday’s free dance. Chock and Bates won a silver medal last weekend at Grand Prix France, while this is the Russian’s first Grand Prix event of the season. They are also expected to compete at home at Rostelecom Cup next weekend.

In pairs, it’s no surprise that two-time world champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong lead after the short program with 80.90 points after a clean performance that included side-by-side triple toes and a throw triple flip. Canada’s Liubov Ilyushechkina and Charlie Bilodeau are second with 69.98 points followed by China’s second pair in the field, Peng Cheng and Yang Jin (68.50 points).

The lone Americans in the field, Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea, sit fifth with 64.08 points.

All of the free skates at Cup of China continue Saturday morning. A full broadcast schedule is here.

Cup of China
Rhythm dance
1. Sinitsina/Katsalapov (RUS) — 85.39

2. Chock/Bates (USA) — 80.34
3. Fournier Beaudry/Sorensen (CAN) — 78.41
4. Wang/Liu (CHN) — 74.77
5. Hawayek/Baker (USA) — 74.70
6. Skoptcova/Aleshin (RUS) — 69.19
7. Evdokimova/Bazin (RUS) — 64.07
8. Chen/Sun (CHN) — 61.83
9. Guo/Zhao (CHN) — 57.10
10. Komatsubara/Koleto (JPN) — 56.60

Women
1. Anna Shcherbakova (RUS) — 73.51
2. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 68.91
3. Amber Glenn (USA) — 67.69
4. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS) — 65.57
5. Sofia Samodurova (RUS) — 63.99
6. Marin Honda (JPN) — 61.73
7. Young You (KOR) — 61.49
8. Yi Christy Leung (HKG) — 53.90
9. Yi Zhu (CHN) — 53.19
10. Kailani Craine (AUS) — 53.01
11. Hongyi Chen (CHN) — 49.44
12. Yujin Choi (KOR) — 48.75

Men
1. Yan Han (CHN) — 86.46
2. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 85.43
3. Matteo Rizzo (ITA) — 81.72
4. Camden Pulkinen (USA) — 78.92
5. Keegan Messing (CAN) — 76.80
6. Zhang He (CHN) — 76.03
7. Keiji Tanaka (JPN) — 74.64
8. Andrei Lazukin (RUS) — 74.31
9. Brendan Kerry (AUS) — 73.96
10. Conrad Orzel (CAN) — 72.22
11. Cha Junh-wan (KOR) — 69.40
12. Chih-I Tsao (TPE) — 64.07

Pairs
1. Sui/Han (CHN) — 80.90
2. Ilyushechkina/Bilodeau (CAN) — 68.98

3. Peng/Yin (CHN) — 68.50 
4. Della Monica/Guarise (ITA) — 64.24
5. Kayne/O’Shea (USA) — 64.08
6. Efimova/Korovin (RUS) — 63.97
7. Tang/Yang (CHN) — 61.85
8. Ryom/Kim (PRK) — 60.50

MORE: Madison Chock, Evan Bates back on Grand Prix circuit with ‘new power’

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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Maria Sharapova appears set to miss Tokyo Olympics

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Maria Sharapova, who would have a difficult time qualifying for the Olympics next year, committed to play an event in California the week of the Tokyo Games.

Sharapova is scheduled to play World Team Tennis matches in California during the Olympic tennis events in late July, according to a press release. Sharapova’s longtime agent hasn’t responded to a message seeking confirmation that she is ruling out the Tokyo Games.

Sharapova, 32 and the 2012 Olympic silver medalist, was barred from the Rio Games due to her 15-month meldonium suspension in 2016 and 2017. That alone could rule her ineligible for Tokyo, given the World Anti-Doping Agency’s sanctions against Russia on Monday.

Sharapova is ranked No. 131 after a season shortened by shoulder surgery. She would have to be among the top four ranked Russian women after the French Open in June for possible automatic Olympic qualification. She is currently the 14th Russian.

Olympic eligibility rules include minimum participation requirements in Fed Cup, which Sharapova hasn’t done in this Olympic cycle, though exceptions can be made.

Sharapova’s passion for the Olympics is well documented.

She carried the Russian flag into the London 2012 Opening Ceremony and carried the Olympic flame into Fisht Stadium at the Sochi 2014 Opening Ceremony, where she worked for NBC Olympics.

“It was the one thing that my parents allowed me to watch on TV late into the evening was the Olympics,” Sharapova said in 2017. “I grew up watching figure skating and hockey and a little bit of tennis. … Just capturing the Opening Ceremonies and seeing all the countries and the little hats that they wore, and I, as a little girl, I just imagined that maybe it would be me. But I never, ever thought that I would be carrying the flag.

“I received that [flag] honor in a text message, which is a very Russian way of communicating. I originally thought it was a joke, a big fat joke. Then I showed it to my mother, and she [said], no, they probably wouldn’t joke like that.”

In February 2016, Sharapova entered a Fed Cup tie, despite saying she was injured, in order to receive Olympic eligibility. One month later, her failed drug test was announced.

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MORE: Roger Federer minted on Swiss coin

Russia banned from Olympics, world champs for 4 years; athletes could compete as neutrals

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Russia is banned from the next two Olympics and other major sports events for four years, though its athletes could still compete without representing the country if cleared by anti-doping authorities.

Russia’s hosting of world championships in Olympic sports also face being stripped after the World Anti-Doping Agency executive committee approved a full slate of recommended sanctions for tampering with a Moscow laboratory database.

Russian athletes will be allowed to compete in major events — including world championships — only if they are not implicated in positive doping tests or their data was not manipulated, according to the WADA ruling. “In this circumstance, they may not represent the Russian Federation,” according to a WADA release.

“While I understand the calls for a blanket ban on all Russian athletes whether or not they are implicated by the data, it was the unanimous view of the CRC [compliance review committee], which includes an athlete, that in this case, those who could prove their innocence should not be punished, and I am pleased that the WADA ExCo [executive committee] agreed with this,” WADA CRC chairman Jonathan Taylor said.

There are 145 unnamed athletes within WADA’s “target group of most suspicious athletes” from 2012-15 who would not be allowed to compete at the Olympics, Taylor said, adding that it’s possible those names will be made public. About one-third of them are still active.

Russia’s anti-doping agency can appeal the decision within 21 days. Russia previously signaled it would appeal the ruling.

“The decision will come into effect only when it becomes final ie when either RUSADA accepts it or it is upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport,” a WADA spokesperson said in an email.

Russia avoided blanket bans for the Rio and PyeongChang Olympics after a state-run doping program was exposed by media and WADA investigations after Russia hosted the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

Approved Russian athletes competed as neutrals — “Olympic Athletes from Russia” — including in team sports in PyeongChang. Those Russians combined to earn two gold medals (figure skater Alina Zagitova and men’s hockey) and 17 overall, compared to the leading 33 Russia earned at the Sochi Olympics before medals were stripped for doping.

“Will Russian athletes be accepted as Olympic Athletes from Russia?” during the ban, Taylor said. “No, they are neutral athletes, which means not representatives of any country. Not representatives of Russia.”

Going forward, “they cannot use the name of the country in the name of the team,” WADA president-elect Witold Bańka told The Associated Press.

Two of the 168 Russians who competed in PyeongChang failed drug tests and were punished for doping.

More recent evidence shows that Russian authorities tampered with a Moscow laboratory database to hide hundreds of potential doping cases and falsely shift the blame onto whistleblowers, WADA investigators and the International Olympic Committee said last month. “Flagrant manipulation” of the Moscow lab data was “an insult to the sporting movement worldwide,” the IOC said last month.

“Russia was afforded every opportunity to get its house in order … but it chose instead to continue in its stance of deception and denial,” WADA president Craig Reedie said.

Russia will be allowed to participate in the Youth Olympics in Lausanne, Switzerland, that open Jan. 9.

WADA’s inability to fully expel Russia from the Tokyo Olympics and 2022 Beijing Winter Games frustrated the doping watchdog’s vice president.

“I’m not happy with the decision we made today. But this is as far as we could go,” said Linda Helleland, a Norwegian lawmaker who serves on WADA executive committee and has long pushed for a tougher line against Russia. “This is the biggest sports scandal the world has ever seen. I would expect now a full admission from the Russians and for them to apologize on all the pain all the athletes and sports fans have experienced.”

Although the IOC has called for the strongest possible sanctions, it wants those sanctions directed at Russian state authorities rather than athletes or Olympic officials.

“To allow Russia to escape a complete ban is yet another devastating blow to clean athletes, the integrity of sport and the rule of law,” USADA CEO Travis Tygart said in a statement. “And, in turn, the reaction by all those who value sport should be nothing short of a revolt against this broken system to force reform.”

Russia’s Olympic champion women’s handball team is currently competing at the world championships in Japan. Its next match is Tuesday against Montenegro. Russia has been the scheduled host for the world luge championships in Sochi in mid-February.

The “major sports” events that fall under WADA’s sanctions do not include European Championships or other non-world championships events such as tennis’ upcoming Australian Open.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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TIMELINE: Russia’s recent history of sports doping