Before Yale final exams, Nathan Chen faces a different test: Yuzuru Hanyu

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Nathan Chen is not present for this last week of classes before fall semester final exams at Yale, where his studies are geared toward statistics and data science. Instead, he’s lacing up skates in Turin, Italy, for the biggest competition of the figure skating season thus far.

Chen, undefeated in full competition since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics, is part of a six-skater field at the Grand Prix Final, often an annual preview of the March world championships.

But, to many, the event is a head-to-head.

It’s the first time Chen, the two-time reigning world champion, and Japanese megastar Yuzuru Hanyu, the two-time reigning Olympic champion, will share competitive ice since Chen relegated Hanyu to silver outside Tokyo at last season’s worlds.

“He is, obviously, the top skater right now,” Chen said when asked to analyze the competition. “Not that the other skaters aren’t a challenge, but Yuzu’s definitely the biggest challenge of all.”

Since Chen’s disastrous, 17th-place Olympic short program, he outscored Hanyu in their three head-to-head programs — the Olympic free skate and both days at last season’s worlds. Chen was brilliant in all three, while Hanyu had significant jumping errors (and, at worlds, was likely affected by an ankle injury).

“You can’t base one competition on the success of a skater,” Chen said. “You have to look at an entire career. You have to look at all the different things that they’ve been through and all the ups and downs. It’s a lot more to it than I beat him here, so I’m better. That’s not necessarily the case. He had a tough run at worlds, didn’t skate like I think he could. Fortunately, I did, so it worked out for me that day.”

Chen and Hanyu, not in direct competition this fall, each won two Grand Prix Series events between October and November. Chen prevailed at Skate America and Internationaux de France by 40 and 30 points, respectively. Hanyu one-upped him with record 55- and 60-point victories in Japan and Canada.

GRAND PRIX FINAL PREVIEWS: Nathan Chen | Yuzuru Hanyu | Alysa Liu
Women | Pairs | TV/Stream Schedule | Entrants

NBC Sports analyst and two-time Olympian Johnny Weir looked past the margins of victory.

“There isn’t one performance that really sticks out to me that was weak nor was there one that was a home run,” he said. “Nathan Chen does have more of a quad arsenal, but we’ve yet to see all of them this season.

“Nathan Chen, his free skate’s really entertaining, but I think it lacks a little bit of the sophistication of Yuzuru Hanyu, so it’s going to be the [judging] panel that gets up there on the day to decide.”

Each of Hanyu’s total scores were better than Chen’s, though judges can be more or less forgiving from event to event. Chen, watching replays of Hanyu’s skates from New Haven, tracked the standings.

“You just look at the point differences throughout the year, he’s definitely pulling off better scores,” Chen said. “He’s doing really quality programs and difficult content. Knowing who he is and what he’s shown he’s capable of doing, he’s going to put down here.”

Last season, as a Yale freshman, Chen steadily built his technical content, from four quadruple jumps at Skate America to five in France and six at the Grand Prix Final. Chen repeated as Grand Prix Final champion, with Hanyu sitting out a second straight year with an ankle injury.

Chen looks more prepared as a sophomore than he did at this point last year, NBC Sports analyst and 1998 Olympic champion Tara Lipinski said.

Chen said he’s unsure of his jumping list for Thursday’s short program and Saturday’s free skate, but that he’s been training four quads in the free. He typically does two in the short. Both Chen and Hanyu performed six total quads at their most recent Grand Prix Series starts.

This competition may be more pivotal for Hanyu in the big picture. Chen is fueled by missing the medals in PyeongChang. For Hanyu, anything less than another title in Beijing in 2022 will be a downgrade.

“Does he really need a third Olympic [gold] medal? Will he definitely stay in for this next Olympics?” Lipinski said. “I think he’s using this next season, maybe even the Final, to determine where he ends up and matches up against Nathan. I think he’s using this to gauge whether he’ll stay in and really go for that third Olympic [gold] medal.” 

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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Ironman Kona World Championships return for first time in three years, live on Peacock

Ironman Kona World Championship
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The Ironman Kona World Championships return after a three-year hiatus with a new format, live on Peacock on Thursday and Saturday at 12 p.m. ET.

The Ironman, held annually in Hawaii since 1978, and in Kailua-Kona since 1981, was not held in 2020 or 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The world championships made a one-time-only stop in St. George, Utah, on May 7 to make up for the 2021 cancellation. The winners were Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt, the Tokyo Olympic triathlon champion, and Swiss Daniela Ryf, who bagged her fifth Ironman world title.

Both are entered in Kailua-Kona, where the races are now split between two days — Thursday for the women and Saturday for the men.

An Ironman includes a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and a marathon — totaling 140.6 miles of racing. It takes top triathletes eight hours to complete. Very arguably, it crowns the world’s fittest man and woman.

WATCH LIVE: Ironman Kona, Thursday, 12 p.m. ET — STREAM LINK

Ryf, 35 and a 2008 and 2012 Olympian, can tie retired countrywoman Natascha Badmann for second place on the women’s list at six Ironman world titles. Only Zimbabwean-turned-American Paula Newby-Fraser has more with eight.

The field also includes German Anne Haug, the 2019 Kona champ and only woman other than Ryf to win since 2015. Brit Lucy Charles-Barclay, the Kona runner-up in 2017, 2018 and 2019, returns after missing the St. George event due to a stress fracture in her hip.

Blummenfelt, 28 and in his Kona debut, will try to become the youngest male champion in Kona since German Normann Stadler in 2005. His top challengers include countryman Gustav Iden, the two-time reigning Half Ironman world champion, and German Patrick Lange, the 2017 and 2018 Ironman Kona winner.

Also racing Saturday is Dallas Clark, a retired All-Pro NFL tight end with the Indianapolis Colts, and Tony Kanaan, the 2013 Indy 500 champion who completed the 2011 Kona Ironman in 12 hours, 52 minutes, 40 seconds.

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Joan Benoit Samuelson, Olympic marathon champ in 1984, runs London Marathon at 65

Joan Benoit Samuelson
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Joan Benoit Samuelson, the first Olympic women’s marathon champion in 1984, ran her first 26.2-mile race in three years at Sunday’s London Marathon and won her age group.

Benoit Samuelson, 65, clocked 3 hours, 20 minutes, 20 seconds to top the women’s 65-69 age group by 7 minutes, 52 seconds. She took pleasure in being joined in the race by daughter Abby, who crossed in 2:58:19.

“She may have beaten me with my replacement knee, but everybody said I wouldn’t do it! I will never say never,” Benoit Samuelson said, according to race organizers. “I am a grandmother now to Charlotte, and it’s my goal to run 5K with her.”

LONDON MARATHON: Results

Benoit Samuelson raced the 1987 Boston Marathon while three months pregnant with Abby. Before that, she won the first Olympic women’s marathon at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, plus the Boston Marathon in 1979 and 1983 and the Chicago Marathon in 1985.

Her personal best — 2:21:21 — still holds up. She ranks sixth in U.S. women’s history.

Benoit Samuelson plans to race the Tokyo Marathon to complete her set of doing all six annual World Marathon Majors. The others are Berlin, Boston, Chicago and New York City.

“I’m happy to finish this race and make it to Tokyo, but I did it today on a wing and a prayer,” she said, according to organizers. “I’m blessed to have longevity in this sport. It doesn’t owe me anything, but I feel I owe my sport.”

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