U.S. Figure Skating Championships men’s preview: Nathan Chen leads clear top tier

ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final Senior & Junior
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This week’s U.S. Figure Skating Championships marks the last competition to determine the U.S. Olympic team. Three men will be chosen by a committee to compete in Beijing. A look at the contenders (listed in order of best single total score this season) …

There is expected to be little drama in the men’s competition in Nashville. Nathan Chen is a clear favorite, albeit will not go into nationals riding an undefeated season for the first time since 2017.

The three Olympic spots are also largely, if not totally, spoken for.

No man has beaten any of a fully prepared Chen, Vincent Zhou or Jason Brown at nationals in this Olympic cycle. They rank first, second and ninth in the world this season by best score. No other American man is in the top 20, according to SkatingScores.com.

Nathan Chen
Three-time world champion
Five-time U.S. champion
2018 Olympics, fifth place

Bidding to join Todd Eldredge as the only men in the last 70 years to win six national titles. Took first defeat of this Olympic cycle at Skate America in October (to Zhou), but went out the next week and tallied the world’s best score this season by 11.62 points, landing six quadruple jumps between two programs. All of Chen’s national titles were won by at least a 30-point margin. Has said he will likely take a break from competition after this season (returning to Yale), so it could be his last nationals.

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Vincent Zhou
2019 World bronze medalist
Three-time U.S. silver medalist
2018 Olympics, sixth place

At Skate America, beat Chen for the first time since the 2013 U.S. Junior Championships, ending a 13-competition skid in their head-to-head. His winning score held as the second-best in the world this season, though Zhou struggled in his most recent program, a sixth-place free skate at NHK Trophy in November. It could also be his last nationals. Zhou is going back to Brown University in the fall. He said last season that 2022 was his “end game,” but last week clarified that anything beyond this year is to be determined.

Jason Brown
2015 U.S. champion
2014 Olympics, ninth place

Began the PyeongChang Olympic cycle with a national title in 2015 and ended it with a sixth-place finish at 2018 Nationals, missing that Olympic team. Since changed coaches to Brian Orser and Tracy Wilson and this season landed a fully rotated quadruple jump in competition for the first time. Brown is firmly the No. 3 American and likely to become the first U.S. male singles skater to go eight years between Olympic appearances, according to Olympedia.org.

Jimmy Ma
2021 U.S. Championships, sixth place

A sensation at nationals four years ago for his “Turn Down for What” short program before he ultimately landed in 11th place. Ma had his best nationals finish last season, and this year has the best score of any American man outside of the Big Three. That best score is still 13.23 points shy of Brown’s best, and 8.58 points shy of Brown’s worst this season. A significant gap. Note the fourth- and fifth-place finishers from last year’s nationals haven’t competed since September.

Ilia Malinin
World’s top-ranked junior skater

The 17-year-old son of Uzbek Olympic skaters won both of his Junior Grand Prix starts this season (making a 30-point jump from his first to his second). Last season, he was fifth at Skate America but missed senior nationals due to a fractured ankle (and then missed about three more weeks of training this season due to ankle problems). Has trained alongside Chen and landed three different types of quadruple jumps in competition.

Yaroslav Paniot
2021 U.S. Championships, fourth place

Finished 9.95 points behind Brown at last year’s nationals, beating him in the free skate. That’s the closest anybody from outside the top tier has come to a full-strength Chen, Zhou or Brown at nationals in this Olympic cycle (not counting Zhou’s under-prepared performance in 2020). Paniot, a 2018 Olympian for Ukraine who gained U.S. citizenship in December, competed twice this season, way back in August and September, before being sidelined two months for a groin injury that will limit his jump content at nationals. His total score from the one event he completed ranks him 10th among Americans this season, according to SkatingScores.com.

NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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U.S. women win record 27th consecutive FIBA World Cup game

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SYDNEY — There’s been a long legacy of success for the U.S. women’s basketball team at the World Cup.

The names change over time, but the results don’t seem to.

Kelsey Plum scored 20 points, Chelsea Gray added 16 and the United States routed Bosnia and Herzegovina 121-59 on Tuesday to break the team record for consecutive wins at the World Cup.

The victory was the 27th in a row in World Cup play for the Americans, who haven’t lost since the 2006 semifinals against Russia. The U.S. won 26 in a row from 1994-2006 leading up to that game. The Soviet Union holds the World Cup record with 56 straight wins from 1959-86.

“It’s kind of amazing,” said Breanna Stewart, who has been part of the last three World Cup teams. “Obviously, been here for some of it, but you understand the legends before that who really kind of started the streak. It goes to show that no matter who is playing on USA Basketball, we’re always trying to chase excellence.

“This streak doesn’t mean much right now because we’re going into the quarterfinals and focusing on winning a gold medal, but it’s something to kind of hang your hat on later.”

What started with Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi and Sylvia Fowles has now been passed on to Stewart and A’ja Wilson. A legacy of excellence that doesn’t appear it will end anytime soon.

“The players change and, you know, there was a lot of concern about who’s next,” U.S. coach Cheryl Reeve said. “It was a concern when Dawn Staley and Lisa Leslie were playing and who was going to be next. Then it was Sue and (Taurasi) and then other great players, too. Now with this group they are saying, hey, we’re pretty good, too.”

MORE: FIBA World Cup Schedule, Results

The U.S. last lost a group play game in 1975, according to Bill Mallon of Olympedia.org.

“We know the responsibility when you put on this jersey. There’s a lot more than yourself,” Plum said. “Everyone puts pride to the side. We have a common goal. We have some amazing players on this team.”

The Americans (5-0) won their pool games by an average of 46.2 points and never trailed in any of them. Now they play Serbia in the quarterfinals.

The U.S. was coming off a record rout of South Korea in which the team broke the World Cup record for points with 145. While the Americans didn’t match that number, they put the game out of reach in the first 10 minutes, going up 33-15.

The lead ballooned to 63-31 at halftime. Bosnia and Herzegovina put together a small run to start the third quarter, but the U.S. scored the final 19 points of the period.

Once again they used a dominant inside performance, outscoring Bosnia and Herzegovina 84-28 in the paint led by Wilson, Stewart and Brionna Jones.

“It’s a huge part of our identity,” Reeve said. “Ninety-whatever we had yesterday and 84 today, we just know what we’re good at and we have players that are really understanding their opportunities for that.”

The U.S. was missing Jewell Loyd, whom the team said was resting. Kahleah Copper started in her place and finished with 11 points.

Nikolina Elez scored 19 points to lead the Bosniaks (0-5), who were playing in their first World Cup.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup schedule, results

FIBA Women's World Cup
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The U.S. goes for its fourth consecutive title at the FIBA World Cup in Sydney — and eighth global gold in a row overall when including the Olympics.

A’ja Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP, and Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP, headline a U.S. roster that, for the first time since 2000, includes neither Sue Bird (retired) nor Diana Taurasi (injured).

The new-look team includes nobody over the age of 30 for the first time since 1994, before the U.S. began its dynasty at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Americans have won 52 consecutive games between worlds and the Olympics dating to the 2006 Worlds bronze-medal game.

The field also includes host Australia, the U.S.’ former primary rival, and Olympic silver medalist Japan.

Nigeria, which played the U.S. the closest of any foe in Tokyo (losing by nine points), isn’t present after its federation withdrew the team over governance issues. Spain, ranked second in the world, failed to qualify.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup Schedule

Date Time (ET) Game Round
Wed., Sept. 21 8:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 82, Bosnia and Herzegovina 58 Group A
9:30 p.m. USA 87, Belgium 72 Group A
11 p.m. Canada 67, Serbia 60 Group B
Thurs., Sept. 22 12 a.m. Japan 89, Mali 56 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 107, South Korea 44 Group A
6:30 a.m. France 70, Australia 57 Group B
8:30 p.m. USA 106, Puerto Rico 42 Group A
10 p.m. Serbia 69, Japan 64 Group B
11 p.m. Belgium 84, South Korea 61 Group A
Fri., Sept. 23 12:30 a.m. China 98, Bosnia and Herzegovina 51 Group A
4 a.m. Canada 59, France 45 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 118, Mali 58 Group B
Sat., Sept. 24 12:30 a.m. USA 77, China 63 Group A
4 a.m. South Korea 99, Bosnia and Herzegovina 66 Group A
6:30 a.m. Belgium 68, Puerto Rico 65 Group A
Sun., Sept. 25 12:30 a.m. France 74, Mali 59 Group B
4 a.m. Australia 69, Serbia 54 Group B
6:30 a.m. Canada 70, Japan 56 Group B
9:30 p.m. Belgium 85, Bosnia and Herzegovina 55 Group A
11:30 p.m. Serbia 81, Mali 68 Group B
Mon., Sept. 26 12 a.m. USA 145, South Korea 69 Group A
2 a.m. France 67, Japan 53 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 95, Puerto Rico 60 Group A
6:30 a.m. Australia 75, Canada 72 Group B
9:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 92, South Korea 73 Group A
11:30 p.m. China 81, Belgium 55 Group A
Tues., Sept. 27 12 a.m. USA 121, Bosnia and Herzegovina 59 Group A
2 a.m. Canada 88, Mali 65 Group B
3:30 a.m. Serbia 68, France 62 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 71, Japan 54 Group B
Wed., Sept. 28 10 p.m. USA vs. Serbia
Thurs., Sept. 29 12:30 a.m. Canada vs. Puerto Rico
4 a.m. China vs. France
6:30 a.m. Australia vs. Belgium
Fri., Sept. 30 3 a.m. Semifinal
5:30 a.m. Semifinal
11 p.m. Third-Place Game
Sat., Oct. 1 2 a.m. Final