Ashley Wagner

Skate America preview: U.S. champions to be tested in Grand Prix opener

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The Grand Prix figure skating season gets underway this weekend in Detroit with Skate America, which features all six reigning U.S. national champions.

Two-time world champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White lead the ice dancing field, and Max Aaron and Ashley Wagner will be in medal contention in singles.

While Americans are led by Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir in pairs, the reigning world champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov headline the field.

Aaron is the name to watch in men’s singles, which has suffered from two high-profile withdrawals. Last month, Olympic gold medalist Evan Lysacek pulled out of the event due to a hip injury, and Wednesday, Denis Ten, who won the silver medal at the 2013 World Championships, also withdrew, reportedly due to an illness.

It’s the first Grand Prix event for the 21-year-old Aaron, who was seventh at the World Championships following his national title in Omaha.

“I’m looking forward to skating with the best of them,” Aaron told reporters on a conference call last week. “I want to lay out these programs and compete with the best in the world. There’s no holding back for me.”

Aaron has three quadruple jumps planned for his free skate, as well as two triple axels for the second half of the program as he makes the leap — literally and figuratively — onto the international stage.

While he’s never skated against Lysacek, Aaron will get to compare himself to an Olympic medalist — Japan’s Daisuke Takahashi, who won bronze in Vancouver.

Aaron is joined by fellow Americans Adam Rippon and Jason Brown.

In women’s singles, the two-time reigning national champion Wagner will also face an Olympic medal winner from Japan in Mao Asada. Asada was second to Yuna Kim at the Vancouver Games and could factor in for one of the top three spots in Sochi.

Five-time French medalist Mae Berenice Meite will bring her athletic style to Detroit, and 14-year-old Elena Radionova, the reigning world junior champion, will also be in attendance. (Though, due to age-eligibility rules, she’s not able to compete in Sochi.) Samantha Cesario and Caroline Zhang will join Wagner as Americans in the field.

“I’m looking forward to Skate America to really get started,” said Wagner, who is working on a triple-triple combination for the season. “It helps establish me into another class of figure skaters, the elite of the elite. I want to be a part of that group.”

Davis and White start their Olympic campaign in the city they train. The Michigan natives were silver medalists at the Vancouver Games and are the favorites at Skate America in ice dancing, where Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the gold medalists in 2010, will not be in attendance.

Maia and Alex Shibutani, who also have Michigan ties (they’re both University of Michigan students), will open their season as well after missing the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic last month, where Davis and White were winners.

Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte of Italy, who were fourth at the World Championships this year, should also factor in ice dance. Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue will also compete.

“We’re really where we want to be at this point in the season and just want to enjoy the process,” said Davis, who noted she and White hadn’t competed in Detroit in over 10 years. “It’s exciting for us to [skate at home] and both of us will have family and friends in the crowd and we want to put on a show for them.”

In pairs, reigning U.S. champs Castelli and Shnapir lead the American effort, which also figures in Caydee Denney and John Coughlin as well as Felicia Zhang and Nate Bartholomay.

Reigning world champions Volosozhar and Trankov will be the favorites in pairs. The duo is Russia’s strongest hope for a gold medal in figure skating come Sochi.

The event gets underway Friday evening, with the men’s and dance competitions. Saturday sees the conclusion of those two events as ladies and pairs begin, both of which will end on Sunday. NBC will broadcast live from Detroit on Sunday from 4-6 p.m. ET.

Patrick Chan’s phone call with Sidney Crosby

IOC president doesn’t rule out awarding 2028 Olympic host in 2017

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 23: The Olympic Flag waves as part of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony at Fisht Olympic Stadium on February 23, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images)
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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — Signaling a potential radical change in the way Olympic host cities are chosen, IOC President Thomas Bach wants to revise the bidding process because it “produces too many losers.”

He wouldn’t rule out the possibility of awarding two Games at the same time.

Bach’s comments came on Thursday, the same day the IOC executive board cleared all three candidate cities for the 2024 Olympics — Paris, Los Angeles and Budapest, Hungary — to advance to the next stage of the race.

“We have to take into consideration that the procedure as it is now produces too many losers,” Bach said at a news conference. “You can be happy about a strong field in quantity for one day but you start to regret it the next day.

“It is not the purpose of an Olympic candidate city procedure to produce losers. It is to produce the best possible host for an Olympic Games. We will have to look into this.”

It was the first time Bach has publicly spoken about further changes to the bidding process, which has suffered in recent years as voters rejected bids in referendums, and cities dropped out because of concerns over the costs of the games.

Paris, Los Angeles, and Budapest are in the final nine months of the race for the 2024 Games. The International Olympic Committee is scheduled to vote on the host city in September in Lima, Peru.

Paris and Los Angeles are viewed as close favorites, with Budapest as an outsider. Olympic officials in recent months have begun privately discussing the idea of awarding the 2024 and 2028 Games simultaneously, ensuring that Paris and Los Angeles would get one or the other.

Some officials believe that, because both cities are such strong contenders, it would be a mistake for one to lose out. It would seem unlikely that either loser would bid again for 2028.

Bach repeated several times that the 2024 bidding is already in full swing and the IOC is “happy” with that process. However, he was asked twice about the possibility of awarding both Games at the Lima meeting, and he didn’t categorically rule it out.

“Let us study this question, which is not an easy one,” he said.

Bach suggested it is more likely any major change will come for future bidding races.

“We have to think long term,” he said, adding that, for the 2024 race, the IOC advised three unidentified cities during the “invitation phase” not to submit bids because they failed to meet the requirements.

The IOC has been seeking to fix the bidding process for years amid a sharp downturn in interest from potential host cities, many scared off by the $51 billion price tag associated with the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

The bid races for the 2020, 2022 and 2024 Olympics were all hit by withdrawals for political or financial reasons. Six cities pulled out of the contest for the ’22 Winter Games, leaving only two finalists, with Beijing defeating Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Hamburg pulled out of the 2024 race after local residents rejected the bid in a referendum, and Rome’s 2024 bid was scrapped after the new mayor rejected the project over costs.

Bach’s Olympic Agenda 2020 reforms were aimed at making bidding and hosting more flexible and less costly. But Bach acknowledged on Thursday the reforms hadn’t solved everything, saying they have been affected by “more changes in the decision-making mechanisms in politics.”

“You can see how in many countries, you have populist movements and anti-establishment movements getting stronger and stronger, asking different and new questions,” he said.

While the IOC has traditionally awarded one Olympics at a time, some other major sports bodies have awarded multiple events at a time.

FIFA awarded the 2018 World Cup to Russia and 2022 tournament to Qatar in the same bidding process. FIFA leaders say that was a mistake that will not be repeated. Swiss federal prosecutors are still looking into suspicions of wrongdoing during that contest.

VIDEO: LA 2024 Olympic bid venue plan

Yuzuru Hanyu tops Grand Prix Final short program

Yuzuru Hanyu
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Yuzuru Hanyu is well on his way to a record fourth straight Grand Prix Final title.

The Olympic champion landed two quadruple jumps while his closest rival, Spain’s Javier Fernandez, nearly fell twice in the short program in Marseille, France, on Thursday.

Hanyu tallied 106.53 points, the third-highest short program score under the decade-old scoring system, but said he wasn’t completely satisfied. Hanyu owns the five best short programs, all compiled in the last two seasons, with a best of 110.95.

“This program feels like a concert,” said Hanyu, who skated to Prince music in a purple outfit. “I consider this program cannot be completed without the audience.

“I feel this program has a lot more potential. I really wanted to improve my personal-best score here.”

Hanyu is trying to become the first singles skater to win four straight Grand Prix Finals in the event’s 22-year history.

He leads three-time Canadian world champion Patrick Chan by 6.77 points going into Saturday’s free skate. Chan’s clean short program included one quad and marked his first personal best in three years.

“The first good short program in a long time, internationally,” Chan said. “It didn’t feel any more special than any usual training day.”

Fernandez, who beat Hanyu at the last two world championships, nearly fell on a quad Salchow and a triple Axel and is in third, nearly 15 points back of Hanyu.

Fernandez was followed by Japan’s Shoma Uno and the two Americans, training partners Nathan Chen and Adam Rippon, in fifth and sixth in the six-skater field.

Chen, 17, fell on a quad flip and stepped out of a quad Lutz landing.

“I made two pretty big mistakes, so I’m a little bit upset about that,” Chen said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “I was able to land the triple Axel, which I’m happy about because that’s always been my struggle jump.”

Rippon, 27, was the only skater to not attempt a quad.

“I’m trying the least amount of quads so my focus is to skate well overall,” Rippon said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “I want to do my best and improve for the rest of the season.”

Chen and Rippon are the first American men in a Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual competition, since 2011.

The Grand Prix Final continues Friday with the short dance, pairs free skate and women’s short program (broadcast schedule here).

Earlier in pairs, Canadian world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford struggled to third place in the short program. Duhamel fell on a throw triple Axel.

Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov lead by 3.26 points going into Friday’s free skate.

MORE: Javier Fernandez builds toward last Olympic chance

Men’s Short Program
1. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 106.53
2. Patrick Chan (CAN) — 99.76
3. Javier Fernandez (ESP) — 91.76
4. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 86.82
5. Nathan Chen (USA) — 85.30
6. Adam Rippon (USA) — 83.93

Pairs Short Program
1. Yevgenia Tarasovana/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 78.60
2. Xiaoyu Yu/Hao Zhang (CHN) — 75.34
3. Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford (CAN) — 71.44
4. Cheng Peng/Yang Jin (CHN) — 70.84
5. Natalya Zabiyako/Aleksander Enbert (RUS) — 65.79
6. Julianne Seguin/Charlie Bilodeau (CAN) — 60.86