Patrick Chan

Key information for Skate Canada

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The second Grand Prix figure skating event of the Olympic season will feature battles between two men with Olympic gold-medal hopes and three U.S. women in contention for Olympic spots and the biggest threat to Meryl Davis and Charlie White.

Skate Canada in St. John, New Brunswick, begins Friday. Here’s the schedule (all times Eastern):

Friday
Pairs short program, 2-3:10
Women’s short program, 3:35-4:50
Short dance, 7-8:10
Men’s short program, 8:30-9:50.

Saturday
Pairs free skate, 12-1:25
Women’s free skate, 2:15-3:40
Free dance, 4:30-5:45
Men’s free skate, 7:10-8:50.

NBC will provide coverage from 4-6 on Sunday.

Here are storylines for each event:

Men’s

Olympic favorite Patrick Chan, the three-time reigning world champion, makes his Grand Prix season debut against a Japanese teenager who could be his biggest challenger come Sochi.

Chan, 22, took second at 2012 Skate Canada to Spain’s Javier Fernandez, after winning in 2010 and 2011. The Olympics are more than three months away, but he’s already feeling pressure to win Canada’s first Olympic men’s figure skating title.

He hopes competing in front of home fans will help him get into a groove for the Olympic season. Chan is keeping his world-record short program from last season and reverting his free skate music to what he skated to before he became an Olympian (he was fifth in Vancouver). The free skate reportedly begins with back-to-back quadruple jumps.

Chan’s phone call with Sidney Crosby

At Skate Canada, Chan could be challenged by Yuzuru Hanyu, who previously held the short program world record.

Hanyu, 18, finished third and fourth at the last two World Championships and is at the top of a deep crop of Japanese skaters. He could have challenged for gold at the World Championships in March if not for a fall in a disastrous ninth-place short program.

Hanyu, who reportedly crawled out of his home rink in Japan during a 2011 earthquake and does not own a cell phone, now trains with 1988 Olympic silver medalist Brian Orser in Toronto.

He’s one of few men who can land a quadruple Salchow and landed two quads and two triple Axels in his free skate to easily win Finlandia Trophy earlier this month.

The three-man American contingent is composed of three-time U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott, reigning U.S. silver medalist Ross Miner and reigning world junior champion Josh Farris.

All three are in contention for two men’s Olympic spots to be named after the U.S. Championships in Boston in January. Three other contenders, Max Aaron, Adam Rippon and Jason Brown did not perform exceptionally at Skate America. A strong performance in Canada could push Abbott, Miner or Farris closer to favorite status, though it’s still very early.

Abbott, 28, won Skate Canada in 2009 before a disappointing ninth-place finish at the Vancouver Olympics.

Women’s 

Reigning Olympic and world champion Yuna Kim was supposed to compete in St. John but pulled out last month with a foot injury.

Without the Olympic favorite, the major storyline will be on the three U.S. women — Gracie GoldChristina Gao and Courtney Hicks.

All three harbor hopes of making the U.S. Olympic team, which will have three women’s spots. Two-time reigning national champion Ashley Wagner, second at Skate America last week, is the favorite for one spot. Gold, Gao and Hicks are in contention as well, along with Agnes Zawadzki.

Gold, 18, will compete for the first time since teaming with the venerable Frank Carroll, who coaches Evan Lysacek and was the long-time coach of Michelle Kwan. Before switching to Carroll, Gold had a disappointing season debut at the U.S. International Classic in Salt Lake City in September.

Gold begins skating with Carroll

Hicks, 17, stepped up to upset Gold at the U.S. International Classic and entered Skate Canada as a replacement for the injured Kim. She placed fourth at her first senior National Championships in January, behind Wagner, Gold and Zawadzki and ahead of Gao.

We’re still waiting for Gao’s domestic breakout. She’s been fifth at the last four National Championships. Her senior career highlight came at the Four Continents Championship in February, where she was fourth, the top U.S. finisher ahead of Gold and Zawadzki.

Wagner looked strong in debuting her triple-triple combination at Skate America. The question is if Gold, Hicks and Gao can somewhat keep pace Friday and Saturday.

Ice Dance

Meryl Davis and Charlie White won their 13th straight Grand Prix event at Skate America last week, but that title came without the competition of rivals and training partners, Canadian Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.

Virtue and Moir make their Grand Prix season debut this weekend against a field that doesn’t include Davis and White. It’s hard to see them not winning in St. John. The other top couple, Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, were fourth and fifth at the last two World Championships.

Virtue and Moir, who will have their own TV show debuting in January, hope the start of this season goes smoother than last year when Moir was sidelined by a neck injury. Davis and White beat Virtue and Moir at the three biggest competitions last season — World Championships, Grand Prix Final and Four Continents.

The Canadians won Finlandia Trophy (again, without Davis and White) by 25 points, but the Toronto Maple Leafs fan Moir said they were 30 points behind their overall scoring goal.

It’s on Virtue and Moir to come out strong separately and then potentially challenge Davis and White at the Grand Prix Final in December to make the Sochi Olympics interesting.

The U.S. ice dancing entry at Skate Canada is Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, who are in contention for one of three ice dance Olympic spots.

Pairs

Like in ice dance, the top two pairs couples in the world are pretty defined — Russia’s Tatiana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov and Germany’s Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy.

They are not in the Skate Canada field. Expect Canadian world bronze medalists Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford to prevail in their absence.

The U.S. pairs entered are Lindsay Davis and Rockne Brubaker and Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier.

Davis and Brubaker teamed up in February, after Davis finished fourth at the U.S. Championships with 2010 Olympian Mark Ladwig. Brubaker was a favorite to make the 2010 Olympic team with Keauna McLaughlin, but they were upset at the 2010 U.S. Championships. Davis and Brubaker were fifth at Nebelhorn Trophy in September.

The 2013 world junior champions Denney and Frazier were fifth at the U.S. Championships, but the top U.S. pairs — Caydee Denney and John Coughlin and Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir — can be caught. Both U.S. pairs at Skate Canada can make early statements this weekend.

Update on Plushenko’s Olympic training

Russia track and field boss: ’50-60 percent’ chance of Olympics

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Russia’s new track and field federation president said he thinks his nation’s track and field athletes have “between 50 and 60 percent” of a chance of competing in the Rio Olympics, according to Reuters.

The IAAF is expected to rule June 17 whether Russia’s ban from international track and field competition will be lifted before the Rio Olympics.

Russia’s track and field athletes were banned indefinitely in November by the IAAF, after an independent World Anti-Doping Agency report alleged widespread doping issues.

Russia was given criteria to earn reinstatement, and Dmitry Shlyakhtin, elected new Russian track and field chief in January, believes the situation has improved.

“A mouse would not be able to slip past us now!” Shlyakhtin said, according to Reuters.

Russia has recently come under more scrutiny following reports of widespread winter sports doping leading up to the Sochi Olympics and cheating during those Winter Games to avoid positive drug tests.

MORE: Yelena Isinbayeva to sue if barred from Rio Olympics

Yelena Isinbayeva to sue if barred from Rio Olympics

Yelena Isinbayeva
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MOSCOW (AP) — Two-time Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva plans to file suit if Russia’s ban from global track and field competition remains in place and she is barred from competing at the games in Rio de Janeiro.

“It’s a direct violation of human rights, discrimination,” Isinbayeva said.

Russia’s athletics federation was suspended by the IAAF in November after a World Anti-Doping Agency commission report detailed systematic, state-sponsored doping. The IAAF is due to rule next month on whether to reinstate Russia ahead of the Rio Olympics in August.

“In the case of a negative ruling for us, I will personally go to an international court regarding human rights,” Isinbayeva said. “And I’m confident that I’ll win.”

Speaking from her home city of Volgograd in a Skype interview arranged by Russian track officials, Isinbayeva held up four forms documenting recent drug tests she had passed — proof enough, she said, that she should be allowed to compete in Rio.

“Of course I’m angry because of this helplessness. All I can do now is train,” she said, adding that young Russian athletes’ careers could be destroyed if they have to wait until 2020 to go to the Olympics. “Four years, it’s a long time. Many of them can be, how can you say, broken.”

Isinbayeva’s comments came as a key adviser to Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said that Russia’s government supports making doping a criminal offense.

Adviser Nataliya Zhelanova told reporters at the ministry that the government hopes to get the law on the statute books for 2017, targeting coaches and officials who encourage or coerce athletes to dope. Fines or prison sentences were possible, she said, though this could change during the legislative process.

“It’s quite a long procedure but now everyone understood that we are in crisis and we have to do quick steps to fix the situation,” Zhelanova said.

In December, the IAAF asked the Russian track federation to consider lobbying for distribution and trafficking of doping substances to be made a criminal offense.

The new head of the Russian track federation maintained Russia was on track to meet IAAF conditions for reinstatement, but admitted to The Associated Press that a notorious training center was still part of the country’s track and field system.

The IAAF last year demanded the federation “immediately suspend all cooperation” with race-walking coach Viktor Chegin‘s state-funded center in the city of Saransk, which has been linked to more than 25 doping cases.

While Chegin was later banned for life, several of his top athletes are still competing and would be Olympic medal contenders if Russia is reinstated.

“I don’t rule out that (athletes are) living and training there,” Russian track and field president Dmitry Shlyakhtin said in an interview with the AP, adding that dozens of coaches who were part of Chegin’s hierarchy remained part of the federation’s system.

“If we shut down the Chegin center as a key point, we can’t stop and we won’t stop 75 coaches who are clean and transparent,” Shlyakhtin said.

Shlyakhtin said those coaches were working with children, but documents from this year’s national championships show top Russian walkers continuing to work with coaches from the main Chegin center. Officially, the athletes now represent local clubs and sports schools in and around the city.

Former Olympic gold medalist Olga Kaniskina, who lost her 2012 Olympic silver medal because of a doping ban, won the Russian 20-kilometer title in February in the fastest time recorded in the world this season. Federation documents list her as being coached by three trainers from the Chegin center and officially representing a children’s sports school, even though she is 31 years old.

“Kaniskina has finished her ban. She’s completely rehabilitated,” Shlyakhtin said. “Western people who are caught doping are not outcasts (either).”

Sergei Kirdyapkin, who lost his Olympic gold medal from 2012 due to a doping ban, is listed as being coached by Chegin center coaches, as is national champion Sergei Bakulin, who was stripped of his 2011 world championship gold. Both recently returned from doping bans.

Ahead of next month’s IAAF vote, Shlyakhtin said he was confident that Russia had made a significant effort to reform.

He said “90 percent” of the conditions for reinstatement had been fulfilled, including extra testing for Russia’s national track team in recent months and a shakeup of senior management.

Shlyakhtin suggested political interference, rather than a lack of reforms, could keep Russia out of the Rio Games, saying that countries such as Ukraine, Belarus, India and “especially China” deserved similar scrutiny on doping. He hinted that international officials turned a blind eye to some violations.

“The brakes are put on a lot of issues and they go away. Let’s all play fair according to one set of rules,” he said.

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