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

Pressure on Ashley Wagner at world championships

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Ashley Wagner‘s four-year plan has her peaking in 2018, not at the 2017 World Championships, but many call Wagner to carry the U.S. women at worlds in Helsinki next week.

“Next year is the year that I am, like, in it to kill,” she said. “This year is maintaining. This year is my chance to work out all of the kinks, figure out where I want to be mentally going into next year.”

Wagner, the 2016 World silver medalist, is the only skater of three American women on this year’s worlds team with prior worlds experience. She is the only one ranked higher than 20th in the world this season.

Normally, figure skating is an individual sport. But next week, the top two U.S. women’s results must add up to no greater than 13 (Wagner places third, and either U.S. champion Karen Chen or U.S. bronze medalist Mariah Bell places 10th or better, for example).

If not, the U.S. will have two rather than the maximum three women’s entries at the PyeongChang Olympics. The U.S. had three spots at four of the last five Olympics.

Anything less than three in 2018 would mean the U.S. is not keeping up with world power Russia and maybe even Canada and Japan. And it becomes that much harder for Wagner and everyone else to make the Olympic team.

“I know that I have a huge role in these three spots at these world championships,” Wagner said. “I need to set this team up as good as I possibly can, so that way the pressure’s off the other girls.”

The others are the 17-year-old Chen, the surprise winner at the U.S. Championships in January, who then placed 12th at February’s Four Continents Championships, an event that doesn’t include Europeans. Chen said she suffered from nerves, a flu and foot pain caused by broken boots at Four Continents.

And Bell, who took silver at October’s Skate America behind training partner Wagner. Bell, 20, finished sixth at Four Continents at the 2018 Olympic venue in South Korea, where she competed with an amount of pressure she had never before felt.

Of skaters entered at worlds, Bell has the 10th-best total score this season. The skater with the 12th-best total in the worlds field is more than nine points shy of Bell. Chen comes in seeded 16th.

“The tough thing about this worlds is that we have two rookies going into a very stressful event,” Wagner said. “So these two girls are in a really tough position, and I really feel for them. It’s kind of like you have to buckle up and deal with this, and that’s like your only option.”

There is reason for optimism, should Wagner put up something close to the performance of her life from last year’s worlds, where she became the first U.S. women’s medalist in a decade.

“Success in Finland is getting onto that podium,” Wagner said.

But Wagner is nearing the end of her (so far) least impressive season in probably six years. She is seeded eighth at worlds by this season’s top international scores.

She failed to qualify for December’s Grand Prix Final for the first time since 2011. She was beaten at nationals despite longtime rival Gracie Gold underperforming.

However, Wagner’s goal at nationals wasn’t to win, but to finish in the top three to make the worlds team. She called the runner-up result “perfect.” She focused the last two months on firming up the areas where she lost points.

“Even though to some on the outside looking in, it wouldn’t look like it was the most successful season for me,” Wagner said. “I think at the end of the day this season has been exactly what I needed it to be.”

The favorite in Helsinki is clearly Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva, who hasn’t lost since November 2015 and can become the first repeat world champion since Michelle Kwan in 2001.

Wagner said she hasn’t watched any of Medvedeva’s programs this season.

“The only thing that I know about is her long program music is not my favorite piece of music,” Wagner said, alluding to Medvedeva’s choice of sound from “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” a 2011 film relating to the 9/11 attacks. The music includes, at one point, the voice of George W. Bush declaring that two airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center.

But Wagner was effusive of Medvedeva, the latest in a string of Russian Olympic and world champions dating to the Sochi Olympics.

“She is a set bar that everybody is chasing after, and I think in years past that bar was always changing,” Wagner said. “Now it’s one set thing I know exactly the quality of skating I have to reach, I know exactly the technical program that I have to be able to accomplish.”

Wagner, a seasoned 25 years old, noted a key point this week. She is the only active women’s skater in her class, with her length of experience, who hasn’t taken a break.

Italian Carolina Kostner is 30, but she’s competing at worlds for the first time since 2014, following two seasons off. Japan’s three-time world champion Mao Asada is 26, but she took a season off after Sochi and this year failed to make the worlds team.

Wagner reflected on her world silver medal and her three national championships. She knows they mean nothing next week.

“I have to prove myself all over again,” she said.

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NBC Sports researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.

More Russians retroactively disqualified from 2012 Olympics

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MOSCOW (AP) — Three Russian athletes have been disqualified from the 2012 Olympics after failing doping retests, the country’s track and field federation said.

Hammer throwers Maria Bespalova and Gulfiya Khanafeeva and triple jumper Viktoria Valyukevich were all disqualified. None were medalists.

The disqualifications of Bespalova and Khanafeeva mean all three Russian women who competed in the hammer throw in 2012 have tested positive for doping. Tatyana Lysenko was the original winner, but was stripped of her gold medal in October.

Valyukevich, a former European indoor champion, was eighth in the triple jump at the 2012 Olympics and finished two places ahead of Russian teammate Tatyana Lebedeva, who has been stripped of two medals from the 2008 Beijing Games for doping.

In Tuesday’s statement, Russian officials didn’t say which substances were involved. The International Olympic Committee had no immediate comment.

It is the third time Khanafeeva, who won European championship silver in 2005, has been found guilty of a doping offense. She previously served bans in 2002 for a positive test and in 2008 for providing someone else’s urine in a drug test sample.

Bespalova is currently serving a four-year ban after testing positive for a banned steroid in 2015.

Since the IOC started retesting samples from the 2008 and 2012 Games last year, more than 30 Russians in various sports have tested positive. That makes them the largest group out of more than 100 positive tests. Seven more Russians have been disqualified for other doping offenses.

Russia has lost 26 Olympic medals as a result, most of them in track and field. Many of the cases involve turinabol, a substance which former Moscow anti-doping laboratory director Grigory Rodchenkov has admitted supplying to athletes in a steroid cocktail.

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