Yuzuru Hanyu

Hanyu cruises over Chan, claims Grand Prix Final gold

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Has Japan finally found the skater that can win the country its first gold medal in men’s figure skating? Yuzuru Hanyu just might be that man, the 18-year-old delivering a complete performance to capture the gold medal at the Grand Prix Final Friday in front of a home crowd, besting three-time world champion Patrick Chan.

Hanyu, a day shy of turning 19, carried a safe 12-point lead into the free skate following an epic short program. The teenager, the third-youngest Grand Prix Final champion in history, scored a 293.25 overall, easily beating Chan’s 280.08.

The Japanese crowd let out an audible gasp and screams when Hanyu opened his program with a hard fall on a quadruple Salchow. But Hanyu, coached by 1988 Olympic silver medalist Brian Orser, dusted himself off to land eight triples in his free skate. He retains the Grand Prix Final crown for his country: Daisuke Takahashi won it a year ago.

Nobunari Oda, a substitute for an injured Takahashi this year, fell on his opening jump as well, but finished with the home crowd clapping along to “Wilheim Tell Overture” as he secured the bronze medal. Tatsuki Machida was fourth in a Japan-heavy field.

Of the three medalists, Chan was the only to stay on his feet in the free skate, but the 22-year-old from Canada stepped out of a triple flip-double toe combination and didn’t have the firepower to claw back from a 12-point deficit following the short program.

Last month, the reigning and three-time world champion set a world record with his scores at the Grand Prix of France, but Hanyu has now disrupted Chan’s Olympic favorite status, throwing the men’s medal picture for Sochi into a cloud of confusion.

Takahashi, the bronze medalist in Vancouver, is likely to factor into that conversation, as could three-time Olympic medalist Yevgeny Plushenko, should the 31-year-old Russian be fit enough to skate in Sochi in February.

Plushenko’s countryman Maksim Kovtun was strong in his free skate, but finished fifth overall in the six-man field.

Hanyu moved up a spot from his second-place finish at the Grand Prix Final. He beat Chan here a year ago, as well, the Canadian finishing third.

Davis/White skate to lead in ice dancing

Russia names flag bearer for Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 08:  Sergey Tetyukhin #8 of Russia celebrates a point in the second set against Poland during the Men's Volleyball quarterfinals on Day 12 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Earls Court on August 8, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Russia’s depleted Olympic team named its flag bearer for the Rio Games Opening Ceremony, giving the honor to volleyball player Sergei Tetyukhin, who’s set to make his sixth Olympic appearance at 40 years old.

The announcement came via the Instagram page for Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva, who has become somewhat of a spokesperson for the Russian team amidst the country’s doping scandal. Isinbayeva will not compete in Rio since her nation’s track and field team is banned, but she spoke to Russia’s athletes during a ceremony Wednesday.

“Today, as never before, we need to stay united and become a family,” Tetyukhin said before the athletes departed for Rio on Thursday.

Russia’s flag bearer was set to be announced Wednesday, according to Russian news agency TASS, but Isinbayeva said in her Instagram post (according to Google translate), “Flag bearer at the Olympics in Rio have already been defined, it is a great athlete, Olympic champion, Sergey Tetyukhin volleyball. Yesterday at a reception at the President he acted with dignity and promised to fight for the victory in Rio.”

The Russian men’s volleyball team has won a medal at the past four Olympics, but Tetyukhin’s time with the team began at the 1996 Atlanta Games. Russia placed fourth there, then took silver in 2000, bronze in 2004 and 2008, and gold in 2012. Tetyukhin was Russia’s third-leading scorer in London.

The team will be an outside medal contender in Rio. After winning the FIVB World League in 2013, the Russians have placed no better than fifth since. They finished fifth at the 2014 World Championship, fourth at the 2015 World Cup, and sixth at the 2015 European Championship.

Tennis star Maria Sharapova was Russia’s flag bearer for the London Olympic Opening Ceremony, but she will miss the Rio Games while serving a drug suspension.

MORE: Number of Russian athletes banned from Olympics reaches 105

Who will be the first U.S. gold medalist in Rio?

Katie Ledecky, Leah Smith
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The U.S. has no gold-medal favorites on the first day of the Olympics, which puts it in jeopardy of not reaching the top of the podium on Day 1 of the Games for the first time since 1996.

Who will be the first U.S. medalist and gold medalist in Rio? Let’s take a look.

The 12 Day 1 finals on Saturday, Aug. 6, in somewhat chronological order:

Shooting: Women’s air rifle
Shooting: Men’s air pistol
Cycling: Men’s road race
Fencing: Women’s epee
Archery: Men’s team event
Judo: Women’s 48kg
Judo: Men’s 60kg
Weightlifting: Women’s 48kg
Swimming: Men’s 400m individual medley
Swimming: Men’s 400m freestyle
Swimming: Women’s 400m individual medley
Swimming: Women’s 4x100m freestyle relay

The U.S. has a great shot at silver or bronze medals in some of these events. The men’s archery team took silver at the 2012 Olympics and fourth at the 2015 World Championships. In swimming, Chase Kalisz and Maya DiRado captured world championships bronze and silver medals in the 400m IMs last year, and the women’s 4x100m free relay has always made the podium (Australia is a heavy favorite though).

If the U.S. does not earn gold on Aug. 6, it will snap a streak of 20 straight days that it has made the top of a Summer Olympic podium dating to the 2008 Beijing Games.

The U.S. was all but assured a gold medal on the first day of the Olympics in 2004 and 2012 in the men’s 400m individual medley, with Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, respectively. Neither are swimming it this year.

In 2008, fencer Mariel Zagunis led a U.S. sweep of the women’s sabre on the first day in Beijing. In 2000, U.S. shooter Nancy Johnson took gold in the first medal event of the Sydney Games.

On Day 2 in Rio, the U.S. is almost surely going to take gold.

There are 14 finals on Sunday, Aug. 7, in somewhat chronological order:

Shooting: Women’s air pistol
Shooting: Women’s trap
Cycling: Women’s road race
Diving: Women’s synchronized springboard
Weightlifting: Women’s 53kg
Judo: Women’s 52kg
Judo: Men’s 52kg
Archery: Women’s team
Fencing: Men’s foil
Weightlifting: Men’s 56kg
Swimming: Women’s 100m butterfly
Swimming: Men’s 100m breaststroke
Swimming: Women’s 400m freestyle
Swimming: Men’s 4x100m freestyle relay

One could argue the U.S. is a gold-medal favorite in one of these events — the women’s 400m freestyle. Katie Ledecky is the two-time reigning world champion, world-record holder and the fastest woman in the world this year by 1.67 seconds. The second-fastest woman this year is another American, Leah Smith, so it would be shocking if the U.S. does not finish the first weekend of the Olympics with at least one gold medal.

MORE: Complete U.S. Olympic team roster