Spain’s Javier Fernandez skates to second straight European Championships gold

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In the corner of the arena in Budapest, Brian Orser jumped for joy as another one of his pupils soared to first place at a major competition.

Saturday it was Spain’s Javier Fernandez at the European Championships, the defending champion winning for the second straight year, this time just weeks ahead of the Sochi Olympic Games.

Fernandez, skating to “Peter Gunn” and “Harlem Nocturne,” held on to his first quadruple toeloop and then landed a quad Salchow later in his program, delivering a nearly clean free skate in a final group that was riddled with errors.

Orser, the 1988 Olympic silver medalist who helped coach Yuna Kim to her gold medal in Vancouver, also works with Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu, who won both the Grand Prix Final and the Japan National Championships last month to add his name to a growing list of gold medal contenders at the Olympics.

Fernandez, who struggled through the Grand Prix season, penciled his name back onto that list with two solid skates in Budapest. The 22-year-old trains alongside Hanyu in Toronto with Orser, oftentimes riding his bike to and from the rink for practice.

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Fernandez built on the lead that he had gained in the short program, where he scored a 91.56. His 267.11 overall score was a safe 15 points ahead of Russia’s Sergei Voronov who was second (252.55). Konstantin Menshov, also of Russia, was third with a 237.24.

Russia’s top skater coming into the European Championships, 18-year-old Maksim Kovtun, could not deliver in his free skate, dropping from fourth to fifth with a series of errors on jumps. The performance will likely impact his chance of being selected for the Russian Olympic team over veteran Yevgeny Plushenko, who sat out the Euros.

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Russia is allotted just one spot for the Sochi Games after no man finished in the top 15 at the World Championships in 2013 (Kovtun was 17th). Neither Voronov nor Menshov were considered in the race to take the spot, which was seen as a back and forth between Kovtun and the veteran Plushenko, a three-time Olympic medalist and 2006 champion.

Michal Brezina of the Czech Republic, coached by Viktor Petrenko, finished fourth while 29-year-old Frenchman Brian Joubert, who has three European Championships to his name, finished eighth in a valiant comeback effort after not skating for most of the season.

But it was a second Euros win for Fernandez, who has plenty of momentum leading into Sochi.

“It was a great year for me last year,” Fernandez told the crowd after his win. “I was so scared because to get the title here again was not easy. It was a great day for me to skate well and give a reason for all these people with Spanish flags to be here.”

Fernandez, who won the Spanish National Championships for the third consecutive year last month, joins Hanyu, reigning and three-time world champion Canada’s Patrick Chan, Vancouver bronze medalist Daisuke Takahashi and American Jeremy Abbott – after his Nationals win last week – as contenders for the top spot in Sochi.

“I don’t want to expect anything,” said the Madrid native. “I want to go there and try my best and I hope that I can fight to be on the podium. I don’t know if [how I skated here] will be enough. I had a couple of mistakes that I have to fix before the Olympics. I think if I give a little bit more I have the chance to be on the podium.”

Russia is expected to announce its Olympic team by January 27th.

NBC will air a package show of the European Championships on Sunday from 4-6pm. It will also be livestreamed on NBCOlympics.com.

Results
1. Javier Fernandez (ESP) – 267.11
2. Sergei Voronov (RUS) – 252.55
3. Konstantin Menshov (RUS) – 237.54
4. Michal Brezina (CZE) – 236.98
5. Maksim Kovtun (RUS) – 232.37
8. Brian Joubert (FRA) 221.95

Yuzuru Hanyu, Nathan Chen trail at world championships

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Nathan Chen fell in competition for the first time since December. Yuzuru Hanyu messed up a jumping combination. Neither of the world championships favorites is in the top four after the short program in Helsinki on Thursday.

Instead, two-time defending world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain catapulted to a comfortable lead with a personal-best short program. Fernandez landed his jumps clean, with two quads, for 109.05 points.

Japan’s Shoma Uno is second with 104.86, followed by Canada’s Patrick Chan at 102.13 and China’s Jin Boyang at 98.64.

Fifth-place Hanyu put his knee down on the opening jump of his planned quadruple Salchow-triple toe loop combination and then doubled the toe loop. He ended up with 98.39 points, more than 12 points off his world record.

Chen is sixth after falling on a triple Axel and totaling 97.33 points, hurting his hopes to become the youngest men’s world champion.

The free skate is Saturday morning, with coverage on NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app at 12:30 p.m. ET.

Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

Chen last fell in the Grand Prix Final short program in December. He then outscored the field, including Uno, Fernandez, Hanyu, in the Grand Prix Final free skate to jump from fifth to second.

Chen then won the U.S. Championships in record fashion and beat Hanyu and Uno at the Four Continents Championships in February, landing a record five quads in the free skate at both events. He has landed 20 straight quads in competition.

Chen has indicated he may attempt six quads in the worlds free skate on Saturday. He may need them to challenge for gold.

The last U.S. man to earn a world championships medal was Evan Lysacek, who took gold in 2009.

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VIDEO: Russian pairs skater slices leg on partner’s skate

Men’s Short Program
1. Javier Fernandez (ESP) — 109.05
2. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 104.86
3. Patrick Chan (CAN) — 102.13
4. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 98.64
5. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 98.39
6. Nathan Chen (USA) — 97.33

8. Jason Brown (USA) — 93.10

U.S. women’s hockey agreement could have far-reaching impact

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Cammi Granato‘s biggest victory in hockey came 12 years after she retired.

When USA Hockey and the women’s national team agreed to a contract Tuesday night that ended a wage dispute, Granato couldn’t put her happiness into words.

The Hockey Hall of Famer and her teammates staged a similar fight in 2000 without success, and she hopes the current team’s progress paves the way for the future of women’s hockey and even other sports.

“It’s bigger than any victory that we’ve had in USA Hockey,” said Granato, who won the gold medal in 1998 with the U.S. at the first Olympics with women’s hockey. “I just think it’s such a positive, positive day for women’s hockey, women’s sports and women in general.”

Granato and lawmakers, lawyers and experts see the U.S. national team’s agreement as a precedent-setter for other hockey teams around the world and other men’s and women’s athletes in this country.

As the U.S. women’s soccer team continues to work out a labor contract, the women’s hockey team showed how it could leverage solidarity and timing into a multiyear agreement that satisfied all parties involved and pushed gender quality in sports forward.

“I’m hoping it will create a wave across the country of more equity in pay,” said Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar, one of 20 senators to write to USA Hockey executive director Dave Ogrean encouraging him to end the dispute.

“We know that it’s not going to be exactly the same. We know the viewership numbers for some of these sports, but at least you have to try. When you try and you give them more funding, it’s kind of a chicken-and-egg problem.

“Once they’re able to actually support themselves and it’s more lucrative, you get more women going into the sport, then you have better sports and you have more people watching them.”

In that way, women’s hockey has taken the first step toward following women’s soccer, almost 20 years after the World Cup-winning team led by Mia Hamm, Brianna Scurry, Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain inspired Granato and her teammates to challenge USA Hockey.

Members of the U.S. women’s hockey team will now make $3,000-$4,000 a month with the ability to earn around $71,000 annually and up to $129,000 in Olympic years when combined with contributions from the U.S. Olympic Committee.

That’s still less than what women’s soccer players bring in, but now players won’t have to work second or third jobs – and half did – or retire to start a family because the new contract guarantees that protection along with insurance and other improvements.

Lawyer John Langel of Ballard Spahr, who represented soccer players from 1998-2014 and the hockey players in this negotiation, said hockey “shouldn’t necessarily take the same long journey” depending on how many strides are made in professional leagues, programming, marketing and sponsorships.

One immediate impact is lengthening careers, which has already shown to be the case in soccer and could transfer over to other sports.

Granato retired in 2005, but still felt as if she had “more to give” and finds it incredible that players in the current generation won’t have to hang up their skates as early as she did.

With a deal in place, the U.S. opens its world championship gold-medal defense Friday against Canada. Players had threatened to boycott the tournament over the wage dispute, which Pepper Hamilton labor and employment lawyer Matt DelDuca considers the most interesting aspect of the case.

“It shows other groups a path for trying to negotiate and use their leverage to negotiate a deal that’s favorable to them or that they’re satisfied with,” DelDuca said.

“It does really require solidarity though. You really need to have everybody together to make it work, and in this case they really seemed to have had that. In all those ways it is a benchmark for other groups to use.”

USA Hockey said all along its priority was to get a deal done, but did reach out to replacement players. Very few accepted the invite as star forward Hilary Knight and other top players espoused the solidarity of the entire player pool.

“There wasn’t any poaching of other players,” said North Dakota senator Heidi Heitkamp, another senator who wrote to Ogrean.

“They were all united in this common goal, and I think that competitive, athletic spirit really showed up in terms of fighting for your rights. I thought they deserved the support of people here who say that they support equality in pay and equality in opportunity.”

Susan Kahn, a University of Buffalo professor of women’s history, said the Senate’s involvement made it clear this wasn’t just a financial dispute, but “a political issue around equal treatment and fighting gender bias in amateur sport.”

Within hockey, the agreement allows for future expansion in the professional and amateur ranks.

“It sets the stage for a major growth in the game,” Granato said. “I think there’s a potential here to take this team and have it be followed similar to other women’s sports and where they’re at right now.”

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