Men’s figure skating preview: Can Patrick Chan end ‘Canadian curse’?

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SOCHI, Russia – If the pressure to win an Olympic gold medal wasn’t enough for 22-year-old Patrick Chan, the Canadian has a long-standing curse that many are expecting him to break here Friday night in the men’s free skate, as well.

Four Canadians before him have won a combined nine world championships gold medals, but none of them have come away with that coveted Olympic gold, dating back to Brian Orser’s infamous loss to American Brian Boitano in 1988. The “Canadian curse,” it’s called.

That Chan is the three-time reigning world champion should make things easier, not harder, but his wins bring Canada’s world gold haul to 12 in total, but can he be the first to come away with an Olympic gold?

RELATED: Chan: Plushenko has ‘earned his spot’ in Sochi

“Chan is the heavy favorite because he’s won everything up to these Games,” said 2010 Olympic champion Evan Lysacek, a contributor for the “TODAY Show.” “So we’ll see if he can keep it together. But they always talk about the curse on the world champion going into the Olympics, and that could weigh on him. I sure hope not, though.”

Chan hopes not, as well. Below, a breakdown on the men’s singles event, from Chan’s chances to a rising star known as Yuzuru Hanyu, Spain’s unlikely star, a Russian legacy continued and two American longshots.

Chan’s Chances
Pressure was mounted on the slight shoulders of an 18-year-old Chan at the 2010 Vancouver Games after the Canadian had been a silver medalist at the World Championships the year before. But the teenager was hobbled by injury, and later admitted to being hobbled by the pressure of the home crowd. He finished fifth.

Since then, however, the quad-jumping, Detroit-based skater has been virtually unbeatable, winning the World Championships in 2011, 2012 and 2013 and capturing gold in 11 of 16 international competitions he’s entered. The Ottawa native set a world record score in November, but has otherwise struggled over the last twelve months, including at the most recent Worlds, where he fell twice in the free skate and barely hung on to gold, a win that detractors pinned to the “Chan-flation” of his scores.

He again struggled in the short program of last week’s team event (in which Canada won silver), placing third behind Hanyu and Plushenko in that segment of the event.

“Chan knows that his team short program score was reflective of the errors that he made out on the ice,” said Lysacek, who ended his attempt at a comeback for Sochi in December. “That was uncharacteristic for Patrick, especially in the short program. It might be good for him in the sense that he feels like he didn’t waste it, or leave his best skating in the team event. Chan has been very vocal about the individual medal – he wasn’t worried about the individual event – he wants that gold on his own.”

Brian’s Boys
The pair of skaters who are most likely to challenge Chan for the gold medal happen to train in Canada, where Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu and Spaniard Javier Fernandez live and work in Toronto with former world champion Orser, who helped Yuna Kim to her record-breaking gold medal at the Vancouver Games.

Hanyu has been a teenager on the rise over the last two years, the world junior champion in 2010 capturing his second straight national gold this past year and, at 19, winning the all-important Grand Prix Final in December, winning a gold over Chan for the first time in his career.

RELATED: Hanyu wants to make history | Fernandez skates for Spain

“Hanyu has burst onto the scene in a big way by beating Chan at the Grand Prix Final,” Lysacek said. “But he’s been very consistent and was far and away the best in the team short program and has been looking the best in practice. He’s young. I don’t know if he’s not feeling pressure or he’s just so good at dealing with it but it’ll be interesting to see how he takes that momentum from the team event into the individual competition.”

While Hanyu had the team event to get warm, two-time European champion Fernandez did not. The 22-year-old has been a breakout star for Spain, moving to the U.S. five years ago to train in New Jersey before joining forces with Orser – and in effect, Hanyu – after placing 17th at the Vancouver Games.

“Javier is in that mix,” Lysacek added. “There are just so many top-ranked guys, this is a deep field. This is going to come down to who can perform on the Olympic stage.”

Plushenko’s Final Push
A skater that has proved himself time and time again on the Olympic stage is 31-year-old Yevgeny Plushenko, who helped Russia to a team-event gold medal by performing solidly in both programs, particularly the free skate – which he won.

Petrenko has a record-tying four Olympic medals to his name, including individual podiums in Salt Lake (silver), Torino (gold) and Vancouver (silver). While he’s not favored to nab a medal here, he checked off every box he needed to in the team event, hitting his quadruple jumps and bringing the Russian crowd into his performances.

RELATED: Olympics’ opening night belonged to Yevgeny

“Everyone is talking about Yevgeny Plushenko and speculating whether he’ll be able to keep his condition up through the team and individual events,” said Lysacek, who beat Plushenko for gold in Vancouver. “In the team event he won the free skate, and you can’t really argue with that because it’s the more physically demanding of the two.”

American Longshots
At 28 and 19, American hopes Jeremy Abbott and Jason Brown at the opposite end of the Olympic spectrum, Abbott saying he’ll call it a career after this season and Brown expressing hope to skate in not one but two more Games.

While Abbott has all the tools to be in medal contention, but has famously froze on the international stage. The four-time national champion was ninth at the Vancouver Games and hasn’t placed inside the top five at the World Championships in four appearances.

RELATED: Abbott moves out of Village for ultimate focus

“Jeremy had a really good skate at Nationals,” Lysacek said. “A short program like he had in Boston would put him in the mix; it would put him in the skating final group.”

Brown, however, lacks a quad jump and will need to be near-perfect in both his programs to help him contend. He’d need a near-repeat (or even better) of his viral performance of his “Riverdance” free skate from Nationals last month.

“For Jason, overall, he has the capability to post a high score, but I don’t know if it will be with the top guys in the world,” Lysacek said. “He’s fresh on the international scene and a newcomer here, but either way it’s great experience for Jason.”

Keep an Eye On
Japan has the best depth of any team in the world, with Tatsuki Machida and Daisuke Takahashi joining Hanyu in the men’s event. Takahashi was a bronze medalist at the Vancouver Games, and – like Abbott – has the tools to score big when he’s on.

Yan Han, an 18-year-old from China, could be in the mix, as well, as could Denis Ten, the 2013 world silver medalist who has dealt with injury this season. Michal Brezina is coached by former Olympic champion Viktor Petrenko and Brian Joubert, a former world champion, competes in his swan song competition at age 29.

The Last Word
“If everyone skates their best, it would come down to Hanyu and Chan,” Lysacek said. “They are so different and I think the judges really like that. It’s hard to compare them because they have different strengths and very few key weaknesses. It’s all so complex what the judges are looking for. They’re both aggressive, fast skaters, but I would say that Chan overall has more finesse and valuable experience. If it comes down to the Grades of Execution like it did in Vancouver, in that case I would have to give it to Chan.”

Aly Raisman announces book details

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Aly Raisman will become the fourth member of the Final Five to publish a book. It’s titled “Fierce” and is out Nov. 14.

The title conjures the name of Raisman’s first Olympic team — the Fierce Five in 2012 — and will be about her path to Olympic titles in 2012 and 2016.

She follows teammates Gabby DouglasSimone Biles and Laurie Hernandez in putting out books.

None of the Final Five (or the Fierce Five) are expected to compete at the P&G Championships in August or the world championships in October.

Raisman said last September that she planned to take a year off and then return to training with an eye on the 2020 Tokyo Games at age 26. The last woman to make three U.S. Olympic gymnastics teams was Dominique Dawes in 2000.

A synopsis of “Fierce” from bookselling websites:

Discover Aly Raisman’s inspiring story of dedication, perseverance, and learning to think positive even in the toughest times on her path to gold medal success in two Olympic Games–and beyond.

Aly Raisman first stepped onto a gymnastics mat as a toddler in a “mommy & me” gymnastics class. No one could have predicted then that sixteen years later, she’d be standing on an Olympic podium, having achieved her dreams.

But it wasn’t an easy road to success. Aly faced obstacle after obstacle, including naysayers who claimed that she didn’t have the talent to compete at an elite level and classmates who shamed Aly for her athletic body. Through it all, Aly surrounded herself with supportive family, friends, and teammates and found the inner strength to believe in herself and prove her doubters wrong. In her own words, Aly shows what it takes to be a champion on and off the floor, and takes readers on a behind-the-scenes journey before, during, and after her remarkable achievements in two Olympic Games–through her highest highs, lowest lows, and all the moments in between.

Honest and heartfelt, frank and funny, Aly’s story is enhanced with never-before-published photos, excerpts from the personal journals she’s kept since childhood that chronicle memorable moments with her teammates, and hard-won advice for readers striving to rise above challenges, learn to love themselves, and make their own dreams come true.

MORE: Hernandez sets return to gymnastics training

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Katie Ledecky reacts to Olympics adding 1500m freestyle

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Katie Ledecky is focused on qualifying for the world championships this week, but the sport’s biggest recent story, regarding the 2020 Olympic program, greatly impacts the five-time Olympic champion.

The IOC added three swimming events for the Tokyo Games — a mixed-gender 4x100m freestyle relay, the men’s 800m freestyle and the women’s 1500m freestyle — on June 9.

Ledecky holds the world record in the 1500m free — no other woman has swum within 13 seconds of it — and captured the last two world titles.

Many believed the women’s 1500m free should have been on the Olympic program years ago, since the men have been contesting the event at the Games since 1908.

The women have swum the 800m freestyle at the Olympics (which the men do not) since 1968. Of course, Ledecky won the last two Olympic golds in that event.

Last year, Ledecky advocated for adding the men’s 800m free and women’s 1500m free to the Olympics. She also stressed not wanting to drop the women’s 800m free for the women’s 1500m free.

Now, she can swim both in Tokyo, granted she wants to and finishes top two in those events at the Olympic Trials. Both are to be determined.

“Adding the 1500m was a long time coming,” Ledecky said Monday in Indianapolis, ahead of the USA Swimming National Championships, part of the TeamUSA Summer Champions Series, presented by Comcast. “It’s good that there’s parity in the men’s and women’s distance events now.”

MORE: USA Swimming Nationals broadcast schedule

In a press conference, Ledecky spoke for nearly two minutes on the subject.

She hasn’t set any goals for the 2020 Olympics yet. Nor did she commit to wanting to swim the 1500m in Tokyo, where she could try to sweep the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m frees, like she did at the 2015 Worlds.

“Obviously, the 1500m will have to be in the conversation now,” Ledecky said. “It’s good that the sport isn’t static. I mean, the world isn’t static. If you look at the history of swimming, events have been added over time. Women had a lot fewer races back in the day. I’ve met some female swimmers who swam in the ’60s and didn’t have the opportunities that we had in terms of the events. I think there was only a 100m and 400m free at one point [before 1968]. And then they added the 200m. Then they added the 50m in 1988, I think. So, over time, more events have been added. I think the 1500m fits right in there this year. It’s a good opportunity for swimmers moving forward. Hopefully, it will encourage some young kids to try out some distance swimming.”

Ledecky actually might not swim the 1500m free at nationals this week, where she could qualify for the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m frees at worlds in Budapest next month. And earn a place on the 4x100m free relay.

She will start off with a 100m and 800m free double on Tuesday in Indianapolis.

The 1500m is on the last day of the meet Saturday, but Ledecky will earn a 1500m place on the worlds team if she wins the 800m.

The 100m free is the only event on her program this year that she did not swim at this meet four years ago.

Ledecky ranked No. 5 in the U.S. the last two years in the event, making it possible that she could qualify to swim it individually at worlds by finishing top two on Tuesday.

But she made no mention of that on Monday.

“I’m swimming the 100m because I like to contribute to that relay,” she said. “As long as I’m pushing the other girls, then we can get some good times up there. Hopefully whoever’s on that relay can compete for a top medal.”

MORE: Lilly King to be less vocal on Yuliya Efimova topic this summer

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