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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.”

Rome’s city council votes down 2024 Olympics bid

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ROME (AP) — The Rome city council has backed Mayor Virginia Raggi’s decision to reject the capital’s bid for the 2024 Olympics.

The motion passed easily since Raggi’s anti-establishment 5-Star Movement holds a majority on the city council.

There were 30 votes in favor of withdrawing the bid, and 12 votes against the motion.

The vote leaves only Los Angeles, Paris and Budapest, Hungary, in the running for the 2024 Games. The International Olympic Committee will decide on the host city in September 2017.

MORE: Tokyo Olympics costs could top $30 billion, experts warn

Tokyo Olympics costs could top $30 billion, experts warn

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TOKYO (AP) — The price tag of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics could exceed 3 trillion yen ($30 billion) unless drastic cost-cutting measures are taken and several key venues are relocated, an expert panel warned Thursday in the latest blow to Japanese organizers.

“Naturally, anyone who hears these numbers is alarmed,” panel leader Shinichi Ueyama said.

The Olympic investigation team was launched by newly elected Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike after she raised concerns about growing cost estimates and the potential burden on the city and its taxpayers.

The panel said the ballooning costs reflect an absence of leadership, as well as a lack of governance and awareness of cost control.

The report, submitted to Koike on Thursday, reviewed three out of seven permanent venues that Tokyo is planning to build, and proposed using existing locations rather than new facilities that could end up being white elephants. It proposed moving rowing and canoeing more than 400 kilometers (250 miles) outside the city, as well as finding new sites for swimming and volleyball.

Koike said she plans to discuss possible options with International Olympic Committee officials who are expected to visit Japan in the coming weeks.

“We cannot impose the negative legacy onto the Tokyo residents,” Koike told reporters.

Preparations for Japan’s first Summer Olympics since Tokyo hosted the 1964 Games have been plagued by a series of scandals and problems, including the new national stadium’s high cost and design, and allegations of bribery in the bidding process.

Concerns over Tokyo’s budget come amid growing global scrutiny over the costs of hosting the Olympics. Many cities have been scared off by the record $51 billion in overall costs associated with the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. Rome’s bid for the 2024 Olympics was rejected last week by the new mayor, citing concerns over high costs.

The estimated 3 trillion yen cost of the Tokyo Games is more than a four-fold increase from the initial estimate at the time of the city’s ‘s successful bid for the games in 2013.

Ueyama, a Keio University public policy professor, criticized Tokyo’s Olympic organizers as irresponsible, comparing them to “a company without a president and a chief financial officer.”

Tokyo organizing committee president Yoshiro Mori acknowledged in July 2015 that the total cost could exceed 2 trillion yen ($20 billion), doubling his unofficial estimate a year earlier.

Mori has said the original figures were the result of sloppy calculations which he blamed on the Tokyo metropolitan government and Japanese Olympic Committee.

On Thursday, Mori criticized the panel’s proposals for venue moves, saying it would be difficult to change the existing plans approved by the IOC.

“At this point, it would be extremely difficult to turn everything upside down from the Japanese side,” he said.

Tokyo has already implemented a series of venue changes which the IOC has said will save around $1 billion. Any further changes would require the approval of the IOC and relevant international sports federations.

The panel’s report said venue costs had been driven up by overestimated stadium capacities, use of unnecessarily high-grade equipment and lack of a budget ceiling.

Plans for long-term use of big new permanent facilities are overly optimistic considering Japan’s declining population and aging society, Ueyama said.

To cut costs, the report proposed moving the rowing and canoeing venue away from Tokyo and renovating existing facilities for two other sports.

The latest cost estimate for the rowing and canoeing venue stands at 49 billion yen ($490 million), seven times higher than the initial forecast. The current plan hopes to turn the venue, a former site of a garbage plant, into a “mecca” for the sport and attract 40,000 visitors, but the panel said that is overly optimistic in a country with only several hundred athletes in rowing and canoeing.

The panel proposed moving rowing and canoeing to Tome City, about 440 kilometers (270 miles) — or a three-hour train ride — northeast of Tokyo in the prefecture of Miyagi.

The report said a planned swimming venue with a capacity of 20,000 is way above the 12,000-seat requirement, and proposed renovating an existing Olympic-class facility in Tokyo’s Tatsumi area. It urged seeking an existing venue for volleyball instead of building a new arena in Tokyo’s Ariake coastal area.

Tokyo won the right to host the games in 2013 by promising a compact bid with 28 of the 31 competition venues within an eight-kilometer (5-mile) radius of the Olympic Village. Originally, only shooting, modern pentathlon and one football venue were to be outside the eight-kilometer radius.

Already, venues for basketball, taekwondo and cycling have been moved outside of Tokyo to maximize existing facilities. Cycling was moved to Izu, some 145 kilometers (90 miles) southwest of the capital.

MORE: Tokyo to propose moving more venues for Olympics