Yuzuru Hanyu. AP Photo.

Worlds preview: Hanyu goes for double gold after Sochi

Leave a comment

This week the reigning Olympic figure skating champion Yuzuru Hanyu looks to become the first man to win a World Championship gold medal in the same year he stood atop the Olympic podium since 2002.

Hanyu, the 19-year-old from Japan who held on to win gold in Sochi last month against three-time world champion Patrick Chan, will try to win a double gold in 2014 and become the first man to do so since Russian Alexei Yagudin in 2002.

The Championships will be without its three-time and reigning champion in Chan, the Canadian who faltered to a silver medal in Sochi and is sitting out these Worlds to rest and recuperate in looking towards his uncertain future.

The men’s event gets underway Wednesday morning (EST) in Saitama, Japan, and concludes on Friday.

More: Full Worlds schedule and streaming times | Entry list

The World Championships, often a depleted field following the Olympics, will be without silver medalist Chan, bronze winner Denis Ten (out with injury), sixth place winner Daisuke Takahashi (a bronze medalist in 2010) and American Jason Brown, who placed ninth.

The U.S. will send reigning national champion Jeremy Abbott (12th in Sochi) and 2013 U.S. champ Max Aaron, who missed out on the Sochi Games by one spot in January.

“Watching my teammates that I thought I was going to go to the Olympics with on TV was the hardest part,” the 22-year-old Aaron told NBCSports.com in a phone interview last week. “That was really tough for me.”

Aaron was seventh at Worlds in 2013 and was seen to be given a vote of confidence by the U.S. Figure Skating Association when selected for Worlds over Brown following Nationals.

More: World Figure Skating Championships pairs preview

The U.S. needs Abbott and Aaron to combine for a 13th-place finish overall to recover a third spot on the international stage, which the U.S. men haven’t had since the 2011 World Championships.

Abbott, who announced this would be his last season prior to the U.S. Championships, said a third spot was not his focus.

“Of course everyone wants the three spots but it’s nobody’s focus,” said the 28-year-old, who had his best Worlds finish in 2010 when he placed fifth following the Vancouver Games. “Everyone wants to do the best that they can do. The two of us are definitely good enough to get back the three spots. Max is very talented and I think I’m capable enough that the two of us combined can do that.”

But Aaron said a third spot will be at the forefront of his mind when he takes to the ice in Saitama.

“I knew that third spot was going to make a difference going into the Olympic year, but we came up a little short,” Aaron said referring to the two U.S. spots the team had for Sochi. “Unfortunately that person was me.”

Hanyu will skate before a figure skating-mad fan base in Japan after becoming the first man in the country’s history to win an Olympic gold medal as well as Japan’s only figure skating medal in Sochi.

He fell twice in his free skate performance at the Iceberg Skating Palace, but the favorite Chan wasn’t better, Hanyu holding on for gold in a competition that was riddled with mistakes and falls.

Without Chan and Ten in the mix, Spain’s Javier Fernandez (fourth at the Sochi Olympics) will be figured into the medal mix after winning the bronze at the same event a year ago and seen to have given up a medal in Sochi.

Other Sochi competitors will factor into the medal conversation along with Hanyu, Fernandez, Abbott and Aaron. Japan’s Tatsuki Machida was fifth at the Olympics, Han Yan of China was seventh, German Peter Liebers was eighth and Michal Brezina of the Czech Republic placed 10th.

Russia will send 18-year-old Maksim Kovtun, the teenager who beat Yevgeny Plushenko at the Russian Championships in December but was skipped over for the veteran for the country’s lone men’s spot in Sochi. Plushenko helped Russia to gold in the team event before pulling out of the individual event, facing ridicule domestically.

“I think people are a lot more relaxed having gone through the Olympics and I think it makes for a really good competition,” said Abbott, who had two disastrous short programs (in the team and individual events) in Sochi before skating mistake-free in the long program. “In 2010, there were some amazing performances and I think this year is going to be no different. It’s still a world-class competition and you’re going to get world-class performances.”

Aaron said it was too early to tell, but that he’d like for Saitama to be the first step in the long road to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

“I can’t look that far ahead,” said the 2014 U.S. bronze medalist. “I have to take it season by season, day by day. I’m focused on what I need to do and the task at hand.”

While Abbott didn’t put a placement expectation on his Worlds effort, Aaron was more forthcoming.

“I’m shooting for a medal to be honest,” he said. “I want those clean performances and I’m hopefully coming away with that third spot for the U.S.”

Icenetwork.com will provide live coverage for subscribers. The men’s short program is set for Wednesday morning (2:45 a.m. EST) and the free skate will take place Friday (4 a.m. EST). NBC will air a World Championships recap show April 13 from 3-6 p.m. ET.

Skate Canada preview, broadcast schedule

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 17:  Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada compete in the Figure Skating Ice Dance Free Dance on Day 10 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Iceberg Skating Palace on February 17, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Last we saw Scott Moir in top-level international competition, he smooched the Olympic rings for a second straight Winter Games.

Turns out it wasn’t a kiss goodbye.

Moir and partner Tessa Virtue make their Grand Prix series return this weekend at Skate Canada in Mississauga, Ontario, after two full seasons away from competition.

The Canadian ice dancers won Olympic gold at Vancouver 2010 — when Moir said he “french-kissed” the Pacific Coliseum ice rings — and silver in 2014 behind American training partners Meryl Davis and Charlie White. (Davis and White also took a post-Sochi break and remain sidelined but not retired)

Virtue and Moir, who have been performing in ice shows the last two years, reportedly decided in July 2015 to come back but kept it silent until last February. Moir said they wanted one more shot at an Olympics, but he had to lose his “beer gut” first.

They officially returned at a lower-level event in Canada four weeks ago, easily winning with the highest-scoring short dance of their career (in international competition) and the highest total score in the world this season.

“There’s a little bit of rust,” Moir told media then. “Nerves, a lot of tension and a lot of pressure that comes with this quote-unquote comeback.”

The attention will only increase.

Virtue and Moir face a field this week that includes Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates, who earned medals at the last two world championships, and Italians Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte, the 2014 World champions.

A sixth Skate Canada title would set them up for a showdown with two-time reigning world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France in their next Grand Prix start at NHK Trophy on Thanksgiving weekend. The two couples happen to train together in Montreal.

“I think we have to earn that term to be associated as rivals to Gabriella and Guillaume, we are not quite there yet for sure, but they have taken the ice dance world to an entirely different level in the last few years,” Virtue said, according to the Canadian Olympic Committee.

Also at Skate Canada, Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu and three-time world champion Patrick Chan duel for a second straight year. Chan upset Hanyu last season in Chan’s first Grand Prix since he took silver behind Hanyu at the Sochi Olympics.

Chan was not as smooth the rest of his comeback season, placing fourth at the Grand Prix Final and fifth at the world championships. Hanyu dominated after his Skate Canada defeat until being upset by Spanish training partner Javier Fernandez at a second straight world championships.

In lower-level events earlier this fall, Chan took second to 17-year-old American Nathan Chen, while Hanyu became the first skater to land a quadruple loop in competition en route to a victory.

The last two women’s world champions face off at Skate Canada in Russians Yevgenia Medvedeva and Elizaveta Tuktamysheva.

Medvedeva, 16, hasn’t lost in nearly one year, winning her early-season event, the free-skate-only Japan Open, over the rest of the top five from last season’s worlds.

Tuktamysheva won the 2015 World title in the most dominating performance outside of Yuna Kim‘s heyday. She landed a triple Axel en route to that gold and talked of adding a quadruple jump for 2015-16.

But she struggled last season, failing to qualify for the Grand Prix Final and placing eighth at the Russian Championships. This fall, she placed second and fourth in lower-level events, keeping her firmly behind Medvedeva in the Russian pecking order.

In pairs, world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford go for their third straight Skate Canada title. Americans Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier can all but clinch a Grand Prix Final berth if they match their runner-up finish from Skate America last week.

Skate Canada broadcast schedule (all times Eastern):

Friday Women’s short program 2:57 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Friday Pairs short program 4:48 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Friday Short dance 7:30 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Friday Men’s short program 9:08 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Women’s, men’s short programs midnight-2 a.m. UniHD
Saturday Women’s free skate 2:27 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Pairs free skate 4:34 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Men’s free skate 6:57 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Free dance 9:15 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Sunday Free skates midnight-3 a.m. UniHD
Sunday Women’s free skate 5-6 p.m. NBC
Monday Women’s free skate (re-air) 8-9 p.m. UniHD

MORE: Full figure skating season broadcast schedule

Six more Olympic medalists stripped in Beijing 2008 retests

BEIJING - AUGUST 08:  The Olympic flame is lit by Li Ning, former Olympic gymnast for China, during the Opening Ceremony for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics at the National Stadium on August 8, 2008 in Beijing, China.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — Nine more athletes, including six medal winners, were retroactively disqualified from the 2008 Beijing Olympics on Wednesday after failing retests of their doping samples.

The International Olympic Committee announced the decisions in the latest sanctions imposed on athletes whose stored samples came back positive after being retested with improved methods.

Four athletes were stripped of silver medals and two of bronze medals in weightlifting, wrestling and women’s steeplechase. All six athletes come from former Soviet countries — Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan — and all tested positive for steroids.

The IOC stores doping samples for 10 years to allow them to be reanalyzed when enhanced techniques become available. The IOC recorded a total of 98 positive cases in recent resting of samples from Beijing and the 2012 London Olympics.

Stripped of silver medals Wednesday were freestyle wrestlers Soslan Tigiev of Uzbekistan (66-74 kilogram division) and Taimuraz Tigiyev of Kazakhstan (84-96 kg) and weightlifters Olha Korobka of Ukraine (75 kg) and Andrei Rybakov of Belarus (85 kg).

It’s the second time Tigiev has been stripped of an Olympic medal for doping. He lost his bronze medal from the 74 kg event at the London Games after failing a drug test.

The IOC stripped Beijing bronze medals on Wednesday from Russian steeplechaser Ekaterina Volkova and Belarusian weightlifter Anastasia Novikova (53 kg).

The IOC asked the international weightlifting, wrestling and track and field federations to modify the Olympic results and consider any further sanctions against the athletes. Decisions on reallocating the medals have not been finalized.

The IOC said all six medalists tested positive for the steroid turinabol. Rybakov and Novikova also tested positive for stanozolol. Both substances are traditional steroids with a history dating back decades. The new IOC tests used a technique that could detect the use of those drugs going back weeks and months, rather than just days.

Also disqualified Wednesday were Cuba’s Wilfredo Martinez, who finished fifth in the men’s long jump; Nigerian-born Spaniard Josephine Onyia, who was eliminated in the semifinals of the women’s 100-meter hurdles; and weightlifter Sardar Hasanov of Azerbaijan, who competed but did not finish in the men’s 62-kg division.

The IOC said Hasanov tested positive for turinabol, Martinez for the diuretic and masking agent acetazolamide, and Onyia for the stimulant methylhexanamine.

Last week, the IOC announced that Russian weightlifter Apti Aukhadov had been stripped of his silver medal from the London Olympics on Tuesday after testing positive for turinabol and drostanolone.

VIDEO: Yao Ming reflects on Beijing Olympics