Yuzuru Hanyu. AP Photo.

Worlds preview: Hanyu goes for double gold after Sochi

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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.

IIHF president doesn’t expect NHL participation in 2018 Olympics

Sidney Crosby
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SOCHI, Russia (AP) — The head of ice hockey’s international body says there is a strong possibility that NHL players won’t be competing at the next Winter Olympics.

International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel puts the chances at 60 percent that the NHL will decline to go to the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, because of a lack of money to cover player insurance.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Fasel said the IOC has canceled its contribution to player travel and insurance costs for Pyeongchang, leaving the IIHF facing a $10 million shortfall and “begging” for money around the world.

“It’s always difficult to get (to) the Olympics, the Games,” he said. “And now with some problems on our side, 50-50 is very positive. I would be more 60 percent that they are not coming.”

Negotiations and brinkmanship over finances are common in the lead-up to Olympic hockey tournaments. For the 2014 tournament in Sochi, Russia, the NHL’s participation was assured only in July 2013, seven months before the Games.

The IOC’s refusal to cover player insurance adds an additional dimension for 2018.

The NHL did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday, but Commissioner Gary Bettman has made it clear costs are a key factor.

“There are real costs to us going, including insurance, including transportation because we’re losing part of our season, we’ve got to get in and out quickly,” Bettman said last month at a meeting of the Associated Press Sports Editors in New York. “The players for the last five Olympics in particular have been accommodated in a certain way as far as it relates to their families. Those are issues that would once again have to be resolved. … I’m not sure that there would be a lot of appetite for us on top of that to have to pay for the privilege. We don’t make money going to then Olympics.”

Bettman said he didn’t expect a decision until after the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto in September.

While the IOC gives the IIHF around $40 million of revenue each Olympics, Fasel insists that money is earmarked for developing hockey and wants national Olympic committees and hockey federations to plug the gap.

The IOC pulled its extra subsidy because its leaders are “a bit scared that other (sports) federations will come and also ask for some compensation for traveling and insurance,” said Fasel, who is also an IOC member and serves on its rule-making executive board.

“I think my idea is to work closer together with the national Olympic committees, as they have normally to pay transportation and insurance for the athletes when they come to the Games, so I can imagine that some of the NOCs are also ready to spend some money there, so we have to go around and do some begging,” he said.

Fasel said the end of this year is the deadline to reach a deal because of the NHL’s need to draw up a calendar for the Olympic season.

“If you don’t have the best, (the Olympics) will be a different competition for sure,” he said, but warned: “At the end somebody has to pay. That’s the question. On my side I will do everything possible to make it happen.”

Fasel dismissed the suggestion that the World Cup of Hockey could offer some players less incentive to demand to be allowed to play at the Olympics.

“There is nothing like the Olympics,” he said. “I think for an athlete to win the gold medal is so different from winning the Stanley Cup. You can win the Stanley Cup every year.”

In Pyeongchang in 2018 and Beijing in 2022, the Winter Olympics move to Asia and away from the North American and European nations that have historically been the bedrock of hockey.

South Korea, which has built a team mixing import players with locals, plays in the second level of the IIHF’s world championship and hopes not to be a walkover in 2018. China is far less competitive. China will be in the fifth tier for next year and in 2022 could become the first Winter Olympic host not to enter a hockey team — a situation that worries the IIHF, given China’s potential to become a huge market for the sport.

“One thing they do not like is to lose the face, so they cannot do that,” Fasel said. “I hope and I think they will have a Chinese player, Chinese team in Beijing in 2022. We cannot put them on the ice and they will be beaten 15, 20-nothing. We cannot do that.”

Things are looking up for China, with increased government interest and the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League due to open a team there this year, but Fasel said the NHL is key to unlocking potentially vast commercial rewards in China.

“A North American brand in China has a very special taste. We can see that with the NBA,” he said. “I think what we need is to have a Chinese NHL player, like Yao Ming with basketball.”

MORE: 2018 Olympic men’s hockey groups determined

Golf Channel unveils Rio Olympic broadcast schedule

Rio 2016
NBC
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Golf Channel will air more than 130 live hours and nearly 300 total hours of Olympic programming for the sport’s return to the Games in Rio in August.

The first Olympic golf tournaments in 112 years start Aug. 11 (men) and Aug. 17 (women), but Golf Channel coverage will begin Aug. 8 with Golf Central’s “Live From the Olympics.”

Competition coverage will run from the opening tee shot to the final putt and medal ceremonies.

NBC’s Olympic coverage will also include live look-ins, highlights and updates from the golf competition throughout the Games.

The Olympic men’s and women’s golf tournaments are each four-round, stroke-play individual events with 60 golfers in each field determined by world rankings on July 11.

The top 15 in the world rankings will qualify, with no more than four golfers per nation per gender. Then the fields are filled with no more than two golfers per nation past the top 15 until the 60 mark is met.

MORE: USA Golf unveils Olympic uniforms

Golf Channel Live Schedule

Date Event Time (ET)
Monday, Aug. 8 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 6-8 p.m.
Tuesday, Aug. 9 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 6-8 p.m.
Wednesday, Aug. 10 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 6-8 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 11 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 5-6:30 a.m.
MEN ROUND 1 6:30 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 3-5 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 12 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 5-6:30 a.m.
MEN ROUND 2 6:30 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 3-5 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 13 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 5-6:30 a.m.
MEN ROUND 3 6:30 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 3-5 p.m.
Sunday, Aug. 14 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 5-6 a.m.
MEN FINAL ROUND 6 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 3-5 p.m.
Monday, Aug. 15 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 6-8 p.m.
Tuesday, Aug. 16 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 6-8 p.m.
Wednesday, Aug. 17 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 5-6:30 a.m.
WOMEN ROUND 1 6:30 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 3-5 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 18 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 5-6:30 a.m.
WOMEN ROUND 2 6:30 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 3-5 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 19 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 5-6 a.m.
WOMEN ROUND 3 6 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 3-5 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 20 Golf Central Live From the Olympics 5-6 a.m.
WOMEN FINAL ROUND 6 a.m.-3 p.m.
Golf Central Live From the Olympics 3-5 p.m.