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Rostelecom Cup preview, broadcast schedule

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Could the world’s best figure skater *right now* be Shoma Uno, the 18-year-old from Japan?

Uno goes into this weekend’s Rostelecom Cup in Moscow perfect for the early season, following wins at the lower-level Lombardia Trophy in September and the free-skate-only Japan Open and Skate America in October.

Quite a bounce back for a skater who could have easily been shaken by a disappointing seventh-place finish at last season’s world championships.

Uno is 5-foot-2 and soft-spoken, but showed a resiliency in standing up again in his second full season as a senior skater. In fact, in his first event after worlds, at the Team Challenge Cup in April, he became the first skater to land a quadruple flip in competition.

Uno then trounced the last two U.S. champions, Jason Brown and Adam Rippon, at Skate America and comfortably beat two-time reigning world champion Javier Fernández of Spain at the Japan Open, which can be seen as a preseason exhibition.

Uno and Fernández meet again with higher stakes at Rostelecom Cup, beginning in Friday’s short program and concluding with Saturday’s free skate.

If Uno wins again, he will become the first skater to qualify for the Grand Prix Final in December (actually, any podium place will do that) and consolidate the argument that he is the world’s best. That Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu was flawed and beaten at Skate Canada last weekend certainly helps Uno’s case, too.

Fernández, meanwhile, has only competed once this season (that runner-up to Uno in Japan) and recently lost about a week of training while traveling from his Toronto base to Madrid to Tokyo and back for off-ice commitments.

Fernández won Rostelecom Cup the last two seasons, but both times he already had a Grand Prix start under his belt before arriving in Moscow.

Also in action this weekend are three Russians with world championships medals — 2016 bronze medalist Anna Pogorilaya, 2015 bronze medalist Yelena Radionova and 2014 silver medalist Yulia Lipnitskaya.

All three are among several countrywomen jockeying for position behind reigning world champ Yevgenia Medvedeva, who won Skate Canada last week by a whopping 14.2 points. Russia will send three women to worlds in Finland in late March, and Medvedeva appears all but a lock to earn one of those spots.

In pairs, Skate America winners Julianne Séguin and Charlie Bilodeau of Canada will qualify for a second straight Grand Prix Final with a podium finish. They go up against world bronze medalists Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot of Germany.

In ice dance, two-time world medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates compete for a second straight week after taking second at Skate Canada. They will clinch a Grand Prix Final berth with a victory and could also eventually make it with a second- or third-place finish.

Chock and Bates’ top competition will be past world medalists Yekaterina Bobrova and Dmitry Soloviyev of Russia and Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Canada.

Other Americans in action in Moscow are 2015 Skate America winner Max Aaron and Courtney Hicks.

MORE: Full figure skating season broadcast schedule

Rostelecom Cup broadcast schedule (all times Eastern)

Friday Short dance 7:45 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Friday Men’s short program 9:25 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Friday Pairs short program 12 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Friday Women’s short program 1:40 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Friday Women’s, men’s short programs 8-10 p.m. UniHD
Saturday Free dance 7 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Men’s free skate 8:50 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Pairs free skate 11:05 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Women’s free skate 12:50 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Free dance, pairs free 8-10 p.m. UniHD
Sunday Rostelecom Cup 10-11:30 p.m. NBCSN, NBC Sports app

Key Short Program Start Times (Friday ET)
Weaver/Poje (CAN) — 8:11 a.m.
Chock/Bates (USA) — 8:31 a.m.
Bobrova/Soloviyev (RUS) — 8:38 a.m.
Shoma Uno (JPN) — 10:05 a.m.
Javier Fernandez (ESP) — 10:19 a.m.
Max Aaron (USA) — 10:25 a.m.
Savchenko/Massot (FRA) — 12:14 p.m.
Seguin/Bilodeau (CAN) — 12:20 p.m.
Yulia Lipnitskaya (RUS) — 2:07 p.m.
Anna Pogorilaya (RUS) — 2:13 p.m.
Courtney Hicks (USA) — 2:47 p.m.
Yelena Radionova (RUS) — 2:53 p.m.

Top Grand Prix Season Scores
Men
1. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 279.34 (Skate America)
2. Jason Brown (USA) — 268.38 (Skate America)
3. Patrick Chan (CAN) — 266.95 (Skate Canada)
4. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 263.06 (Skate Canada)
5. Adam Rippon (USA) — 261.43 (Skate America)
*World champion Javier Fernandez yet to compete.

Women
1. Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 220.65 (Skate Canada)
2. Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN) — 206.45 (Skate Canada)
3. Ashley Wagner (USA) — 196.44 (Skate America)
4. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 192.08 (Skate Canada)
5. Mariah Bell (USA) — 191.49 (Skate America)
*World bronze medalist Anna Pogorilaya yet to compete.

Pairs
1. Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford (CAN) — 218.30 (Skate Canada)
2. Yu Xiaoyu/Zhang Hao (CHN) — 202.08 (Skate Canada)
3. Julianne Séguin/Charlie Bilodeau (CAN) — 197.31 (Skate America)
4. Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier (USA) — 192.65 (Skate America)
5. Lubov Ilyushechkina/Dylan Moscovitch (CAN) — 190.22 (Skate Canada)
*World bronze medalists Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot yet to compete.

Ice Dance
1. Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir (CAN) — 189.06 (Skate Canada)
2. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 188.24 (Skate Canada)
3. Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) — 185.75 (Skate America)
4. Piper Gilles/Paul Poirier (CAN) — 182.57 (Skate Canada)
5. Anna Cappellini/Luca Lanotte (ITA) — 180.35 (Skate Canada)
*World champions Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron yet to compete.

U.S. men look to fill Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte void at swim worlds

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With Michael Phelps retired and Ryan Lochte suspended, the superstars at the world swimming championships clearly lie on the women’s side.

But the men’s events will include world-record chasers, a stinging rivalry and, perhaps, the emergence of Phelps and Lochte’s successor as leading U.S. man.

Caeleb Dressel came through in Rio under arguably the most pressure of any swimmer, starting off the U.S. 4x100m freestyle relay team in his very first Olympic splash with a personal-best time.

Dressel, a 20-year-old who nearly quit swimming three years ago as the No. 1 recruit in the nation, has nine events to choose from at worlds in Budapest starting Sunday.

He qualified in four individual events — 50m and 100m butterflies and freestyles — and is eligible for all five relays (two mixed-gender).

In the last 15 years, only two U.S. men have raced in four individual events at a single Olympics or world championships — Phelps and Lochte.

Dressel is in the medal mix in all of his individual events, ranking No. 1 in the world this year in the 100m fly, No. 3 in the 50m free, No. 4 in the 100m free and No. 5 in the 50m fly. He is also almost guaranteed medals in any relays that he enters given the unmatched U.S. depth.

Dressel has never been to a worlds and raced just one individual event in Rio. He’s the potential breakout star on a U.S. team, surrounded by more proven names.

SWIMMING WORLDS: TV Schedule | Men’s Preview | Women’s Preview | Event Schedule

Ryan Murphy, who swam for the same Jacksonville, Fla., club team as Dressel, swept the backstrokes in Rio and broke the 100m back world record leading off the medley relay. That dominance has not quite carried over so far in 2017. Murphy ranks third in the world in the 100m and 200m backs this year.

Chase Kalisz, a longtime Phelps training partner in Baltimore, has followed up his Rio Olympic 400m individual medley silver medal well this year. He chopped two seconds off his personal best in the 200m IM and goes into Budapest ranked No. 1 in the world in the 400m IM by nearly a half-second.

The U.S. boasts more medal threats including Nathan Adrian (sprint freestyles), Townley Haas (200m free), Cody Miller and Kevin Cordes (breaststrokes), but nobody is a clear favorite.

The surest bets are world-record holders Adam Peaty and Ippei Watanabe in the breaststrokes and Italian Gregorio Paltrinieri in the 1500m free. Paltrinieri could challenge a five-year-old world record held by Sun Yang.

Speaking of Sun, the mercurial Chinese superstar is set to renew his rivalry with Australian Mack Horton. In Rio, Horton memorably called Sun “a drug cheat,” in reference to Sun’s three-month suspension in 2014 for using a banned stimulant.

Horton then went out and beat Sun in the 400m freestyle, dethroning the Olympic and world champion. Horton and Sun could face off in four individual events in Budapest.

Key men’s finals:

Sunday, July 23
400m freestyle — Sun has been two seconds faster than Horton this year
4x100m freestyle relay — Olympic silver medalist France won’t defend world title; U.S. favored

Monday, July 24
100m breaststroke — Peaty has the eight fastest times ever and fastest by .95 this year

Tuesday, July 25
200m freestyle — Haas the only man within .64 of Sun in 2017
100m backstroke — Rio silver medalist Xu Jiayu was .01 shy of Murphy’s WR in April

Wednesday, July 26
200m butterfly — Japan and Hungary lead the post-Phelps-era world; Chad le Clos ranks 8th in 2017
800m freestyle — Italian Gabriele Detti fastest in 2017 by six seconds, but slower than Sun’s winning times in 2011, 2013, 2015

Thursday, July 27
200m individual medley — Phelps, Lochte won the last 12 Olympic/world titles
100m freestyle — Reigning Olympic and world champions’ absences open door for Adrian, Dressel

Friday, July 28
200m backstroke — U.S. won 14 of the last 15 Olympic/world titles, including Murphy in Rio
200m breaststroke — Watanabe broke WR in January; surprise Olympic champ Dmitriy Balandin ranks No. 127 this year
4x200m freestyle relay — U.S., without Lochte, Phelps, looks to take world title back from Great Britain

Saturday, July 29
50m freestyle — Reigning Olympic and world champions’ absences open door for Adrian, Dressel
100m butterfly — Joseph Schooling eyes Phelps’ WR, but Dressel ranks No. 1 in 2017

Sunday, July 30
400m individual medley — Kalisz ranks No. 1 in 2017, but time is .94 slower than Kosuke Hagino in Rio
1500m freestyle — Sun holds WR of 14:31 but hasn’t broken 14:55 since 2014
4x100m medley relay — Great Britain will lean on Peaty to challenge U.S.

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MORE: Michael Phelps not itching to return like in 2013

Katie Ledecky eyes more history as women to star at swimming worlds

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The year after the Olympics isn’t always known for it, but there should be fireworks in the women’s events at the world swimming championships in Budapest next week.

Katie Ledecky could match Missy Franklin‘s record of six gold medals at a single worlds by swimming one more event than she did at the 2015 Worlds and 2016 Olympics. Judging by Ledecky’s times at the U.S. Championships last month, the rising Stanford sophomore is in her usual dominant form.

Hungarian Katinka Hosszu, swimming in front of her home fans, could try to equal Ledecky with four individual golds in backstrokes and individual medleys.

Swede Sarah Sjostrom could do the same in the 50m and 100m butterflies and freestyles, where world records are under threat.

Ledecky, Hosszu and Sjostrom are all bidding to become the first women to three-peat in an individual event at worlds.

Then there’s the return of the greatest rivalry in swimming. After their memorable Rio duel, King and Yulia Efimova rank Nos. 1 and 2 in the world this year in all three breaststrokes.

Spain’s Mireia Belmonte and American Leah Smith have never won an individual world title, but they could be the busiest swimmers of all next week.

Belmonte could race 7,4000 total meters if she makes every event final. Smith could get up to 7,000 meters. Both would outdistance Ledecky and Hosszu in mileage.

SWIMMING WORLDS: TV Schedule | Men’s Preview | Women’s Preview | Event Schedule

The women’s program could have been even more loaded if not for two notable absences. Australian Cate Campbell, the 100m freestyle world-record holder, is sitting out world champs.

Australia beat the U.S. in the 4x100m free relay at the 2015 Worlds and 2016 Olympics, but without Campbell, the Americans are about even with the Aussies. Ledecky’s bid for six golds could hang on this race on the opening night.

Ledecky also greatly benefits from Sjostrom’s decision to skip the 200m freestyle. In Rio, Sjostrom was the closest swimmer to Ledecky in her individual events, coming .35 shy in the 200m free while outsplitting Ledecky in the final 50 meters.

Key women’s finals:

Sunday, July 23
400m freestyle — Ledecky hasn’t lost a 400m free since the 2012 Olympic Trials
4x100m freestyle relay — Showdown with Campbell-less Australia crucial for Ledecky’s six-gold bid

Monday, July 24
100m butterfly — Sjostrom’s only competition is her world record of 55.48
200m individual medley — Nobody has been within a second of Hosszu this year

Tuesday, July 25
100m backstroke — Kylie Masse was .09 off the longest-standing women’s swimming world record at Canadian Champs
1500m freestyle — Ledecky is 25 seconds faster than anyone else this year
100m breaststroke — Efimova is .13 faster than King this year

Wednesday, July 26
200m freestyle — Ledecky’s toughest individual event made easier by Sjostrom’s absence

Thursday, July 27
200m butterfly — Olympic champ Belmonte eyes first world title; Nos. 2, 3, 4 from Rio absent
4x200m freestyle relay — China is strong, but Ledecky is the U.S.’ ace in the hole

Friday, July 28
100m freestyle — Heavy favorite Sjostrom .02 off the world record in June
200m breaststroke — Efimova is two seconds faster than second-ranked King this year

Saturday, July 29
200m backstroke — Kathleen Baker can inherit throne from retired Maya DiRado 
800m freestyle — Likely Ledecky’s sixth and final event, could match Franklin’s gold record

Sunday, July 30
50m freestyle — No. of sub-24-second times this year — Sjostrom: 6; Rest of World: 0
400m individual medley — Hosszu, after breaking WR by two seconds in Rio, slower this year
4x100m medley relay — U.S. should gap Australia, China on breaststroke leg

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MORE: Michael Phelps not itching to return like in 2013

*Correction: The integrity of a Lilly King quote attributed to Agence France-Presse in earlier version of this story has been called into question and was removed.