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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.

Marcel Hirscher ties Hermann Maier; Henrik Kristoffersen slams snowballs (video)

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Marcel Hirscher matched a legend. His biggest rival criticized snowballs thrown near him during his slalom run.

The Austrian Hirscher tied countryman Hermann Maier for second on the career men’s Alpine skiing World Cup wins list with his 54th on Tuesday.

Austria became the first nation to notch 500 men’s World Cup wins.

Hirscher, the six-time reigning World Cup overall champion, captured a night slalom in Schladming, Austria.

Norwegian rival Henrik Kristoffersen was second, .39 of a second behind and complaining that snowballs were thrown around him in his second run. Swiss Daniel Yule took third.

Full results are here.

Kristoffersen said three snowballs were thrown in his eyesight in his second run, just before Hirscher took the last run of the night.

“They didn’t hit me, but still it’s quite annoying when you can, like, see something flying in towards you,” Kristoffersen said. “There were probably 50,000 spectators in Schladming and 49,997 are really good people. I love Austria. It’s like a home race for me. Then it’s kind of a little bit sad that three people can ruin it a little bit.

“This had nothing to do with Marcel beating me. He skied better. I wouldn’t have beaten him if nobody would have thrown snowballs.”

Kristoffersen appeared to tell Hirscher in the finish area about the snowballs.

“Really? I’m sorry,” Hirscher told Kristoffersen.

“I feel very sorry for Henrik,” Hirscher said later. “99.9 percent of the spectators are great, but this 0.1 people, it’s a little bit of a shame that we have these spectators.”

Maier made 268 World Cup starts in the 1990s and 2000s. Hirscher reached the same 54 wins in more than 50 fewer starts.

Only Swede Ingemar Stenmark has more men’s World Cup wins than the 28-year-old Hirscher, who has nine victories this season, matching his best for one campaign.

Stenmark won 86 races in the 1970s and 1980s, a mark that Lindsey Vonn is chasing. Vonn is at 79 victories.

Hirscher prevailed in six of the last seven World Cup slaloms, dominating going into his third Winter Games, where he hopes to add the only major prize missing from his trophy case — an Olympic gold medal.

Hirscher was upset in the Sochi Olympic slalom, taking silver behind countryman Mario Matt. He was fourth, fourth and fifth in three other Olympic races between 2010 and 2014.

The men’s Alpine World Cup continues with a downhill and giant slalom in Garmish-Partenkirchen, Germany, on Saturday and Sunday, streaming live on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app and airing on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and NBCSN.

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MORE: Alpine skiing season broadcast schedule

Norway Olympic curling team unveils this year’s crazy pants

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Just in case the sweeping and the shouting and the chess-like strategy isn’t enough to draw in the fans at the Olympics, the Norwegian curling team is again calling on its secret weapon.

Crazy pants!

For the third straight Winter Games, the men’s team from Norway will be shaking up the staid, 600-year-old sport by wearing brightly colored trousers in competition.

Among the uniforms for PyeongChang unveiled on Tuesday is one that makes them look like they were the losing team in a patriotic paintball outing.

“Curling is kind of similar to golf, very traditional,” Norwegian second Christoffer Svae said in a telephone interview from New York, where the team — well, mostly the pants — was doing a media blitz. “When we started playing in colored pants, it was breaking tradition. It was turning heads, for sure.”

The pants first attracted attention at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, where they debuted as a red, white and blue argyle in a field filled with black or other dark trousers.

They — the pants, not the curlers — soon had a Facebook page that now has nearly 500,000 followers and its own email address to field media inquiries.

Back then, the team just ordered and paid for the pants off the rack, but it soon became a sponsorship opportunity.

Loudmouth, which had mostly marketed toward golfers, signed on for the Sochi Games and designed pants just for the team, including a pattern featuring the Norwegian flag and another outfit with high socks and knickers.

The company, which declined through a spokeswoman to comment on the value of the deal, has also backed an American beach volleyball team at the London Olympics, golfer John Daly and Peter “Snakebite” Wright, the No. 2 darts player in the world.

But its biggest splash has come with the Norwegian curlers, and it is backing them again in PyeongChang.

Svae said they will have 12 different outfits — enough to get them through the medal round — and some cash to pay for travel and other expenses.

In a niche, largely self-funded sport like curling, that comes in handy.

“It’s huge,” Svae said. “We get funding from Loudmouth to cover travel expenses, and also the fame we get from the Loudmouth clothes get us other sponsors in Norway, because they want to be associated with the brand we’ve made.”

In addition to Svae, the team includes lead Haavard Vad Petersson, vice-skip Torger Nergaard and skip Thomas Ulsrud.

They will be attending their third straight Olympics, having won a silver medal in Vancouver. (Nergaard won gold as part of a different foursome in 2002).

As the idea man behind the pants phenomenon, Svae said there is more to it than just free publicity.

Curlers understand that the gimmicks might call attention to their sport, but they hope that people who tune in for the pants will take a liking to it.

“I think all curlers are eager to promote the sport,” he said.

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VIDEO: Minnesota Vikings celebrate TD by curling

Members of the Norwegian men’s Olympic curling team, from left Christoffer Svae, Thomas Ulsrud, Haavard Peterson and Torger Nergaard pose in their unique uniforms, Tuesday Jan. 23, 2018, in New York. The team is expected to be a fan favorite for a third straight Olympics, thanks to the brightly colored pants that stand out. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

 

Members of the Norwegian men’s Olympic curling team, from left, Christoffer Svae, Thomas Ulsrud, Haavard Peterson and Torger Nergaard pose in their unique uniforms, Tuesday Jan. 23, 2018, in New York. The team is expected to be a fan favorite for a third straight Olympics, thanks to the brightly colored pants that stand out. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)