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Ashley Wagner trails at Cup of China, Grand Prix Final in jeopardy

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The U.S. went from potentially having three singles skaters in the Grand Prix Final for the first time since 2009 to possibly having none after the Cup of China short program Friday.

World silver medalist Ashley Wagner is in fifth place after performing a triple-double jump combination rather than a triple-triple. Wagner scored 64.36 points, which is 7.84 points behind leader Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada.

Full scores are here.

If the standings hold and Wagner finishes fifth after the free skate, she will have to wait for the results of next week’s NHK Trophy to see if she qualifies for her fifth straight Grand Prix Final.

December’s Grand Prix Final is the most exclusive event in figure skating, taking the top six skaters from the six-event Grand Prix series by totaling each skater’s two results.

Wagner won Skate America in October, putting her in the driver’s seat for a berth before her short program Friday in her second event.

Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva is already qualified for the Grand Prix Final. If the Cup of China standings hold, Osmond and Russian Yelena Radionova will join her. Two more Russians, Anna Pogorilaya and Maria Sotskova, are in the driver’s seat to qualify at NHK Trophy next week.

Three Japanese skaters — Mai Mihara, Satoko Miyahara and Wakaba Higuchi — are also in the picture.

On the men’s side, China’s Jin Boyang complicated the Grand Prix Final qualifying picture by doing the opposite of Wagner on Friday.

Jin, the world bronze medalist who was fifth at Skate America, topped the Cup of China short program with 96.17 points after landing two quadruple jumps.

He leads a surprise in second place, Israel’s Daniel Samohin, by a whopping 12.7 points. Three-time world champion Patrick Chan of Canada is third.

If Jin holds on to win Cup of China, he will pass American Adam Rippon in the Grand Prix Final qualifying standings.

This is key, as Shoma Uno and Javier Fernandez have already qualified for the Grand Prix Final, and Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu is likely to join them if he performs well at NHK Trophy next week.

Likewise, Chan, who won Skate Canada in October, will qualify for the Grand Prix Final if the standings hold after the free skate Saturday.

That would essentially leave one open men’s Grand Prix Final spot, with Rippon in the clubhouse lead going into NHK Trophy.

Two other Americans are also in the running. Jason Brown can pass Rippon if he finishes fourth or better at NHK. Nathan Chen can pass Rippon if he finishes second or better at NHK.

But Israel’s Oleksii Bychenko could spoil it for all of the Americans if he finishes second or better at NHK, and ahead of Brown and Chen.

The U.S. has already qualified two ice dance couples for the Grand Prix Final — Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue — and should get a third with Maia and Alex Shibutani in second place after the Cup of China short dance.

The U.S. has always qualified at least one singles skater for the Grand Prix Final, which debuted in 1995.

MORE: Figure skating season broadcast schedule

Yuzuru Hanyu opens Olympic season with record score

Yuzuru Hanyu
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A sore knee didn’t hold Yuzuru Hanyu back. A record score to open his Olympic season.

The Olympic and world champion from Japan hit a pair of quadruple jumps in his short program at the Autumn Classic, a lower-level event in Montreal.

He was rewarded with 112.72 points, the highest short program score recorded under the 13-year-old judging system. Video is here.

It looked like a home competition for Hanyu.

Upon finishing, he bowed toward one set of bleachers (maybe a dozen rows) at the Sportsplexe Pierrefonds. More than two dozen Japanese flags made it hard to see most of the faces.

He bettered Javier Fernández, a two-time world champion and training partner, by 11.52 points. Fernández also landed two quadruple jumps to tally 101.2.

Full scores will be here upon the conclusion of the short program. The free skate is Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. A live stream is here.

Hanyu now owns the three highest short program scores under the 13-year-old system. The other two were set in the 2015-16 season.

Showdowns like Hanyu-Fernández are usually reserved for, at the earliest, the Grand Prix series in late October and November.

Hanyu and Fernández are very familiar with each other, having shared a coach in Canadian Brian Orser, the 1988 Olympic silver medalist, since 2012. They train in Toronto.

In that time, Hanyu became the first Japanese man to win an Olympic title (and the second teen from any nation to do it). He followed it up with world titles later in 2014 and this year.

Fernández achieved unfathomable success for a Spanish skater — world titles in 2015 and 2016, overtaking Hanyu in the free skate both times.

In PyeongChang, Hanyu can become the first man to repeat as Olympic champion since Dick Button in 1952. Fernández can become the third Spaniard to earn a Winter Olympic medal of any color in any sport, and the first since 1992.

The figure skating season continues next week with Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany, the final Olympic qualifying competition. North Korea could clinch its first spots in any sport for the Olympics in the pairs event.

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USOC letter assures Olympians about South Korea security

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The U.S. Olympic Committee’s security chief sent a letter to potential Winter Olympians saying there are no indications that recent developments between the U.S. and North Korea have compromised security in South Korea.

The letter, obtained by The Associated Press shortly after it was sent Friday, makes no suggestion that the U.S. is considering skipping the PyeongChang Winter Games for security reasons.

But Chief Security Officer Nicole Deal does write that provocations that have been volleyed between the United States and North Korea are likely to persist for the foreseeable future, and “should not be dismissed as insignificant nor feared as precursors of an inevitable conflict.”

The letter comes at the end of a week in which France’s sports minister suggested the country’s athletes would stay home if security could not be guaranteed.

The International Olympic Committee, trying to calm concerns, reiterated that in conversations with high-level officials in China and South Korea, none have expressed doubt about the Winter Games proceeding as scheduled, next February.

The USOC also sent out a public statement Friday from CEO Scott Blackmun.

“We will continue to work with our State Department and local organizers to ensure that our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe,” he said.

The letter, sent to athletes, national governing bodies and other Olympic leaders in the United States, said the USOC’s security division is operating as “business as usual for our security planning and preparations.”

Deal writes that the USOC is reviewing crisis management plans that address a range of potential scenarios “to ensure our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe.”

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