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Javier Fernandez, skaters born in 2000s headline Cup of China; preview

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PyeongChang will mark the first Winter Games with athletes born in the 2000s. Four of the top figure skating prospects compete at Cup of China, the third of six Grand Prix series stops, live on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA on Friday and Saturday.

Spain’s Javier Fernandez, a two-time world champion, is not one of those fresh-faced phenoms. But he is the most accomplished singles skater in this week’s field.

His competition includes U.S. silver medalist Vincent Zhou, who was 6 years old when Fernandez made his world debut in 2007.

Three women at Cup of China were born in 2001 or 2002, including the last two world junior champions. They’ll face Canadian Gabrielle Daleman, the world bronze medalist. Daleman is a veteran in relation at age 19.

The Cup of China live broadcast schedule on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA (all times Eastern):

Friday
Short Dance — 3:30 a.m.
Women’s Short — 5 a.m.
Men’s Short — 7 a.m.
Pairs Short — 9 a.m.

Saturday
Men’s Free — 2:30 a.m.
Free Dance — 4:30 a.m.
Pairs Free — 6:30 a.m.
Women’s Free — 9 a.m.

NBC will air a recap show Sunday from 4:30-6 p.m. ET. All coverage will stream on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app. Olympic Channel coverage will also stream on Olympicchannel.com and the Olympic Channel app.

Men
Nobody has been as consistent in Grand Prix events than Javier Fernandez the last three seasons.

The Spaniard, seeking his nation’s first Winter Olympic medal since 1992, has won five straight titles dating to 2014. But he missed the podium at the two biggest events last season — placing fourth at the Grand Prix Final and at worlds, where he led after the short program seeking a three-peat.

China’s Jin Boyang, bronze medalist at the last two worlds, is Fernandez’s biggest competition this weekend. The 20-year-old is capable of attempting five quads in a program (first done successfully by Nathan Chen in January). Jin won his season opener, a lower-level event four weeks ago, despite falling three times between two programs.

Then there’s Vincent Zhou, the U.S. silver medalist making his Grand Prix debut at age 17. Zhou is favored to become the youngest U.S. Olympic male singles skater since 1964 on the strength of his jumps. Zhou can do four quads in one program, more than any U.S. man aside from Chen. Zhou was 2.59 points behind Jin at that lower-level event four weeks ago.

Also in the field: Russian champion Mikhail Kolyada, 2013 U.S. champion Max Aaron

Women
A good case to be made that this week’s winner joins Yevgenia Medvedeva and Kaetlyn Osmond as the Olympic medal favorites.

Medvedeva and Osmond, the world gold and silver medalists, won the first two Grand Prix events with ease.

This week’s field is led by surprise world bronze medalist Gabrielle Daleman of Canada and the last two world junior champions in Russian Alina Zagitova and Marin Honda of Japan. Plus Wakaba Higuchi, who is ranked third in the world this season. Zagitova, Honda and Higuchi were all born in 2001 or 2002.

Daleman, 19, has made six Grand Prix starts and never made the podium. She broke out last winter, taking second at the Four Continents Championships in February and third at worlds in March. However, she fell three times between two programs at her lower-level season debut earlier this month, placing sixth.

Zagitova, born three months after the 2002 Olympics, is ranked second in the world this season via her senior international debut victory at a low-level event in Italy. She can tighten a grip on one of Russia’s three Olympic spots this week given recent struggles from veterans Yelena Radionova and Anna Pogorilaya.

Honda entered this season in Zagitova’s company as must-watch senior debutantes, but she bombed in the short program at Skate Canada last week and finished fifth overall. The Japanese women have little room for error with just two Olympic spots available.

Which makes this week so interesting. Honda goes up against Higuchi, who took bronze at the Grand Prix opener two weeks ago, and Mai Mihara, who was fifth at worlds last year. An interested onlooker has to be Satoko Miyahara, the three-time reigning Japanese champion who makes her season debut next week.

Also in the field: 2015 World champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, Radionova, American Amber Glenn.

Pairs
Chinese pairs will benefit not only from home-ice advantage, but also that no other pairs from the top eight at worlds are in this field.

So Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, who went silver-silver-gold at the last three worlds, and Yu Xiaoyu and Zhang Hao, fourth at their worlds debut together last season, should go one-two this week.

If Sui and Han repeat either of their total scores from last season (injury-shortened), they will move to the top of this season’s pairs rankings.

U.S. bronze medalists Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc make their Grand Prix debut filling in for Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea. The U.S. can send one pair to the Olympics. Cain and LeDuc could really use a personal best to impress selectors. They don’t have the recent national or international success that Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier and Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim can boast.

Ice Dance
Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir aren’t in the field this week. That’s good news for the chances of France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who are undefeated against the rest of the world the last 34 months.

Papadakis and Cizeron, world champions in 2015 and 2016, must deal with the incredible pressure of trying to keep up with Virtue and Moir. In their last six competitions, the Canadians posted six of the seven highest scores under an eight-year-old system.

Papadakis and Cizeron’s personal best from 2017 Worlds is now 3.82 points behind the most recent best by Virtue and Moir set in Canada last week.

Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates have measuring sticks, too. Those are the scores posted by Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue (189.43) and Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani (189.24) the last two weeks.

Those are almost certainly going to be the three U.S. dance couples in PyeongChang, but given the Canadian and French dominance, there may only be one medal available to them in February.

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Erin Hamlin nears end of historic U.S. luge career

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Erin Hamlin is looking forward to normalcy. She is getting married next summer in her hometown. She is thinking about career moves. She is trying to figure out the rest of her life.

It is probably her last luge season. It is definitely her last Olympic season.

As such, it would be easy to fall into the trap of saying that winning a gold medal at PyeongChang in February would be the only thing that makes this season a success.

It’s important, sure, but Hamlin is entering her 13th year of World Cup racing with a much broader view and insisting that she’s going to enjoy whatever time she has left on her sled.

“I’m not going to hyperfocus myself on one result or bust,” Hamlin said. “Very likely, it’s going to be my last time in a lot of places, sliding on a lot of tracks. So I think more so, it’s going to be a lot of soaking it all in.”

That process starts Saturday, when the World Cup season opens in Igls, Austria.

Hamlin, who turns 31 on Sunday, is coming off the finest year of her career — she won a gold medal and two silvers at the world championships for the biggest haul ever by an American luger, got two World Cup wins and finished fourth in world rankings.

She might be going out, and there’s a chance she can go out on top.

“We’re working hard to convince her to stay,” longtime U.S. teammate Emily Sweeney said.

Sweeney knows that’s probably futile.

Sliders always tend to cycle out after an Olympics, no matter if it’s bobsled, skeleton or luge, and the Americans will see plenty of veterans take their last rides this winter.

A few U.S. sliders already retired this fall, in part because they weren’t going to have a shot at an Olympic berth.

For her part, Hamlin hasn’t officially said this is the end.

“There’s never really as concrete of a plan as you hope there would be, because you never know what can happen,” Hamlin said. “But at the moment, what I’m excited to do is see what other opportunities are there and what other adventures await.”

Hamlin has been in the world’s top 10 in each of the past 11 seasons — the second-longest current streak of any woman in luge, one year behind German legend Tatjana Huefner.

She won a World Cup each of the past three years, took the world title in sprint last winter and became the first U.S. Olympic singles luge medalist in 2014 with a bronze.

A lesson learned that season: Not expecting much can work wonders. That’s one of the reasons why PyeongChang isn’t taking up all the bandwidth in her brain.

“That’s the nature of winter sports in a Winter Olympic year, there being so much focus on the Games,” Hamlin said. “How I went into the last Olympics taught me a lot. I had no expectation of walking away from the last Olympics with a medal. At this point, goal No. 1 is to make the team and beyond that, I know if I slide as I’m capable of I can be pretty fast and I can do well.”

The schedule this season is hectic.

This weekend’s stop in Austria starts a run of five races in five weekends, with the next two in Germany followed by another in Calgary, Alberta, and then on home ice in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Dec. 15-16.

When that Lake Placid World Cup is over, the U.S. Olympic team will be named.

So when Hamlin needs an escape from all that, the wedding is there to bring her back to reality.

It will be at her parents’ home in July. It will, without question, be the social event of the season in Remsen, N.Y., where the one-time high school soccer player has annually left her tiny hometown brimming with pride.

“Pretty exciting,” Hamlin said. “It’s definitely adding a whole new aspect to an Olympic year, planning a wedding, but it’s cool. It gives me a good distraction when I need to think about something other than sliding.”

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Kaetlyn Osmond leads Grand Prix France as co-favorite falls (video)

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Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond topped the Grand Prix France short program, moving closer to another Grand Prix Final berth on Friday.

The world silver medalist was flawed — performing a triple-double combination rather than a triple-triple and putting a hand down on another jump landing.

She goes into Saturday’s free skate with a 1.26-point lead over Russian Maria Sotskova. Japan’s Yuna Shiraiwa is third, while the lone American Polina Edmunds is ninth.

Co-favorite Alina Zagitova of Russia fell and dropped to fifth place in Grenoble.

In the short dance, France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron improved on their personal best with 81.40 points, the third-highest all-time in an eight-year-old system.

Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov lead French Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres by 4.66 going into Saturday’s pairs free skate.

The event continues later Friday with the men’s short, live on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA.

GP FRANCE: Full Results | TV Schedule

Osmond, 21, was a revelation last season, winning her first Grand Prix medals in four years, making her first Grand Prix Final and finishing second to dominant Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva at worlds.

She’s continued that this fall, winning her first two events in Canada to solidify Olympic medal favorite status. One Canadian woman has won an individual Olympic medal in the last 25 years — Joannie Rochette‘s emotional bronze in 2010.

Zagitova, the 15-year-old world junior champion, fell on her opening triple Lutz. Zagitova won her Grand Prix debut in China two weeks ago and ranks second to training partner Medvedeva in top scores this season.

Medvedeva, Zagitova and Sotskova are the favorites to claim Russia’s three Olympic women’s spots. Sotskova, 17, made the podium in all three of her Grand Prix starts but was a disappointing eighth at last season’s worlds.

Edmunds tallied 56.31 points Friday, stepping out of the landing of her opening triple-triple jump combination.

Still, she improved on her short program from her earlier event this season, where she scored 49.62 with errors on all of her jumps.

Edmunds, the youngest U.S. Olympic competitor across all sports in Sochi, went 20 months between competitions, missing the entire 2016-17 season due to a bone bruise in her right foot.

She is an underdog to make the three-woman U.S. team for PyeongChang that will be named after nationals in January.

Russian Elizaveta Tuktamysheva continued her string of underwhelming programs since her 2015 World title. She fell on a triple Axel attempt and singled a Lutz, plummeting to last place of 11 skaters.

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Internationaux de France
Women’s Short Program
1. Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN) — 69.05
2. Maria Sotskova (RUS) — 67.79
3. Yuna Shiraiwa (JPN) — 66.05
9. Polina Edmunds (USA) — 56.31

Short Dance
1. Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 81.40
2. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 73.55
3. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 70.02
6. Elliana Pogrebinsky/Alex Benoit (USA) — 60.64

Pairs
1. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 77.84
2. Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres (FRA) — 73.18
3. Nicole Della Monica/Matteo Guarise (ITA) — 70.65
6. Marissa Castelli/Mervin Tran (USA) — 58.99