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Grand Prix of France figure skating preview, TV schedule

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The fields for December’s Grand Prix Final are starting to take shape, and the news lies with the skaters who won’t be there.

Particularly on the men’s side. It’s likely that the three men who combined to win the last seven world championships (and 2014 Olympic gold) won’t be in Nagoya at the final.

Yuzuru Hanyu and Patrick Chan are definitely out. Javier Fernandez, in this week’s France Grand Prix field (facing Japanese star Shoma Uno), is virtually eliminated, too.

In an Olympic season, this is big. The Grand Prix Final is the second-most-important annual event behind worlds. It’s also the most exclusive, taking the top six skaters per discipline from the six-event fall Grand Prix series.

With the Olympics in three months, the Grand Prix Final will be the best single indicator of PyeongChang medal favorites.

This week’s France Grand Prix and next week’s Skate America are the last two qualifying events for the Grand Prix Final.

While the top U.S. stars go next week, the competition in Grenoble will sort out plenty before Skate America.

Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA will air live coverage, which will also stream for subscribers on NBCSports.com/live, the NBC Sports app, OlympicChannel.com and the Olympic Channel app.

Internationaux de France broadcast schedule
Friday

Women’s Short — 9-10:30 a.m. | SKATE ORDER | STREAM LINK
Short Dance — 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. | SKATE ORDER | STREAM LINK
Pairs Short — 12:30-2 p.m. | SKATE ORDER | STREAM LINK
Men’s Short — 2-4 p.m. | SKATE ORDER | STREAM LINK

Saturday
Women’s Free — 7:30-9:30 a.m. | SKATE ORDER | STREAM LINK
Free Dance — 9:30-11 a.m. | SKATE ORDER | STREAM LINK
Pairs Free — 1-2:30 p.m. | SKATE ORDER | STREAM LINK
Men’s Free — 3-5 p.m. | SKATE ORDER | STREAM LINK

MORE: Figure skating season broadcast schedule

Men
The rest of this fall is an opportunity for the new generation of male skaters. It starts this weekend with Shoma Uno, the diminutive, soft-spoken, baby-faced 19-year-old whose demeanor belies his athleticism.

Uno, the world’s second-best skater last season, has undoubtedly been No. 1 this fall. He’s the only man to break 300 points this season, which he did in both of his competitions in September (five quadruple jumps in a free skate) and October (four quads in a free).

A top-three finish Saturday puts Uno in a third straight Grand Prix Final.

His top challenger is two-time world champ Javier Fernandez, who is virtually assured of missing the Grand Prix Final for just the second time in six seasons. The Spaniard was shockingly sixth at his Grand Prix debut in China two weeks ago, reportedly slowed by a stomach bug. It was his worst Grand Prix finish in seven years.

There is a chance that two men from this field aside from Uno make their first Grand Prix Final.

If American Max Aaron, Israel’s Alexei Bychenko or Russian Alexander Samarin is runner-up to Uno or Fernandez this week, he’s likely into the six-skater final pending how Skate America shakes out.

Also watch Vincent Zhou, the U.S. silver medalist and world junior champion. Zhou came into this season as a favorite to grab one of the three U.S. Olympic men’s spots. He fell three times in his Grand Prix debut two weeks ago and is fighting with Aaron, Jason Brown and Adam Rippon for spots behind Nathan Chen going toward nationals.

Women
Perhaps the two biggest threats to Olympic favorite Yevgenia Medvedeva square off in Grenoble — Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond (world silver medalist) and Russian Alina Zagitova (world junior champion).

Each skater won her first Grand Prix start last month. A top-three finish for either this week is enough for a Grand Prix Final spot.

Osmond, 21, followed her surprise world silver medal from last season with personal-best short program and free skate scores at her first two events this fall.

Zagitova, 15, has scores this season bettered only by training partner Medvedeva.

American Polina Edmunds is a long shot for the podium here, but she could really use a decent performance.

Edmunds, the youngest U.S. Olympian across all sports in Sochi, competed for the first time in 20 months at a small event in October. She was 13th with three falls and eight under-rotated jumps. This is likely her last event before nationals in January, where she is looking like a big underdog to make the three-woman Olympic team.

Pairs
With every competition, China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong seem to be cementing Olympic favorite status. With the Chinese now qualified for the Grand Prix Final, this week is an opportunity for the top Russian pair to answer.

Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov won the two biggest events before worlds last season — the Grand Prix Final and Europeans. At worlds, Tarasova sliced her leg on Morozov’s skate in a practice accident hours before the short program. Ten stitches later, they went on win their first world medal — a bronze.

Tarasova and Morozov opened this season by winning a Grand Prix in Russia with the highest score in the world for the season. Sui and Han then topped it by 6.82 points two weeks ago and went even higher last week in their two events before December’s Grand Prix Final.

A top three puts Tarasova and Morozov back in the Grand Prix Final. They’re strong favorites this week, with the biggest challenge coming from France’s Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres.

The lone American pair in the field — U.S. silver medalists Marissa Castelli and Mervin Tran — are not eligible for the Olympics due to Tran not being a U.S. citizen.

Ice Dance
France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron injected suspense into the Olympic ice dance picture two weeks ago by breaking the world record total score.

That record had been held by Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who bettered the mark four times in an 11-month stretch from November 2016 to last month.

Virtue and Moir, Olympic gold medalists in 2010 and silver medalists in 2014, are undefeated in their comeback after taking the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons off. That included three wins over Papadakis and Cizeron, the 2015 and 2016 World champs, last season.

But last week, Virtue and Moir were unable to challenge Papadakis and Cizeron’s world record. If the French can score 199 or 200 points again this week, they arguably enter the Grand Prix Final as favorites.

There’s more drama ahead this week. Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje are likely battling for second place and a guaranteed Grand Prix Final spot.

Weaver and Poje outscored Chock and Bates by 5.51 points at each couple’s first Grand Prix last month, though they were not at the same events.

A third-place finish by either couple would put them in a tiebreaker scenario with Russians Yekaterina Bobrova and Dmitry Soloviyev for the last Grand Prix Final spot.

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Yuzuru Hanyu to miss Japan Figure Skating Championships

Yuzuru Hanyu
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Yuzuru Hanyu, the reigning Olympic and world figure skating champion, will miss his national championships this week due to ankle and knee injuries suffered in a Nov. 9 practice fall, according to Japanese media citing the Japan Skating Federation.

Hanyu can (and very likely will) be named to Japan’s three-man Olympic team despite missing nationals.

Hanyu has reportedly been off the ice for more than one month since the fall.

“It is an important selection competition, and the Olympics are a big goal, so with that in mind we would like to think things through together,” Japan Skating Federation director Yoshiko Kobayashi said last week, according to Kyodo News.

Hanyu, who turned 23 on Dec. 7, fell on a quadruple Lutz attempted and then favored his right ankle in a Nov. 9 practice at a Grand Prix event (video here).

He skated the run-through for his free skate, although he elected not to do any more jumps.

“I have been told by the doctor that I need 10 days of complete rest,” Hanyu said in a statement on Nov. 12, according to Kyodo. “Following that, it will take three to four weeks to return and get back to where I was.”

Hanyu and world silver medalist Shoma Uno are favored to lead Japan’s Olympic men’s figure skating team. The third spot is likely to go to Takahito Mura or Keiji Tanaka.

Hanyu competed twice this season.

He posted a world-record short program score in his debut at a small September event in Canada, but struggled to fifth place in the free skate and finished second overall behind two-time world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain.

He then finished second to U.S. champion Nathan Chen at the first Grand Prix event of the season in Moscow in October. Chen is the only undefeated skater this season.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Matt, Becca Hamilton are first U.S. Olympic mixed doubles curling team

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A brother and sister from Wisconsin will be the busiest athletes at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

A month ago the Hamilton siblings, Matt and Becca, qualified to compete at the Olympics with the U.S. men’s and women’s curling teams, and today they also qualified to play as a mixed doubles team.

With a win over two of their teammates, John Shuster (skip of Matt’s four-man team) and Cory Christensen (alternate on Becca’s four-woman team), at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for mixed doubles curling, the Hamiltons earned the opportunity to curl on potentially every day of the Olympics.

The Hamiltons will start their Olympic competitions with the mixed doubles tournament on Thursday, Feb. 8, the day before the the Opening Ceremony marks the official beginning of the Olympics. When mixed doubles wraps up on Tuesday the 13th, they’ll start playing separately in the men’s and women’s tournaments on Wednesday the 14th. The traditional curling tournaments go until Sunday, Feb. 25, the day of the Closing Ceremony.

Of course, if one of their teams doesn’t advance past the round-robin rounds to the semifinals and medal games, they’ll have some time off. But if they do go all the way to the gold medal matches, it’ll mean 18 straight days of competition for the Hamiltons.

Matt and Becca showed their readiness during the Olympic Trials. They had the second-best record of the round-robin stage, 5-2, then beat Shuster and Christensen twice in two days to win the Olympic berth. The score of the final was 6-5.

After the match, the siblings–who say their partnership works because they can be brutally honest on the ice–had nothing but kind words for each other.

Becca, the younger Hamilton by a year and a half, said her older brother “taught me everything I know.”

Matt then said of Becca, “it’s been impressive to watch her grow up and become the superstar she is now.”

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