Dana Vollmer

Ryan Lochte, Missy Franklin advance to semifinals; Dana Vollmer goes for gold at swimming world championships

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Ryan Lochte and Missy Franklin safely advanced in their first individual swims of the world championships in Barcelona Monday morning.

Lochte qualified joint ninth, taking it easy in the final 50 meters, into Monday evening’s 200-meter freestyle semifinals. Franklin was the top qualifier into the 100 backstroke semis. They’re both favored to reach the eight-swimmer finals Tuesday night.

Lochte, who won silver as part of the 4×100 free relay Sunday, will be looking to defend his world title in the 200 free, which used to be one of the deepest events in men’s swimming during the Michael Phelps era. There isn’t much competition left now outside of French Olympic champion Yannick Agnel. Lochte is in seven overall events in Barcelona, the busiest program at a major international meet in his career.

Franklin is in the second of her planned eight events after helping the U.S. women to gold in the 4×100 free relay Sunday. She’s the Olympic champion in the 100 back but didn’t swim it at 2011 worlds.

In other notable prelim swims Monday, Lithuanian Olympic champion Ruta Meilutyte nearly broke Jessica Hardy‘s world record in the 100 breaststroke. American Katie Ledecky, who won the 400 free Sunday, came back to qualify second into Tuesday’s final of the 1,500 free, a non-Olympic event. Ledecky could win four golds at her first worlds.

In addition to Lochte and Franklin in semifinals, four finals are on the docket Monday (noon ET, Universal Sports) — men’s 100 breast (with U.S. and NCAA champion Kevin Cordes), women’s 100 butterfly (with Olympic champion Dana Vollmer), men’s 50 butterfly and the women’s 200 individual medley (with Olympic champion Ye Shiwen).

NBC, Universal Sports broadcast schedule | Live results | Men’s preview | Women’s preview

Here’s the order of events in Monday’s evening session:

Men’s 100 Breaststroke Final

Field
1. Christian Sprenger (AUS) 59.23
2. Kevin Cordes (USA) 59.78
2. Cameron van der Burgh (RSA) 59.78
4. Damir Dugonjic (SLO) 59.80
5. Felipe Lima (BRA) 59.84
5. Nicolas Fink (USA) 59.84
7. Fabio Scozzoli (ITA) 59.90
8. Kosuke Kitajima (JPN) 59.92

Preview
The Olympic silver medalist Sprenger is a heavy favorite. He’s been three-quarters of a second faster than everyone this year, posting a 59.05 at the Australian championships in April and the three fastest times in the world overall. The silver and bronze are up for grabs with Cordes, van der Burgh and Scozzoli the favorites. The U.S. and NCAA champion Cordes, 19, swam a lifetime best in the semifinals. Van der Burgh is the reigning Olympic champion. Scozzoli is ranked No. 2 this year and took silver at 2011 worlds.

Medal Picks
Gold: Sprenger (AUS)
Silver: van der Burgh (RSA)
Bronze: Cordes (USA)

Women’s 100 Butterfly Final

Field
1. Sarah Sjostrom (SWE) 57.10
2. Jeanette Ottesen Gray (DEN) 57.19
3. Alicia Coutts (AUS) 57.49
4. Dana Vollmer (USA) 57.84
5. Noemie Ip-Ting Thomas (CAN) 57.99
6. Katerine Savard (CAN) 58.00
7. Ilaria Bianchi (ITA) 58.29
8. Claire Donahue (USA) 58.44

Preview
The medals will likely be shared among the top four qualifiers. Vollmer’s status as favorite took a hit in the semifinals Sunday night. After, she said she had been dealing with an illness. She’s the defending world champion, reigning Olympic champion and the world-record holder. Sjostrom, who won the 2009 world title at age 15, posted the fastest time in the world this year in the semis. Ottesen Gray, the 2011 world champ in the 100 free, has never finished better than sixth in this event at a major international meet. Coutts swam three events Sunday night and burst into tears after the 4×100 free relay, where she was passed on anchor by American Megan Romano. Coutts is the reigning Olympic bronze medalist and world silver medalist.

Medal Picks
Gold: Vollmer (USA)
Silver: Sjostrom (SWE)
Bronze: Coutts (AUS)

Men’s 100 Backstroke Semifinals

Field
1. Ashley Delaney (AUS) 53.60
2. David Plummer (USA) 53.62
3. Jiayu Xu (CHN) 53.63
4. Ryosuke Irie (JPN) 53.66
5. Jeremy Stravius (FRA) 53.85
6. Matt Grevers (USA) 53.92
7. Kosuke Hagino (JPN) 53.94
8. Laszlo Cseh (HUN) 54.06
9. Bastiaan Lijesen (NED) 54.07
10. Radoslaw Kawecki (POL) 54.20
10. Camille Lacourt (FRA) 54.20
12. Christopher Walkerhebborn (GBR) 54.23
13. Feiyi Cheng (CHN) 54.30
14. Gareth Kean (NZL) 54.37
15. Darren Murray (RSA) 54.64
16. Charles Francis (CAN) 54.72

Preview
Delaney is the fastest qualifier, but he’s still just the ninth fastest man this year. Plummer, who beat Olympic champion Grevers at nationals in June, is looking to better his fifth-place finish at 2011 worlds. He’s tied for second fastest in the world this year with the Japanese teen sensation Hagino, silver medalist in the 400 free Sunday. The No. 1 man in 2013 is Stravius, who anchored the French 4×100 free relay team to gold Sunday. Stravius and Lacourt shared the world title in 2011. All the medal contenders advanced out of prelims.

Women’s 100 Breaststroke Semifinals

Field
1. Ruta Meilutyte (LTU) 1:04.52
2. Jessica Hardy (USA) 1:05.18
3. Yuliya Efimoiva (RUS) 1:05.24
4. Rikke Moller Pedersen (DEN) 1:06.30
5. Viktoriya Solnceva (UKR) 1:06.79
6. Breeja Larson (USA) 1:06.83
7. Marina Garcia Urzainqui (ESP) 1:07.18
8. Jennie Johansson (SWE) 1:07.21
9. Sally Foster (AUS) 1:07.59
10. Alia Atkinson (JAM) 1:07.76
11. Satomi Suzuki (JPN) 1:07.79
12. Fiona Doyle (IRL) 1:07.88
13. Petra Chocova (CZE) 1:08.18
14. Moniek Nijhuis (NED) 1:08.29
15. Samantha Marshall (AUS) 1:08.33
16. Kim Janssens (BEL) 1:08.36

Preview
Meilutyte, the surprise Olympic champion at age 15, came within .07 of Hardy’s world record in Monday morning’s prelims. If she doesn’t break the world record in the semifinals, she probably will in the final. Two-time reigning world champion Rebecca Soni is not swimming this year, leaving Hardy and Larson to carry the U.S. hopes. They’re both in the top five in the world this year, should make the final and will fight with Efimova and Pedersen for silver and bronze.

Men’s 50 Butterfly Final
1. Nicholas Santos (BRA) 22.81
2. Cesar Cielo (BRA) 22.86
3. Yauhen Tsurkin (BLR) 22.90
4. Frederick Bousquet (FRA) 22.93
5. Andril Govorov (UKR) 22.97
6. Steffen Diebler (GER) 23.02
7. Florent Manaudou (FRA) 23.15
8. Eugene Godsoe (USA) 23.16

Preview
Only one U.S. man (retired Ian Crocker) has medaled in this non-Olympic event since it was introduced at worlds in 2001. Godsoe will have a tough time making the podium here, but he’s got a shot given how bunched the field is. The Brazilians are one-two favorites but the order is debatable. Cielo, the world-record holder in the 50 and 100 free, is the defending world champion.

Medal Picks
Gold: Cielo (BRA)
Silver: Santos (BRA)
Bronze: Bousquet (FRA)

Women’s 100 Backstroke Semifinals

source: AP
AP

Field
1. Missy Franklin (USA) 59.13
2. Katinka Hosszu (HUN) 59.40 — WILL REPORTEDLY SCRATCH
3. Elizabeth Pelton (USA) 59.94
4. Yuanhui Fu (CHN) 1:00.01
5. Emily Seebohm (AUS) 1:00.02
6. Simona Baumrtova (CZE) 1:00.05
7. Aya Terakawa (JPN) 1:00.09
8. Sinead Russell (CAN) 1:00.17
9. Belinda Hocking (AUS) 1:00.39
10. Daryna Zevina (UKR) 1:00.43
11. Cloe Credeville (FRA) 1:00.70
12. Duane Da Roche Marce (ESP) 1:00.80
13. Yanxin Zhou (CHN) 1:00.99
14. Mercedes Peris Minguet (ESP) 1:01.19
15. Lauren Quigley (GBR) 1:01.23
16. Karin Prinsloo (RSA) 1:01.25

Preview
Only one woman was within a half-second of Franklin in Monday morning’s prelims, and only one woman has been within a half-second of her this year. Expect her to be the top qualifier into Tuesday’s final. Franklin, 18, swept the backstrokes at the Olympics but didn’t swim the 100 at the last world championships. The Hungarian Hosszu will reportedly scratch out of the semifinals, making Franklin an even bigger favorite. Pelton didn’t make the Olympic team in this event and was eliminated in the semifinals at 2011 worlds. Seebohm and Terakawa, the Olympic silver and bronze medalists, are the second and third fastest women in the world this year. The 2011 world champion, Zhao Jing of China, was not entered in the event.

Men’s 200 Freestyle Semifinals

source: Getty Images
Getty Images

Field
1. Robbie Renwick (GBR) 1:46.88
2. Nicolas Oliveira (BRA) 1:46.99
3. Sebastiaan Verschuren (NED) 1:47.24
4. Kosuke Hagino (JPN) 1:47.33
5. Cameron McEvoy (AUS) 1:47.34
6. Yannick Agnel (FRA) 1:47.40
7. Danila Izotov (RUS) 1:47.76
8. Pieter Timmers (BEL) 1:47.89
9. Ryan Lochte (USA) 1:47.90
9. Conor Dwyer (USA) 1:47.90
11. Matthew Stanley (NZL) 1:48.01
12. Thomas Fraser-Holmes (AUS) 1:48.05
13. Velimir Stjepanovic (SRB) 1:48.12
14. Yunqi Li (CHN) 1:48.18
15. Shun Wang (CHN) 1:48.19
16. Clemens Rapp (GER) 1:48.37

Preview
The medal contenders played it close to the vest in the prelims Monday morning. Throw away the seeds. The top qualifiers for Tuesday’s final should be the Olympic champion Agnel, the world champion Lochte and the 2013 world leader Izotov. Keep an eye on Hagino, too, who’s entered in six individual events. Two of the top four fastest men this year — Sun Yang and Jeremy Stravius — were not entered in this event. World record holder Paul Biedermann and Olympic silver medalist Park Tae-Hwan are not in Barcelona, and, of course, two-time world champion Michael Phelps is retired.

Women’s 200 Individual Medley Final

Field
1. Katinka Hosszu (HUN) 2:08.59
2. Ye Shiwen (CHN) 2:09.12
3. Alicia Coutts (AUS) 2:10.06
4. Sophie Allen (GBR) 2:10.23
5. Mireia Belmonte Garcia (ESP) 2:10.66
6. Emily Seebohm (AUS) 2:10.70 — WILL REPORTEDLY SCRATCH
7. Caitlin Leverenz (USA) 2:11.05
8. Zsuzsanna Jakabos (HUN) 2:11.21

Preview
It appears Ye won’t have as easy of a final as she did in the Olympics, where she swept the individual medleys. Hosszu bettered the Chinese teenager and defending world champ in both the prelims and the semis and must be considered the favorite now. Everybody else is probably looking for bronze, led by the Olympic and world silver medalist Coutts. The Aussie will be swimming her second final of the night. Leverenz won bronze at the Olympics and, despite her seed, is the fourth fastest woman this year.

Medal Picks
Gold: Hosszu (HUN)
Silver: Ye (CHN)
Bronze: Coutts (AUS)

Video: Phelps answers questions on comeback speculation

Cain and LeDuc target world top 5, starting at Skate America

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Don’t tell Ashley Cain-Gribble, even gingerly, that there’s been a lull in U.S. pairs’ international results the past few years. She isn’t buying it.

“I would not say there’s a lull,” Cain-Gribble said after Thursday’s practice at Skate America in Las Vegas. “If you look at the last two years, there are a lot of international medals coming from pairs.”

True, to an extent. Cain-Gribble and partner Timothy LeDuc took home a bronze medal at Skate America last season, and last month they won the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic in Salt Lake City, defeating out-of-form Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, three-time World medalists from Russia. Their U.S. teammates Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim also opened the 2019-2020 campaign strong, with a silver medal at Nebelhorn Trophy.

Still, a U.S. pair hasn’t stood on a world championships podium since 2002, and no U.S. pair has ever won a medal at the Grand Prix Final.

“I think it’s all coming down to doing it at the right moment and I think we’re all going to be doing that,” Cain-Gribble said. “We’re technically strong, all of us.”

The skater’s coach and father, Peter Cain, thinks “nervy” errors have cost U.S. pairs big on the international stage.

“We all want U.S. teams to be successful again,” Cain said. “Pushing Ashley and Tim to be good pushes all of the teams to be good. I’ve been watching practices; all of the teams can put it together at the right moment, but we often see teams getting a little nervy and making mistakes. At this level you can’t do that.”

Cain-Gribble and LeDuc have set an ambitious goal: Finish in the world’s top five. Last season, their bronze medal at Skate America helped pave the way for the Texas-based duo’s first U.S. title and a top-10 finish at the 2019 World Figure Skating Championships; this week, they’re shooting for another medal, maybe silver or gold.

“This is one step, nationals another, and Worlds is the final step,” LeDuc said.

MORE: How to watch Skate America

They’re doing all they can to get there. About three years ago, U.S. Figure Skating enlisted Nina Mozer, coach of Russian World and European medalists including Olympic champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov, to visit U.S. pairs’ training sites and offer expertise at pairs’ camps and seminars, including this summer’s Champs Camp.

Mozer works with several top U.S. pairs, but has formed an especially close partnership with Cain-Gribble and LeDuc. She’s coaching them here in Vegas, alongside Peter Cain.

“I’m learning a lot, too, about better planning, better ways to train. She’s really good at that, and that’s why her teams are on top,” Cain said. “I kind of stand aside and let her run the show a lot when she’s with us, and part of it for me is to learn how she handles teams in competition….That makes me a better coach in the long run for all of my students, because her mannerisms are rubbing off (on me).”

Mozer thinks Cain-Gribble and LeDuc’s goals are within reach – if they can reign in their competitive juices and skate within themselves.

“It is not possible to get to the podium immediately but step-by-step they can reach the goal,” she said through an interpreter.

“During this season they are making all of the elements well, the key thing is do not rush. I’m worried that the audience is expecting a lot, and they have to forget about that and do their work. When expectations are so high, sometimes it’s hard to concentrate and very easy to be nervous.”

Cain-Gribble and LeDuc, who teamed up in May 2016, are both strong single skaters. They use their long lines – Cain-Gribble is 5-foot-6, while LeDuc is 6’1” – to their advantage, and each season have targeted areas for improvement.

During their 2018/2019 campaign, they upgraded their triple twist, making it a high-scoring (Level 4) element.

“When U.S. Figure Skating spoke to me, one of the first things (they did) was asking me to work on the twist lift,” Mozer said. “They came up to me and said, ‘Please do something.’”

This summer, the skaters attended Mozer’s camp in Italy, where the focus was overall packaging.

“It’s a really intense camp up in the Alps,” LeDuc said at Champs Camp in August. “For the most part, we really focus on our overall packaging, and speed and power through everything. With our goal top five at the World’s this year, we’re trying to do everything we can to make that happen.”

The skaters also targeted another element: their lifts. To add difficulty (and points), LeDuc is lifting and holding aloft his partner with one arm, while Cain-Gribble’s arms remain free.

“That’s the biggest difference you’ll see this year, I think,” Cain-Gribble said at Champs Camp. “Pretty much all of our lifts are one point of contact, so I’m not holding on (to LeDuc) at all.”

“I think that when we teamed up, it was one of the things people saw as our weakness,” she added. “The thought was with my height, we wouldn’t be able to do all these intricate positions, or do the one point of contact, but we’ve made our bodies strong enough to be able to do that.”

Mozer acknowledges helping the pair with their lifts, but refuses to share too many particulars.

“It’s the secrets of the coaching staff,” she said, laughing. “We knew the problems of the (lifts) and we understood what to do, and now they have no problems. They changed some things. Timothy did a lot of work to make this element better and better.”

Skating isn’t all that’s been on the agenda. Ashley married Dalton Gribble on June 1, balancing much of her off-season with wedding and honeymoon plans.

“The way we got through it, was we scheduled everything in advance,” Cain-Gribble said. “We (choreographed) our short program in the two weeks we were in Japan between Worlds and World Team Trophy, and that made up for time we would have lost. It came down to scheduling.”

The bride doesn’t think she sacrificed anything.

“I was able to take in every emotion for this big life event,” she said. “I got married and the team around me let me relax a little bit and take it all in, instead of stressing about training and run-throughs.”

Opportunity may be knocking here in Vegas. Natalia Zabiyako and Alexander Enbert of Russia, the reigning world bronze medalists, withdrew from the event due to injury. China’s Peng Cheng and Jin Yang, who won silver at last season’s Grand Prix Final, are the top-ranked pair at Skate America; Cain and LeDuc defeated them in Salt Lake City.

Mozer, who also coaches Zabiiako and Enbert, would like nothing more than to see her U.S. students atop the podium.

“When I started to work with international pairs, it was interesting for me to help raise the level of pairs skating,” she said. “We were hearing pairs’ skating is weak, it’s not interesting anymore. I want (pairs) to be as strong as singles and ice dance. We will reach that result if everyone is stronger.”

MORE: Nathan Chen calls 3 quads at Skate America ‘a given’

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Check out a free trial of the Figure Skating Pass during Skate America from Oct. 18-20. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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Figure skating Grand Prix: Five things to watch

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World champions Nathan Chen and Alina Zagitova. Former U.S. champions Karen Chen and Bradie Tennell. Two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu and world bronze medalist Vincent Zhou. World champion ice dancers Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, and two-time U.S. ice dance champions/world championship medalists Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue. Quads, quads, quads.

All of these skaters and jumps will be featured in figure skating’s Grand Prix, which runs from this weekend’s Skate America to the Grand Prix Final Dec. 5-8 at the 2006 Olympic venue of Torino, Italy. January has the U.S. Championships and European Championships, February has the Four Continents Championships, and the season wraps up with the world championships in March.

TV SCHEDULE: How to watch Skate America

Here’s what to watch over the next two months:

1. Dominant dancers due for defeat? 

France’s Papadakis and Cizeron have won four of the last five world championships. The only duo to beat them since 2014, Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moirhas officially retired. They’re still in their mid-20s. They posted the four highest scores last season.

The reigning world championship silver medalists, Russia’s Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov, had a major breakthrough last season. Until last season, they had never won the Russian championships, never skated in a Grand Prix Final, never finished higher than fourth in the European championships and never finished higher than ninth in the world championships. They still haven’t won a medal in the European championships or won a Grand Prix event. Were their second-place finishes in the world championships and Grand Prix Final a fluke or a sign that they’re ready to challenge for the top?

The top U.S. contenders, Madison Chock/Evan Bates and Madison Hubbell/Zach Donohue, train in Montreal with Papadakis and Cizeron, so they know what it takes to get to the top. Hubbell and Donohue posted the highest scores after the French champions and Russian runners-up last year to take their second straight world championship medal and a win at the Grand Prix Final ahead of Sinitsina/Katsalapov. Chock and Bates earned world championship medals in the middle of the decade and finished sixth last year as Chock returned from a long injury layoff.

Oddsmakers would surely favor Papadakis and Cizeron in every competition, but will the underdogs have their day?

The GP schedule for the top dancers and U.S. entries:

  • Skate America: Hubbell/Donohue, Christina Carreira/Anthony Ponomarenko, Caroline Green/Michael Parsons
  • Skate Canada: Hubbell/Donohue, Green/Parsons, Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker
  • Internationaux de France: Papadakis/Cizeron, Chock/Bates
  • Cup of China: Sinitsina/Katsalapov, Chock/Bates, Hawayek/Baker
  • Rostelecom Cup: Sinitsina/Katsalapov
  • NHK Trophy: Papadakis/Cizeron, Carreira/Ponomarenko, Lorraine McNamara/Quinn Carpenter

2. Can Vincent Zhou topple Chen and Hanyu?

The 2017 world junior champion has steadily and rapidly climbed the ranks since moving to senior level, taking sixth in the 2018 Olympics and third in the 2019 Four Continents before laying down two stunners, taking third in the world championships and posting a score of 299.01 in the World Team Trophy, a mark bested only by Chen and Hanyu.

This season, after spending his youth in Colorado and California, he’ll go across the country to start college at Brown.

Chen and Hanyu have been over the 300-point mark, and Japan’s Shoma Uno is consistently over 275 — the only skater other than Chen, Hanyu and Zhou to beat that standard last season. (Uno, the 2018 Olympic silver medalist and two-time world championship runner-up, picked a bad time to fall just under 275 — the world championships, where he finished fourth behind the other three high scorers.)

The GP schedule for the top men’s skaters and U.S. entries:

  • Skate America: Chen, Jason Brown, Alexei Krasnozhon
  • Skate Canada: Hanyu, Camden Pulkinen
  • Internationaux de France: Uno, Chen, Tomoki Hiwatashi
  • Cup of China: Pulkinen, Zhou
  • Rostelecom Cup: Uno, Zhou, Krasnozhon
  • NHK Trophy: Hanyu, Brown, Hiwatashi

MORE: Zhou balances Brown University with overseas assignments

3. Can the Tampa-trained pair of Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès follow up their big year?

James has taken a long and winding road to the top of the pairs world. She was born in Canada, then lived in Bermuda and Virginia before competing as a singles skater for Britain. When she moved to pairs, she also switched to France to partner first with Yannick Bonheur and then Ciprès.

For several years, the pair won the French championship but not much else. In the 2017-18 season, they earned a couple of Grand Prix medals and placed fifth in the Olympics before claiming their biggest international prize to date, a bronze medal in the world championships.

Last year, the pair went on a hot streak. They won Skate Canada. They won the Internationaux de France. They won the Grand Prix Final. They won the European championship. Finally, their streak ended at a bad time, and they took fifth in the world championships.

Olympic silver medalists Sui Wenjing and Han Cong won their second world championship last season after missing the GP season because of Han’s foot injury. Russia’s Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov were second in the world championships.

U.S. champions Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy Leduc skated in the U.S. Classic last month and posted a higher score than any of their compatriots last year. The previous champions, Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim, were seventh last year. The last two U.S. champions — Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier and Tarah Kayne/Danny O’Shea — also are continuing to compete this year.

The GP schedule for the top pairs and U.S. entries:

  • Skate America: Cain-Gribble/Leduc, Denney/Frazier, Jessica Calalang/Brian Johnson
  • Skate Canada: Tarasova/Morozov, Scimeca Knierim/Knierim, Calalang/Johnson
  • Internationaux de France: Cain-Gribble/Leduc, Denney/Frazier
  • Cup of China: Sui/Han, Kayne/O’Shea
  • Rostelecom Cup: Tarasova/Morozov, Audrey Lu/Misha Mitrofanov
  • NHK Trophy: Sui/Han, Kayne/O’Shea, Scimeca Knierim/Knierim

4. How many more young quad-jumping Russians can women’s skating handle? 

Zagitova is the defending world champion, and she isn’t even the Russian with the biggest buzz heading into the new season.

Back-to-back world junior champion Alexandra Trusova is the first woman to land a quadruple Lutz in competition. She’s also the first to land a quad toeloop. She landed two quads in one program at the 2018 world juniors, and she has done three in an unofficial skate this fall. She’s only 15. Her free skate this season includes music from “Game of Thrones.”

Anna Shcherbakova, also 15, has landed a quadruple Lutz and was second in last year’s world juniors, and she upset Trusova and Zagitova to win the Russian championship.

Trusova and Shcherbakova both lost in last year’s junior Grand Prix Final to yet another Russian, Alena Kostornaia, who’s 16 now and has the good taste to skate to the Muse song “Supermassive Black Hole” in her free skate.

Kostornaia, Trusova and Shcherbakova will make their senior-level Grand Prix debuts this season. Trusova already has competed this year and posted the highest score recorded under the new scoring system, just ahead of prior marks from Zagitova and Kostornaia.

5. Can the U.S. women put it together this year? 

Chen and Zhou give the U.S. men two legitimate medal threats in any competition, and the U.S. ice dance machine continues to spin forth contenders. But women’s skating has been in a long dry spell since the era of Michelle Kwan, Tara Lipinski, Sarah Hughes and Sasha Cohen ended. Ashley Wagner, the last U.S. woman on the podium in a major event, has retired.

Today, 2018 U.S. champion Bradie Tennell has shown she’s capable of big numbers, but cracking the top five has been difficult.

The reigning U.S. champion, Alysa Liu, is age eligible for only the Junior Grand Prix series. She’s 14, and she has already posted a score higher than any U.S. woman other than Tennell posted last year.

The good news for the U.S. women is the return of 2017 U.S. champion Karen Chen after an injury-riddled 2018-19 season. Like Zhou, she’s heading to an Ivy League school, enrolling at Cornell.

Two-time U.S. medalist Mariah Bell and the ever-entertaining Starr Andrews also have two Grand Prix assignments this season.

Ting Cui, the bronze medalist after Trusova and Shcherbakova in the 2019 world junior championships, withdrew from her Grand Prix events with an ankle injury.

The GP schedule for the top women and U.S. entries:

  • Skate America: Shcherbakova, Chen, Tennell, Amber Glenn
  • Skate Canada: Trusova, Tennell
  • Internationaux de France: Zagitova, Kostornaia, Andrews, Bell
  • Cup of China: Shcherbakova
  • Rostelecom Cup: Trusova, Bell
  • NHK Trophy: Zagitova, Kostornaia, Chen, Andrews, Megan Wessenberg

MORE: Tennell on self-doubt, lessons learned in 2019

MORE: Figure skating season broadcast schedule

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Check out a free trial of the Figure Skating Pass during Skate America from Oct. 18-20. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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