Key information for Skate Canada

Patrick Chan
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The second Grand Prix figure skating event of the Olympic season will feature battles between two men with Olympic gold-medal hopes and three U.S. women in contention for Olympic spots and the biggest threat to Meryl Davis and Charlie White.

Skate Canada in St. John, New Brunswick, begins Friday. Here’s the schedule (all times Eastern):

Friday
Pairs short program, 2-3:10
Women’s short program, 3:35-4:50
Short dance, 7-8:10
Men’s short program, 8:30-9:50.

Saturday
Pairs free skate, 12-1:25
Women’s free skate, 2:15-3:40
Free dance, 4:30-5:45
Men’s free skate, 7:10-8:50.

NBC will provide coverage from 4-6 on Sunday.

Here are storylines for each event:

Men’s

Olympic favorite Patrick Chan, the three-time reigning world champion, makes his Grand Prix season debut against a Japanese teenager who could be his biggest challenger come Sochi.

Chan, 22, took second at 2012 Skate Canada to Spain’s Javier Fernandez, after winning in 2010 and 2011. The Olympics are more than three months away, but he’s already feeling pressure to win Canada’s first Olympic men’s figure skating title.

He hopes competing in front of home fans will help him get into a groove for the Olympic season. Chan is keeping his world-record short program from last season and reverting his free skate music to what he skated to before he became an Olympian (he was fifth in Vancouver). The free skate reportedly begins with back-to-back quadruple jumps.

Chan’s phone call with Sidney Crosby

At Skate Canada, Chan could be challenged by Yuzuru Hanyu, who previously held the short program world record.

Hanyu, 18, finished third and fourth at the last two World Championships and is at the top of a deep crop of Japanese skaters. He could have challenged for gold at the World Championships in March if not for a fall in a disastrous ninth-place short program.

Hanyu, who reportedly crawled out of his home rink in Japan during a 2011 earthquake and does not own a cell phone, now trains with 1988 Olympic silver medalist Brian Orser in Toronto.

He’s one of few men who can land a quadruple Salchow and landed two quads and two triple Axels in his free skate to easily win Finlandia Trophy earlier this month.

The three-man American contingent is composed of three-time U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott, reigning U.S. silver medalist Ross Miner and reigning world junior champion Josh Farris.

All three are in contention for two men’s Olympic spots to be named after the U.S. Championships in Boston in January. Three other contenders, Max Aaron, Adam Rippon and Jason Brown did not perform exceptionally at Skate America. A strong performance in Canada could push Abbott, Miner or Farris closer to favorite status, though it’s still very early.

Abbott, 28, won Skate Canada in 2009 before a disappointing ninth-place finish at the Vancouver Olympics.

Women’s 

Reigning Olympic and world champion Yuna Kim was supposed to compete in St. John but pulled out last month with a foot injury.

Without the Olympic favorite, the major storyline will be on the three U.S. women — Gracie GoldChristina Gao and Courtney Hicks.

All three harbor hopes of making the U.S. Olympic team, which will have three women’s spots. Two-time reigning national champion Ashley Wagner, second at Skate America last week, is the favorite for one spot. Gold, Gao and Hicks are in contention as well, along with Agnes Zawadzki.

Gold, 18, will compete for the first time since teaming with the venerable Frank Carroll, who coaches Evan Lysacek and was the long-time coach of Michelle Kwan. Before switching to Carroll, Gold had a disappointing season debut at the U.S. International Classic in Salt Lake City in September.

Gold begins skating with Carroll

Hicks, 17, stepped up to upset Gold at the U.S. International Classic and entered Skate Canada as a replacement for the injured Kim. She placed fourth at her first senior National Championships in January, behind Wagner, Gold and Zawadzki and ahead of Gao.

We’re still waiting for Gao’s domestic breakout. She’s been fifth at the last four National Championships. Her senior career highlight came at the Four Continents Championship in February, where she was fourth, the top U.S. finisher ahead of Gold and Zawadzki.

Wagner looked strong in debuting her triple-triple combination at Skate America. The question is if Gold, Hicks and Gao can somewhat keep pace Friday and Saturday.

Ice Dance

Meryl Davis and Charlie White won their 13th straight Grand Prix event at Skate America last week, but that title came without the competition of rivals and training partners, Canadian Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.

Virtue and Moir make their Grand Prix season debut this weekend against a field that doesn’t include Davis and White. It’s hard to see them not winning in St. John. The other top couple, Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, were fourth and fifth at the last two World Championships.

Virtue and Moir, who will have their own TV show debuting in January, hope the start of this season goes smoother than last year when Moir was sidelined by a neck injury. Davis and White beat Virtue and Moir at the three biggest competitions last season — World Championships, Grand Prix Final and Four Continents.

The Canadians won Finlandia Trophy (again, without Davis and White) by 25 points, but the Toronto Maple Leafs fan Moir said they were 30 points behind their overall scoring goal.

It’s on Virtue and Moir to come out strong separately and then potentially challenge Davis and White at the Grand Prix Final in December to make the Sochi Olympics interesting.

The U.S. ice dancing entry at Skate Canada is Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, who are in contention for one of three ice dance Olympic spots.

Pairs

Like in ice dance, the top two pairs couples in the world are pretty defined — Russia’s Tatiana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov and Germany’s Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy.

They are not in the Skate Canada field. Expect Canadian world bronze medalists Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford to prevail in their absence.

The U.S. pairs entered are Lindsay Davis and Rockne Brubaker and Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier.

Davis and Brubaker teamed up in February, after Davis finished fourth at the U.S. Championships with 2010 Olympian Mark Ladwig. Brubaker was a favorite to make the 2010 Olympic team with Keauna McLaughlin, but they were upset at the 2010 U.S. Championships. Davis and Brubaker were fifth at Nebelhorn Trophy in September.

The 2013 world junior champions Denney and Frazier were fifth at the U.S. Championships, but the top U.S. pairs — Caydee Denney and John Coughlin and Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir — can be caught. Both U.S. pairs at Skate Canada can make early statements this weekend.

Update on Plushenko’s Olympic training

Elena Fanchini, medal-winning Alpine skier, dies at 37

Elena Fanchini
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Elena Fanchini, an Italian Alpine skier whose career was cut short by a tumor, has died. She was 37.

Fanchini, the 2005 World downhill silver medalist at age 19, passed away Wednesday at her home in Solato, near Brescia, the Italian Winter Sports Federation announced.

Fanchini died on the same day that fellow Italian Marta Bassino won the super-G at the world championships in Meribel, France; and two days after Federica Brignone — another former teammate — claimed gold in the combined.

Sofia Goggia, who is the favorite for Saturday’s downhill, dedicated her World Cup win in Cortina d’Ampezzo last month to Fanchini.

Fanchini last raced in December 2017. She was cleared to return to train nearly a year later but never made it fully back, and her condition grew worse in recent months.

Fanchini won her world downhill silver medal in Italy in 2005, exactly one month after her World Cup debut, an astonishing breakout.

Ten months later, she won a World Cup downhill in Canada with “Ciao Mamma” scribbled on face tape to guard against 1-degree temperatures. She was 20. Nobody younger than 21 has won a World Cup downhill since. Her second and final World Cup win, also a downhill, came more than nine years later.

In between her two World Cup wins, Fanchini raced at three Olympics with a best finish of 12th in the downhill in 2014. She missed the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics because of her condition.

Fanchini’s younger sisters Nadia and Sabrina were also World Cup racers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

USA Boxing to skip world championships

USA Boxing
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USA Boxing will not send boxers to this year’s men’s and women’s world championships, citing “the ongoing failures” of the IBA, the sport’s international governing body, that put boxing’s place on the Olympic program at risk.

The Washington Post first reported the decision.

In a letter to its members, USA Boxing Executive Director Mike McAtee listed many factors that led to the decision, including IBA governance issues, financial irregularities and transparency and that Russian and Belarusian boxers are allowed to compete with their flags.

IBA lifted its ban on Russian and Belarusian boxers in October and said it would allow their flags and anthems to return, too.

The IOC has not shifted from its recommendation to international sports federations last February that Russian and Belarusian athletes be barred, though the IOC and Olympic sports officials have been exploring whether those athletes could return without national symbols.

USA Boxing said that Russian boxers have competed at an IBA event in Morocco this month with their flags and are expected to compete at this year’s world championships under their flags.

“While sport is intended to be politically neutral, many boxers, coaches and other representatives of the Ukrainian boxing community were killed as a result of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, including coach Mykhaylo Korenovsky who was killed when a Russian missile hit an apartment block in January 2023,” according to the USA Boxing letter. “Ukraine’s sports infrastructure, including numerous boxing gyms, has been devastated by Russian aggression.”

McAtee added later that USA Boxing would still not send athletes to worlds even if Russians and Belarusians were competing as neutrals and without their flags.

“USA Boxing’s decision is based on the ‘totality of all of the factors,'” he said in an emailed response. “Third party oversite and fairness in the field of play is the most important factor.”

A message has been sent to the IBA seeking comment on USA Boxing’s decision.

The women’s world championships are in March in India. The men’s world championships are in May in Uzbekistan. They do not count toward 2024 Olympic qualifying.

In December, the IOC said recent IBA decisions could lead to “the cancellation of boxing” for the 2024 Paris Games.

Some of the already reported governance issues led to the IOC stripping IBA — then known as AIBA — of its Olympic recognition in 2019. AIBA had suspended all 36 referees and judges used at the 2016 Rio Olympics pending an investigation into a possible judging scandal, one that found that some medal bouts were fixed by “complicit and compliant” referees and judges.

The IOC ran the Tokyo Olympic boxing competition.

Boxing was not included on the initial program for the 2028 Los Angeles Games announced in December 2021, though it could still be added. The IBA must address concerns “around its governance, its financial transparency and sustainability and the integrity of its refereeing and judging processes,” IOC President Thomas Bach said then.

This past June, the IOC said IBA would not run qualifying competitions for the 2024 Paris Games.

In September, the IOC said it was “extremely concerned” about the Olympic future of boxing after an IBA extraordinary congress overwhelmingly backed Russian Umar Kremlev to remain as its president rather than hold an election.

Kremlev was re-elected in May after an opponent, Boris van der Vorst of the Netherlands, was barred from running against him. The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in June that van der Vorst should have been eligible to run against Kremlev, but the IBA group still decided not to hold a new election.

Last May, Rashida Ellis became the first U.S. woman to win a world boxing title at an Olympic weight since Claressa Shields in 2016, taking the 60kg lightweight crown in Istanbul. In Tokyo, Ellis lost 3-0 in her opening bout in her Olympic debut.

At the last men’s worlds in 2021, Robby Gonzales and Jahmal Harvey became the first U.S. men to win an Olympic or world title since 2007, ending the longest American men’s drought since World War II.

The Associated Press and NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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