Moscow preview: Fernandez, Kostner chase gold as Zawadzki aims for podium

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Figure skating lands in Moscow for the sixth Grand Prix of the season, the last qualifier for the Grand Prix Final, which is set for Dec. 5-8 in Japan.

While the men lost home favorite Yevgeny Plushenko last week to an injury, its field is still strong, led by Javier Fernandez, the reigning world bronze medalist.

American Agnes Zawadzki leads the Team USA effort, the two-time U.S. Championship bronze medalist looking to improve upon her seventh-place finish earlier this month at the Cup of China.

Russian skating fans will have plenty to cheer for in all four events, with medal contenders in each one. Below, an event-by-event breakdown.

MEN
There’s no Plushenko, but 18-year-old Maksim Kovtun will try and continue his push for Russia’s lone men’s singles berth for the Olympics with a strong showing at the Rostelecom Cup. In his senior Grand Prix debut, Kovtun was second earlier this month at the Cup of China. The teen was a disappointing 17th at the World Championships in March, which meant Russia earned just one Olympic spot.

French veteran Brian Joubert looks to make one final Olympic push in his career and is yet to compete this season, meaning his form is unkown. The 29-year-old Frenchman was sixth at the 2006 Olympics and has six World Championships medals to his name, including gold in 2007.

Breaking down the Grand Prix Final qualifying scenarios

Tatsuki Machida hasn’t skated competitively since winning gold at Skate America last month while two Americans – Richard Dornbush and Josh Farris – look for a podium finish to make their case for an Olympic spot.

Dornbush is the 2011 U.S. Championships silver medalist and Farris is the reigning Junior World Champion. Both Americans placed fifth at their respective Grand Prix openers this year, Farris at Skate Canada and Dornbush at Cup of China.

Fernandez is the favorite among this group, though he stumbled to a fifth-place finish of his own at the NHK Trophy two weeks ago.

LADIES
It’s the Russian surge that has been surprising this season on the ladies’ side, with Anna Pogorilaya and Adelina Sotnikova already securing spots in the Grand Prix Final and 14-year-old Yelena Radyonova (who isn’t eligible for the Olympics) on the bubble. In Moscow, it will be 15-year-old Julia Lipnitskaya who will lead the home charge, coming off a Grand Prix gold at Skate Canada. The 2012 Junior World Champion is joined by Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, the reigning national champion who will turn 17 in December. Tuktamysheva was fourth at Skate America.

Wagner defends title in Paris

Like Fernandez, Carolina Kostner carries the favorite flag into Moscow, but also has a question mark floating over her head after a third-place finish at Cup of China this month. The 2012 world champion has five European Championship wins under her belt, including 2013, and is making another go at the Olympics after two lackluster finishes (ninth in 2006 and 16th in 2010).

For the Americans, Zawadzki is joined by the 2008 U.S. champion Mirai Nagasu, who was also fourth at the 2010 Vancouver Games. The 19-year-old Zawadzki was seventh at the Cup of China while Nagasu, 20, took eighth a week later in Tokyo. Both are looking for improvements in Moscow.

PAIRS
There will be no Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov, the reigning world champions, in the pairs competition, which instead is headlined by the team that has played second fiddle to the Russian duo for much of the last two years, Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy.

The German pairs team owns four world championship golds, but the surging Russians replaced them atop the podium this past season. Savchenko/Szolkowy opened the year with a win at the Cup of China, though their total score was the fifth-highest by a team this season.

One of those teams to record a higher score than Savchenko/Szolkowy is Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch of Canada, who will serve as Savchenko/Szolkowy’s main rivals in Moscow. The Canadians were second to Volosozhar/Trankov at Skate America last month, after being fourth at the 2013 World Championships.

Russia’s Vera Bazarova and Yuri Laryonov will look for their first podium of the year after the 2012 Russian national champs finished fourth at the Trophee Eric Bompard last week. Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, another Russian pair, will chase a medal in Russia as well, having been third at Skate America last month.

Americans Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim want a strong performance in Moscow as they look to grab one of only two spots available in pairs for the U.S. in Sochi.

ICE DANCE
It was another gold medal for Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir last week in Paris, the 2010 Olympic champions moving towards a showdown with Meryl Davis and Charlie White in the Grand Prix Final. In Moscow, the Canadians’ teammates Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje will look for gold after winning silver at Skate Canada last month.

Weaver/Poje will go toe pick-to-toe pick with Russians Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Solviev of Russia, who won silver at the Cup of China last month. Bobrova/Solviev were bronze medalists at the 2013 World Championships, third fiddle to Davis/White and Virtue/Moir.

Madison Chock and Evan Bates of the U.S. would like to earn a second Grand Prix medal of the season having been third in Beijing. The duo was seventh at the World Championships this year after earning bronze at Four Continents in January.

South Korea’s first gold medalist of 2018 PyeongChang Olympics to compete for China

Lim Hyo-Jun
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Lim Hyo-Jun, a short track speed skater who won South Korea’s first gold medal of the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, has been cleared to skate for China and was reportedly named to the national team Monday.

Lim, who won the 1500m on the first day of medal competition at the PyeongChang Games, began the process of switching to China after a June 2019 incident where he pulled down a teammate’s trousers, leaving him standing, exposed, in front of female teammates.

Lim, the 2019 World overall champion, was banned from the team for a year and later found guilty of sexual harassment before the verdict was overturned on appeal.

It was reported in March 2021 that Lim was in the process of trying to gain Chinese nationality to compete at the Beijing Winter Olympics, but Lim was not cleared to switch by the International Skating Union until this July. His Chinese name is Lin Xiaojun.

Another star South Korean skater, triple 2006 Olympic gold medalist Ahn Hyun-Soo, switched to Russia after not making the 2010 Olympic team. He then won three golds for the host nation as Viktor Ahn at the 2014 Sochi Games.

China’s national team for the upcoming season reportedly does not include veterans Wu Dajing, the nation’s lone gold medalist across all sports at the 2018 Olympics, and Fan Kexin, a three-time Olympic medalist.

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Brigid Kosgei, world record holder, to miss London Marathon

Brigid Kosgei
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World record holder Brigid Kosgei withdrew before Sunday’s London Marathon due to a right hamstring injury that has bothered her for the last month.

“My training has been up and down and not the way I would like to prepare to be in top condition,” was posted on Kosgei’s social media. “We’ve decided it’s best I withdraw from this year’s race and get further treatment on my injuries in order to enter 2023 stronger than ever.”

Kosgei, a 28-year-old Kenyan mother of twins, shattered the world record by 81 seconds at the 2019 Chicago Marathon. She clocked 2:14:04 to smash Brit Paula Radcliffe‘s record from 2003.

Since, Kosgei won the 2020 London Marathon, took silver at the Tokyo Olympics, placed fourth at the 2021 London Marathon and won this past March’s Tokyo Marathon in what was then the third-fastest time in history (2:16:02).

Ethiopian Tigist Assefa moved into the top three by winning the Berlin Marathon last Sunday in 2:15:37.

The London Marathon women’s field includes Kenyan Joyciline Jepkosgei, a winner in New York City (2019) and London (2021), and Yalemzerf Yehualaw, who was the Ethiopian record holder until Assefa won in Berlin.

The men’s field is headlined by Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele, the second-fastest male marathoner in history, and Brit Mo Farah, a four-time Olympic champion on the track.

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