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.

12-year-old skateboarders earn medals at world championships

Chloe Covell
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At the world skateboarding championships, 12-year-olds Chloe Covell from Australia and Onodera Ginwoo from Japan earned silver and bronze medals, respectively, in Sunday’s street finals.

In the women’s event, Covell took silver behind Brazilian 15-year-old Rayssa Leal, who was a silver medalist herself at the Tokyo Games.

Frenchman Aurélien Giraud, a 25-year-old who was sixth in skateboarding’s Olympic debut in Tokyo, won the men’s final in the United Arab Emirates. Ginwoo was third behind Portugal’s Gustavo Ribeiro.

The top Americans were Olympic men’s bronze medalist Jagger Eaton in sixth and 15-year-old Paige Heyn in seventh in the women’s event.

Nyjah Huston, a six-time world champion who placed seventh in Tokyo, missed worlds after August surgery for an ACL tear.

Up to three men and three women per nation can qualify per event (street and park) for the 2024 Paris Games. World rankings come June 2024 determine which Americans qualify.

In Tokyo, four of the 12 skateboarding medalists were ages 12 or 13.

Japan’s Kokona Hiraki, then 12, won silver in women’s park to become the youngest Olympic medalist since 1936, according to Olympedia.org. Japan’s Momiji Nishiya, then 13, won women’s street and became the youngest gold medalist in an individual event since 1936.

Worlds conclude this week with the men’s and women’s park events. The finals are Saturday.

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Francesco Friedrich, most decorated bobsledder in history, rebounds for 12th world title

Francesco Friedrich
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A week after his first major championships defeat in seven years, German Francesco Friedrich returned to his winning ways to close the world bobsled championships on Sunday.

Friedrich’s four-man sled won the world title by 69 hundredths of a second over British and Latvian sleds that tied for silver, combining times from four runs over the last two days in St. Moritz, Switzerland. It marked Great Britain’s first world championships men’s bobsled medal since 1966.

Geoff Gadbois drove the lone U.S. sled in the field, finishing 18th.

Friedrich, the most decorated bobsledder in history, extended his records with a fifth consecutive world four-man title and 12th world championship between two- and four-man events.

Germany swept all four titles at bobsled worlds with four different drivers taking gold.

Friedrich had won 12 consecutive Olympic or world titles before taking two-man silver at worlds last week in St. Moritz, Switzerland. He was dethroned in that event by countryman Johannes Lochner.

Friedrich has been hampered recently by a muscle injury from sprint training in late December. Going into worlds, Lochner had won four consecutive World Cup two-man races, while Hall won the last two World Cups in four-man.

Friedrich, 32, said before this season that he plans to make the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games his final competition. Friedrich and push athlete Thorsten Margis can break the record of four career Olympic bobsled gold medals that they currently share with retired Germans Andre Lange and Kevin Kuske.

The World Cup season concludes with stops in Igls, Austria, and Sigulda, Latvia, the next two weekends.

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