Grand Prix Final offers glimpse at Olympic figure skating picture

Patrick Chan

The biggest international event from now until the Olympics is missing three active Olympic champions, but it will still provide a strong look at Sochi medal prospects.

The Grand Prix Final takes the top six from each discipline over six qualifying events, which began with Skate America in October. If the Olympics are the most prized figure skating competition, the Grand Prix Final is the most elite.

Universal Sports will have TV coverage beginning Thursday. NBC will have coverage from noon-2 p.m. ET on Sunday.

This year’s event is in Fukuoka, Japan, which is 14 hours ahead of Eastern time.

Here’s the schedule:

Men’s short program — 4:40 a.m. ET
Women’s short program — 5:50 a.m. ET

Pairs short program — 3 a.m. ET
Short dance — 4:15 a.m. ET
Men’s free skate — 5:30 a.m. ET

Pairs free skate — 2:15 a.m. ET
Free dance — 3:50 a.m. ET
Women’s free skate — 5:20 a.m. ET

Here’s a preview of each discipline:


Qualifiers: Patrick Chan, Tatsuki Machida, Yuzuru Hanyu, Maksim Kovtun, Daisuke Takahashi (withdrew), Yan Han, Nobunari Oda (replacement)

The three-time reigning world champion Chan solidified his Olympic favorite status by winning both of his qualifying events — Skate Canada, Trophee Bompard — including a total score of 295.27 in Paris. Nobody else came within 25 points of that mark in any qualifying event.

Machida surprised in winning the opening Skate America and joining a crowded field of Japanese men seeking one of three Olympic spots.

Machida, the 2010 world champion Takahashi (out with leg injury), the 2012 world bronze medalist Hanyu and Oda all have Sochi medal potential. At least one of them will not make it to the Games, though.

Kovtun, too, is unlikely to be Russia’s lone men’s singles Olympic entrant with three-time Olympic medalist Yevgeny Plushenko in the picture (but not in the Fukuoka field).

It would be a surprise to see anybody other than Chan prevail in Fukuoka. The Canadian seeks his third Grand Prix Final title in the last four years. He was upset by Takahashi in 2012 at the Sochi Olympic venue.

“The Grand Prix final is going to be a challenge,” said Chan, according to Agence France-Presse. “The Japanese will have the definite [home] advantage.”


Qualifiers: Mao Asada, Yulia Lipnitskaya, Ashley Wagner, Anna Pogorilaya, Adelina Sotnikova, Yelena Radyonova

Like Chan, Asada was in a class of her own at her two qualifying events. The 2010 Olympic silver medalist scored 204.55 and 207.59  in winning Skate America and NHK Trophy. Nobody else topped 200 points this season.

“Everything has been going well this season so I believe I can go higher still,” Asada said, according to AFP.

Two-thirds of the Grand Prix Final field is Russian, but only two Russians will make it to the Olympics. Radyonova, 14, will not be one of them because of age rules.

The two-time reigning U.S. champion Wagner is in the Grand Prix Final for the second straight year. She’s a definite Sochi medal threat and will look to close the gap on Asada, who beat Wagner by 15 points at last year’s Grand Prix Final and by 11 points at Skate America in October.

The results here won’t paint a clear Olympic picture though. One must be mindful of reigning Olympic and world champion Yuna Kim making her season debut in Zagreb, Croatia, this week.


Getty Images
Getty Images

Qualifiers: Tatyana Volosozhar/Maksim Trankov, Aliona Savchenko/Robin Szolkowy, Pang Qing/Tong Jian, Kirsten Moore-Towers/Dylan Moscovitch, Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford, Pang Cheng/Zhang Hao

The Russians Volosozhar and Trankov are the reigning world, European and Grand Prix Final champions.

They achieved the highest pairs scores in history this season — and then went even higher — and haven’t finished lower than first since the 2011 Grand Prix Final.

It’s unlikely anybody will break that streak in Fukuoka, so just sit back and enjoy Trankov’s yellow pants.

Savchenko and Szolkowy are favorites for silver, the same medal they won at worlds and Europeans behind the Russians last season. The Germans are four-time world champions, all coming before Trankov and Volosozhar rose to the zenith of the sport.

The remaining Chinese and Canadian pairs are all Olympic medal contenders but obviously without the accolades of the Russians and Germans.

Ice Dance

Qualifiers: Meryl Davis/Charlie White, Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir, Yekaterina Bobrova/Dmitry Soloviyev, Nathalie Pechalat/Fabian Bourzat, Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje, Anna Cappellini/Luca Lanotte

Davis and White are the reigning world champions. Virtue and Moir are the reigning Olympic champions. They are rivals, yes, but training partners, too. They will face off in competition for the first (and only) time this season before the Sochi Games.

What should we expect?

Davis and White to prevail, just as they have at the last four Grand Prix Finals. The Americans scored 188.23 and 186.65 in their two qualifying events, bettering the Canadians’ 181.03 and 180.96.

The gap between Davis and White and Virtue and Moir appears to be growing. The Americans won by a margin of 3.56 at last year’s Grand Prix Final in December, then 3.04 points at the Four Continents Championships in February and 4.52 at the World Championships in March.

Bronze is up for grabs among the Russians, French, Canadians and Italians.

Yuna Kim returns in Croatia

French Open: Iga Swiatek rolls toward possible Coco Gauff rematch

Iga Swiatek

Iga Swiatek reached the French Open third round without dropping a set, eyeing a third Roland Garros title in four years. Not that she needed the help, but Swiatek’s immediate draw is wide open after the rest of the seeds in her section lost.

Swiatek dispatched 102nd-ranked American Claire Liu 6-4, 6-0 on Thursday, the same score as her first-round win. She gets 80th-ranked Wang Xinyu of China in the round of 32.

The other three seeds in Swiatek’s section all lost in the first round, so the earliest that the world No. 1 could play another seed is the quarterfinals. And that would be No. 6 Coco Gauff, who was runner-up to Swiatek last year.

Gauff plays her second-round match later Thursday against 61st-ranked Austrian Julia Grabher. Gauff also doesn’t have any seeds in her way before a possible Swiatek showdown.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

Swiatek, who turned 22 on Wednesday, came into this year’s French Open without the invincibility of a year ago, when she was 16-0 in the spring clay season during an overall 37-match win streak.

She retired from her last pre-French Open match with a right thigh injury, but said it wasn’t serious. That diagnosis appears to have been spot-on through two matches this week, though her serve was broken twice in the first set of each match.

While the men’s draw has been upended by 14-time champion Rafael Nadal‘s pre-event withdrawal and No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev‘s loss in the first round, the top women have taken care of business.

Nos. 2, 3 and 4 seeds Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, American Jessica Pegula and Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan also reached the third round without dropping a set.

Though all of them have beaten Swiatek in 2023, the Pole remains the favorite to lift the trophy a week from Saturday. She can join Serena Williams and Justine Henin as the lone women to win three or more French Opens since 2000.

She can also become the youngest woman to win three French Opens since Monica Seles in 1992 and the youngest woman to win four Slams overall since Williams in 2002.

Swiatek doesn’t dwell on it.

“I never even played Serena or Monica Seles,” she said. “I’m kind of living my own life and having my own journey.”

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Penny Oleksiak to miss world swimming championships

Penny Oleksiak

Seven-time Olympic medalist Penny Oleksiak of Canada will miss July’s world swimming championships because she does not expect to be recovered enough from knee and shoulder injuries.

“The bar that we set was, can she be as good as she’s ever been at these world championships?” coach Ryan Mallette said in a press release. “We just don’t feel like we’re going to be ready to be 100 percent yet this summer. Our focus is to get her back to 100 percent as soon as possible to get ready for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.”

Oleksiak, who owns the Canadian record of seven Olympic medals (across all sports), missed Canada’s trials meet for worlds two months ago due to the injuries. She was still named to the team at the time in hope that she would be ready in time for worlds.

The 22-year-old returned to competition last month at a Mare Nostrum meet in Barcelona, after which she chose to focus on continued rehab rather than compete at worlds in Fukuoka, Japan.

“Swimming at Mare Nostrum was a checkpoint for worlds, and I gave it my best shot,” Oleksiak said in the release. “We reviewed my swims there, and it showed me the level I want to get back to. Now I need to focus on my rehab to get back to where I want to be and put myself in position to be at my best next season.”

Oleksiak had knee surgery last year to repair a meniscus. After that, she developed a left shoulder injury.

In 2016, Oleksiak tied for Olympic 100m freestyle gold with American Simone Manuel. She also earned 100m butterfly silver in Rio and 200m free bronze in Tokyo, along with four relay medals between those two Games.

At last year’s worlds, she earned four relay medals and placed fourth in the 100m free.

She anchored the Canadian 4x100m free relay to silver behind Australia at the most recent Olympics and worlds.

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