Mao Asada
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Mao Asada, Javier Fernandez headline Cup of China; schedule

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Mao Asada will skate in a Grand Prix event for the first time since December 2013, and Javier Fernandez will do so for the first time since he became World champion, at the Cup of China in Beijing this weekend.

Asada, 25, looks to add to her 14 career Grand Prix titles, most among active skaters. She’s already a winner this year, topping the free skate-only Japan Open on Oct. 3 against a field that included World champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, Olympic champion Adelina Sotnikova and top Americans Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold.

Asada, known for her triple Axel, won her last Grand Prix competition, the 2013 Grand Prix Final. Then she finished a disappointing sixth in Sochi in February 2014, won her third World title one month later and took the 2014-15 season off from competition.

At Cup of China, Asada’s biggest competition could be Yelena Radionova, the World bronze medalist, European silver medalist and Russian national champion. Radionova missed a scheduled appearance at the smaller Finlandia Trophy in October, withdrawing due to health reasons.

Americans in the China field include Karen Chen, the U.S. bronze medalist who was too young for last season’s senior World Championships. Chen, 16, finished fifth at Skate America two weeks ago.

On the men’s side, the World champion Fernandez is coming off a second-place showing at the Japan Open, topped by 17-year-old Shoma Uno.

Uno went on to finish second to American Max Aaron at Skate America. However, Fernandez beat three-time World champion Patrick Chan by 17.1 points at the Japan Open. And Chan last week won Skate Canada by 11.6 over Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, who didn’t skate at the Japan Open.

Fernandez faces little accomplished competition this week. Nobody else in the men’s field has earned an Olympic or Worlds medal. China’s Yan Han is the only other skater to win a Grand Prix event, and that was two years ago.

Icenetwork.com will stream for subscribers live coverage of men’s, women’s, pairs and ice dance short programs and free skates. NBC will have coverage Sunday from 12-1:30 p.m. ET.

Women’s short program — Friday, 4 a.m. ET (Asada at 4:54 a.m.)
Men’s short program — Friday, 6 a.m. ET (Fernandez at 7:26 a.m.)
Women’s free skate — Saturday, 3:35 a.m. ET
Men’s free skate — Saturday, 5:45 a.m. ET

MORE FIGURE SKATING: Full season broadcast schedule

Top Grand Prix season scores
WOMEN
1. Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 206.01 (Skate America)
2. Gracie Gold (USA) — 202.80 (Skate America)
3. Ashley Wagner (USA) — 202.52 (Skate Canada)
4. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS) — 188.99 (Skate Canada)
5. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 188.07 (Skate America)

MEN
1. Patrick Chan (CAN) — 271.14 (Skate Canada)
2. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 259.54 (Skate Canada)
3. Max Aaron (USA) — 258.95 (Skate America)
4. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 257.43 (Skate America)
5. Daisuke Murakami (JPN) — 252.25 (Skate Canada)
6. Adam Rippon (USA) — 239.69 (Skate Canada)
7. Nam Nguyen (CAN) — 238.82 (Skate Canada)
8. Jason Brown (USA) — 238.47 (Skate America)

Swimming short-course records in peril as FINA recognizes ISL times

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In the debut season of the International Swimming League, six U.S. short-course records have fallen. USA Swimming has recognized the new circuit’s times from the outset.

International body FINA, which at first threatened to ban swimmers who participated in the ISL and then said it would not recognize records from the team-based league, which debuted in October and will hold its first final meet Dec. 20-21 at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, is now recognizing those times, and the effects on its statistics have been drastic.

MORE: Ledecky sets U.S. record in ISL debut

This morning, a downloaded list of the top times in the world this year included no ISL times. By the afternoon, times from the ISL’s meet over the weekend in College Park, Md., accounted for most of the times on the lists, including the top 10 in the women’s 50m freestyle and women’s 100m freestyle.

So far, the ISL hasn’t figured into the top five on many all-time FINA lists. But the best short-course times are typically posted near the end of the year, and the ISL has two meets remaining.

The U.S. record book has already changed. In October, Katie Ledecky set the 400m freestyle record (3:54.06) and Melanie Margalis set the 200m medley mark (2:04.18).

In College Park this weekend, Margalis also set the U.S. 400m medley record (4:24.46) and Ian Finnerty set two records the 50m breaststroke (25.99), with runner-up Michael Andrew also beating the previous record, and the 100m breaststroke (56.29). Also, Caeleb Dressel set the 50m butterfly record (22.21).

Only half of the swimmers in the ISL will advance to the final, and qualification isn’t necessarily in their hands. After the College Park meet, the Cali Condors and LA Current clinched spots in Las Vegas. That’s bad news for Andrew (New York Breakers), Finnerty (DC Trident) and Ledecky (DC Trident).

Dressel, Margalis and Lilly King — all representing the Condors — will have another shot at records in Vegas. 

FINA, as usual, is running its World Cup circuit during the fall and early winter, and some swimmers — including overall World Cup champions Vladimir Morozov and Cate Campbell — are pulling double duty between the World Cup and ISL.

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IOC announces deal with Airbnb to add housing for future Olympics

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The International Olympic Committee has moved to help with the scramble to house the influx of athletes, staff and spectators with each Olympics, making a deal with online housing broker Airbnb to add accommodations for the Games through 2028.

“The agreement includes accommodation provisions that will reduce costs for Olympic Games organizers and stakeholders, minimize the need for construction of new accommodation infrastructure for the Olympic Games period, and generate direct revenue for local hosts and communities,” the IOC announced.

Airbnb’s partnership also includes accommodation for disability athletes for the Paralympic Games, and the company will join large global companies such as Coca-Cola, Visa and Panasonic as worldwide Olympic partners.

Athletes also will have a chance to make money by hosting travelers.

“As an Olympian host, you can create and lead an experience inspired by your expertise and interests,” reads an explanation on the Olympic athlete support portal Athlete365.

Outside the Olympics and Olympic athlete experiences, the IOC and Airbnb are pledging to work together on long-term support to refugees.

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