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Rio Olympics schedule highlights, daily events to watch

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Here’s a daily look at potentially intriguing events on the Rio Olympic schedule (all times Eastern), keeping in mind athletes and teams must go through qualifying to reach finals:

WEDNESDAY, AUG. 3 — DAY -2

Soccer (Noon-2 p.m.): Sweden women vs. South Africa. The first event of the first Olympics in South America, two days before the Opening Ceremony.

Soccer (3-5 p.m.): Brazil women vs. China. The first Rio Olympic event involving Brazilian athletes. Five-time World Player of the Year Marta leads the host nation in search of its first Olympic soccer title. Like Sweden-South Africa, this match will take place in Rio de Janeiro’s Olympic Stadium.

Soccer (6-8 p.m.): U.S. women vs. New Zealand. The Americans eye their fifth title in six Olympic tournaments and will open against a nation they beat 2-0 in the London Olympic quarterfinals. The match is in Belo Horizonte.

THURSDAY, AUG. 4 — DAY -1

Soccer (3-5 p.m.): Brazil men vs. South Africa. If Brazil’s women can’t end the host nation’s Olympic soccer dry spell, maybe Neymar can lead the men to their first gold. Their first match comes in Brasilia against a nation making its second-ever Olympic men’s soccer appearance.

FRIDAY, AUG. 5 — DAY 0

Opening CeremonyThe Olympics will open at the famed Maracanã, which will also host soccer semifinals and finals late in the Games.

The Opening Ceremony will be highlighted by the Parade of Nations and cauldron lighting, the final torchbearer always a closely guarded secret. (Of note, the final torchbearer has actually been multiple people at the last three Olympics, so it will be interesting to see if Rio ends that streak.)

MORE: Pelé on Rio Olympics, lighting the cauldron

SATURDAY, AUG. 6 — DAY 1

Gymnastics (1:30-4 p.m.): U.S. men’s qualification. By the end of the day, the top eight nations of 12 overall qualify for the team final, and the top 24 gymnasts competing on all six events make the all-around final (maximum two per country). The U.S. has qualified into the team final at the last four Olympics and put two men in the all-around final at the last three, and don’t expect any different this time. What’s left to decide? Keep an eye on apparatus final qualifying. The top eight per event make each of the six apparatus finals (maximum two per country).

Swimming (9-11 p.m.): The women’s 4x100m freestyle relay (10:24 p.m.) could be another U.S.-Australia duel. The Aussies broke the world record at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and dominated at the 2015 World Championships. The U.S. quartet will likely include Abbey Weitzeil and Simone Manuel, who went one-two in the 100m free at the Olympic Trials. Katie Ledecky, better at the longer freestyle races, has an outside shot at being on the team, but likely only if she is used in the morning prelims and has a fast split time.

Katie Ledecky
Katie Ledecky could win three individual gold medals in Rio. (AP)

SUNDAY, AUG. 7 — DAY 2

Gymnastics (4:30-6 p.m.): U.S. women’s qualification. Same as the men, the top eight of 12 nations and the top 24 all-around gymnasts and top eight per apparatus qualify for medal finals (maximum two per country) by the end of the day. The U.S. always qualifies into the team and all-around finals. Watch this: If three U.S. women compete on all four events in qualifying, then one won’t qualify for the all-around final (like in 2012, when Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman beat Jordyn Wieber).

Swimming (9-11 p.m.)Dana Vollmer, returning from childbirth, defends her Olympic title in the 100m butterfly (9:03 p.m.), but Swedish world champion Sarah Sjostrom could be the favorite.

Ledecky should swim her first of possibly three individual finals of the Games in the 400m freestyle (10:01 p.m.). She has won every major 400m free title in this Olympic cycle, including breaking the world record.

The men’s 4x100m freestyle relay (10:54 p.m.) has traditionally been a marquee event. Several teams could factor into the medals, including reigning Olympic and world champion France, Australia, the U.S. and host nation Brazil. The U.S., which failed to make the 2015 World Championships final, should be led by Olympic 100m free champion Nathan AdrianMichael Phelps has been part of this relay at the last three Olympics. Phelps didn’t swim the 100m free at Trials but could still be placed on the relay team.

MORE: Phelps’ concussion, more highlights from Bob Bowman’s book

MONDAY, AUG. 8 — DAY 3

Gymnastics (3-6 p.m.): Men’s team final. China, winner of the last two Olympics, had its world championships winning streak of six snapped by rival Japan last year. The U.S. looks to return to the podium after finishing fifth at the 2012 Olympics and the 2015 World Championships.

Fencing (8 a.m.-5:15 p.m.): Women’s sabre. American Mariel Zagunis took gold in 2004 and 2008 but tearfully dropped to fourth in 2012, after carrying the U.S. flag into the Opening Ceremony. Ibtihaj Muhammad is set to become the first American to wear a hijab in Olympic competition. Zagunis is ranked No. 3 in the world. Muhammad is ranked No. 8. The final is at 4:45 p.m.

Rugby (6-6:30 p.m.): Women’s final. The first rugby medals since 1924 will be awarded, though this is the first time rugby sevens has been part of the Olympics.

Swimming (9-11 p.m.): Of the four finals, the best hope for U.S. medals comes in the men’s 100m backstroke (9:38 p.m.) with David Plummer and Ryan Murphy, who rank Nos. 1 and 2 in the world this year. The U.S. has won this event at each of the last five Olympics. Australian Emily Seebohm is the favorite in the women’s 100m back (9:30 p.m.) with 2012 Olympic champion Missy Franklin missing the Olympic team in the event.

TUESDAY, AUG. 9 — DAY 4

Gymnastics (3-5:10 p.m.): Women’s team final. The U.S. has never won back-to-back Olympic team golds, but it will be favored if the dominating performances at the 2014 and 2015 World Championships are any indication. China, Great Britain and Russia are also podium contenders. Romania, which earned medals at every Olympics from 1976 through 2012, failed to qualify a full team for Rio.

Swimming (9-11 p.m.): The U.S. swimming Big Four of Phelps, Ledecky, Franklin and Ryan Lochte could all be in finals. Ledecky and Franklin took gold and bronze at the 2015 Worlds in the 200m freestyle (9:19 p.m.). Phelps could swim the 200m butterfly final (9:28 p.m.) at a fifth straight Olympics. Lochte figures to be in the 4x200m free relay final (10:38 p.m.) for a fourth straight Games after finishing fourth in the 200m free at Trials.

MORE: Lochte: Ledecky beats me in practice

Kohei Uchimura
Some say Kohei Uchimura is already the greatest gymnast of all time. (Getty)

WEDNESDAY, AUG. 10 — DAY 5

Gymnastics (3-5:45 p.m.): Men’s all-around final. Japan’s Kohei Uchimura could become the first man in 44 years to repeat. Top rivals include Brit Max Whitlock, Cuban Manrique Larduet and Ukraine’s Oleg Verniaiev. The 2012 Olympic bronze medalist, Danell Leyva, may not compete in the all-around after only making the Rio team as a replacement for the injured John Orozco.

Swimming (9-11 p.m.): In the men’s 100m freestyle final (10:30 p.m.), Nathan Adrian could try for a repeat title, after winning by .01 in London. His biggest threat may be aspiring Australian physicist Cameron McEvoy. Franklin and Ledecky could anchor the U.S. in the women’s 4x200m free relay (10:55 p.m.).

THURSDAY, AUG. 11 — DAY 6

Judo (2:30-4:40 p.m.): Women’s 78kg medal rounds. In 2012, Kayla Harrison became the first U.S. Olympic judo champion. She’s since missed a year due to knee surgery, took bronze at the 2014 Worlds and was upset in the round of 16 at the 2015 Worlds, but she is ranked No. 1 in the world.

Gymnastics (3-5:10 p.m.): Women’s all-around final. The U.S. could put two women on the podium, and three-time reigning world champion Simone Biles is a heavy favorite. The top two U.S. women in all-around qualifying on Day 2 will earn places in the final. Biles will likely be joined by either Aly Raisman, who missed a bronze medal in 2012 by a tiebreaker, or Laurie Hernandez, the first U.S. Olympic gymnast born in the 2000s. London Olympic champion Gabby Douglas appears unlikely to compete in the all-around after finishing seventh at the Olympic Trials.

Rugby (6-6:30 p.m.): Men’s final. Watch out for Fiji, which has never earned an Olympic medal in any sport but has won two straight World Series season titles. The U.S. could factor into the medals.

Swimming (9-11 p.m.): Lochte and Phelps should go head-to-head for the final time in their careers in the 200m individual medley final (10:01 p.m.). Phelps took gold in this event at the last three Olympics, while Lochte earned silver in 2004, bronze in 2008 and silver in 2012. Phelps edged Lochte by .31 at the Olympic Trials, but it’s Japan’s Kosuke Hagino who has the fastest time in the world this year.

MORE: Home videos of young Biles doing gymnastics

FRIDAY, AUG. 12 — DAY 7

Track and Field (10:10 a.m.): Women’s 10,000m final. The first track and field medal event includes Americans Emily Infeld and Molly Huddle, who went three-four at the 2015 World Championships.

Shooting (2-3 p.m.): Women’s skeetKim Rhode, already the first American to earn individual medals in five straight Olympics, could become the first Olympian from any nation to earn medals on five different continents.

Swimming (9-11 p.m.): Franklin, Phelps and Ledecky could swim their last individual races of these Olympics back-to-back-to-back in the women’s 200m backstroke final (9:03 p.m.), men’s 100m butterfly final (9:12 p.m.) and women’s 800m freestyle final (9:20 p.m.). All defending Olympic champions, they are arguably each’s signature event. Ledecky is a huge favorite, Phelps is arguably a favorite over Laszlo Cseh and Chad le Clos and Franklin is an underdog, ranked No. 9 in the world this year.

SATURDAY, AUG. 13 — DAY 8

Rowing (9:40-9:50 a.m.): Women’s eight final. The U.S. has won 10 straight Olympic or world titles dating to 2006.

Tennis (11 a.m.-7 p.m.): Women’s singles medal matches. Serena Williams could become the first repeat Olympic tennis singles champion. She and sister Venus Williams are the only women in the field who have previously earned Olympic singles medals.

Cycling (3:53-4:21 p.m.): Women’s team pursuit final. The U.S., led by two-time 2012 Olympic silver medalist Sarah Hammer, took gold at 2015 Worlds, the first team gold for U.S. men or women in a track cycling event at a world championships or Olympics.

Track and Field (7-10:15 p.m.): Training partners Mo Farah and Galen Rupp will look for another one-two in the men’s 10,000m final (8:25 p.m.). The world’s fastest woman will be crowned in the 100m final (9:35 p.m.). Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce took gold in 2008 and 2012. No woman has won the same individual Olympic track and field event three straight times, but she could be beaten by countrywoman Elaine Thompson, the U.S.’ English Gardner or Tori Bowie or the Netherlands’ Dafne Schippers. Great Britain’s Jessica Ennis-Hill can repeat as Olympic heptathlon champion after coming back from childbirth.

Swimming (9-10:40 p.m.): The competition concludes with the shortest and longest events (women’s 50m free, men’s 1500m free) and both medley relays, which should mark Phelps’ final race (10:04 p.m.). The U.S. men have never lost the Olympic medley relay, excluding the boycotted 1980 Moscow Games.

MORE: Serena would save Olympic medals first if house caught fire

Usain Bolt
Usain Bolt has said the Rio Games will be his final Olympics. (AP)

SUNDAY, AUG. 14 — DAY 9

Golf (6 a.m.-3 p.m.): Men’s final round. The first Olympic golf medals since 1904 will be awarded at the conclusion of the 72-hole stroke-play tournament. British Open champion Henrik Stenson of Sweden and American Bubba Watson are the highest-ranked golfers in the field.

Tennis (11 a.m.-7 p.m.): Men’s singles, women’s doubles, mixed doubles finals. Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray won the last two gold medals, and Roger Federer pulled out of the Olympics due to injury. That means Novak Djokovic is the biggest star seeking his first singles gold. Serena and Venus Williams won doubles gold in 2000, 2008 and 2012.

Gymnastics (1-4 p.m.): Apparatus finals. The U.S. could have medal threats in men’s floor exercise (1 p.m., Jacob Dalton), women’s vault (1:44 p.m., Biles) and uneven bars (3:14 p.m., Madison Kocian).

Track and Field (7:20-9:30 p.m.): The last two Olympic champions could face off in the men’s 400m final (9 p.m.) — Grenada’s Kirani James and American LaShawn Merritt — but the favorite could be world champion Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa.

The world’s fastest man will be crowned in the 100m final (9:25 p.m.). Usain Bolt could try to become the first Olympic men’s runner to win the same individual event three straight times. Americans Justin Gatlin and Trayvon Bromell are among the top challengers.

MONDAY, AUG. 15 — DAY 10

Gymnastics (1-3:25 p.m.): The host nation has the defending Olympic still rings champion, Arthur Zanetti, who became Brazil’s first Olympic gymnastics medalist in London (1 p.m.). Biles won the last two world titles on balance beam (2:42 p.m.).

Track and Field (7:30-9:50 p.m.): Kenyan David Rudisha broke the world record en route to London Olympic gold in one of the trademark events of those Games. He could repeat in the 800m final (9:25 p.m.). Allyson Felix could try to follow her 2012 Olympic 200m title with gold in the 400m against a field that could include scrutinized South African Caster Semenya (9:45 p.m.).

MORE: Allyson Felix and Beyoncé

TUESDAY, AUG. 16 — DAY 11

Track and Field (8:50-10:15 a.m.): American Christian Taylor, who missed breaking a 20-year-old world record by the length of a cigarette at the 2015 World Championships, looks to repeat as Olympic champion in the triple jump.

Gymnastics (1-3:15 p.m.): The artistic gymnastics competition concludes with three apparatus finals. The U.S. has the reigning Olympic and world champs in women’s floor exercise in Raisman and Biles (1:45 p.m.). High bar is traditionally the most exciting men’s apparatus final (2:30 p.m.). Uchimura is the reigning world champion. Flying Dutchman Epke Zonderland is the defending Olympic champion.

Weightlifting (6-7:40 p.m.): Men’s super heavyweight final. The world’s strongest man will be determined. Russian Aleksey Lovchev, the 2015 World champion, is excluded from the Games due to a doping ban.

Track and Field (7:30-9:50 p.m.): Ethiopian Genzebe Dibaba is the favorite in the women’s 1500m (9:30 p.m.), after she broke a 22-year-old world record last year. The U.S. has earned at least one medal in the 110m hurdles (9:45 p.m.) at every Olympics (excluding the boycotted 1980 Moscow Games). The top U.S. hope appears to be University of Oregon wide receiver Devon Allen, who won at Trials and ranks second in the world this year.

WEDNESDAY, AUG. 17 — DAY 12

Track and Field (7:30-10 p.m.): The U.S. could send reigning Olympic champion Brittney Reese and reigning world champion Tianna Bartoletta into the women’s long jump final (8:15 p.m.). The women’s 200m (9:30 p.m.) figures to produce a new Olympic champion — one of the Netherlands’ Schippers, Jamaica’s Thompson or the U.S.’ Bowie. The U.S. could sweep the 100m hurdles (9:55 p.m.), despite having a group of three first-time Olympians.

Beach Volleyball (11-11:50 p.m.): Women’s gold-medal match. The Copacabana Beach venue will be rocking if a Brazil pair reaches the final. American Kerri Walsh Jennings is favored to reach this final with an eye on her fourth straight gold, this time with new partner April Ross replacing the retired Misty May-Treanor.

MORE: Walsh Jennings’ advice from Karch Kiraly

Ashton Eaton
Ashton Eaton re-broke his world record at the 2015 World Championships. (Getty)

THURSDAY, AUG. 18 — DAY 13

Wrestling (4:05-5:45 p.m.): Women’s wrestling finals. Reigning world champions Helen Maroulis (63kg, 4:50 p.m.) and Adeline Gray (75kg, 5:35 p.m.) could become the first female U.S. Olympic wrestling gold medalists.

Track and Field (7:30-9:30 p.m.): American Joe Kovacs, coached by his mom growing up, is the reigning world champion in the shot put (7:30 p.m.).

The two-day, 10-event decathlon finishes with the 1500m (8:45 p.m.), where Ashton Eaton could become the first repeat champ since 1984.

That will be followed by the women’s 400m hurdles final (9:15 p.m.), which might include high schooler Sydney McLaughlin, the youngest U.S. Olympic track and field competitor since 1972.

Bolt could close the night with his last individual Olympic event, the 200m final (9:30 p.m.).

Beach Volleyball (11-11:50 p.m.): Men’s gold-medal match. Like the women, the medal favorites begin with Brazilian and American pairs. Alison and Bruno of Brazil are the 2015 World champions. Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena of the U.S. have the most international tournament titles in the world this year.

FRIDAY, AUG. 19 — DAY 14

Water Polo (2:30-3:50 p.m.): Women’s final. The U.S. finally took gold in 2012 after silver in 2000, bronze in 2004 and silver in 2008. The Americans are overwhelming favorites, since they hold every major title (Olympics, world championships, World Cup, World League).

Soccer (4:30-7 p.m.): Women’s final. The U.S. earned gold at four of five Olympic tournaments since the introduction of women’s soccer in Atlanta 1996. However, if the U.S. and Brazil both top their groups and their quarterfinals, as expected, they will face off in the semifinals Aug. 16 and not the final.

Wrestling (5:30-5:45 p.m.): Men’s 74kg freestyle final. American Jordan Burroughs won gold at London 2012 and at the world championships in 2013 and 2015. Only two U.S. wrestlers have won gold medals in consecutive Olympics.

Track and Field (7:30-9:45 p.m.): The women’s pole vault final (7:30 p.m.) was shaken by the exclusion of Russian Yelena Isinbayeva, the 2004 and 2008 Olympic champion and world-record holder. That leaves 2012 Olympic champion Jenn Suhr and newly minted American record holder Sandi Morris as potential favorites. And then there’s Brazil’s top track and field athlete, 2011 World champion Fabiana Murer. The women’s and men’s 4x100m relay finals (9:15 p.m., 9:35 p.m.) close the session, with Bolt likely racing for the final time in his Olympic career in the latter.

VIDEO: Burroughs’ son scores takedown

Neymar
Can Neymar deliver Brazil its first Olympic men’s soccer title? (Getty)

SATURDAY, AUG. 20 — DAY 15

Golf (6 a.m.-3 p.m.): Women’s final round. The only other time women’s golf was part of the Olympics, the U.S. swept the medals in 1900. That’s quite unlikely in Rio, given South Korea’s dominance on the professional tours.

Triathlon (10 a.m.-12 p.m.): Women’s race. American Gwen Jorgensen is the favorite after winning the last two world titles, though she has been beaten in two of her last four starts. Triathlon has been part of the Olympic program since 2000, and the U.S. has collected one medal, a bronze in 2004.

Basketball (2:30-4:50 p.m.): Women’s final. There’s no reason to believe the U.S., on a 41-game Olympic winning streak going into Rio, won’t take a sixth straight gold. It will likely be a matchup with Australia, France or Spain.

Diving (3:30-4:55 p.m.): Men’s platform final. The sport’s marquee event is the last of eight in the Olympic diving program. In 2012, American David Boudia won the first U.S. diving gold since 2000. As was the case four years ago, China and Brit Tom Daley are his primary competition.

Soccer (4:30-7 p.m.): Men’s final. Will Brazil, led by Neymar, make it to the gold-medal game at the Maracanã with a shot at winning its first Olympic men’s soccer title?

Track and Field (7:30-9:40 p.m.): The women’s high jump (7:30 p.m.) picture has shaken considerably in the last year. U.S. teen Vashti Cunningham broke through to win the world indoor title in March. The reigning Olympic and world champions are from Russia, which is banned from Olympic track and field.

South African Caster Semenya, she of the gender-testing controversy of 2009 and 2010, looks like the favorite in the 800m (8:15 p.m.) after taking silver in 2012. The final night of track and field concludes with the women’s and men’s 4x400m relays (9 p.m., 9:35 p.m.).

Volleyball (9:15-11:15 p.m.): Women’s final. Brazil defeated the U.S. in the last two Olympic finals. But the Americans, now with Karch Kiraly coaching, swept Brazil in the 2014 World Championship semifinals en route to gold.

SUNDAY, AUG. 21 — DAY 16

Track and Field (8:30-11:15 a.m.): The men’s marathon takes to the Rio streets. Kenya is traditionally strong, but Ugandan Stephen Kiprotich pulled off the upset at London 2012. Meb Keflezighi, the 2004 Olympic silver medalist, qualified for the U.S. team in February at age 41.

Volleyball (12:15-2:15 p.m.): Men’s final. This is one of the most coveted gold medals for the host nation. Brazil took gold in 2004 and silver in 2008 (behind the U.S.) and 2012.

Boxing (1-1:15 p.m.): Women’s middleweight final. Claressa Shields has not lost since she became the first U.S. Olympic women’s boxing champion at London 2012.

Basketball (2:45-5:05 p.m.): Men’s final. The U.S., despite lacking some NBA superstars, should reach the final and be heavily favored for its sixth gold medal in seven Games in the Dream Team era. Spain took silver in 2008 and 2012 but lost in the 2014 World Cup quarterfinals to France. The Spaniards will be without Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka.

Closing Ceremony: The Olympic cauldron will be extinguished at the Maracanã and anticipation will grow for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games and 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for Rio Olympics

Cain and LeDuc target world top 5, starting at Skate America

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Don’t tell Ashley Cain-Gribble, even gingerly, that there’s been a lull in U.S. pairs’ international results the past few years. She isn’t buying it.

“I would not say there’s a lull,” Cain-Gribble said after Thursday’s practice at Skate America in Las Vegas. “If you look at the last two years, there are a lot of international medals coming from pairs.”

True, to an extent. Cain-Gribble and partner Timothy LeDuc took home a bronze medal at Skate America last season, and last month they won the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic in Salt Lake City, defeating out-of-form Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, three-time World medalists from Russia. Their U.S. teammates Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim also opened the 2019-2020 campaign strong, with a silver medal at Nebelhorn Trophy.

Still, a U.S. pair hasn’t stood on a world championships podium since 2002, and no U.S. pair has ever won a medal at the Grand Prix Final.

“I think it’s all coming down to doing it at the right moment and I think we’re all going to be doing that,” Cain-Gribble said. “We’re technically strong, all of us.”

The skater’s coach and father, Peter Cain, thinks “nervy” errors have cost U.S. pairs big on the international stage.

“We all want U.S. teams to be successful again,” Cain said. “Pushing Ashley and Tim to be good pushes all of the teams to be good. I’ve been watching practices; all of the teams can put it together at the right moment, but we often see teams getting a little nervy and making mistakes. At this level you can’t do that.”

Cain-Gribble and LeDuc have set an ambitious goal: Finish in the world’s top five. Last season, their bronze medal at Skate America helped pave the way for the Texas-based duo’s first U.S. title and a top-10 finish at the 2019 World Figure Skating Championships; this week, they’re shooting for another medal, maybe silver or gold.

“This is one step, nationals another, and Worlds is the final step,” LeDuc said.

MORE: How to watch Skate America

They’re doing all they can to get there. About three years ago, U.S. Figure Skating enlisted Nina Mozer, coach of Russian World and European medalists including Olympic champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov, to visit U.S. pairs’ training sites and offer expertise at pairs’ camps and seminars, including this summer’s Champs Camp.

Mozer works with several top U.S. pairs, but has formed an especially close partnership with Cain-Gribble and LeDuc. She’s coaching them here in Vegas, alongside Peter Cain.

“I’m learning a lot, too, about better planning, better ways to train. She’s really good at that, and that’s why her teams are on top,” Cain said. “I kind of stand aside and let her run the show a lot when she’s with us, and part of it for me is to learn how she handles teams in competition….That makes me a better coach in the long run for all of my students, because her mannerisms are rubbing off (on me).”

Mozer thinks Cain-Gribble and LeDuc’s goals are within reach – if they can reign in their competitive juices and skate within themselves.

“It is not possible to get to the podium immediately but step-by-step they can reach the goal,” she said through an interpreter.

“During this season they are making all of the elements well, the key thing is do not rush. I’m worried that the audience is expecting a lot, and they have to forget about that and do their work. When expectations are so high, sometimes it’s hard to concentrate and very easy to be nervous.”

Cain-Gribble and LeDuc, who teamed up in May 2016, are both strong single skaters. They use their long lines – Cain-Gribble is 5-foot-6, while LeDuc is 6’1” – to their advantage, and each season have targeted areas for improvement.

During their 2018/2019 campaign, they upgraded their triple twist, making it a high-scoring (Level 4) element.

“When U.S. Figure Skating spoke to me, one of the first things (they did) was asking me to work on the twist lift,” Mozer said. “They came up to me and said, ‘Please do something.’”

This summer, the skaters attended Mozer’s camp in Italy, where the focus was overall packaging.

“It’s a really intense camp up in the Alps,” LeDuc said at Champs Camp in August. “For the most part, we really focus on our overall packaging, and speed and power through everything. With our goal top five at the World’s this year, we’re trying to do everything we can to make that happen.”

The skaters also targeted another element: their lifts. To add difficulty (and points), LeDuc is lifting and holding aloft his partner with one arm, while Cain-Gribble’s arms remain free.

“That’s the biggest difference you’ll see this year, I think,” Cain-Gribble said at Champs Camp. “Pretty much all of our lifts are one point of contact, so I’m not holding on (to LeDuc) at all.”

“I think that when we teamed up, it was one of the things people saw as our weakness,” she added. “The thought was with my height, we wouldn’t be able to do all these intricate positions, or do the one point of contact, but we’ve made our bodies strong enough to be able to do that.”

Mozer acknowledges helping the pair with their lifts, but refuses to share too many particulars.

“It’s the secrets of the coaching staff,” she said, laughing. “We knew the problems of the (lifts) and we understood what to do, and now they have no problems. They changed some things. Timothy did a lot of work to make this element better and better.”

Skating isn’t all that’s been on the agenda. Ashley married Dalton Gribble on June 1, balancing much of her off-season with wedding and honeymoon plans.

“The way we got through it, was we scheduled everything in advance,” Cain-Gribble said. “We (choreographed) our short program in the two weeks we were in Japan between Worlds and World Team Trophy, and that made up for time we would have lost. It came down to scheduling.”

The bride doesn’t think she sacrificed anything.

“I was able to take in every emotion for this big life event,” she said. “I got married and the team around me let me relax a little bit and take it all in, instead of stressing about training and run-throughs.”

Opportunity may be knocking here in Vegas. Natalia Zabiyako and Alexander Enbert of Russia, the reigning world bronze medalists, withdrew from the event due to injury. China’s Peng Cheng and Jin Yang, who won silver at last season’s Grand Prix Final, are the top-ranked pair at Skate America; Cain and LeDuc defeated them in Salt Lake City.

Mozer, who also coaches Zabiiako and Enbert, would like nothing more than to see her U.S. students atop the podium.

“When I started to work with international pairs, it was interesting for me to help raise the level of pairs skating,” she said. “We were hearing pairs’ skating is weak, it’s not interesting anymore. I want (pairs) to be as strong as singles and ice dance. We will reach that result if everyone is stronger.”

MORE: Nathan Chen calls 3 quads at Skate America ‘a given’

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Check out a free trial of the Figure Skating Pass during Skate America from Oct. 18-20. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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Figure skating Grand Prix: Five things to watch

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World champions Nathan Chen and Alina Zagitova. Former U.S. champions Karen Chen and Bradie Tennell. Two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu and world bronze medalist Vincent Zhou. World champion ice dancers Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, and two-time U.S. ice dance champions/world championship medalists Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue. Quads, quads, quads.

All of these skaters and jumps will be featured in figure skating’s Grand Prix, which runs from this weekend’s Skate America to the Grand Prix Final Dec. 5-8 at the 2006 Olympic venue of Torino, Italy. January has the U.S. Championships and European Championships, February has the Four Continents Championships, and the season wraps up with the world championships in March.

TV SCHEDULE: How to watch Skate America

Here’s what to watch over the next two months:

1. Dominant dancers due for defeat? 

France’s Papadakis and Cizeron have won four of the last five world championships. The only duo to beat them since 2014, Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moirhas officially retired. They’re still in their mid-20s. They posted the four highest scores last season.

The reigning world championship silver medalists, Russia’s Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov, had a major breakthrough last season. Until last season, they had never won the Russian championships, never skated in a Grand Prix Final, never finished higher than fourth in the European championships and never finished higher than ninth in the world championships. They still haven’t won a medal in the European championships or won a Grand Prix event. Were their second-place finishes in the world championships and Grand Prix Final a fluke or a sign that they’re ready to challenge for the top?

The top U.S. contenders, Madison Chock/Evan Bates and Madison Hubbell/Zach Donohue, train in Montreal with Papadakis and Cizeron, so they know what it takes to get to the top. Hubbell and Donohue posted the highest scores after the French champions and Russian runners-up last year to take their second straight world championship medal and a win at the Grand Prix Final ahead of Sinitsina/Katsalapov. Chock and Bates earned world championship medals in the middle of the decade and finished sixth last year as Chock returned from a long injury layoff.

Oddsmakers would surely favor Papadakis and Cizeron in every competition, but will the underdogs have their day?

The GP schedule for the top dancers and U.S. entries:

  • Skate America: Hubbell/Donohue, Christina Carreira/Anthony Ponomarenko, Caroline Green/Michael Parsons
  • Skate Canada: Hubbell/Donohue, Green/Parsons, Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker
  • Internationaux de France: Papadakis/Cizeron, Chock/Bates
  • Cup of China: Sinitsina/Katsalapov, Chock/Bates, Hawayek/Baker
  • Rostelecom Cup: Sinitsina/Katsalapov
  • NHK Trophy: Papadakis/Cizeron, Carreira/Ponomarenko, Lorraine McNamara/Quinn Carpenter

2. Can Vincent Zhou topple Chen and Hanyu?

The 2017 world junior champion has steadily and rapidly climbed the ranks since moving to senior level, taking sixth in the 2018 Olympics and third in the 2019 Four Continents before laying down two stunners, taking third in the world championships and posting a score of 299.01 in the World Team Trophy, a mark bested only by Chen and Hanyu.

This season, after spending his youth in Colorado and California, he’ll go across the country to start college at Brown.

Chen and Hanyu have been over the 300-point mark, and Japan’s Shoma Uno is consistently over 275 — the only skater other than Chen, Hanyu and Zhou to beat that standard last season. (Uno, the 2018 Olympic silver medalist and two-time world championship runner-up, picked a bad time to fall just under 275 — the world championships, where he finished fourth behind the other three high scorers.)

The GP schedule for the top men’s skaters and U.S. entries:

  • Skate America: Chen, Jason Brown, Alexei Krasnozhon
  • Skate Canada: Hanyu, Camden Pulkinen
  • Internationaux de France: Uno, Chen, Tomoki Hiwatashi
  • Cup of China: Pulkinen, Zhou
  • Rostelecom Cup: Uno, Zhou, Krasnozhon
  • NHK Trophy: Hanyu, Brown, Hiwatashi

MORE: Zhou balances Brown University with overseas assignments

3. Can the Tampa-trained pair of Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès follow up their big year?

James has taken a long and winding road to the top of the pairs world. She was born in Canada, then lived in Bermuda and Virginia before competing as a singles skater for Britain. When she moved to pairs, she also switched to France to partner first with Yannick Bonheur and then Ciprès.

For several years, the pair won the French championship but not much else. In the 2017-18 season, they earned a couple of Grand Prix medals and placed fifth in the Olympics before claiming their biggest international prize to date, a bronze medal in the world championships.

Last year, the pair went on a hot streak. They won Skate Canada. They won the Internationaux de France. They won the Grand Prix Final. They won the European championship. Finally, their streak ended at a bad time, and they took fifth in the world championships.

Olympic silver medalists Sui Wenjing and Han Cong won their second world championship last season after missing the GP season because of Han’s foot injury. Russia’s Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov were second in the world championships.

U.S. champions Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy Leduc skated in the U.S. Classic last month and posted a higher score than any of their compatriots last year. The previous champions, Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim, were seventh last year. The last two U.S. champions — Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier and Tarah Kayne/Danny O’Shea — also are continuing to compete this year.

The GP schedule for the top pairs and U.S. entries:

  • Skate America: Cain-Gribble/Leduc, Denney/Frazier, Jessica Calalang/Brian Johnson
  • Skate Canada: Tarasova/Morozov, Scimeca Knierim/Knierim, Calalang/Johnson
  • Internationaux de France: Cain-Gribble/Leduc, Denney/Frazier
  • Cup of China: Sui/Han, Kayne/O’Shea
  • Rostelecom Cup: Tarasova/Morozov, Audrey Lu/Misha Mitrofanov
  • NHK Trophy: Sui/Han, Kayne/O’Shea, Scimeca Knierim/Knierim

4. How many more young quad-jumping Russians can women’s skating handle? 

Zagitova is the defending world champion, and she isn’t even the Russian with the biggest buzz heading into the new season.

Back-to-back world junior champion Alexandra Trusova is the first woman to land a quadruple Lutz in competition. She’s also the first to land a quad toeloop. She landed two quads in one program at the 2018 world juniors, and she has done three in an unofficial skate this fall. She’s only 15. Her free skate this season includes music from “Game of Thrones.”

Anna Shcherbakova, also 15, has landed a quadruple Lutz and was second in last year’s world juniors, and she upset Trusova and Zagitova to win the Russian championship.

Trusova and Shcherbakova both lost in last year’s junior Grand Prix Final to yet another Russian, Alena Kostornaia, who’s 16 now and has the good taste to skate to the Muse song “Supermassive Black Hole” in her free skate.

Kostornaia, Trusova and Shcherbakova will make their senior-level Grand Prix debuts this season. Trusova already has competed this year and posted the highest score recorded under the new scoring system, just ahead of prior marks from Zagitova and Kostornaia.

5. Can the U.S. women put it together this year? 

Chen and Zhou give the U.S. men two legitimate medal threats in any competition, and the U.S. ice dance machine continues to spin forth contenders. But women’s skating has been in a long dry spell since the era of Michelle Kwan, Tara Lipinski, Sarah Hughes and Sasha Cohen ended. Ashley Wagner, the last U.S. woman on the podium in a major event, has retired.

Today, 2018 U.S. champion Bradie Tennell has shown she’s capable of big numbers, but cracking the top five has been difficult.

The reigning U.S. champion, Alysa Liu, is age eligible for only the Junior Grand Prix series. She’s 14, and she has already posted a score higher than any U.S. woman other than Tennell posted last year.

The good news for the U.S. women is the return of 2017 U.S. champion Karen Chen after an injury-riddled 2018-19 season. Like Zhou, she’s heading to an Ivy League school, enrolling at Cornell.

Two-time U.S. medalist Mariah Bell and the ever-entertaining Starr Andrews also have two Grand Prix assignments this season.

Ting Cui, the bronze medalist after Trusova and Shcherbakova in the 2019 world junior championships, withdrew from her Grand Prix events with an ankle injury.

The GP schedule for the top women and U.S. entries:

  • Skate America: Shcherbakova, Chen, Tennell, Amber Glenn
  • Skate Canada: Trusova, Tennell
  • Internationaux de France: Zagitova, Kostornaia, Andrews, Bell
  • Cup of China: Shcherbakova
  • Rostelecom Cup: Trusova, Bell
  • NHK Trophy: Zagitova, Kostornaia, Chen, Andrews, Megan Wessenberg

MORE: Tennell on self-doubt, lessons learned in 2019

MORE: Figure skating season broadcast schedule

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Check out a free trial of the Figure Skating Pass during Skate America from Oct. 18-20. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!