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Rostelecom Cup preview, broadcast schedule

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Could the world’s best figure skater *right now* be Shoma Uno, the 18-year-old from Japan?

Uno goes into this weekend’s Rostelecom Cup in Moscow perfect for the early season, following wins at the lower-level Lombardia Trophy in September and the free-skate-only Japan Open and Skate America in October.

Quite a bounce back for a skater who could have easily been shaken by a disappointing seventh-place finish at last season’s world championships.

Uno is 5-foot-2 and soft-spoken, but showed a resiliency in standing up again in his second full season as a senior skater. In fact, in his first event after worlds, at the Team Challenge Cup in April, he became the first skater to land a quadruple flip in competition.

Uno then trounced the last two U.S. champions, Jason Brown and Adam Rippon, at Skate America and comfortably beat two-time reigning world champion Javier Fernández of Spain at the Japan Open, which can be seen as a preseason exhibition.

Uno and Fernández meet again with higher stakes at Rostelecom Cup, beginning in Friday’s short program and concluding with Saturday’s free skate.

If Uno wins again, he will become the first skater to qualify for the Grand Prix Final in December (actually, any podium place will do that) and consolidate the argument that he is the world’s best. That Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu was flawed and beaten at Skate Canada last weekend certainly helps Uno’s case, too.

Fernández, meanwhile, has only competed once this season (that runner-up to Uno in Japan) and recently lost about a week of training while traveling from his Toronto base to Madrid to Tokyo and back for off-ice commitments.

Fernández won Rostelecom Cup the last two seasons, but both times he already had a Grand Prix start under his belt before arriving in Moscow.

Also in action this weekend are three Russians with world championships medals — 2016 bronze medalist Anna Pogorilaya, 2015 bronze medalist Yelena Radionova and 2014 silver medalist Yulia Lipnitskaya.

All three are among several countrywomen jockeying for position behind reigning world champ Yevgenia Medvedeva, who won Skate Canada last week by a whopping 14.2 points. Russia will send three women to worlds in Finland in late March, and Medvedeva appears all but a lock to earn one of those spots.

In pairs, Skate America winners Julianne Séguin and Charlie Bilodeau of Canada will qualify for a second straight Grand Prix Final with a podium finish. They go up against world bronze medalists Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot of Germany.

In ice dance, two-time world medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates compete for a second straight week after taking second at Skate Canada. They will clinch a Grand Prix Final berth with a victory and could also eventually make it with a second- or third-place finish.

Chock and Bates’ top competition will be past world medalists Yekaterina Bobrova and Dmitry Soloviyev of Russia and Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Canada.

Other Americans in action in Moscow are 2015 Skate America winner Max Aaron and Courtney Hicks.

MORE: Full figure skating season broadcast schedule

Rostelecom Cup broadcast schedule (all times Eastern)

Friday Short dance 7:45 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Friday Men’s short program 9:25 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Friday Pairs short program 12 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Friday Women’s short program 1:40 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Friday Women’s, men’s short programs 8-10 p.m. UniHD
Saturday Free dance 7 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Men’s free skate 8:50 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Pairs free skate 11:05 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Women’s free skate 12:50 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Free dance, pairs free 8-10 p.m. UniHD
Sunday Rostelecom Cup 10-11:30 p.m. NBCSN, NBC Sports app

Key Short Program Start Times (Friday ET)
Weaver/Poje (CAN) — 8:11 a.m.
Chock/Bates (USA) — 8:31 a.m.
Bobrova/Soloviyev (RUS) — 8:38 a.m.
Shoma Uno (JPN) — 10:05 a.m.
Javier Fernandez (ESP) — 10:19 a.m.
Max Aaron (USA) — 10:25 a.m.
Savchenko/Massot (FRA) — 12:14 p.m.
Seguin/Bilodeau (CAN) — 12:20 p.m.
Yulia Lipnitskaya (RUS) — 2:07 p.m.
Anna Pogorilaya (RUS) — 2:13 p.m.
Courtney Hicks (USA) — 2:47 p.m.
Yelena Radionova (RUS) — 2:53 p.m.

Top Grand Prix Season Scores
Men
1. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 279.34 (Skate America)
2. Jason Brown (USA) — 268.38 (Skate America)
3. Patrick Chan (CAN) — 266.95 (Skate Canada)
4. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 263.06 (Skate Canada)
5. Adam Rippon (USA) — 261.43 (Skate America)
*World champion Javier Fernandez yet to compete.

Women
1. Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 220.65 (Skate Canada)
2. Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN) — 206.45 (Skate Canada)
3. Ashley Wagner (USA) — 196.44 (Skate America)
4. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 192.08 (Skate Canada)
5. Mariah Bell (USA) — 191.49 (Skate America)
*World bronze medalist Anna Pogorilaya yet to compete.

Pairs
1. Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford (CAN) — 218.30 (Skate Canada)
2. Yu Xiaoyu/Zhang Hao (CHN) — 202.08 (Skate Canada)
3. Julianne Séguin/Charlie Bilodeau (CAN) — 197.31 (Skate America)
4. Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier (USA) — 192.65 (Skate America)
5. Lubov Ilyushechkina/Dylan Moscovitch (CAN) — 190.22 (Skate Canada)
*World bronze medalists Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot yet to compete.

Ice Dance
1. Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir (CAN) — 189.06 (Skate Canada)
2. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 188.24 (Skate Canada)
3. Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) — 185.75 (Skate America)
4. Piper Gilles/Paul Poirier (CAN) — 182.57 (Skate Canada)
5. Anna Cappellini/Luca Lanotte (ITA) — 180.35 (Skate Canada)
*World champions Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron yet to compete.

Justin Morneau nixes Olympic baseball qualifying return

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Justin Morneau, the 2006 AL MVP with the Minnesota Twins, was taken off Canada’s Olympic baseball qualifying roster before he would have played his first competitive game in more than two years.

Morneau, 38, experienced an unspecified setback in training and was replaced on Canada’s roster for next month’s Premier12. The global tournament marks the first opportunity for many world baseball powers to qualify for the sport’s return to the Olympics.

Morneau never played in the Olympics before baseball was cut from the Games after 2008; active MLB players have never competed in the Games. But he was on Canada’s roster at all four World Baseball Classics from 2006 through 2017.

At November’s Premier12, the top nation from North and South America will qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. Japan and Israel are already qualified. Those that do not qualify will get another chance next year.

Morneau could become the second Major League Baseball MVP to play Olympic baseball as a medal sport. The other was Jason Giambi, who made the U.S. team in 1992, the same summer he was drafted in the second round by the Oakland Athletics.

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MORE: Joe Girardi replaced as U.S. baseball manager by World Series champion

Kolohe Andino is first U.S. Olympic surfing qualifier; Kelly Slater faces last chance

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Kolohe Andino is the first American to qualify for surfing’s Olympic debut, which leaves one spot left for 47-year-old Kelly Slater to chase at the final contest of the season.

Andino, a 25-year-old Californian whose first name means “rascal” in Hawaiian, clinched his place in Tokyo on Friday at the penultimate stop on the World Surf League Championship Tour in Portugal. He is ranked fifth in the world, trailing a trio of Brazilians.

One more American man will join Andino on the Olympic team. It will be one of Slater, the 11-time world champion, John John Florence, the 2016 and 2017 World champion, and rising 22-year-old Hawaiian Seth Moniz.

Slater was handed a golden opportunity to qualify when Florence announced in early July that he tore an ACL for the second time in 13 months. Florence had won two of the first five events this season.

Slater has been chasing the sidelined Florence in the standings ever since. But it has not been easy.

Slater hasn’t made the quarterfinals in any of his last seven contests going into December’s finale — the prestigious Billabong Pipeline Masters on the North Shore of Oahu.

“Ninth place, to me, used to be a pretty awful result. I’m used to at least a quarterfinal on for most of my career,” he said in July, noting a back injury. “I’m not horrified by my results, but I’m also not surprised. Maybe other people are because everyone focuses on my age and that kind of thing. It’s not like I’m going to all of a sudden forget how to do this thing, you know?”

Slater, who won the Pipe Masters seven times between 1992 and 2013, must reach the quarterfinals at this year’s event to have any chance of passing Florence to qualify for the Olympics.

Complicating matters: Florence said in August it was his “goal to get better for Pipeline in case I have to come back and compete and gain points,” according to ESPN.com. If Florence does return for the December contest, and makes the quarterfinals, Slater could only pass him with a victory.

Moniz goes into the finale ranked one spot behind Slater, meaning he, too, can grab that second and final Olympic spot with a win or a runner-up.

Slater, who turns 48 on Feb. 11, would be the oldest U.S. Summer Olympic rookie competitor in a sport other than equestrian, sailing or shooting (or art competitions!) in the last 100 years, supplanting Martina Navratilova, according to the OlyMADMen.

MORE: Top U.S. surfer has links to Egg McMuffin, Guinness World Record holder

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