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Ashley Wagner trails at Cup of China, Grand Prix Final in jeopardy

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The U.S. went from potentially having three singles skaters in the Grand Prix Final for the first time since 2009 to possibly having none after the Cup of China short program Friday.

World silver medalist Ashley Wagner is in fifth place after performing a triple-double jump combination rather than a triple-triple. Wagner scored 64.36 points, which is 7.84 points behind leader Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada.

Full scores are here.

If the standings hold and Wagner finishes fifth after the free skate, she will have to wait for the results of next week’s NHK Trophy to see if she qualifies for her fifth straight Grand Prix Final.

December’s Grand Prix Final is the most exclusive event in figure skating, taking the top six skaters from the six-event Grand Prix series by totaling each skater’s two results.

Wagner won Skate America in October, putting her in the driver’s seat for a berth before her short program Friday in her second event.

Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva is already qualified for the Grand Prix Final. If the Cup of China standings hold, Osmond and Russian Yelena Radionova will join her. Two more Russians, Anna Pogorilaya and Maria Sotskova, are in the driver’s seat to qualify at NHK Trophy next week.

Three Japanese skaters — Mai Mihara, Satoko Miyahara and Wakaba Higuchi — are also in the picture.

On the men’s side, China’s Jin Boyang complicated the Grand Prix Final qualifying picture by doing the opposite of Wagner on Friday.

Jin, the world bronze medalist who was fifth at Skate America, topped the Cup of China short program with 96.17 points after landing two quadruple jumps.

He leads a surprise in second place, Israel’s Daniel Samohin, by a whopping 12.7 points. Three-time world champion Patrick Chan of Canada is third.

If Jin holds on to win Cup of China, he will pass American Adam Rippon in the Grand Prix Final qualifying standings.

This is key, as Shoma Uno and Javier Fernandez have already qualified for the Grand Prix Final, and Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu is likely to join them if he performs well at NHK Trophy next week.

Likewise, Chan, who won Skate Canada in October, will qualify for the Grand Prix Final if the standings hold after the free skate Saturday.

That would essentially leave one open men’s Grand Prix Final spot, with Rippon in the clubhouse lead going into NHK Trophy.

Two other Americans are also in the running. Jason Brown can pass Rippon if he finishes fourth or better at NHK. Nathan Chen can pass Rippon if he finishes second or better at NHK.

But Israel’s Oleksii Bychenko could spoil it for all of the Americans if he finishes second or better at NHK, and ahead of Brown and Chen.

The U.S. has already qualified two ice dance couples for the Grand Prix Final — Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue — and should get a third with Maia and Alex Shibutani in second place after the Cup of China short dance.

The U.S. has always qualified at least one singles skater for the Grand Prix Final, which debuted in 1995.

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Shelby Houlihan shatters American 5000m record

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Shelby Houlihan chopped 10.52 seconds off her own American 5000m record, clocking 14:23.92 at a Bowerman Track Club intrasquad meet in Portland, Ore., on Friday night.

Houlihan, who was 11th in the Rio Olympic 5000m, has in this Olympic cycle improved to become one of the greatest female distance runners in U.S. history.

She first broke Shannon Rowbury‘s American record in the 5000m by 4.47 seconds in 2018. In 2019, she broke Rowbury’s American record in the 1500m by 1.3 seconds in finishing fourth at the world championships in 3:54.99.

On Friday, Houlihan and second-place Karissa Schweizer both went under the American record. Schweizer, 24 and three years younger than Houlihan, clocked 14:26.34, staying with Houlihan until the winner’s 61-second final lap.

“I knew Karissa was going to try to come up on me and take the lead. She does that every time,” Houlihan told USATF.tv. “I had decided I was not going to let that happen.”

Houlihan improved from 41st to 12th on the world’s all-time 5000m list, 12.77 seconds behind Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba‘s world record.

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Can T.J. Oshie, other established Olympic hockey stars hold on for 2022?

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T.J. Oshie will be 35 years old during the next Winter Olympics. Jonathan Quick will be 36. Now that the NHL is one key step closer to returning to the Winter Games, the question surfaces: which 2014 Olympians will have a difficult time returning to rosters in 2022?

Oshie was the last of the 14 forwards chosen for the U.S. Olympic team for Sochi, beating out Bobby Ryan and Brandon Saad, in part for his shootout prowess.

In group play against Russia, Oshie was memorably tapped by U.S. head coach Dan Bylsma six times in a shootout, including all five in the sudden-death rounds. Oshie beat Sergei Bobrovsky four times, including the game winner.

“After I went out for my third attempt, I figured I was going to keep going,” Oshie said, according to USA Hockey. “Each time I would look up to see what [Bylsma] had to say, and he would just give me a nod every time. I kind of started laughing toward shot five and six because it was getting kind of ridiculous.”

Oshie became known as “T.J. Sochi” on social media. President Barack Obama congratulated him on Twitter. The U.S. eventually lost to Canada in the semifinals and Finland in the bronze-medal game.

When the NHL chose not to send its players to the PyeongChang Winter Games, it may have spelled the end of Oshie’s Olympic career.

Consider that the oldest forward on the 2014 U.S. Olympic team was 29, six years younger than Oshie will be come 2022. A recent Olympic roster prediction from The Hockey Writers put Oshie in the “Just Missed Out” list.

NBC Sports NHL analyst Pierre McGuire has Oshie among the finalists for the last forward spots in his early U.S. roster prediction.

“I wouldn’t discount T.J. Oshie because shootout is still part of it,” McGuire said. “He still has his shootout moves, even though he’s not getting any younger.”

Quick, the unused third goalie in 2010, played 305 out of 365 minutes in net for the U.S. in Sochi. He was coming off a Stanley Cup in 2012 and en route to another one in 2014.

Since, he was sidelined by a knee injury that required surgery. He remains the Los Angeles Kings’ No. 1 goalie, which almost automatically puts an American in the Olympic roster discussion these days.

“Somebody like Jonathan definitely merits consideration just because of his achievement level over time, but I think he’d be the first person to tell you injuries have definitely affected him,” McGuire said of Quick, looking to become the second-oldest U.S. goalie to play in the Olympics after Tom Barrasso in 2002. “It’s not going to be easy for him.”

The U.S. could bypass Quick for three Olympic rookies in 2022. Connor Hellebuyck, John Gibson and Ben Bishop have superior save percentages and goals-against averages and more games played than Quick since the start of the 2018-19 season.

A wild card is Spencer Knight, the 19-year-old No. 1 from the world junior championships who last year became the highest-drafted goalie since 2010 (No. 13 to the Florida Panthers). Knight would break defenseman Bryan Berard‘s record as the youngest U.S. Olympic hockey player in the NHL era.

The Canadian roster has traditionally been deeper than the U.S. The talent is overwhelming at center, led by Sidney CrosbyConnor McDavidPatrice Bergeron and Nathan MacKinnon. The Canadians must get creative if the likes of veterans Jonathan Toews and John Tavares will join them in Beijing.

Toews, then 21, was the best forward at the 2010 Vancouver Games and Canada’s only one on the all-tournament team. While Toews’ last NHL All-Star selection was in 2017, his last two seasons have been his best in terms of points per game since 2011.

“The one thing that Canada is very good at, they do it extremely well, they select players that fit roles,” McGuire said, noting Mike Richards shifting to the wing during the 2010 Olympics. “When you look at the overwhelming depth that Canada has, that’s going to be the thing that’s going that’s going to be very interesting to watch to see how it plays out at center.”

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