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Karen Chen, Ashley Wagner duel at Skate Canada; preview

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The top two U.S. female figure skaters go head-to-head at Skate Canada, live on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA on Friday and Saturday.

U.S. champion Karen Chen and 2016 World silver medalist Ashley Wagner open their Olympic seasons in earnest at the second of six Grand Prix events leading up to the Grand Prix Final in December.

Three-time world champion Patrick Chan, U.S. Olympian Jason Brown and world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir also headline the fields in Regina, Saskatchewan.

The Skate Canada broadcast schedule on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA (all times Eastern):

Friday — STREAM LINK
Women’s Short — 3 p.m.
Short Dance — 5 p.m.
Men’s Short — 8 p.m.
Pairs Short — 10 p.m.

Saturday — STREAM LINK
Women’s Free — 1 p.m.
Free Dance — 3 p.m.
Men’s Free — 7 p.m.
Pairs Free — 9 p.m.

NBCSN will air a highlights show Sunday from 11:30 p.m.-1 a.m. ET.

All coverage will stream on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app. Olympic Channel coverage will also stream on Olympicchannel.com and the Olympic Channel app.

Women
The field here is deep, but let’s start with the Americans.

Karen Chen (no relation to U.S. men’s champion Nathan Chen) still needs to prove the kind of consistency associated with the three-time U.S. champion Ashley Wagner.

While the 18-year-old Chen won her first national title last season (in a huge upset) and finished a strong fourth at worlds, she has never placed better than fifth in four Grand Prix starts. And she was third at a smaller international event in Salt Lake City last month, outscored by Mirai Nagasu, who was fourth at nationals.

Chen must get through much more experienced skaters to reach the podium on Saturday.

Wagner, 26, made her senior international debut at Skate Canada a full decade ago and won this event in 2015. But she has something to prove as well. Wagner’s last season was her least successful in six years. She already threw out her Olympic season free skate last month.

Instead, the favorites have to be Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond, Japanese Marin Honda and Russian Anna Pogorilaya.

Osmond won Skate Canada in her Grand Prix debut in 2012 at age 16. She struggled with injuries the next three seasons, making zero top-level podiums, but re-emerged last season to take silver at worlds. If Osmond is truly the top threat to Olympic super favorite Yevgenia Medvedeva, she’ll notch her biggest international win in five years on Saturday.

Honda, the 2016 World junior champion with 244,000 Instagram followers, won her senior international debut last month against a field that included three of the top four from the U.S. Championships. Japan has only two Olympic spots, so she must be on her game early this season to impress selectors.

Pogorilaya imploded at worlds — 13th place — but was arguably the world’s second-best skater last fall. The 19-year-old won both of her Grand Prix starts and was third at the Grand Prix Final. Russia is so deep that Pogorilaya is on the bubble for one of its three Olympic team spots, along with another Skate Canada entrant — Maria Sotskova.

Men
Shoma Uno 
is the clear favorite here. The world silver medalist posted the fourth-highest score of all time at a lower-level event to open the season last month. Though the diminutive 19-year-old descended to earth at the free-skate only Japan Open, he remains the only man in this field with a clear path to an Olympic medal.

Canadian Patrick Chan is far more accomplished, with three world titles and an Olympic silver medal already to his name. But he lacks the technical firepower to win a seventh Skate Canada crown if Uno is clean with all of his quadruple jumps.

Jason Brown is the class of the rest of this field. Will he land a fully rotated quadruple jump in competition for the first time? It would be a big step en route to a possible second Olympic berth come January, when he’ll be up against consistent quad men at nationals.

Pairs
Five of the top eight pairs from the last Grand Prix season are in this field, led by two-time world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada and 2017 World silver medalists Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot of Germany.

Duhamel and Radford struggled last winter, with a seventh-place finish at worlds, where they were looking to become the first pair to three-peat in nearly 40 years. Problems persisted with three falls in their free skate at a low-level event last month.

Savchenko and Massot aren’t yet Olympic eligible — the French-born Massot is finishing German citizenship tests. They are the favorites this week given their success last season before and after the Ukraine-born Savchenko tore an ankle ligament — two Grand Prix wins, then silver medals at Europeans and worlds.

The other podium contenders are Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres, France’s best pair in more than a decade, and Chinese Peng Cheng and Jin Yang.

U.S. champions Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier could really use two strong skates after finishing 20th at worlds and fourth against a weak field in Salt Lake City a month ago. They’re currently an underdog for the U.S.’ one Olympic spot in pairs.

Ice Dance
Tessa Virtue 
and Scott Moir went undefeated in their return last season after two years off. They’ve also won their last six starts at Skate Canada dating to 2007.

Nobody in this field should challenge the 2010 Olympic champions who already own the highest score in the world this season set last month.

The silver medal could go to Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue. They were on the brink of breaking out a season ago, but Hubbell fell at nationals and Donohue crashed at worlds. Shocking in top-level ice dance.

Canadian’s Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje are a great measuring stick for the Americans. They’ve been in the top five at worlds seven straight times but went winless last season in a step backward.

Bettering Weaver and Poje in Canada would be an important step to show that Hubbell and Donohue belong in Olympic medal talk.

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Which athletes are qualified for the U.S. Olympic team?

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Soon after Tokyo Olympic qualifying events began getting postponed, the International Olympic Committee announced that all quota places already allocated to National Olympic Committees and athletes will remain with those NOCs and athletes.

The IOC repeated that position over the last week, after the Tokyo Games were postponed (now to open July 23, 2021). What does that mean for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee?

Well, 76 athletes qualified for the U.S. Olympic team before the Olympic postponement was announced. That full list is here.

Those 76 athletes can be separated into two categories.

  • Athletes who earned Olympic spots BY NAME via International Federation (i.e. International Surfing Association or International Aquatics Federation) selection procedures.
  • Athletes named to the U.S. Olympic team by their national governing body (i.e. USA Swimming or USA Track and Field) and confirmed by the USOPC using NGB selection procedures after the NGB earned a quota spot.

When the IOC says “all quota places already allocated to National Olympic Committees and athletes will remain with those NOCs and athletes,” it means just that. USA Softball still has 15 athlete quota spots from qualifying a full team via international results. Surfer Kolohe Andino still has his Olympic spot from qualifying BY NAME via the International Surfing Association selection procedures route.

USA Softball named its 15-player Olympic roster last fall. Those 15 athletes did not earn Olympic quota spots for themselves. Unlike Andino (and 13 other American qualifiers across all sports), the 15 softball players had to be nominated by USA Softball and confirmed by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

Unless and until the USOPC confirms that any of those other 62 athletes remain qualified, for now the list of U.S. Olympic qualifiers is these 14 who qualified BY NAME:

Karate (1)
Sakura Kokumai

Modern Pentathlon (2)
Samantha Achterberg
Amro Elgeziry

Swimming (3)
Haley Anderson
Ashley Twichell
Jordan Wilimovsky

Sport Climbing (4)
Kyra Condie
Brooke Raboutou
Nathaniel Coleman
Colin Duffy

Surfing (4)
Caroline Marks
Carissa Moore
Kolohe Andino
John John Florence

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New dates set for Tokyo Olympics, Paralympics in 2021

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The Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics have been rescheduled for nearly one year later with the Olympics set for July 23-Aug. 8, 2021. The Paralympics will be Aug 24-Sept 5.

“These new dates give the health authorities and all involved in the organisation of the Games the maximum time to deal with the constantly changing landscape and the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to a press release. The new dates “also have the added benefit that any disruption that the postponement will cause to the international sports calendar can be kept to a minimum, in the interests of the athletes and the IFs. Additionally, they will provide sufficient time to finish the qualification process.”

The original Olympic Opening Ceremony was to be July 24, 2020, before the Games were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Organizers said last Tuesday that the Games would be moved to some time in 2021 before the end of summer.

Until Monday’s announcement, it was possible the Olympics could have been scheduled for the spring for the first time since the 1928 Amsterdam Games. IOC President Thomas Bach said keeping the July-August timeframe had “unanimous support” from international sport federations.

The new Olympic dates overlap with the original dates for the 2021 World Championships in aquatics (July 16-Aug. 1) and track and field (Aug. 6-15). Both federations said last week it was possible their world championships dates could be moved to accommodate new Olympic dates.

Cornel Marculescu, the executive director of the international aquatics federation (FINA), said last week there was no chance of its worlds in Fukuoka, Japan, being bumped back to 2022.

“No, no, no, no, no, no,” he said, according to The Associated Press. “If they do [the Olympics] in summer, then we (will have to change) the dates (of the world championships).”

World Athletics issued a further update after Monday’s Olympic announcement, saying it began working with organizers of its 2021 World Championships in Eugene, Ore., on new dates in 2022.

The Tokyo Olympics will end fewer than six months before the start of the Beijing Winter Games, which open Feb. 4, 2022. It marks the shortest break between a Summer and Winter Games since they were last held in the same year in 1992.

Non-medal Olympic events typically start one or two days before the Opening Ceremony. The original Tokyo Olympic schedule had softball games kicking off competition two days before the Opening Ceremony.

The new competition schedule for the Tokyo Games in 2021 has not been released.

It is the earliest start to a Summer Olympics since the 1996 Atlanta Games began July 19.

The original Paralympic Opening Ceremony was to be Aug. 25, 2020.

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