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Javier Fernandez, skaters born in 2000s headline Cup of China; preview

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PyeongChang will mark the first Winter Games with athletes born in the 2000s. Four of the top figure skating prospects compete at Cup of China, the third of six Grand Prix series stops, live on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA on Friday and Saturday.

Spain’s Javier Fernandez, a two-time world champion, is not one of those fresh-faced phenoms. But he is the most accomplished singles skater in this week’s field.

His competition includes U.S. silver medalist Vincent Zhou, who was 6 years old when Fernandez made his world debut in 2007.

Three women at Cup of China were born in 2001 or 2002, including the last two world junior champions. They’ll face Canadian Gabrielle Daleman, the world bronze medalist. Daleman is a veteran in relation at age 19.

The Cup of China live broadcast schedule on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA (all times Eastern):

Friday
Short Dance — 3:30 a.m.
Women’s Short — 5 a.m.
Men’s Short — 7 a.m.
Pairs Short — 9 a.m.

Saturday
Men’s Free — 2:30 a.m.
Free Dance — 4:30 a.m.
Pairs Free — 6:30 a.m.
Women’s Free — 9 a.m.

NBC will air a recap show Sunday from 4:30-6 p.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.

Men
Nobody has been as consistent in Grand Prix events than Javier Fernandez the last three seasons.

The Spaniard, seeking his nation’s first Winter Olympic medal since 1992, has won five straight titles dating to 2014. But he missed the podium at the two biggest events last season — placing fourth at the Grand Prix Final and at worlds, where he led after the short program seeking a three-peat.

China’s Jin Boyang, bronze medalist at the last two worlds, is Fernandez’s biggest competition this weekend. The 20-year-old is capable of attempting five quads in a program (first done successfully by Nathan Chen in January). Jin won his season opener, a lower-level event four weeks ago, despite falling three times between two programs.

Then there’s Vincent Zhou, the U.S. silver medalist making his Grand Prix debut at age 17. Zhou is favored to become the youngest U.S. Olympic male singles skater since 1964 on the strength of his jumps. Zhou can do four quads in one program, more than any U.S. man aside from Chen. Zhou was 2.59 points behind Jin at that lower-level event four weeks ago.

Also in the field: Russian champion Mikhail Kolyada, 2013 U.S. champion Max Aaron

Women
A good case to be made that this week’s winner joins Yevgenia Medvedeva and Kaetlyn Osmond as the Olympic medal favorites.

Medvedeva and Osmond, the world gold and silver medalists, won the first two Grand Prix events with ease.

This week’s field is led by surprise world bronze medalist Gabrielle Daleman of Canada and the last two world junior champions in Russian Alina Zagitova and Marin Honda of Japan. Plus Wakaba Higuchi, who is ranked third in the world this season. Zagitova, Honda and Higuchi were all born in 2001 or 2002.

Daleman, 19, has made six Grand Prix starts and never made the podium. She broke out last winter, taking second at the Four Continents Championships in February and third at worlds in March. However, she fell three times between two programs at her lower-level season debut earlier this month, placing sixth.

Zagitova, born three months after the 2002 Olympics, is ranked second in the world this season via her senior international debut victory at a low-level event in Italy. She can tighten a grip on one of Russia’s three Olympic spots this week given recent struggles from veterans Yelena Radionova and Anna Pogorilaya.

Honda entered this season in Zagitova’s company as must-watch senior debutantes, but she bombed in the short program at Skate Canada last week and finished fifth overall. The Japanese women have little room for error with just two Olympic spots available.

Which makes this week so interesting. Honda goes up against Higuchi, who took bronze at the Grand Prix opener two weeks ago, and Mai Mihara, who was fifth at worlds last year. An interested onlooker has to be Satoko Miyahara, the three-time reigning Japanese champion who makes her season debut next week.

Also in the field: 2015 World champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, Radionova, American Amber Glenn.

Pairs
Chinese pairs will benefit not only from home-ice advantage, but also that no other pairs from the top eight at worlds are in this field.

So Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, who went silver-silver-gold at the last three worlds, and Yu Xiaoyu and Zhang Hao, fourth at their worlds debut together last season, should go one-two this week.

If Sui and Han repeat either of their total scores from last season (injury-shortened), they will move to the top of this season’s pairs rankings.

U.S. bronze medalists Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc make their Grand Prix debut filling in for Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea. The U.S. can send one pair to the Olympics. Cain and LeDuc could really use a personal best to impress selectors. They don’t have the recent national or international success that Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier and Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim can boast.

Ice Dance
Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir aren’t in the field this week. That’s good news for the chances of France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who are undefeated against the rest of the world the last 34 months.

Papadakis and Cizeron, world champions in 2015 and 2016, must deal with the incredible pressure of trying to keep up with Virtue and Moir. In their last six competitions, the Canadians posted six of the seven highest scores under an eight-year-old system.

Papadakis and Cizeron’s personal best from 2017 Worlds is now 3.82 points behind the most recent best by Virtue and Moir set in Canada last week.

Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates have measuring sticks, too. Those are the scores posted by Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue (189.43) and Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani (189.24) the last two weeks.

Those are almost certainly going to be the three U.S. dance couples in PyeongChang, but given the Canadian and French dominance, there may only be one medal available to them in February.

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Too early to say whether virus threatens Olympics, WHO says

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GENEVA (AP) — Despite a virus outbreak spreading from China, a top World Health Organization official said Tuesday it’s much too soon to say whether the Tokyo Olympics are at risk of being cancelled or moved.

Tokyo organizers and the International Olympic Committee have repeatedly said they have no contingency plans for the July 24-Aug. 9 Summer Games since the WHO declared a global health emergency last month.

The U.N. agency’s emergencies program director, Michael Ryan, said Tuesday the sporting event was “way too far” away to consider giving advice that would affect Tokyo’s hosting of the Olympics.

“We are not there to make a decision for that,” Ryan told The Associated Press on the sidelines of a news conference at WHO headquarters.

Geneva-based WHO has been in regular contact with the IOC in nearby Lausanne since the virus known as COVID-19 emerged in December.

“We don’t give them judgments,” Ryan said. “We assist them with their risk assessment. We will be working closely with them in the coming weeks and months.”

The death toll in mainland China due to the virus rose to almost 1,900 on Tuesday, with more than 72,000 confirmed cases.

The outbreak has caused numerous sports events in China to be canceled, postponed, or moved, including qualifying events for the Tokyo Olympics.

Chinese athletes and teams have also been unable to travel for some competitions. China sent a team of more than 400 athletes to the Rio Olympics. It won 70 medals, including 26 gold, to place second in total medal standings.

Around 11,000 athletes and many more team coaches and officials from more than 200 national teams are expected in Japan for the Olympics.

Japan has experienced the most significant outbreak of the virus outside of China, on the cruise ship Diamond Princess docked in quarantine at Yokohama in Tokyo Bay.

During a 14-day isolation that ends Wednesday, 542 cases have been identified among more than 3,700 passengers and crew.

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For Mike Eruzione, Al Michaels, it’s no miracle that 1980 Olympics endure

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Mike Eruzione has been reminded on a daily basis about the Miracle on Ice for nearly four decades. While playing celebrity golf tournaments. At speaking engagements. Or that time he auctioned his jersey and stick from the Soviet game to a 9-year-old boy named Seven.

Eruzione, now 65, likes to open conversations with one anecdote about meeting strangers, which he repeated in a call with reporters last week.

“The stories I hear, 40 years later, it’s depending on their age — I remember where I was when Kennedy was assassinated, I remember where I was on 9/11. I remember where I was when the Challenger blew up. And I remember where I was when we won,” Eruzione said. “And I always say, ‘We? I didn’t know you were on the team.’

“But people felt a part of it. … It’s nice to know that people remember and share some great stories about what we did so long ago.”

The captain of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team owns a last name that means “eruption” in Italian. Eruzione scored the decisive goal in the U.S.’ 4-3 win over the Soviet Union en route to a shock gold medal during the Cold War in Lake Placid, N.Y.

NBCSN airs a 30-minute special marking the 40th anniversary of the Miracle on Ice on Wednesday at 11:30 p.m. ET. It will feature a conversation between Olympic primetime host Mike Tirico and Al Michaels, the play-by-play voice of the game dubbed by Sports Illustrated the greatest sports moment of the 20th century.

Eruzione has grandchildren now. Three of them skate at the Mike Eruzione Center in his hometown of Winthrop, Mass.

“They don’t even know who Mike Eruzione is,” Eruzione said of the 5-, 6- and 7-year-olds, “but they know about the Miracle.”

All credit to the U.S. Olympic team of 20 players between ages 19 and 25, back when the NHL did not participate in the Olympics. The Soviets were essentially a team of professionals. The nation won the previous four Olympics and throttled the U.S. 10-3 in a pre-Olympic exhibition at Madison Square Garden.

Enter Michaels, calling hockey at the Lake Placid Winter Games alongside Hall of Fame goalie Ken Dryden. Michaels, then 35, said he was assigned the sport because he had the most hockey experience on the ABC Olympic talent roster — one game. He called the 1972 Olympic hockey final by himself.

Feb. 22, 1980: As the U.S. led the Soviet Union 4-3 and the final seconds ticked down, one word came to mind: miraculous.

“It got morphed into a question and quick answer, and away we went,” Michaels said.

Eruzione said he didn’t learn of Michaels’ call — “Do you believe in Miracles? Yes!” — until two weeks after the Olympics. He didn’t watch the game broadcast until years later.

“I never thought it was a miracle, but it was a catchy phrase and it sounded right,” Eruzione said, noting he preferred Michaels’ call in the final comeback win over Finland to clinch the gold: “This impossible dream comes true.”

Team members since gathered often — to light the 2002 Olympic cauldron in Salt Lake City, for fantasy camps in Lake Placid and for coach Herb Brooks‘ 2003 funeral. Eighteen of the 20 players are scheduled to reunite this weekend in Las Vegas.

Absent will be Mark Pavelich, who was jailed last year on assault charges and ruled mentally incompetent to stand trial. And Bob Suter, who died in 2014 of a heart attack at age 57.

It was Suter’s death that motivated Eruzione and others to commemorate the 35th anniversary together in Lake Placid. It was believed to be the first time all living players were together in Lake Placid since the 1980 Winter Games.

Eruzione said that the 2004 film “Miracle” introduced the team to a new generation. Now at many of his speeches, the majority of Eruzione’s audience was born after 1980.

“I’ll say, how many people watched the movie ‘Miracle,’ and almost everybody raises their hand,” he said. “So I think what the movie did for us as a team was kind of rejuvenated our team as far as people knowing who we were and what we are and what we were about.”

NFL coaches set up “Miracle” viewings for their teams before games. Michael Phelps watched it for motivation at the 2004 Athens Olympics. Phelps told relay teammates, “This is our time,” before they beat rival Australia. An ode to Brooks’ pregame speech before the Soviet game.

Michaels, whose 13-year-old grandson won an October hockey tournament in Lake Placid, said he watched “Miracle” last week for the first time in about a decade. He helped do voiceovers in production more than 15 years ago, though the original Lake Placid audio was used for his signature call.

“The great thing is, in a way, when you watch it back or you watch highlights back, you almost become like in the third person, like somebody else is doing this and announcing this game,” Michaels said. “I exult the way I think most of the country did and do when they see highlights of it. So it’s kind of an out-of-body experience in a way, but it’s a beautiful thing.”

After Eruzione shared his tale of strangers’ memories, Michaels added one of his own.

“One of my favorite stories is Mike Eruzione calling me maybe eight to 10 years ago and saying, ‘The greatest thing about this is every time I come home and maybe I’m a little down, I need a little pick-me-up, I’ll put the tape in,'” Michaels said. “‘Every time I shoot, the puck goes in. It will forever.'”

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