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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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MORE: Nathan Chen sees ‘pretty high chance’ of Olympic gold

Nathan Chen, Simone Biles, U.S. women’s soccer team win Team USA Awards

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Simone Biles was named female athlete of the year and Nathan Chen took the corresponding award for men Tuesday at the Team USA Awards in Los Angeles.

Six-time Olympic swimming champion Amy Van Dyken-Rouen, who has taken up wheelchair CrossFit competition since an ATV accident in 2014 left her paralyzed from the waist down, took the Jesse Owens Olympic Spirit Award. She works to help other people with spinal cord injuries through the Amy Van Dyken Foundation and Amy’s Army, which has launched a Wheels for Kids program to help injured children find wheelchairs that may not be covered by insurance.

The show also included a medal ceremony in which the teammates and family of the late Steven Holcomb received silver medals that were reallocated after doping infractions changed the results of the 2014 Olympic bobsled competition.

MORE: Holcomb’s legacy lives on 

Award winners from the ceremony:

Female Olympic athlete of the year: Simone Biles, gymnastics 

Biles took a one-year break after winning four gold medals and a bronze medal in the 2016 Olympics, then came back to do even better, unleashing new skills on the balance beam and in the floor exercise. This year, she won five gold medals at the world championships, breaking the record for career medals.

Female Paralympic athlete of the year: Oksana Masters, Para Nordic skiing and Para cycling 

Already an eight-time Paralympic medalist in Nordic skiing, biathlon and rowing, Masters had a breakout year in cycling, taking silver medals in the world championships. In Nordic skiing, Masters took five world championships (three cross-country, two biathlon) and the overall World Cup championship in sitting cross-country along with a second-place overall finish in biathlon.

Male Olympic athlete of the year: Nathan Chen, figure skating 

Chen had a double back-to-back year, winning his second straight world championship and his second straight Grand Prix final. He also started his 2019-20 season by winning both of his Grand Prix events. He and Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu are far ahead of any other skaters in posted scores this season.

Male Paralympic athlete of the year: Ben Thompson, Para archery 

Thompson took the world championship and the No. 1 ranking in the men’s compound event and led the U.S. to a world record in the team compound event.

Olympic team of the year: U.S. women’s soccer team 

The team claimed the sport’s biggest prize for the second straight time, working its way through a difficult field that included a quarterfinal matchup with host France to win the World Cup once again, adding to its previous wins in 1991, 1999 and 2015.

Paralympic team of the year: U.S. sled hockey team 

Like the women’s soccer team, the sled hockey team went unbeaten in the world championships and claimed a fourth world title.

MORE: Golden goal clinches championship

Olympic coach of the year: KiSik Lee, archery 

This year, Brady Ellison won a world title and set a world record in the Pan Am Games, and Ellison teamed with Casey Kaufhold to win the world title in the mixed team event, which will be on the Olympic program in 2020.

Paralympic coach of the year: Wesley Johnson, paratriathlon 

The founder and head coach of Balanced Art Multisport in Salt Lake City, Johnson is the personal coach of three top-10 paratriathletes, and he served as an assistant coach in the world championships, where three of the athletes he coached won silver medals.

NBC will have highlights of the show at 2 p.m. ET Dec. 22.

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Hanyu, Zagitova control their Grand Prix Final destiny at NHK Trophy; TV, live stream schedule

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In order to qualify for the Grand Prix Final — after missing the event the past two seasons for varying reasons — two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu needs to finish inside the top four at NHK Trophy, the sixth and last remaining Grand Prix series event. Hanyu competes on home ice in Japan this weekend, and the event is streaming live for NBC Sports Gold subscribers.

A full breakdown of Grand Prix Final-clinching scenarios can be found here.

Hanyu won the Grand Prix Final four straight times (2013-16). The prestigious December event would be the first time this season Hanyu and two-time Grand Prix Final champion Nathan Chen would compete head-to-head, outside the world championships in March.

Hanyu trains in Toronto alongside American Jason Brown, who will also be competing in Japan. Brown clinches a spot in the Grand Prix Final if he earns a silver or better, but is also very likely in if he earns a bronze medal.

Reigning Olympic and world champion Alina Zagitova of Russia is in a similar situation this weekend at NHK Trophy, needing to finish on the podium to clinch a berth in the Final. She faces Moscow-based training partner Alena Kostornaia (who needs to finish fifth or better to make the Final) and Japan’s Rika Kihira (must earn a medal of any color), among others such as 2019 European champion Sofia Samodurova of Russia and 2017 U.S. national champion Karen Chen.

MORE: Alina Zagitova focused on artistry, while other Russians push technical boundaries

Three teams in the pairs’ field at NHK Trophy can earn spots in the Grand Prix Final. Two-time world pair champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong of China and Russia’s Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov need a medal of any color to clinch, while Canada’s Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro need silver to clinch, but could win with a bronze and a high score. See the breakdown here for details.

In ice dance, four-time world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France are favorites at NHK Trophy. They have appeared in three Grand Prix Finals and own a medal of each color, including a win at their most recent appearance in 2017. (The duo withdrew from a regular-series Grand Prix event last season and were unable to qualify for the Final.)

The most likely NHK Trophy scenario is that Papadakis and Cizeron win NHK Trophy, and Russia’s Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin finish second – and if that happens, Papadakis and Cizeron, Stepanova and Bukin and Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates (currently on the cusp of an entry) all make the Final.

MORE: Gabriella Papadakis, Guillaume Cizeron on ‘Fame,’ chasing history

NHK Trophy Broadcast Schedule

Day Time (ET) Event Network
Thursday 10:30 p.m. Rhythm Dance NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
Friday 12 a.m. Pairs’ Short NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
2:30 a.m. Women’s Short NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
5 a.m. Men’s Short NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
10 p.m. Free Dance NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
Saturday 12:30 a.m. Pairs’ Free NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
2:30 a.m. Women’s Free NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
5 a.m. Men’s Free NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
Sunday 4 p.m. Highlights NBC | STREAM LINK

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. 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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