Surprise leader at Cup of China (video)

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The men’s leader at Cup of China isn’t two-time world champion Javier Fernandez. It’s not world bronze medalist Jin Boyang. Not American Vincent Zhou, the world junior champion, either.

Instead, it’s Mikhail Kolyada, who shattered his Russian record for a short program score in Beijing on Friday.

The 22-year-old tallied 103.13 points, buoyed by a quadruple Lutz, plus a quadruple toe loop in combination. Full scores are here.

Kolyada, eighth and fourth at the last two world championships, has never won a top-level international event.

He goes into Saturday’s free skate with a 9.24-point lead over Jin, who also attempted two quads but had trouble with landings on both. The Cup of China broadcast schedule is here.

Fernandez, who has won five straight Grand Prix events, erred on his opening combination. He performed a triple-double combo, while Kolyada and Jin both did quad-triples.

U.S. Olympic hopefuls are further down the standings. Max Aaron (fifth), the 2013 U.S. champion, attempted two quads but didn’t land either cleanly.

Grant Hochstein (seventh), fourth at the last two U.S. Championships, stepped out of the landing of his opening quad toe.

Zhou (eighth), 17 and the No. 2 U.S. man behind Nathan Chen last season, fell twice in his senior Grand Prix debut.

Three U.S. men will be named to the U.S. Olympic team following nationals in January.

Chen is a huge favorite for one spot. Zhou, Jason Brown and Adam Rippon have been the other top men the last two seasons.

Also Friday, surprise world bronze medalist Gabrielle Daleman of Canada topped the women’s short program. The top three — including Japanese Wakaba Higuchi and Russian Yelena Radionova — are separated by .17.

Daleman is trying to keep pace with world gold and silver medalists Yevgenia Medvedeva and Kaetlyn Osmond, who won the first two Grand Prix events the previous two weeks.

In the short dance, France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron posted the third-best score under an eight-year-old system.

Papadakis and Cizeron won world titles in 2015 and 2016 but last season fell behind Canadian’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who came back from a two-year break to relegate the French to silver at worlds.

While Virtue and Moir aren’t at Cup of China, Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates are. Chock and Bates, two-time world medalists, trail the French by 8.54 points after the short dance.

Chock and Bates’ score — 72.66 — is points shy of what the other top Americans — Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue — tallied in their Grand Prix season debuts the last two weeks.

The U.S. can send three couples to the Olympics, with one likely to earn medals along with Virtue and Moir and Papadakis and Cizeron.

As expected, world champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong distanced themselves in the pairs short, by 8.77 points.

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

Cup of China Short Programs
Men
1. Mikhail Kolyada (RUS) — 103.13
2. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 93.89
3. Javier Fernandez (ESP) — 90.57
5. Max Aaron (USA) — 83.11
7. Grant Hochstein (USA) — 80.55
8. Vincent Zhou (USA) — 80.23

Women
1. Gabrielle Daleman (CAN) — 70.65
2. Wakaba Higuchi (JPN) — 70.53
3. Yelena Radionova (RUS) — 70.48
10. Amber Glenn (USA) — 52.61

Ice Dance
1. Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 81.10
2. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 72.66
3. Yekaterina Bobrova/Dmitry Soloviyev (RUS) — 72.34
5. Lorraine McNamara/Quinn Carpenter (USA) — 63.65
7. Elliana Pogrebinsky/Alex Benoit (USA) — 59.32

Pairs
1. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 80.14
2. Yu Xiaoyu/Zhang Hao (CHN) — 71.37
3. Nicole Della Monica/Matteo Guarise (ITA) — 63.76
7. Ashley Cain/Tim LeDuc (USA) — 53.15

Beach volleyball player’s dog becomes social media sensation

Mathias Berntsen
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Norwegian beach volleyball player Mathias Berntsen‘s dog, Kiara, captivated social media this weekend.

A video of Kiara peppering with Berntsen and a pair across the net on a grass field spread from Berntsen’s Instagram across platforms. Kiara now has 12,000 Instagram followers, more than twice the total of Berntsen.

Berntsen, 24, is one half of Norway’s second-best beach volleyball team.

He and partner Hendrik Mol are ranked 45th in the world and well outside the Tokyo Olympic picture (24 teams go to the Games), but could get in the mix depending on how qualification is amended once sports resume.

Berntsen and his cousin Mol are part of a group called the Beach Volley Vikings. Mol’s younger brother, Anders, and family friend Christian Sorum are the world’s top-ranked team (profiled here).

MORE: Beach volleyball players fly to Australia, learn event is canceled

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FIFA rules on Olympic men’s soccer tournament age eligibility

Gabriel Jesus
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For the first time since 1988, some 24-year-olds will be eligible for the Olympic men’s soccer tournament without using an over-age exception.

FIFA announced Friday that it will use the same age eligibility criteria for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 that it intended to use in 2020 — that players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997 are eligible, plus three over-age exceptions. FIFA chose not to move the birthdate deadline back a year after the Olympics were postponed by one year.

Olympic men’s soccer tournaments have been U-23 events — save those exceptions — since the 1992 Barcelona Games. In 1984 and 1988, restrictions kept European and South American players with World Cup experience ineligible. Before that, professionals weren’t allowed at all.

Fourteen of the 16 men’s soccer teams already qualified for the Games using players from under-23 national teams. The last two spots are to be filled by CONCACAF nations, potentially the U.S. qualifying a men’s team for the first time since 2008.

The U.S.’ biggest star, Christian Pulisic, and French superstar Kylian Mbappe were both born in 1998 and thus would have been under the age limit even if FIFA moved the deadline to Jan. 1, 1998.

Perhaps the most high-profile player affected by FIFA’s decision is Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus. The Manchester City star was born April 3, 1997, and thus would have become an over-age exception if FIFA pushed the birthdate rule back a year.

Instead, Brazil could name him to the Olympic team and still keep all of its over-age exceptions.

However, players need permission from their professional club teams to play in the Olympics, often limiting the availability of stars.

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