Where have figure skating’s rivalries gone?

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Vincent Zhou is well-versed in the rivalry between American Brian Boitano and Canadian Brian Orser — the “Battle of the Brians” at the 1988 Calgary Olympics.

That’s because Boitano was an “inspiration” to Zhou, who fell in love with figure skating by watching footage of the two-time world champion on YouTube. And these days, Boitano is a sounding board for Zhou, a fellow Bay Area native helping him navigate the Olympic experience.

So, yes, Zhou has heard all about Boitano’s showdown with Orser at the Calgary Games, when his hero won a back-and-forth battle by the narrowest of margins to win gold.

It remains one of the best and most beloved rivalries in figure skating. Especially now, when rivalries are hard to find.

As the sport’s elite prepares for the Pyeongchang Games next week, there are about half a dozen medal hopefuls in each discipline, which should create exciting and unpredictable competition. But it also means there is no head-to-head rivalry — no Harding vs. Kerrigan, Kwan vs. Lipinski, Yagudin vs. Plushenko — that fans can seize on when they tune in to coverage from South Korea.

“There’s so many great skaters capable of being on the top of the podium, I wouldn’t say there’s a great rivalry that stands out,” Zhou said. “But all the variables and unpredictability makes for just as much excitement and anticipation as a great rivalry would.”

You can bet the networks are banking on it.

In truth, there hasn’t been a memorable rivalry in figure skating in years. With the quick turnover of top talent, the rise of Russian skaters and the sport’s diminished profile in non-Olympic years, it becomes difficult to cultivate a head-to-head rivalry.

The closest thing in recent years happened at the 2010 Vancouver Games, when South Korean star Yuna Kim edged Japan’s Mao Asada for the gold medal. The fact that South Korea and Japan have an intense rivalry in many sports elevated the tension, but it also limited the rivalry’s global appeal.

There were few American and European fans, for example, that latched onto the matchup of Asian icons.

It certainly wasn’t like another rivalry made famous in Calgary, one between Debi Thomas of the U.S. and Katarina Witt of East Germany. Each picked music set to the French opera Carmen, adding a little zest to Witt’s eventual gold medal-performance. (Thomas settled for bronze.)

“You know, it’s interesting. I think those times are missed, and I think rivalries are needed to propel the sport to a different level,” said Boitano, now a TV personality. “People love cheering for a skater from their own country and they love the rivalries, and back in our day, before the (Berlin) wall came down, Katerina Witt was an enigma. It wasn’t just a battle of people but countries as well.

“I think that was an aspect of it,” Boitano continued, “but the main reason we’re not able to produce rivalries is no one wins consistently.”

In most sports, that kind of parity is a good thing.

There hasn’t been a repeat World Series champion since the Yankees in 1999 and 2000, and the NFL has become the popular sport in the U.S. in part because of the belief it has cultivated that every team has a chance — even though the Patriots seemingly always end up in the Super Bowl.

In figure skating, every discipline is wide open. And while that’s good for the competition itself, it makes it difficult for the casual fan — the every-four-years fan — to find a rooting interest.

“Going into an Olympic year, it’s not the five-time or six-time national champion like Michelle Kwan competing against a rival. The public hasn’t had a chance to grow to love them, follow them, think they know them and root for them,” Boitano said. “I really think it’s an issue of not being able to follow someone up the ranks for their entire career.”

Those inside the sport beg to differ, of course. There is a constant battle for resources, support and sponsorship, and that can make rivalries between compatriots some of the fiercest.

“We’re all friends,” American ice dancer Madison Hubbell said, “but we want what they have. That kind of competitiveness is more intense with your own national competitors, whereas world competitors, we see each other a couple times a year. We all want to win. But there’s a little more focus on how each of us skates individually. It seems more personal.”

As intense as those rivalries might be, they don’t generally resonate with fans — not like a rivalry between nations, or individuals that have gone head-to-head over years.

That raises the question: Does figure skating need a good rivalry to ramp up the interest?

Good luck finding a consensus.

“We have real depth with our skaters,” Boitano said. “It’s really choosing apples and oranges, and it really depends on that week for them. That creates for a very interesting competition. It just doesn’t create a lot of rivalries.”

Aksel Lund Svindal, Olympic Alpine champ, has testicular cancer, ‘prognosis good’

Aksel Lund Svindal
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Aksel Lund Svindal, a retired Olympic Alpine skiing champion from Norway, said he underwent surgery for testicular cancer and the prognosis “looked very good.”

“Tests, scans and surgery all happened very quickly,” Svindal, 39, wrote on social media. “And already after the first week I knew the prognoses looked very good. All thanks to that first decision to go see a doctor as soon as I suspected something was off.”

Svindal retired in 2019 after winning the Olympic super-G in 2010 and downhill in 2018. He also won five world titles among the downhill, combined and giant slalom and two World Cup overall titles.

Svindal said he felt a change in his body that prompted him to see a doctor.

“The last few weeks have been different,” he wrote. “But I’m able to say weeks and not months because of great medical help, a little luck and a good decision.

“I wasn’t sure what it was, or if it was anything at all. … [I] was quickly transferred to the hospital where they confirmed what the doctor suspected. Testicle cancer.”

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup schedule, results

FIBA Women's World Cup
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The U.S. goes for its fourth consecutive title at the FIBA World Cup in Sydney — and eighth global gold in a row overall when including the Olympics.

A’ja Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP, and Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP, headline a U.S. roster that, for the first time since 2000, includes neither Sue Bird (retired) nor Diana Taurasi (injured).

The new-look team includes nobody over the age of 30 for the first time since 1994, before the U.S. began its dynasty at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Americans have won 52 consecutive games between worlds and the Olympics dating to the 2006 Worlds bronze-medal game.

The field also includes host Australia, the U.S.’ former primary rival, and Olympic silver medalist Japan.

Nigeria, which played the U.S. the closest of any foe in Tokyo (losing by nine points), isn’t present after its federation withdrew the team over governance issues. Spain, ranked second in the world, failed to qualify.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup Schedule

Date Time (ET) Game Round
Wed., Sept. 21 8:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 82, Bosnia and Herzegovina 58 Group A
9:30 p.m. USA 87, Belgium 72 Group A
11 p.m. Canada 67, Serbia 60 Group B
Thurs., Sept. 22 12 a.m. Japan 89, Mali 56 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 107, South Korea 44 Group A
6:30 a.m. France 70, Australia 57 Group B
8:30 p.m. USA 106, Puerto Rico 42 Group A
10 p.m. Serbia 69, Japan 64 Group B
11 p.m. Belgium 84, South Korea 61 Group A
Fri., Sept. 23 12:30 a.m. China 98, Bosnia and Herzegovina 51 Group A
4 a.m. Canada 59, France 45 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 118, Mali 58 Group B
Sat., Sept. 24 12:30 a.m. USA 77, China 63 Group A
4 a.m. South Korea 99, Bosnia and Herzegovina 66 Group A
6:30 a.m. Belgium 68, Puerto Rico 65 Group A
Sun., Sept. 25 12:30 a.m. France vs. Mali Group B
4 a.m. Australia vs. Serbia Group B
6:30 a.m. Canada vs. Japan Group B
9:30 p.m. Belgium vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina Group A
11:30 p.m. Mali vs. Serbia Group B
Mon., Sept. 26 12 a.m. USA vs. South Korea Group A
2 a.m. France vs. Japan Group B
3:30 a.m. China vs. Puerto Rico Group A
6:30 a.m. Australia vs. Canada Group B
9:30 p.m. Puerto Rico vs. South Korea Group A
11:30 p.m. Belgium vs. China Group A
Tues., Sept. 27 12 a.m. USA vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina Group A
2 a.m. Canada vs. Mali Group B
3:30 a.m. France vs. Serbia Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia vs. Japan Group B
Wed., Sept. 28 10 p.m. Quarterfinal
Thurs., Sept. 29 12:30 a.m. Quarterfinal
4 a.m. Quarterfinal
6:30 a.m. Quarterfinal
Fri., Sept. 30 3 .m. Semifinal
5:30 a.m. Semifinal
11 p.m. Third-Place Game
Sat., Oct. 1 2 a.m. Final