Patrick Chan
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Team event opens PyeongChang figure skating tonight

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GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — The only thing missing from Canadian figure skater Patrick Chan’s resume is an Olympic gold medal.

He’s won three world championships. Two grand prix finals. Twice he’s stood on the second step of an Olympic podium, an infuriating few inches from what would be the pinnacle of his career.

So even though the 27-year-old Chan is focused on the men’s competition at the Pyeongchang Games, he is also aware of the tremendous opportunity presented by the team event. It begins Friday with Canada favored to win gold after finishing second in its debut four years ago at the Sochi Games.

“The medal is what you make of it,” Chan said, when asked whether a team gold medal would in some way be lesser than an individual gold. “It may not be the same for every skater or another teammate, but for me at this point in my career, anything at this point is a bonus.”

Indeed, the way skaters are approaching the team competition varies widely.

There are those from Canada, the U.S. and the Olympic Athletes from Russia that are eyeing gold, or at least a spot on the podium. It’s an opportunity to start the Olympics on a high, and potentially build up momentum they can carry into the rest of the games.

NBCOlympics.com: Chan prioritizes team event as last chance at gold

Then there are those from France and Italy, countries that have medal hopefuls in individual events but not enough depth across the four disciplines to realistically compete for a team medal.

For them, it’s a chance to work out the kinks in a competitive environment, fine-tuning their own programs for what really matters in the coming days.

“We’re really focused on our personal event,” said Guillaume Cizeron, who with Gabrielle Papadakis are two-time ice dance world champions and among the favorites in that competition.

“I feel like the team event is a great opportunity for team spirit and what the games represent,” Cizeron said, “but our main focus is obviously the individual event.”

The powerhouse nations certainly seem to be putting more emphasis on the team event.

They’ve been closely guarding their lineups all week, a unique bit of gamesmanship for an otherwise individual sport, and have waited until the last possible moment to announce who will skate each event.

There is strategy in putting together the lineup — some individuals are better in short programs and others excel in the free skate. Plus, the pairs teams that are medal contenders must be cognizant of the fact that their individual event begins two days after the team event finishes.

NBCOlympics.com: Watch the team event (8 pm ET)

“We know that our country isn’t in the favorites to medal, so it makes things different,” Papadakis said. “Our main goal is the individual event. It may be different if we were going for a medal.”

Ten nations have qualified for the team competition, and each will send out skaters in each of the four disciplines in the short program. They receive points based on their finish — so margin of victory doesn’t matter — with the top five teams advancing to the free skate.

Medals will be awarded Monday after the final discipline, the ladies’ free skate.

“It was so much fun to be able to be part of the team event in Sochi, to compete as a team and not just as an individual athlete,” said Canada’s Kaetlyn Osmond, a medal contender in the individual event.

“I’m focusing on my own programs,” she said, “but to have the team atmosphere in the kiss-and-cry, and the podium, it’s so incredible. And to be able to compete more times at the Olympics, I’m definitely not going to argue against it. I just love the team aspect of it.”

Her teammate, Gabrielle Daleman, was part of the Canadian team that won silver in Sochi.

NBCOlympics.com: Daleman’s road to PyeongChang included surgery, bullying

“It was a completely new event for all of us,” Daleman said. “One night we were standing on the podium and the next night we were competing again. We had just won a medal, we just competed. It was weird. But I think we’ll be more ready, ready to compete as much as necessary.”

That appears to be the prevailing sentiment to the team competition.

Sure, it doesn’t carry quite the same prestige as individual events, and only a handful of nations will truly take it seriously. But the opportunity to compete in the Olympics is rare, and few skaters are willing to throw away the chance to have that feeling one more time.

“We are a beautiful team that has been competing together for so many years. Most of us are 30 and we are very proud of that,” Italy’s Carolina Kostner said. “Most of us have seen each other grow up, basically, and support each other along the years with changes and everything.

“So we’re actually quite motivated to take it on together,” Kostner added. “I’m very excited and very honored to represent my country.”

 

Kuwaiti sheikh steps aside from IOC after indictment

AP
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GENEVA (AP) — Facing a criminal trial in Switzerland, Olympic powerbroker Sheikh Ahmad al Fahad al Sabah temporarily stepped aside from his IOC work on Monday.

The Kuwaiti sheikh denies wrongdoing but said in a statement he did not want “these politically motivated allegations to distract attention” from the Olympic movement’s work.

“Sheikh Ahmad has every confidence and trust in the Swiss courts and IOC Ethics Commission’s impartial due processes,” the statement from his personal office in Kuwait said. “He fully intends to continue serving the IOC again at the earliest opportunity.”

The sheikh has been indicted for forgery in Geneva and faces a prison sentence of up to 10 years, city daily Le Temps reported. The investigation arose from a dispute with another royal family member, who is a former prime minister of Kuwait.

Sheikh Ahmad has been an International Olympic Committee member for 26 years, a close ally of president Thomas Bach, and leads the global and Asian groups of national Olympic bodies. He also chairs an IOC panel which will give $500 million to Olympic bodies and athletes before the 2020 Tokyo Games.

He is due to be re-elected unopposed in Tokyo next week as president of the global Olympic group known as ANOC.

The IOC said in a statement its ethics panel can intervene for misconduct “even if it is not related to sport.”

The Olympic ethics panel had confirmed last year it was studying separate allegations against Sheikh Ahmad relating to bribery in international soccer elections.

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Who qualifies for figure skating’s Grand Prix Final?

Yevgenia Medvedeva
NBC Sports Gold
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A look at the qualifying scenarios for December’s Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual international figure skating event, with the sixth and last qualifier happening this week at Internationaux de France, headlined by Nathan Chen and streaming live on NBC Sports Gold … 

Men
1. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 30 points (qualified)
2. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 30 points (qualified)
3. Michal Brezina (CZE) — 26 points (qualified)
4. Sergey Voronov (RUS) — 24 points (qualified)
5. Cha Jun-Hwan (KOR) — 22 points (bubble)
6. Keegan Messing (CAN) — 20 points (bubble)

Competing this week: Nathan Chen (USA) — 15 points, Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 9 points, Jin Boyang (CHN) and Dmitry Aliyev (RUS) — 7 points, Jason Brown (USA) — 5 points.

Outlook: Chen qualifies with a fifth or better this week. If he wins as expected, it would mean the favorites swept the six men’s Grand Prix Final qualifiers (Hanyu, Uno and Chen with two wins each). That trio last faced off at the Olympics, where Hanyu repeated as champion, Uno took silver and Chen rebounded from a 17th-place short program with the top free skate to place fifth overall. Hanyu, though, is uncertain for the Final after injuring his right ankle in practice before his free skate at Rostelecom Cup on Saturday. Samarin is the only man in this week’s field who would get into the Final by placing second to Chen.

Women
1. Alina Zagitova (RUS) — 30 points (qualified)
2. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 28 points (qualified)
3. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS) — 26 points (qualified)
4. Kaori Sakamoto (JPN) — 24 points (bubble)
5. Sofia Samodurova (RUS) — 24 points (bubble)
6. Mako Yamashita (JPN) — 17 points (bubble)

Competing this week: Rika Kihira (JPN) — 15 points, Stanislava Konstantinova (RUS) — 13 points, Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 11 points, Mai Mihara (JPN), Bradie Tennell (USA) and Alexia Paganini (SUI) — 9 points, Laurine Lecavelier (FRA) — 7 points.

Outlook: It’s a near-lock that the Grand Prix Final will be an all-Russian and Japanese affair. The biggest question across all disciplines this week is whether the Olympic silver medalist and two-time world champion Medvedeva can earn one of the three available spots. She is definitely in with a win. If she’s second, it likely comes down to a tiebreak among at least Medvedeva, Sakamoto and Samodurova, looking at who had the most total points between their two Grand Prix starts. If she’s third, she’s almost definitely out of the Final. The U.S. champion Tennell is one of six women who qualify automatically with a win this week.

Pairs
1. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 30 points (qualified)
2. Natalya Zabiyako/Alexander Enbert (RUS) — 30 points (qualified)
3. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 26 points (qualified)
4. Nicole Della Monica/Matteo Guarise (ITA) — 26 points (qualified)
5. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 22 points (bubble)
6. Alisa Efimova/Alexander Korovin (RUS) — 20 points (bubble)

Competing this week: Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres (FRA) — 15 points, Aleksandra Boikova/Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 9 points, Ryom Tae-Ok/Kim Ju-Sik (PRK), Tarah Kayne/Danny O’Shea (USA) and Minerva Fabienne Hase/Nolan Seegert (GER) — 7 points.

Outlook: With none of the Olympic medalists competing this fall, the fourth- and fifth-place finishers from PyeongChang have been the most impressive thus far — Tarasova and Morozov and James and Cipres. The French make it to the Final by finishing fifth this week. For either the North Koreans or the Americans to make the Final, they almost definitely have to win. That’s a very tall order against the French in Grenoble.

Ice Dance
1. Madison Hubbell/Zach Donohue (USA) — 30 points (qualified)
2. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 30 points (qualified)
3. Charlene Guignard/Marco Fabbri (ITA) — 26 points (qualified)
4. Tiffany Zahorski/Jonathan Guerreiro (RUS) — 24 points (bubble)
5. Sara Hurtado/Kirill Khaliavin (ESP) — 22 points (bubble)
6. Lorraine McNamara/Quinn Carpenter (USA) — 20 points (bubble)

Competing this week: Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker (USA) — 15 points, Victoria Sinitsina/Nikita Katsalapov (RUS) — 13 points, Piper Gilles/Paul Poirier (CAN) and Rachel Parsons/Michael Parsons (USA) — 11 points, Marie-Jade Lauriault/Romain Le Gac (FRA) — 9 points, Olivia Smart/Adrián Díaz (ESP) — 7 points, Allison Reed/Saulius Ambrulevičius (LTU) — 5 points.

Outlook: This week’s favorites have no chance at the Final. That’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who missed their first Grand Prix due to Cizeron’s back injury. The anticipated showdown between the three-time world champions and Olympic silver medalists from France and world silver medalists Hubbell and Donohue must wait until the world championships in March. Their absence could open the door for multiple U.S. dance couples to qualify for the Final for a fifth straight year, despite the absence this fall of Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani (indefinite break) and Madison Chock and Evan Bates (injury). Hawayek and Baker are into the Final with a fourth or better this week.

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