Alina Zagitova, Yuzuru Hanyu
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Alina Zagitova, Yuzuru Hanyu make Grand Prix Helsinki rarity; schedule

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Alina Zagitova and Yuzuru Hanyu are in this week’s Grand Prix of Helsinki field, marking the first top-level event with both reigning Olympic singles figure skating champions in 26 years.

The last was the 1992 World Championships with Kristi Yamaguchi and Viktor Petrenko.

The last time multiple Olympic singles champions (reigning or not) competed in the same event was when Brian BoitanoKatarina Witt and Petrenko came out of professional skating for the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Games (unless counting Yevgeny Plushenko and Yuna Kim at Sochi 2014, where Plushenko only did the team event).

Most gold medalists fade from competition after the Games, but both Zagitova and Hanyu have a full slate this season.

Each won lower-level events to start things off last month, but it begins in earnest at the first Grand Prix event ever held in Finland. NBC Sports Gold streams live coverage of every session starting Friday.

Day Time (ET) Event Network
Friday 9 a.m. Pairs’ Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
10:45 a.m. Women’s Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
12:45 p.m. Rhythm Dance NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
Saturday 6:30 a.m. Men’s Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
8:30 a.m. Pairs’ Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
11:30 a.m. Women’s Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
1:30 p.m. Free Dance NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
Sunday 7 a.m. Men’s Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
1 p.m. Highlights NBC | STREAM LINK

Neither PyeongChang gold medalist is untouchable this fall.

Zagitova proved mortal at the world championships in March, falling thrice in her free skate and finishing fifth, her only loss in a little more than a year of senior international competition. The 16-year-old won Nebelhorn Trophy a month ago with the world’s highest score this season by a whopping 17 points.

Only one other skater from this season’s top 10 is in the Helsinki field — Japanese Kaori Sakamoto, coming off her second straight Skate America silver medal.

Zagitova’s season ramps up in December, with likely showdowns with Olympic silver medalist and former training partner Yevgenia Medvedeva at the Grand Prix Final and Russian nationals.

Hanyu faces more of a test in Helsinki.

Though the Japanese megastar won his September opener in Canada, he ranks fifth in the world by scores on the young season. Among those he trails is Russian Mikhail Kolyada, the world bronze medalist who is in this week’s field.

As is Jin Boyang, the Olympic fourth-place finisher who competes for the first time since falling five times in the world championships free skate.

Hanyu may be targeting 280.57 points, the world-leading score posted by Nathan Chen at Skate America two weeks ago while attempting half his top-end number of quadruple jumps. He would do well to simply win his Grand Prix opener for the first time in his ninth season.

The Helsinki pairs’ and dance fields lack the singles star power with none of the top-five finishers from PyeongChang.

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. GO HERE 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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MORE: Medvedeva thanks Brian Orser for late-night Skate Canada talk

World Cup Alpine season opener gets green light

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After checking the snow on the Rettenbach glacier in Soelden, Austria, FIS officials announced Thursday that the traditional World Cup season opener is set to go ahead as planned Oct. 26-27 with men’s and women’s giant slalom races.

Current conditions at Soelden show a solid 30 inches of snow at the summit. The race finishes at an altitude of 2,670 meters (8,760 feet), far above the currently snowless village.

The first races of the season are never guaranteed to have enough snow, though last year’s men’s race at Soelden had the opposite problem, being canceled when a storm blew through with heavy snowfall and high winds. 

France’s Tessa Worley won the women’s race last year ahead of Italy’s Frederica Brignone and U.S. skier Mikaela Shiffrin, who would go on to dominate the rest of the World Cup season.

The Soelden weekend is followed by three dormant weeks until the season resumes Nov. 23-24 in Levi, Finland. The World Cup circuits then switch to North America. The men will run speed events Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Lake Louise, Alberta, then head to Beaver Creek, Colo., for more speed events and a giant slalom Dec. 6-8. The women run slalom and giant slalom Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Killington, Vt., and head to Lake Louise the next weekend.

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Olympic marathon and race walk move from Tokyo to Sapporo draws some pushback

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In the wake of a dropout-plagued set of world championship endurance races in Qatar, moving the 2020 Olympic marathons and race walks from Tokyo to the cooler venue of Sapporo is a quick fix for one problem, pending the potential for untimely heat waves.

But the move has drawn some opposition for a variety of reasons.

First, many organizers and politicians appear to have been caught by surprise. Tokyo’s governor, Yuriko Koike, was “taken aback” and Sapporo’s mayor, Katsuhiro Akimoto, learned about the move from the media, Kyodo News reported. Koike even sarcastically suggested that the races could move all the way northward to islands disputed by Russia and Japan.

South African sports scientist Ross Tucker suggested that running in heat and humidity poses an interesting challenge for athletes, some of whom may be able to catch up with faster runners by preparing for the conditions.

British marathoner Mara Yamauchi made a similar point, saying the move was unfair to those who already were preparing for the heat, humidity and other conditions.

Belgian marathoner Koen Naert said he will make the best of the change but complained that some of his preparation and every runner’s logistical planning would no longer apply.

The angriest athlete may be Canadian walker Evan Dunfee, who placed fourth in the 2016 Olympic 50km race and nearly claimed bronze as a Canadian appeal was upheld but then rejected. He says runners and walkers can beat the conditions if they prepare, which many athletes did not do for the world championships in Qatar.

“So why do we cater to the ill prepared?” Dunfee asked on Twitter.

The move also takes athletes out of the main Olympic city and takes away the traditional, tough less frequent in modern years, finish in the Olympic stadium.

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