figure skating

Yuzuru Hanyu
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Brian Orser reveals Hanyu’s, Medvedeva’s, and Brown’s Grand Prix plans

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Over the past decade, the Toronto club where Brian Orser coached South Korea’s Yuna Kim to the 2010 Olympic title has become such an attraction for top figure skaters from around the globe that it could add a word to a name that already is a mouthful.

You could call it the Toronto International Cricket Skating and Curling Club.

But its reach now is limited by the deadly virus pandemic that has effectively frozen out the elite athletes from Japan, Russia, South Korea and Poland who train at the Cricket Club.

That situation won’t change quickly, even with the International Skating Union having announced Monday its plans to proceed with a live format for the international Grand Prix Series. This fall, it will become a series of six essentially domestic competitions scheduled to begin with Skate America Oct. 23-25 in Las Vegas.

If they take place.

“As soon as the skaters can come back, it will be full steam ahead… to where, we don’t know,” Orser said via telephone Wednesday.

Two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu remains in Japan. Two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva is in Russia, four-time national champion Cha Jun-Hwan in South Korea, and two-time national champion Yekaterina Kurakova in Poland.

“We would like for them all to come back, but with the Canadian travel restrictions in place until at least Aug. 21, we can’t guarantee approval to get them in, and they would have a 14-day quarantine here if they do get in,” Tracy Wilson, who coaches with Orser, said via telephone Wednesday. “Right now, they are all training at home, and that’s OK.

“The situation is different for each one. The Japanese federation may need Yuzu to do the Grand Prix in Japan, and at this point he would face quarantine entering Canada and returning to Japan.

“For Yevgenia, as soon as she does the Russian test skates (scheduled for early September), we will re-evaluate her situation.”

Orser said he has been doing three video coaching sessions a week with Medvedeva, with whom he is in his third season as coach. Medvedeva, who left Russia for Canada after winning a silver medal at the 2018 Olympics, also is currently getting help from coach Elena Buyanova at the CSKA rink in Moscow.

“She (Medvedeva) looks way ahead of where she was at this point last year,” Orser said.

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Orser also has been having live remote sessions with Cha and Kurakova, and they are also sending videos to him. The only skater he has not seen is Hanyu.

“That’s normal when he is back in Japan,” Orser said. “I wasn’t expecting anything.”

How long Hanyu stays in Japan may depend on travel restrictions being loosened in both his homeland and Canada.

“I would like to get them all back, and they need to come back,” Orser said. “But facing a double quarantine is not in anyone’s best interest.”

Only two of the Cricket Club’s international skaters, 2014 Olympian Jason Brown of suburban Chicago and Yi Zhu of Los Angeles (who represents China), have come back to Toronto after leaving in late winter.

It took Brown two tries to get back across the border because of issues with the paperwork necessary for Canada to consider it essential he be allowed to enter. Orser and Wilson want to be sure any skaters coming from Asia and Europe are admitted on the first try.

From April to July, until skaters could get back on the ice in their various homelands, Brown led Thursday off-ice fitness classes via Zoom, with Medvedeva, Cha and Kurakova taking part.

“It was such a fun way to stay connected and still ‘train’ together while we were oceans apart,” Brown said in a Wednesday text message.

Orser and Wilson will recommend that all the foreign skaters training at the Cricket Club try to compete at Skate Canada, scheduled the last weekend of October at a 9,500-seat arena in Ottawa. Wilson thought if the event cannot have spectators, it might be moved to a smaller facility, possibly in a different city.

“All plans are in the early stages,” Skate Canada spokesperson Emma Bowie said in an email.

Grand Prix assignments have not yet been made.

Whether Brown picks Skate Canada over Skate America – if he gets a choice – could depend on when (and if) the Canadian government shortens quarantine periods for travelers from the United States.

“I know that we are in such unprecedented and uncertain times, so I love seeing the ISU being creative and trying to find a way to hold skating events this year,” Brown wrote. “While a lot can happen before October, if it’s safe to do so, I’ll be ready and eager to take part in any events that I can.”

The ISU said it wants to have the Grand Prix Final in Beijing, whether it takes place on its original dates (Dec. 10-13) or early in 2021. The competition is to be used as a test event of the skating venue for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

There are no details yet on qualification for the final, which usually is determined by points for placements at the six “regular season” events of the series, held in the U.S., Canada, China, France, Russia and Japan. The top six in each of the sport’s four disciplines make the Final.

In the past, the highest-ranked skaters could compete in up to two Grand Prix events, but ISU Vice-President Alexander Lakernik of Russia said in a Tuesday email that everyone would be limited to one event this year.

Because the Final presumably would have much more of an international field than the six other events, staging it is infinitely more problematic because of travel involved.

“We want what’s best for the sport,” Wilson said. “We have to get these kids out there doing programs, to get them on TV. [Note: An NBC spokesman said the network would, as planned, provide coverage of the Grand Prix, with details forthcoming.] In terms of competition, we’re up for anything.

“For me, though, with all the restrictions, there is no way they will be able to run a fair qualification for the Grand Prix Final. You’ve got to reinvent yourself and make it something else – if you are able to have it at all.”

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

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Nathan Chen is surprised, grateful and posing questions about figure skating’s restart

Nathan Chen
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Nathan Chen was slightly surprised to learn figure skating’s Grand Prix Series will go on as scheduled this autumn, albeit with localized fields.

“I actually thought that we would be doing some virtual competitions,” he said by phone Tuesday evening. “But that being said, I’m thrilled that we’re actually getting the opportunity to compete again.”

Chen, a two-time world champion undefeated since enrolling at Yale in 2018, hopes to vie for his fourth straight Skate America title in October, tying a record shared by Todd EldredgeMichelle Kwan and Meryl Davis and Charlie White.

“Given that everything is right, I would love to be there,” in Las Vegas from Oct. 23-25, Chen said. “But if things start to get a little bit shakier, I’ll have a little bit more questions.”

Chen already has quite a few questions.

“Obviously, how it’s going to look like,” he said. “What are the logistics of the competition? Will it continue to be held in Vegas? Or will the location be changed? Audience is also a question. Will there be an audience? What are the exact specificities with the judging system? How are the skaters going to be judged? Will it be all on site? Those are some questions and also, of course, who am I going to be competing against? Those are all questions that I would like answered, but time will tell and I’m not super concerned about those right now.”

The International Skating Union said relevant details will be shared as soon as possible by an ISU Council-appointed group along with organizers of the six Grand Prix events. The annual Grand Prix stops are in the U.S., Canada, China, France, Russia and Japan leading up to December’s Grand Prix Final, which is in Beijing this season.

ISU vice president Alexander Lakernik said skaters will be limited to one start, rather than the usual two, in the six-event series before the Final. Skaters will compete at the Grand Prix that makes the most sense geographically.

Chen left New Haven for his Southern California base in March, when the season-ending world championships were canceled one week before they were to start.

He couldn’t find a rink for training for two months, his longest time off ice since recovering from January 2016 hip surgery.

But, as restrictions eased, Chen and coach Rafael Arutunian began getting ice time. He trained consistently the last two months, focusing on individual elements and conditioning while not knowing if or when he would compete this autumn.

“It was kind of difficult to determine when do we start really deciding programs and when to start really training for a competition mindset,” he said.

Chen’s pre-pandemic plan was to move back to New Haven for his junior year and then take a break in the 2021-22 academic year to focus on the Olympics. But now, he’s leaning toward staying in California this fall, perhaps taking some non-core online classes. Most of Yale’s classes are expected to be held remotely.

“I’m going to take time off, I believe, because I just think that given the situation it’s going to be not really worth it to try to still attend while doing all this. I can just focus a little more on skating,” Chen said, noting he has two weeks to make a final decision. “I want to be able to return to school as a student rather than an online student.”

Chen also wants to compete this autumn in front of spectators, but he knows that’s not assured. He considered what it might be like while watching the NBA’s resumption with virtual fans and fake crowd noise.

“Having the audience to back you up during a program is huge, especially in the long program where you’re kind of gassed halfway through,” he said. “Hearing the crowd stand behind you is a big deal. You definitely feed off the energy that the crowd gives you.”

He is at peace with the abrupt end to last season, knowing that, at 21, he has many years of skating ahead. Chen is also understanding that Skate America might be his only top-level competition before January’s national championships.

“Given a normal season, absolutely, that’s not enough,” he said. “But considering the circumstances, I think this is the most that we can get. Honestly, I think we’re all totally on board with that. Literally, any competition that we’re given I think is a great opportunity.”

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Figure skating Grand Prix Series will be held as ‘domestic’ competitions

Skate America
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Figure skating’s Grand Prix Series will go ahead as scheduled this fall, with modifications due to the coronavirus pandemic, the International Skating Union decided Monday.

Each of the series’ six stops around the globe will be “a domestic run event,” limited to skaters of the event’s host country, who regularly train in the host country and from a respective geographical area. The number of disciplines and skaters at each event are to be worked out.

The Grand Prix Series, held annually since 1995, is a six-event fall season, qualifying the top six skaters and teams per discipline to December’s Grand Prix Final. The annual stops are in the U.S., Canada, China, France, Russia and Japan, leading up to the Final, which is held at a different site each year.

The Final is the second-biggest annual competition after the world championships, which are typically in late March. The Final is still scheduled for Beijing, though whether or when it can be held will be discussed.

The series begins in late October with Skate America, which debuted in 1979 and has been held every year since 1988 as the biggest annual international competition in the U.S. Skate America’s site is Las Vegas, just as it was in 2019.

Skaters typically compete twice on the Grand Prix Series (three times if they qualify for the Final). ISU vice president Alexander Lakernik said skaters will be limited to one start in the six-event series before the Final, according to a Russian media quote confirmed by Phil Hersh.

The ISU has not confirmed or denied Lakernik’s assertion.

Most, if not all, top-level U.S. skaters train in the U.S. or Canada. That makes the first two Grand Prix stops — Skate America and Skate Canada — likely destinations. Grand Prix assignments have not been published.

“I appreciate the ISU is open to adapting competitive formats and is working to give athletes opportunities to compete,” Evan Bates, a U.S. ice dance champion with Madison Chock who trains in Montreal, wrote in a text message to Hersh. “This announcement gives reassurance that the ISU is doing their best to ensure a season will still take place. Of course, it’s hard to predict what will happen, and we’re not sure about what country we would compete in. It would probably depend on what the quarantine rules are at that time.”

The January 2021 U.S. Championships are scheduled for San Jose, Calif. The March 2021 World Championships are set for Stockholm.

In July, the ISU canceled the Junior Grand Prix Series for skaters mostly ages 13 to 18, including two-time U.S. champion Alysa Liu, who cannot enter the senior Grand Prix until 2021.

Other early season senior international competitions scheduled for September were also canceled or postponed.

U.S. Figure Skating said in a statement that it will have more details on the Grand Prix Series in the coming weeks after collaborating with an ISU-appointed group.

“This is a great example of the figure skating community coming together to ensure that the world’s premier figure skating series will continue during these challenging times,” the statement read. “Figure skaters want to compete and figure skating fans from all around the world want to see their favorite athletes skate, and this format will ensure just that.”

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