Javier Fernandez, skaters born in 2000s headline Cup of China; preview
PyeongChang will mark the first Winter Games with athletes born in the 2000s. Four of the top figure skating prospects compete at Cup of China, the third of six Grand Prix series stops, live on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA on Friday and Saturday.
Spain’s Javier Fernandez, a two-time world champion, is not one of those fresh-faced phenoms. But he is the most accomplished singles skater in this week’s field.
His competition includes U.S. silver medalist Vincent Zhou, who was 6 years old when Fernandez made his world debut in 2007.
Three women at Cup of China were born in 2001 or 2002, including the last two world junior champions. They’ll face Canadian Gabrielle Daleman, the world bronze medalist. Daleman is a veteran in relation at age 19.
The Cup of China live broadcast schedule on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA (all times Eastern):
Short Dance -- 3:30 a.m.
Women’s Short -- 5 a.m.
Men’s Short -- 7 a.m.
Pairs Short -- 9 a.m.
Men’s Free -- 2:30 a.m.
Free Dance -- 4:30 a.m.
Pairs Free -- 6:30 a.m.
Women’s Free -- 9 a.m.
NBC will air a recap show Sunday from 4:30-6 p.m. ET. All coverage will stream on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app. Olympic Channel coverage will also stream on Olympicchannel.com and the Olympic Channel app.
Nobody has been as consistent in Grand Prix events than Javier Fernandez the last three seasons.
The Spaniard, seeking his nation’s first Winter Olympic medal since 1992, has won five straight titles dating to 2014. But he missed the podium at the two biggest events last season -- placing fourth at the Grand Prix Final and at worlds, where he led after the short program seeking a three-peat.
China’s Jin Boyang, bronze medalist at the last two worlds, is Fernandez’s biggest competition this weekend. The 20-year-old is capable of attempting five quads in a program (first done successfully by Nathan Chen in January). Jin won his season opener, a lower-level event four weeks ago, despite falling three times between two programs.
Then there’s Vincent Zhou, the U.S. silver medalist making his Grand Prix debut at age 17. Zhou is favored to become the youngest U.S. Olympic male singles skater since 1964 on the strength of his jumps. Zhou can do four quads in one program, more than any U.S. man aside from Chen. Zhou was 2.59 points behind Jin at that lower-level event four weeks ago.
Also in the field: Russian champion Mikhail Kolyada, 2013 U.S. champion Max Aaron
A good case to be made that this week’s winner joins Yevgenia Medvedeva and Kaetlyn Osmond as the Olympic medal favorites.
Medvedeva and Osmond, the world gold and silver medalists, won the first two Grand Prix events with ease.
This week’s field is led by surprise world bronze medalist Gabrielle Daleman of Canada and the last two world junior champions in Russian Alina Zagitova and Marin Honda of Japan. Plus Wakaba Higuchi, who is ranked third in the world this season. Zagitova, Honda and Higuchi were all born in 2001 or 2002.
Daleman, 19, has made six Grand Prix starts and never made the podium. She broke out last winter, taking second at the Four Continents Championships in February and third at worlds in March. However, she fell three times between two programs at her lower-level season debut earlier this month, placing sixth.
Zagitova, born three months after the 2002 Olympics, is ranked second in the world this season via her senior international debut victory at a low-level event in Italy. She can tighten a grip on one of Russia’s three Olympic spots this week given recent struggles from veterans Yelena Radionova and Anna Pogorilaya.
Honda entered this season in Zagitova’s company as must-watch senior debutantes, but she bombed in the short program at Skate Canada last week and finished fifth overall. The Japanese women have little room for error with just two Olympic spots available.
Which makes this week so interesting. Honda goes up against Higuchi, who took bronze at the Grand Prix opener two weeks ago, and Mai Mihara, who was fifth at worlds last year. An interested onlooker has to be Satoko Miyahara, the three-time reigning Japanese champion who makes her season debut next week.
Also in the field: 2015 World champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, Radionova, American Amber Glenn.
Chinese pairs will benefit not only from home-ice advantage, but also that no other pairs from the top eight at worlds are in this field.
So Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, who went silver-silver-gold at the last three worlds, and Yu Xiaoyu and Zhang Hao, fourth at their worlds debut together last season, should go one-two this week.
If Sui and Han repeat either of their total scores from last season (injury-shortened), they will move to the top of this season’s pairs rankings.
U.S. bronze medalists Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc make their Grand Prix debut filling in for Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea. The U.S. can send one pair to the Olympics. Cain and LeDuc could really use a personal best to impress selectors. They don’t have the recent national or international success that Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier and Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim can boast.
Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir aren’t in the field this week. That’s good news for the chances of France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who are undefeated against the rest of the world the last 34 months.
Papadakis and Cizeron, world champions in 2015 and 2016, must deal with the incredible pressure of trying to keep up with Virtue and Moir. In their last six competitions, the Canadians posted six of the seven highest scores under an eight-year-old system.
Papadakis and Cizeron’s personal best from 2017 Worlds is now 3.82 points behind the most recent best by Virtue and Moir set in Canada last week.
Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates have measuring sticks, too. Those are the scores posted by Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue (189.43) and Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani (189.24) the last two weeks.
Those are almost certainly going to be the three U.S. dance couples in PyeongChang, but given the Canadian and French dominance, there may only be one medal available to them in February.
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