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Grand Prix Series: Some top figure skaters to miss out on finals

By Emily Pacenti
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Gabrielle Daleman of Canada in action during the ladies free skate at the Audi Cup of China ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating in Beijing on Saturday. Photo by Roman Pilipey/EPA
Gabrielle Daleman of Canada in action during the ladies free skate at the Audi Cup of China ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating in Beijing on Saturday. Photo by Roman Pilipey/EPA

Nov. 8 (UPI) -- With the Cup of China wrapped up and NHK Trophy about to begin, many of the world's top figure skaters will be missing out on the Grand Prix Finals, a premier competition in the weeks leading up to the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.

Here's a look at what's happening:

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Rostelecom Cup

The Grand Prix series kicked off without a hitch at the Rostelecom Cup, where all expected victors made it to the podium. Some were surprised to see Nathan Chen, 18, of Team USA come out on top of Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, 22, of Japan. But neither skater experienced a major flub, or lost his shot at the finals.

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Evgenia Medvedeva, 17, took gold in the ladies division, as expected. Russian pair Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov took home a gold medal with over a 20- point lead. One of Team USA's top ice dance duos, the Shibutani siblings, made it to the top of the podium as well. These results were generally expected.

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Skate Canada

Skate Canada was a different story. In the men's competition, 19-year-old Shoma Uno of Japan and Canadian Patrick Chan were expected to top the podium. Chan, 26, has medaled at the event his past seven times competing.

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While he had some stumbles, Uno rose up to take gold, as many predicted, with a magnificent free skate set to Turandot.

However, Chan's free skate program seemed to unravel at the seams. The Canadian favorite fell out of his opening quadruple toe loop and struggled to successfully complete a single jump element for the remainder of the program. This left the three-time world champion in fourth place -- off the podium.

"I think it's part of the process and having ownership of your career and being successful," Chan said after the free skate. "You've got to have days like this. Not much positive I can say this year at this event but it's okay. It sucks but I've had the great highs too."

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Knowing that his chances at participating in the Grand Prix Finals were essentially shot by this performance, Chan withdrew from his remaining Grand Prix assignment, the upcoming NHK Trophy. He will be taking the time off to focus on practice for Canadian Nationals, the qualifying event for Canada's Olympic team.

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A similar situation nearly took Team USA member Ashley Wagner out of the running, as well. A rough short program landed her in seventh place. She managed to pull it together in the next day's free skate, set to music from Moulin Rouge, and took the bronze medal.

Cup of China

After Chan's loss, fans were hopeful that more of the world's top skaters would fill the gap in the competition. Javier Fernandez of Spain was considered a shoo-in, having participated in the Grand Prix Finals for the last three years.

He started his season strong with a win over Hanyu at their season's debut, the Autumn Classic International. But his Cup of China performance was a fluke. He held third place after the short program, 13 points behind the leader, Mikhail Kolyada of Russia. Many were confident Fernandez would be able to make up at least some of the lead, but after his free skate, he fell to sixth place overall and missed a spot on the podium.

Fernandez wasn't the only expected champion to miss out on a medal. Nineteen-year-old Gabrielle Daleman of Canada, who held first place after the short program, also fell to sixth place after a free skate filled with minor errors that added up enough to cost her a medal. At last season's World Championships, she was the bronze medalist and has never participated in the Grand Prix Finals. She won't be there this season either.

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Daleman and Fernandez's coach, Brian Orser, was absent from the competition due to gallbladder surgery.

In the surprise of the season, Kolyada has qualified for the Grand Prix Finals in December. The loss of Fernandez and Chan in the standings has opened the door for another unexpected participant, Jason Brown to qualify as well.

The series still has three competitions to go with NHK Trophy kicking off on Friday in Osaka, Japan. The Grand Prix Finals will take place Dec. 10 in Nagoya, Japan.

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