Figure skating Grand Prix is second major winter sports event cancelled this week raising concerns ahead of Beijing Games

The International Skating Union’s Grand Prix Final in Japan is called off as new travel restrictions are imposed. FISU’s Lucerne bound Winter Universiade was cancelled Monday due to Omicron concerns

Oct 23, 2021; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Nathan Chen (USA) seen here competing in pairs free skate during the 2021 Skate America figure skating competition was expected to compete at the cancelled ISU Grand Prix Final in Osaka. Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 23, 2021; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Nathan Chen (USA) seen here competing in pairs free skate during the 2021 Skate America figure skating competition was expected to compete at the cancelled ISU Grand Prix Final in Osaka. Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Winter sports athletes headed into a season which is expected to be a busy and important one with the Beijing Olympics looming, may now need to prepare for a change of course, considering the cancellation of two marquee events and others potentially in doubt.

Figure skating’s Grand Prix Final, which was scheduled to take place next week in Osaka, Japan, has been cancelled due to continuing health and safety concerns over the Coronavirus pandemic. The unfortunate news comes just three days after the International University Sports Federation (FISU) was forced to cancel their showcase Winter Universiade event in Lucerne, Switzerland after the Swiss government imposed travel bans for several countries due to fears over Omicron.

Elite skaters were expected to compete at the ISU marquee event, which was set to serve as an early season Olympic tune-up. The event was scheduled for December 9-21 in Osaka.

“Considering the complicated epidemic situation involving travel restrictions, quarantine requirements, safety concerns and logistical challenges, the organization of the event was extremely challenging,” the International Skating Union said in a statement released on Thursday.

“The Japan Skating Federation and the local organizing committee tried their best to find solutions, but ultimately concluded that, regrettably, they are unable to organize and hold the event as planned,” the statement read.

The Grand Prix final was to include Olympic gold medal threats Nathan Chen of Canada, Russians Kamilia Valiyeva and the pair of Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galiamov, as well as French dance couple Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron.

ISU officials say the event could be rescheduled at the end of the season. The 2020 Grand Prix Final was initially scheduled for Beijing, but was also cancelled due to the pandemic. Additionally, the Chinese Figure Skating Association has announced the postponement of its national championships, which were scheduled to start on December 6, also due to COVID-19 concerns.

Following the cancellation of the Winter Universiade, which had previously been postponed from last winter, additional alpine and Nordic World Cup ski events headed to Switzerland also face uncertainty.

The FISU 2021 Winter Universiade was cancelled earlier this week disappointing student-athletes from numerous countries.
The FISU 2021 Winter Universiade was cancelled earlier this week disappointing student-athletes from numerous countries.

The women’s alpine ski tour is scheduled to travel from races in Canada this weekend to St. Moritz, where they are scheduled to race December 11-12. Both men and women cross-country skiers are expected to compete in Davos that same weekend.

Switzerland’s NOC president Juerg Stahl addressed the alarming situation.

“If travel restrictions and quarantine rules are maintained, the organization of international sporting events in Switzerland will be in danger, if not impossible,” Stahl said, according to the Associated Press.

Coronavirus positive tests continue to hit winter sports athletes causing additional concern, and prompting new protective measures by event organizers and international federations. Future events appear in jeopardy.

U.S. Ski Team alpine racer Sam Morse, 25, tested positive for coronavirus and was ruled out of the upcoming four World Cup races this week in Beaver Creek, Colorado.

International Ski Federation (FIS) men’s race director Markus Waldner initially declared on Tuesday night during the team captain’s meeting that one U.S. athlete had been isolated after testing positive for COVID-19. At the time, the Italian race director did not reveal the name, but it became apparent when Morse was left off Wednesday’s downhill training start list.

Dec 1, 2021; Beaver Creek, Colorado, USA; Unlike U.S. teammate Jared Goldberg as seen here during men's downhill training at the Birds of Prey FIS alpine skiing World Cup at Beaver Creek, Sam Morse will not compete following a COVID-19 positive test.
Mandatory Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 1, 2021; Beaver Creek, Colorado, USA; Unlike U.S. teammate Jared Goldberg as seen here during men's downhill training at the Birds of Prey FIS alpine skiing World Cup at Beaver Creek, Sam Morse will not compete following a COVID-19 positive test. Mandatory Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports

Waldner said the U.S. racer was on a charter flight carrying athletes from various countries to Colorado from the previous men’s World Cup tour stop in Lake Louise, Canada.

Morse posted on his Instagram account: “Even with being fully vaccinated including the Pfizer booster I got in October, I tested positive after flying back from Canada. The result was then confirmed with a second test conducted yesterday. I am asymptomatic and feeling great, however.”

National Hockey League players - who are expected to return to the Olympic stage in February - have also tested positive for COVID-19. Both the New York Islanders and Ottawa Senators have needed to postpone games in November as several players were sent into the league’s COVID protocol. The NHL has an opt-out clause in its agreement to participate in Beijing, should COVID issues continue to escalate.

Nov 26, 2021; Elmont, New York, USA; New York Islanders defenseman Grant Hutton (7) plays the puck against Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) during the third period at UBS Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 26, 2021; Elmont, New York, USA; New York Islanders defenseman Grant Hutton (7) plays the puck against Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) during the third period at UBS Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

With the latest coronavirus variant Omicron causing concerns around the world, COVID-19 and athletes’ vaccination statuses appear as a potentially serious issue which could affect the scheduled opening of the Beijing Winter Olympics on February 4.

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