By BARRY WILNER, AP Sports Writer
SOCHI, Russia (AP) — The path to figure skating gold for Russia has opened wide, with the host nation already holding a big lead in the sport's first team competition at an Olympics.
Three-time world champion Patrick Chan of Canada and short program winner Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan will not skate Sunday night in the men's free skate portion, saving their energy for the individual men's competition.
Russia's Evgeni Plushenko, a three-time Olympic medalist, becomes the favorite in the men's long program. His nation already leads by six points over Canada entering the three free skates: men, women and ice dance. Plushenko must compete because Russia has only one men's spot in the games.
Kevin Reynolds replaces Chan, who was third in the men's team short program. Tatsuki Machida skates for Japan. Jason Brown of Highland Park, Ill., replaces Jeremy Abbott of Aspen, Colo., for the U.S., which is third in the standings.
Another Russian, 15-year-old Julia Lipnitskaia, will face lesser competition in the women's field after wowing everyone with her short program victory. Runner-up Carolina Kostner of Italy and third-place Mao Asada of Japan also are skipping the free skate, replaced by Valentina Marchei and Akiko Suzuki, respectively.
U.S. champion Gracie Gold of Chicago steps in for Ashley Wagner of Alexandria, Va., who finished fourth in the short program Saturday night.
The top ice dancers from the U.S. and Canada will compete Sunday night. World champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White, both from Michigan, won the short dance, and they will face their top rivals and training partners, Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the 2010 Olympic winners.
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