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Cup of China prelude to Vancouver for Lysacek

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BEIJING (AP)

A strong showing at this week's Cup of China will help world champion Evan Lysacek cement his status as a favorite at the Vancouver Olympics.

Beijing marks the 24-year-old American's first competition since winning the title in March.

Since then, he's sought to strengthen his artistic elements in preparation for the Olympics, where no reigning world champion has won gold since Scott Hamilton in 1984.

Among the women, Rachael Flatt is a favorite in her first appearance at the Cup of China after finishing second at the last two U.S. championships. The 2008 junior world champion is hoping to grab one of only two American spots for women's singles at the Olympics.

Filling out a strong women's field are world silver medalist Joannie Rochette of Canada, competing for the first time this year, and Mirai Nagasu, the 2007 U.S. champion who now trains alongside Lysacek with Michelle Kwan's longtime former coach, Frank Carroll.

In ice dance, American pair Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto face Italian pair Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali and Russian duo Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski.

Belbin and Agosto are looking to upgrade their 2006 Olympic silver to gold in Vancouver. The five-time U.S. champions also won the silver medal at the world championships in March.

Two-time Olympic pairs bronze medalists Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo of China are competing for the first time since winning the 2007 world title. Their toughest challenge comes from teammates Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao, silver medalists at the last two world championships.

The Cup of China, which starts Thursday and runs through Sunday, is the third Grand Prix event on the International Skating Union calendar, following last week's Rostelecom Cup in Russia and Trophee Bompard in France the week before.