Yulia Lipnitskaia

Lipnitskaya, 15, skates to the lead at Russian Grand Prix

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At the end of her short program, 15-year-old Yulia Lipnitskaya of Russia draws a heart on the ice, then scoops shavings off the rink, sprinkling them over her to finish.

The fragile finish is an emotional one, but Lipnitskaya was anything but fragile Friday at the Rostelecom Cup, where she captured the arena’s hearts and the short-program lead with a strong and assured skate against a more experienced field at the final Grand Prix of the figure skating season.

Competing in just her fourth senior Grand Prix, Lipnitskaya seeks a fourth medal – and second gold this season – leading 2012 World Champion Carolina Kostner, a veteran, and two-time U.S. medalist Agnes Zawadzki.

In the pairs competition in Moscow, no team had a completely clean skate, but four-time world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany had a safe lead over Russians Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov.

Lipnitskaya’s 72.24 was the second-best short program score of the season, behind 2010 Olympic silver medalist Mao Asada. Only Asada and Lipnitskaya have broken the 70-point mark so far this season.

Zawadzki, who had a disappointing seventh-place finish at the Cup of China earlier this month, skated a clean and decisive program herself, hitting her triple-triple combination and later a double Axel. Kostner was safely in second with a 67.75 while Zawadzki registered a 60.45.

Zawadzki eyes Sochi with a special friend by her side

The American’s score was just 0.01 better than 2008 U.S. champion Mirai Nagasu, who had a solid performance herself, edging ahead of Russia’s Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, who finished with a 60.16. Only 0.29 points separates third and fifth place.

Savchenko/Szolkowy, the bronze medalists at the Vancouver Games, skated beautifully through most of their short program, “When Winter Comes,” a piece they complement with icicle-like white-and-blue costumes.

But on their final element, a difficult throw triple Axel, Savchenko came down hard, two-footing her landing and then hitting the ice on her right upper thigh and buttocks. In the Kiss and Cry, the 29-year-old was seen grimacing as the scores came in, then began crying, her head in her lap.

There is no official report yet of whether or not Savchenko sustained an injury on the fall.

It was a season’s best for Bazarova/Larionov, who scored a 69.72 to Savchenko/Szolkowy’s 73.25. Canadians Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch were in third after Moscovitch fell on his triple toe jump. Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim were the highest American team, finishing in fifth.

Zawadzki, 19, was ecstatic with her performance, a wide grin beaming across her face following the program. She fist pumped as she made her way towards coach Tom Zakrajsek, saying, “That felt great!”

The American has been third the last two seasons at the U.S. Championships, and will look to place at least that high as Team USA has three ladies spots for the Sochi Games.

Russia, meanwhile, has two, one of which Lipnitskaya hopes she occupies. So far this season, she, Adelina Sotnikova and Anna Pogorilaya have won Grand Prix medals. Tuktamysheva is the reigning Russian national champion, and was third at the European Championships earlier this year, behind Sotnikova’s second-place finish.

How to watch U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Saturday

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 02: Ashley Wagner of the United States warms up before the Ladies Free Skate program on Day 6 of the ISU World Figure Skating Championships 2016 at TD Garden on April 2, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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U.S. Figure Skating Championships coverage continues Saturday, live on NBC and streamed on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app, starting at 3 p.m. ET.

The pairs free skate, free dance and women’s free skate are scheduled in Kansas City.

The NBC Sports All-Access page will provide live scoring and more all week.

Pairs free skate, free dance
3-6 p.m. ET
STREAM LINK | PAIRS SKATE ORDER | DANCE SKATE ORDER

Women’s free skate
8-11 p.m. ET
STREAM LINKSKATE ORDER

In pairs, the first-year team of Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc leads Skate America silver medalists Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier by 3.96 points going into the free skate.

In dance, world silver medalists Maia and Alex Shibutani hold a 2.46-point lead over world bronze medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates after breaking the U.S. Championships short dance record.

Karen Chen, 17, is the surprise women’s leader after the short program. Three-time U.S. champion Ashley Wagner is third, and defending champion Gracie Gold is fifth. Wagner and Gold might not be able to afford mistakes in the free skate if they want to make the world championships team.

The U.S. will send two pairs, three dance couples and three women to worlds in Helsinki in two months. The team selections made this weekend will be based largely — but not wholly — off U.S. Championships results.

MORE: U.S. Figure Skating boss says Russia shouldn’t be in PyeongChang

Lindsey Vonn wins, cries in second race back from broken bones

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Lindsey Vonn was in tears. It’s easy to see why.

In her second race back after the most painful injury of her career, Vonn notched her 77th career World Cup victory, taking a downhill in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, on Saturday morning.

Vonn screamed repeatedly after crossing the finish line and seeing she was .15 ahead of Swiss Lara Gut. She cried and then waited as skier after skier tried to beat her time. No one did. Full results are here.

Vonn called it the most emotional victory of those 77, according to the Austria Press Agency.

“I feel like, sometimes, I come back so quickly, everyone forgets how much time and energy and blood, sweat and tears it takes to come back without any training and jump in there,” Vonn said, adding to the BBC, “I just put it all on the line. I tried to risk more. I tried to really believe in myself. I did more than I expected.”

This month marked Vonn’s full return from two injuries — suffering three large fractures in her left knee in a Feb. 27 race crash and breaking her right upper arm in a Nov. 10 training crash. Vonn has said the latter was the most painful injury of her career, causing nerve damage that limited mobility of her right hand.

Vonn’s first race back was last Sunday — after less than two weeks of ski training — and she finished 13th in a downhill in Altenmarkt-Zauchensee, Austria. Her lack of training showed. A lack of aggressiveness and speed in turns.

“I honestly wasn’t sure after Zauchensee how long it would take me [to win],” she said. “I definitely struggled finding that confidence, but I did it today. I tried to have as much courage as I could and push myself to the limit. I think I still can ski a lot better, but I think this is more in the direction of what I used to do. So I’m getting back.”

Vonn has two primary goals left in her decorated career — to ski for gold in the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic downhill and to break the World Cup wins record of 86 held by Swede Ingemar Stenmark.

Vonn can go for win No. 78 in a super-G in Garmisch on Sunday, streamed on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app at 6 a.m. ET.

If Vonn stays healthy and continues to win at her normal pace, two big “ifs,” she will break Stenmark’s record next season.

“I still don’t have much training, so, super-G, I really don’t know what to expect,” Vonn said.

MORE: Vonn sets date on proposal to enter men’s race