Russia’s Kovtun records monster short program in Plushenko’s absence

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For some 15 years, Yevgeny Plushenko has been the king of Russian skating. But Friday, with no king in sight, a prince reigned over the ice in Moscow, Maksim Kovtun formally announcing his challenge to Plushenko’s throne.

Kovtun has been the up-and-coming boy of a nation steeped in figure skating tradition for the last two years and delivered a monster short program at the Rostelecom Cup, the final Grand Prix of the season, in which Plushenko withdrew from a week ago with a knee injury.

Skating in front of a home crowd, the 18-year-old Kovtun produced a 92.53, the fourth-highest score of the season and better than Plushenko’s best-ever short program (91.30), securing himself a safe lead over second-place Tatsuki Machida of Japan (84.90) and re-igniting the discussion of who will get Russia’s coveted lone Olympic spot for Sochi.

Kovtun was a disappointing 17th at the World Championships earlier this year, meaning the Russians got just one place for a men’s singles skater at the upcoming Olympic Games. But after a second-place finish at the Cup of Russia earlier this month and a dazzling performance that included a quadruple Salchow-triple toe opening combination and a quadruple toe to follow, Kovtun continues to push the envelope.

Reigning world bronze medalist Javier Fernandez fell on his opening quadruple Salchow, relegating him to third behind Kovtun and Machida.

Lipnitskaya, Savchenko/Szolkowy take leads in Moscow

It was a poor showing for American men, as Richard Dornbush came up short on two of his jumps and fell on his lone Axel, a triple, finishing seventh out of eight skaters. His teammate, Josh Farris, withdrew after spraining his ankle Thursday in practice.

Dornbush is the 2011 U.S. Championships siilver medalist while Farris, 18, is competing in his first season on the senior Grand Prix circuit. He was fifth at Skate Canada last month.

In the ice dancing that followed, reigning and three-time Russian national champions Ekaterina Bobrova and Dimitry Soloviyev skated to a first-place finish in the short program with a 68.42. The team earned a bronze medal at the World Championships earlier this year.

Canada’s Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje were second with a 61.50, though they were visibly disappointed after seeing their scores. Weaver had pumped her fist following their short dance, but then stared blankly at the screen and simply said, “OK,” when their scores came up.

Ekaterina Riyazanova and Iliya Tkachenko of Russia were third while Madison Chock and Evan Bates, the lone Americans in ice dance, were fourth, less than a point back from medal contention.

For much of the second group of ice dancers Friday night the rink took on a Broadway theme, music from “Chicago,” “42nd Street,” “Annie Get Your Gun” and “Moulin Rouge” playing in consecutive programs.

Kovtun will look for another show-stopping performance Saturday in the men’s free skate. Many around skating believe the Olympic spot will go to Plushenko if he is healthy regardless of how Kovtun performs, though a win in Moscow from the youngster would put more pressure on the veteran.

The last Russian man not named Plushenko to win a Grand Prix gold medal? Iliya Klimkin at the NHK Trohpy in 2002.

Olympic pairs’ champs crush world record for world title; U.S. struggles

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Germans Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot added a world title to their Olympic gold with a world-record score, while U.S. pairs’ struggles continued with the Americans’ lowest-ever results at a world championships.

Savchenko and Massot broke the longest-standing record total in figure skating, extending their lead from Wednesday’s short program to win by 20.31 points over Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov.

“It was exactly the season that we wanted,” Massot said. “We reached our goal today.”

Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres took bronze, France’s second Olympic or world pairs medal in 86 years.

Full results are here.

Savchenko and Massot’s free skate — the first to eclipse 160 points under the current judging system — included a side-by-side triple Salchow-double toe loop-double toe loop combination and a throw triple flip and throw triple Salchow.

Their total score — 245.84 points — shattered 2014 Olympic champions Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov‘s record of 237.71 set at 2013 Skate America. Their winning margin also broke Volosozhar and Trankov’s record for an Olympics or world championships under the 14-year-old points system.

Savchenko earned her 11th world medal — tying the female record held by Norwegian singles legend Sonja Henie — and sixth world title — tying Soviet Alexander Zaitsev for second on the all-time pairs’ list, four behind Irina Rodnina.

This was the French-born Massot’s first world title. Savchenko’s previous five world titles came with now-retired Robin Szolkowy.

Savchenko is 34, a five-time Olympian and the oldest pairs’ gold medalist in Winter Olympic history. The logical question — will she continue competing next season?

“Think about tomorrow,” she said, with Massot adding, “Ask again next week.”

The two U.S. pairs finished 15th and 17th, which means the U.S. drops to one pairs’ spot for the 2019 Worlds, its fewest since 1957.

U.S. champions Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim dropped from 11th after the short program to 15th of 16 pairs after the free skate. Scimeca fell on their death spiral and a throw triple flip, looked distraught skating off the ice and tweeted 10 minutes later, “I’m sorry for losing us a spot” and “Bad day to have a bad day.”

The Knierims made the top 10 in their four previous world championships appearances with a best finish of seventh.

The other U.S. pair, 2000 World junior singles silver medalist Deanna Stellato and 2014 Olympian Nathan Bartholomay, were 17th in Wednesday’s short program, missing the cutoff for the free skate by one spot.

It’s the first time all U.S. pairs finished outside the top 11 at a worlds, granted worlds didn’t regularly have a field greater than 15 pairs before 1990.

It came on the heels of the U.S. having its smallest pairs’ contingent — one pair — at an Olympics since the first Winter Games in 1924. The Knierims were 15th in PyeongChang, marking the first time the U.S. sent a pair to an Olympics and put none in the top 10.

The last U.S. pairs’ medal at worlds came in 2002, making this the nation’s longest drought in any figure skating discipline. The last Olympic medal was in 1988.

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Nathan Chen hits short program, leads world championships

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That’s more like it, Nathan Chen.

After two disastrous Olympic short programs, Chen nailed his jumps at the world championships, taking the lead by 1.86 points over Russian Mikhail Kolyada in Milan on Thursday. American Vincent Zhou is third.

Full results are here.

“I learned a lot from the Olympics, and I used what I learned there heading into the short program in terms of where to place my mind, what to think about throughout the program,” Chen said. “It was great to have an opportunity to come back before the end of the season to try the short program again, sort of hope to redeem myself.”

Later Thursday, Germans Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot backed up their Olympic gold with a world title, shattering the longest-standing world record in figure skating with a record margin of victory. Full recap here.

In Saturday’s men’s free skate, Chen can become the youngest men’s world champion since Yevgeny Plushenko in 2001. Zhou can become the first man to make a senior world podium the year after winning a world junior title since Plushenko in 1998. The U.S. last put two men on a world podium in 1996 (Todd EldredgeRudy Galindo).

This week’s field lacks Yuzuru HanyuJavier Fernandez and Patrick Chan, who combined to win every Olympic and world title since 2011 but ended their seasons at the Olympics.

On Thursday, Chen hit a quadruple Lutz-triple toe loop combination, a quadruple flip and a triple Axel for 101.94 points (2.18 shy of his personal best). It was a reversal from PyeongChang, where Chen’s short programs began unraveling with that opening combination, and he scored 80.61 and 82.27 points.

Chen placed 17th in the Olympic short program and redeemed himself with the top free skate, moving up to fifth. He went into the Olympics as the only undefeated male skater for the season.

“That I was able to bounce back and have the long program that I did, because of that the whole Olympic experience wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be after the short program,” Chen said Thursday. “Being able to have that, I didn’t have any ghosts of the Olympics following me [to worlds].”

Zhou, the youngest of 37 men in the field at 17, landed a quad Lutz-triple toe loop combination and a quad flip, fist pumping at the end of his skate. He shattered his personal-best short program by 12.25 points. Zhou was sixth at the Olympics.

“I came here to skate a clean program, I did that, and being in the top three is icing on the cake,” Zhou said.

Two other medal favorites — Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno of Japan and two-time world bronze medalist Jin Boyang of China — struggled with jumps. Jin is fourth and Uno fifth.

Uno, competing with a reported ankle injury, performed a triple-double combination rather than the quad-triple he did in PyeongChang. Jin had a quad toe called under-rotated.

The third American, 2013 U.S. champion Max Aaron, is in 15th place. Aaron put his hand down on his opening quad Salchow and turned out of his triple Axel landing.

Key Free Skate Start Times (Saturday ET)
Max Aaron (USA) — 6:05 a.m.
Shoma Uno (JPN) — 8:21 a.m.
Jin Boyang (CHN) — 8:29 a.m.
Mikhail Kolyada (RUS) — 8:38 a.m.
Vincent Zhou (USA) — 8:47 a.m.
Nathan Chen (USA) — 8:55 a.m.

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