Hanyu cruises over Chan, claims Grand Prix Final gold

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Has Japan finally found the skater that can win the country its first gold medal in men’s figure skating? Yuzuru Hanyu just might be that man, the 18-year-old delivering a complete performance to capture the gold medal at the Grand Prix Final Friday in front of a home crowd, besting three-time world champion Patrick Chan.

Hanyu, a day shy of turning 19, carried a safe 12-point lead into the free skate following an epic short program. The teenager, the third-youngest Grand Prix Final champion in history, scored a 293.25 overall, easily beating Chan’s 280.08.

The Japanese crowd let out an audible gasp and screams when Hanyu opened his program with a hard fall on a quadruple Salchow. But Hanyu, coached by 1988 Olympic silver medalist Brian Orser, dusted himself off to land eight triples in his free skate. He retains the Grand Prix Final crown for his country: Daisuke Takahashi won it a year ago.

Nobunari Oda, a substitute for an injured Takahashi this year, fell on his opening jump as well, but finished with the home crowd clapping along to “Wilheim Tell Overture” as he secured the bronze medal. Tatsuki Machida was fourth in a Japan-heavy field.

Of the three medalists, Chan was the only to stay on his feet in the free skate, but the 22-year-old from Canada stepped out of a triple flip-double toe combination and didn’t have the firepower to claw back from a 12-point deficit following the short program.

Last month, the reigning and three-time world champion set a world record with his scores at the Grand Prix of France, but Hanyu has now disrupted Chan’s Olympic favorite status, throwing the men’s medal picture for Sochi into a cloud of confusion.

Takahashi, the bronze medalist in Vancouver, is likely to factor into that conversation, as could three-time Olympic medalist Yevgeny Plushenko, should the 31-year-old Russian be fit enough to skate in Sochi in February.

Plushenko’s countryman Maksim Kovtun was strong in his free skate, but finished fifth overall in the six-man field.

Hanyu moved up a spot from his second-place finish at the Grand Prix Final. He beat Chan here a year ago, as well, the Canadian finishing third.

Davis/White skate to lead in ice dancing

Teddy Riner, dominant judoka, to skip 2018, 2019 Worlds

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French judoka Teddy Riner, arguably the world’s most dominant athlete, will reportedly skip the next two world championships before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

French coach Franck Chambily said Riner will compete a light international schedule the next two years ahead of what would be his fourth Olympics, according to Agence France-Presse.

Riner, a 29-year-old, 6-foot-8-inch native of Guadeloupe, is undefeated since 2010 with a reported 144-match winning streak. That includes Olympic titles in 2012 and 2016 and world titles in 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017.

Before the streak, Riner also earned world titles in 2007, 2009 and 2010, plus an Olympic bronze at age 19 in 2008.

He could compete through the 2024 Paris Games.

“When I am invincible, I will stop,” Riner said in 2013, according to The Associated Press.

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Maggie Nichols wins NCAA all-around title with perfect 10

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Even after a perfect 10 in the last rotation, Maggie Nichols didn’t know that she had won the NCAA all-around title. Her coach at Oklahoma, K.J. Kindler, had to tell her.

The reaction?

“Excitement,” Nichols said Friday night on ESPNU. “I just wanted to go out there and feel out the equipment, staying calm and doing my routines that I have been doing in training.”

Nichols, a 2015 World team champion who retired from elite gymnastics after missing the 2016 Olympic team (set back by a torn meniscus that year), became the first Sooner to win the NCAA all-around in 30 years.

The sophomore tallied 39.8125 points and topped Olympic alternate MyKayla Skinner of Utah by .0875 for the title in St. Louis. It came one year after Nichols was 29th in the all-around with a balance beam fall.

Oklahoma and Utah will be joined in Saturday night’s Super Six team finals by UCLA, LSU, Florida and Nebraska. The Sooners eye their third straight national title.

Nichols capped her night with one of two perfect scores between the two semifinal sessions, matching 2012 Olympic alternate Elizabeth Price‘s 10 on uneven bars. It gave Nichols a second career gym slam, a perfect score on every apparatus for the season.

On Jan. 9, Nichols came forward as “Athlete A,” who first reported to USA Gymnastics that she was sexually abused by Larry Nassar in summer 2015.

“She has had a really unique year probably like no one else, and her strength showed through,” Kindler said Friday, according to the University of Oklahoma. “It was tough, and to come out on this side this year is really special.”

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