Alina Zagitova, Russia’s newest skating star, wins Cup of China (video)

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 Alina Zagitova of Russia, last season’s world junior champion, announced herself as an Olympic podium contender by winning Cup of China in her senior Grand Prix debut.

The 15-year-old trains with two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva, a fellow Russian teen who is a heavy favorite for gold in PyeongChang. Zagitova finished second behind Medvedeva (who didn’t compete at Cup of China) at the most recent Russian national championships.

With a program that strategically placed all of her jumping passes in the second half to receive additional bonus points, Zagitova outscored a field that included Canada’s Gabrielle Daleman, the 2017 world bronze medalist and the leader after the short program.

After the short program, the top three — Daleman, Japan’s Wakaba Higuchi and Russia’s Yelena Radionova — were separated by just .17, while Zagitova was about a point behind the leaders after a fall.

Higuchi and Radionova held onto their second and third place positions, respectively, while Daleman dropped to sixth due to a near-fall on her final jump.

The lone American in the field, Amber Glenn, finished 10th. Gracie Gold was originally slated to compete at this Grand Prix event, but withdrew last month after announcing she was in treatment for depression, anxiety and an eating disorder.

Russia earned three Olympic berths in ladies’ figure skating. Medvedeva is all but assured to claim one. and with today’s Grand Prix win Zagitova looks likely to claim another. Among those fighting for the third spot will be Radionova, Maria Sotskova (who won silver at Skate Canada), and Anna Pogorilaya, who won bronze at last season’s Grand Prix final but seriously struggled at both the 2017 Worlds and her first Grand Prix event last week.

In the men’s event, Russia’s Mikhail Kolyada held onto his lead from the short program to claim the gold medal. Eighth and fourth at the last two world championships, Kolyada won his first ever major international competition today over top competitors Javier Fernandez, the two-time world champion from Spain, world bronze medalist Jin Boyang from China, and world junior champion Vincent Zhou from the U.S.

Kolyada, Fernandez and Boyang all had error-filled free skates, with Kolyada and Boyang falling once each and Fernandez putting his hand down on two landings. That left the door open for another American, Max Aaron, to claim a bronze medal after he cleanly landed three quads in his free skate and earned a personal best score. Zhou, who also suffered a fall, finished fourth.

There were fewer surprises in the ice dance competition, which saw the top three teams after the short dance all finish in the same spots after the free dance. France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron won gold, Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates earned silver and Russia’s Yekaterina Bobrova and Dmitry Soloviyev claimed bronze.

Papadakis and Cizeron are the 2015 and 2016 world champions, but fell to silver behind Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir at the 2017 Worlds. At last weekend’s Skate Canada, Virtue and Moir won with the highest total score ever recorded, 199.86. Their record didn’t last long, however, as Papadakis and Cizeron earned a total score of 200.43 here and became the first ice dance team ever to earn over 200 total points.

The standings in the pairs competition also stayed mostly consistent from the short program to the free program, with Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, the world champions from China, staying in the lead to win gold.

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Cup of China
Women
Gold: Alina Zagitova (RUS) — 213.88
Silver: Wakaba Higuchi (JPN) — 212.52
Bronze: Yelena Radionova (RUS) — 206.82
10. Amber Glenn (USA) — 151.14

Men
Gold: Mikhail Kolyada (RUS) — 279.38 S
Silver: Jin Boyang (CHN) —264.48
Bronze: Max Aaron (USA) — 259.69
4. Vincent Zhou (USA) — 256.66
6. Javier Fernandez (ESP)
9. Grant Hochstein (USA)

Ice dance
Gold: Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 200.43 WR
Silver: Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 184.50
Bronze: Yekaterina Bobrova/Dmitry Soloviyev (RUS) — 182.84
5. Lorraine McNamara/Quinn Carpenter (USA) — 157.61
7. Elliana Pogrebinsky/Alex Benoit (USA) — 150.47

Pairs
Gold: Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 231.07
Silver: Yu Xiaoyu/Zhang Hao (CHN) — 205.54
Bronze: Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN) – 194.52
6. Ashley Cain/Tim LeDuc (USA) — 154.36

Erin Hamlin nears end of historic U.S. luge career

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Erin Hamlin is looking forward to normalcy. She is getting married next summer in her hometown. She is thinking about career moves. She is trying to figure out the rest of her life.

It is probably her last luge season. It is definitely her last Olympic season.

As such, it would be easy to fall into the trap of saying that winning a gold medal at PyeongChang in February would be the only thing that makes this season a success.

It’s important, sure, but Hamlin is entering her 13th year of World Cup racing with a much broader view and insisting that she’s going to enjoy whatever time she has left on her sled.

“I’m not going to hyperfocus myself on one result or bust,” Hamlin said. “Very likely, it’s going to be my last time in a lot of places, sliding on a lot of tracks. So I think more so, it’s going to be a lot of soaking it all in.”

That process starts Saturday, when the World Cup season opens in Igls, Austria.

Hamlin, who turns 31 on Sunday, is coming off the finest year of her career — she won a gold medal and two silvers at the world championships for the biggest haul ever by an American luger, got two World Cup wins and finished fourth in world rankings.

She might be going out, and there’s a chance she can go out on top.

“We’re working hard to convince her to stay,” longtime U.S. teammate Emily Sweeney said.

Sweeney knows that’s probably futile.

Sliders always tend to cycle out after an Olympics, no matter if it’s bobsled, skeleton or luge, and the Americans will see plenty of veterans take their last rides this winter.

A few U.S. sliders already retired this fall, in part because they weren’t going to have a shot at an Olympic berth.

For her part, Hamlin hasn’t officially said this is the end.

“There’s never really as concrete of a plan as you hope there would be, because you never know what can happen,” Hamlin said. “But at the moment, what I’m excited to do is see what other opportunities are there and what other adventures await.”

Hamlin has been in the world’s top 10 in each of the past 11 seasons — the second-longest current streak of any woman in luge, one year behind German legend Tatjana Huefner.

She won a World Cup each of the past three years, took the world title in sprint last winter and became the first U.S. Olympic singles luge medalist in 2014 with a bronze.

A lesson learned that season: Not expecting much can work wonders. That’s one of the reasons why PyeongChang isn’t taking up all the bandwidth in her brain.

“That’s the nature of winter sports in a Winter Olympic year, there being so much focus on the Games,” Hamlin said. “How I went into the last Olympics taught me a lot. I had no expectation of walking away from the last Olympics with a medal. At this point, goal No. 1 is to make the team and beyond that, I know if I slide as I’m capable of I can be pretty fast and I can do well.”

The schedule this season is hectic.

This weekend’s stop in Austria starts a run of five races in five weekends, with the next two in Germany followed by another in Calgary, Alberta, and then on home ice in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Dec. 15-16.

When that Lake Placid World Cup is over, the U.S. Olympic team will be named.

So when Hamlin needs an escape from all that, the wedding is there to bring her back to reality.

It will be at her parents’ home in July. It will, without question, be the social event of the season in Remsen, N.Y., where the one-time high school soccer player has annually left her tiny hometown brimming with pride.

“Pretty exciting,” Hamlin said. “It’s definitely adding a whole new aspect to an Olympic year, planning a wedding, but it’s cool. It gives me a good distraction when I need to think about something other than sliding.”

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Kaetlyn Osmond leads Grand Prix France as co-favorite falls (video)

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Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond topped the Grand Prix France short program, moving closer to another Grand Prix Final berth on Friday.

The world silver medalist was flawed — performing a triple-double combination rather than a triple-triple and putting a hand down on another jump landing.

She goes into Saturday’s free skate with a 1.26-point lead over Russian Maria Sotskova. Japan’s Yuna Shiraiwa is third, while the lone American Polina Edmunds is ninth.

Co-favorite Alina Zagitova of Russia fell and dropped to fifth place in Grenoble.

In the short dance, France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron improved on their personal best with 81.40 points, the third-highest all-time in an eight-year-old system.

Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov lead French Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres by 4.66 going into Saturday’s pairs free skate.

The event continues later Friday with the men’s short, live on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA.

GP FRANCE: Full Results | TV Schedule

Osmond, 21, was a revelation last season, winning her first Grand Prix medals in four years, making her first Grand Prix Final and finishing second to dominant Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva at worlds.

She’s continued that this fall, winning her first two events in Canada to solidify Olympic medal favorite status. One Canadian woman has won an individual Olympic medal in the last 25 years — Joannie Rochette‘s emotional bronze in 2010.

Zagitova, the 15-year-old world junior champion, fell on her opening triple Lutz. Zagitova won her Grand Prix debut in China two weeks ago and ranks second to training partner Medvedeva in top scores this season.

Medvedeva, Zagitova and Sotskova are the favorites to claim Russia’s three Olympic women’s spots. Sotskova, 17, made the podium in all three of her Grand Prix starts but was a disappointing eighth at last season’s worlds.

Edmunds tallied 56.31 points Friday, stepping out of the landing of her opening triple-triple jump combination.

Still, she improved on her short program from her earlier event this season, where she scored 49.62 with errors on all of her jumps.

Edmunds, the youngest U.S. Olympic competitor across all sports in Sochi, went 20 months between competitions, missing the entire 2016-17 season due to a bone bruise in her right foot.

She is an underdog to make the three-woman U.S. team for PyeongChang that will be named after nationals in January.

Russian Elizaveta Tuktamysheva continued her string of underwhelming programs since her 2015 World title. She fell on a triple Axel attempt and singled a Lutz, plummeting to last place of 11 skaters.

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Internationaux de France
Women’s Short Program
1. Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN) — 69.05
2. Maria Sotskova (RUS) — 67.79
3. Yuna Shiraiwa (JPN) — 66.05
9. Polina Edmunds (USA) — 56.31

Short Dance
1. Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 81.40
2. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 73.55
3. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 70.02
6. Elliana Pogrebinsky/Alex Benoit (USA) — 60.64

Pairs
1. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 77.84
2. Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres (FRA) — 73.18
3. Nicole Della Monica/Matteo Guarise (ITA) — 70.65
6. Marissa Castelli/Mervin Tran (USA) — 58.99