Alina Zagitova’s win ups pressure on Ashley Wagner for last GP Final spot

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Russian Alina Zagitova‘s Olympic-medal-worthy free skate at Grand Prix France meant one thing for American Ashley Wagner.

Wagner essentially must win Skate America next week to qualify for December’s Grand Prix Final, the biggest international competition before February’s Olympics.

Zagitova, the 15-year-old world junior champion, leaped from fifth after Friday’s short program to win in Grenoble on Saturday.

GP FRANCE: Full Results | TV Schedule

The training partner of Olympic favorite Yevgenia Medvedeva recorded the third-highest free-skate score under a 13-year-old judging system.

That’s 151.34 points with seven triple jumps — all in the second half of the four-minute program to earn 10 percent bonus.

Only Medvedeva has scored higher — 160.46 and 154.40 at her last two events of an undefeated 2016-17 season.

Zagitova outclassed a field headlined by world silver medalist Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada.

Osmond, who led by 1.26 after the short program, fell on a triple loop and singled an Axel in her free skate to fall to third place — 7.03 behind Zagitova.

Another Russian, Maria Sotskova, remained in second place, 5.02 back of Zagitova, with a personal-best 208.78 points.

Medvedeva, Zagitova and Sotskova are all going to the Grand Prix Final, which takes the top six skaters from the fall Grand Prix season. Russia can send three women to the Olympics, and these are the clear favorites to be chosen after nationals in late December.

Olympic bronze medalist Carolina Kostner of Italy (the only woman from the top six in Sochi skating this season) and Osmond are also qualified for the Grand Prix Final.

The last Grand Prix Final spot will be decided at Skate America in Lake Placid, N.Y., next week.

It will go to one of three skaters — Russian Polina Tsurskaya, Japanese Wakaba Higuchi or Wagner.

Higuchi is the clubhouse leader with second- and third-place finishes in her two Grand Prix starts this fall. She is the last hope for Japan to keep a streak of qualifying at least one woman for the Grand Prix Final for a 17th straight year.

Japan has promising skaters, but zero Olympic medal favorites and only two women’s spots in PyeongChang. It had the maximum three spots at the Olympics in 2006, 2010 and 2014.

Wagner and Tsurskaya are tied in Grand Prix points, having finished third in their respective events earlier this fall.

If either Wagner or Tsurskaya wins Skate America, she goes to the Grand Prix Final.

A Skate America win would be a major resume boost for Wagner, since the three-woman U.S. Olympic team picks will be based not only on January’s nationals results but also from finishes in major competition the previous two seasons.

Wagner is the only active U.S. woman to win a Grand Prix (she’s done it five times) and the only one to make a Grand Prix Final in 10 years (also five times).

Wagner could make the Grand Prix Final with a runner-up at Skate America.

In that case, Tsurskaya would obviously have to finish lower, plus Wagner would need a personal best by more than 20 points to beat Higuchi via tiebreaker scores.

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Internationaux de France
Women’s Results
1. Alina Zagitova (RUS) — 213.80
2. Maria Sotskova (RUS) — 208.78
3. Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN) — 206.77
10. Polina Edmunds (USA) — 157.77

Canada in control of hockey rivalry going into Olympics

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Four years ago, the U.S. women’s hockey team rode a four-game winning streak over rival Canada into the Olympics, then lost both games in Sochi, including a gut-wrenching overtime final.

This time, Canada goes into the Winter Games having won four straight.

The Canadians beat the Americans 2-1 in overtime in Edmonton on Sunday night, taking their pre-Olympic series 5-3 overall.

“I don’t think it was our best performance,” Canada coach Laura Schuler said. “There’s still more work to do.”

The Canadians were led by their stalwarts — captain Marie-Philip Poulin scored in regulation, Sochi gold medalist Jennifer Wakefield scored 26 seconds into overtime and longtime goalie Shannon Szabados stopped 34 of 35 shots.

Hilary Knight netted the U.S. goal, with Maddie Rooney making 24 saves.

“The goal for us is to be hitting on all cylinders in February,” U.S. coach Robb Stauber said.

The U.S. appeared to be in that kind of form until about two weeks ago.

Before this losing streak, the U.S. had a 12-4 record against Canada since the start of 2015, including taking the last three world championship finals.

At one point, the U.S. won six straight games over a 12-month stretch, its longest streak over Canada since it famously won eight straight going into the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics then lost the gold-medal game.

Canada also beat the U.S. in their last four meetings before the 2006 Olympics and five straight going into the 2010 Olympics.

The U.S. Olympic team will be announced Jan. 1. The national-team roster is at 25 players (22 skaters, three goalies), but the Olympic roster is 23 (20 skaters, three goalies).

“Can’t live in the past, can’t live in the future, so tonight we were worried about this game,” U.S. captain Meghan Duggan said, according to the Canadian Press. “We weren’t looking ahead to February.”

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Yuzuru Hanyu to miss Japan Figure Skating Championships

Yuzuru Hanyu
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Yuzuru Hanyu, the reigning Olympic and world figure skating champion, will miss his national championships this week due to ankle and knee injuries suffered in a Nov. 9 practice fall, according to Japanese media citing the Japan Skating Federation.

Hanyu can (and very likely will) be named to Japan’s three-man Olympic team despite missing nationals.

Hanyu has reportedly been off the ice for more than one month since the fall.

“It is an important selection competition, and the Olympics are a big goal, so with that in mind we would like to think things through together,” Japan Skating Federation director Yoshiko Kobayashi said last week, according to Kyodo News.

Hanyu, who turned 23 on Dec. 7, fell on a quadruple Lutz attempted and then favored his right ankle in a Nov. 9 practice at a Grand Prix event (video here).

He skated the run-through for his free skate, although he elected not to do any more jumps.

“I have been told by the doctor that I need 10 days of complete rest,” Hanyu said in a statement on Nov. 12, according to Kyodo. “Following that, it will take three to four weeks to return and get back to where I was.”

Hanyu and world silver medalist Shoma Uno are favored to lead Japan’s Olympic men’s figure skating team. The third spot is likely to go to Takahito Mura or Keiji Tanaka.

Hanyu competed twice this season.

He posted a world-record short program score in his debut at a small September event in Canada, but struggled to fifth place in the free skate and finished second overall behind two-time world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain.

He then finished second to U.S. champion Nathan Chen at the first Grand Prix event of the season in Moscow in October.

Chen is the only undefeated male singles skater this season.

Hanyu won four straight national titles before missing last season’s event with the flu.

He was still named to Japan’s team for worlds, where he won his second title in four years.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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