Nathan Chen tops Grand Prix Final short program (video)

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Nathan Chen is in position after the Grand Prix Final short program to claim the biggest win for a U.S. skater since the Sochi Olympics.

The 18-year-old national champion leads by 1.81 points after totaling 103.32 in Thursday’s short in Nagoya, Japan.

Chen hit a quadruple Lutz-triple toe loop combination, a quad flip and a triple Axel — with some low-grade landings — in the biggest event this season before the Olympics.

Chen can become the first U.S. singles skater to win the Grand Prix Final since Alissa Czisny in 2010 after Friday’s free skate.

Chen’s top rival in Nagoya, Japanese world silver medalist Shoma Uno, fell after landing his last jump, a triple Axel, and sits second in his hometown.

Past U.S. champions Jason Brown and Adam Rippon, the only men in the six-skater field not to attempt a quad jump, are fourth and sixth, respectively.

Grand Prix Final: Full Scores | TV Schedule

The Grand Prix Final is the second-biggest annual competition after the world championships. This season, it is the single biggest indicator of Olympic medal prospects.

It takes the top six skaters per discipline from the fall Grand Prix series. However, this season’s men’s field is lacking.

The world’s other top men’s skaters — world gold and bronze medalists Yuzuru Hanyu and Jin Boyang and two-time world champion Javier Fernandez — aren’t in Nagoya. Each dealt with illness or injury this fall but is expected to be fine for the Olympics, where they should join Chen and Uno as the medal favorites.

Chen broke out at last year’s Grand Prix Final in his first senior international season, topping the free skate to finish second overall behind Hanyu.

A month later, he became the youngest U.S. men’s champion since 1966 and the first man to land five quads in one program.

Then in February, he beat Hanyu and Uno at the Four Continents Championships at the Olympic venue. He entered worlds with medal hopes but finished sixth.

He is the only undefeated male singles skater this season.

Later Thursday, the short dance went to form.

France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron tallied a personal-best 82.07. They lead Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir by .54 going into Saturday’s free dance.

U.S. couples are in third, fourth and fifth place, led by national champions Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani.

Papadakis and Cizeron, the 2015 and 2016 World champions, lost all three head-to-heads with the 2010 Olympic champions Virtue and Moir last season.

But this season, the French bettered the world record at both of their Grand Prix events going into their first head-to-head with Virtue and Moir this week.

The pairs short brought the surprise of the day.

Chinese Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, the world champions and top-ranked skaters this season by 10 points, are in third place going into Saturday’s free skate.

That’s because Han fell on their side-by-side triple toe loops.

The leaders are Germans Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot, the world silver medalists, by a slim six tenths of a point over world bronze medalists Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov of Russia.

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Grand Prix Final Short Programs
Men
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 103.32
2. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 101.51
3. Mikhail Kolyada (RUS) — 99.22
4. Jason Brown (USA) — 89.02
5. Sergei Voronov (RUS) — 87.77
6. Adam Rippon (USA) — 86.19

Ice Dance
1. Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 82.07
2. Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir (CAN) — 81.53
3. Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) — 78.09
4. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 74.81
5. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 74.36
6. Anna Cappellini/Luca Lanotte (ITA) — 74.24

Pairs
1. Aljona Savchenko/Bruno Massot (GER) — 79.43
2. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 78.83
3. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 75.82
4. Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov (RUS) — 73.15
5. Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford (CAN) — 72.18
6. Yu Xiaoyu/Zhang Hao (CHN) — 70.15

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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