Nathan Chen wins Grand Prix Final … barely (video)

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Nathan Chen goes into 2018 — the Olympic year — as the only undefeated male figure skater this season after notching the most prestigious victory by an American since the Sochi Olympics.

The 18-year-old U.S. champion won the Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual competition and the biggest pre-Olympic event this season.

The last American singles skaters to do so were Alissa Czisny in 2010 and Evan Lysacek in 2009, the latter en route to Olympic gold. In fact, four of the five men to win the Grand Prix Final in Olympic seasons later won the Winter Games, too.

“I’m very happy with the results,” Chen said, “not very happy with the performance.”

Chen prevailed despite being outscored in Friday’s free skate by Japanese Shoma Uno, the world silver medalist and top-ranked skater in the world this season. Both skaters had a few errors in Friday’s free skate.

But Chen’s lead from Thursday’s short program allowed him to edge Uno by half a point overall — 286.51 to 286.01 — in one of the closest finishes in elite-level figure skating under a 13-year-old points system.

Chen fell on a quadruple toe loop, doubled what could have been a quadruple Salchow and turned out of the landing of another jump. He landed four quads.

“I made a couple mistakes and a lot of things to work on, but I’m happy,” said Chen, who struggled even more in his free skate at Skate America two weeks ago. “Throughout the season I’ve been able to prove myself. I’ve got to continue doing that at the U.S. Championships.”

Adam Rippon and Jason Brown, the two U.S. champions before Chen, finished fifth and sixth in the six-man field after counting one fall each in the free skate.

Still, they’re positioned well going into nationals next month, after which the three-man Olympic team will be named.

The Grand Prix Final concludes Saturday with the pairs free, free dance and women’s free. Three U.S. couples are in the ice dance, led by Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, who are in third place after Thursday’s short dance.

Grand Prix Final: Full Scores | TV Schedule

The Grand Prix Final 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 was lacking.

The world’s other top skaters — world gold and bronze medalists Yuzuru Hanyu and Jin Boyang and two-time world champion Javier Fernandez — weren’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.

“Regardless of who’s there competitive-wise, you’re still going to have to do what you have to do,” Chen said. “So I think it really didn’t change too much in terms of my performance. But definitely in terms of practices, the environment of the competition, it does feel a little bit different.”

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.

“Last year I wasn’t even expecting to be at the Grand Prix Final,” Chen said Friday. “This year I was able to win it.”

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.

Earlier Friday, Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond topped a women’s short program that lacked Olympic favorite Yevgenia Medvedeva of Russia, who is out with a broken foot.

Osmond, the world silver medalist behind Medvedeva, led a group of six women who counted zero falls Friday. Her clean short included a triple flip-triple toe loop combination.

She leads another Russian, world junior champion Alina Zagitova, by .77 going into Saturday’s free skate. Zagitova ranks second in the world behind training partner Medvedeva this season.

There are no U.S. women in the Grand Prix Final for a second straight year.

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Grand Prix Final
Men’s Results
Gold: Nathan Chen (USA) — 286.51
Silver: Shoma Uno (JPN) — 286.01

Bronze: Mikhail Kolyada (RUS) — 282.00
4. Sergei Voronov (RUS) — 266.59
5. Adam Rippon (USA) — 254.33
6. Jason Brown (USA) — 253.81

Women’s Short Program
1. Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN) — 77.04
2. Alina Zagitova (RUS) — 76.27
3. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 74.61
4. Maria Sotskova (RUS) — 74.00
5. Wakaba Higuchi (JPN) — 73.26
6. Carolina Kostner (ITA) — 72.82

Lindsey Vonn wins 79th World Cup race as oldest downhill victor (video)

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Lindsey Vonn became the oldest woman to win a World Cup downhill with three weeks until the Olympics, notching her 79th career victory in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, on Saturday.

In PyeongChang, she can become the oldest female Alpine medalist in Olympic history.

Vonn prevailed by .92 of a second over Liechtenstein’s Tina Weirather on Saturday, moving seven shy of Ingemar Stenmark‘s record of 86 World Cup victories.

“My focus right now is just so much on Olympics that I haven’t really thought about [the record] that much this season,” Vonn said. “After the Olympics, that will be my No. 1 priority again, and I’ll try to just rack up as many wins before I retire as possible.”

American Jackie Wiles was third to become the fifth U.S. female Alpine skier to qualify for PyeongChang, joining Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin, among others. (full U.S. Olympic roster here)

Shiffrin was seventh in Saturday’s race in her least comfortable discipline.

Full results are here.

Vonn, 33, broke Austrian Elisabeth Goergl‘s record as the oldest woman to win a World Cup downhill. Goergl is still the oldest winner for any World Cup race, taking a super-G in 2014 at nearly 34 years old.

Vonn, already an Olympic medal favorite in downhill and super-G, won her first downhill since Jan. 21, 2017.

She had raced eight downhills in between with four podium finishes, including taking second to Italian Sofia Goggia on Friday in Cortina. Goggia failed to finish Saturday.

The World Cup continues with a super-G in Cortina on Sunday (5:30 a.m. ET, Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

“Mentally, I feel like it’s the first podium I ever got,” Vonn said. “Back in 2004, I feel the same. I have the same motivation, the same drive, the same excitement. I love going fast. That’s never changed. The only thing that’s changed is my body is not as good as it once was, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t still win.

“I’ll keep going until my poor little knee gives out.”

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IOC approves unified Korea Olympic team, 22 North Korean athletes

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North and South Korean athletes will compete on the same team at the Olympics for the first time, while the IOC approved 22 North Koreans to compete overall in PyeongChang.

The IOC on Saturday approved the Koreas’ agreement to field a unified women’s hockey team and to march together in the Opening Ceremony behind the Korean Unification flag.

Twelve North Koreans have been added to the South Korean women’s hockey team. The other North Korean athletes will compete in figure skating, Alpine skiing, cross-country skiing and short track speed skating.

Full details are here.

“Today marks a milestone on a long journey,” IOC president Thomas Bach said. “Since 2014, the IOC has addressed the special situation of having the Olympic Winter Games 2018 on the Korean Peninsula. Until today, we met separately with the parties on a bilateral basis to address an often fast-changing political situation in a comprehensive way. Today is therefore a great day because the Olympic Spirit has brought all sides together. This was not an easy journey.”

At the Opening Ceremony on Feb. 9, one North Korean and one South Korean will carry the flag in the Parade of Nations. The Koreas previously marched together at the Opening Ceremonies in 2000, 2004 and 2006.

The hockey team will compete as “Korea,” under the unification flag and using the song “Arirang” as its anthem. North Koreans will compete under their own flag in all other sports.

North Korea did not qualify any spots for the Olympics, but the IOC had power to offer special invitations.

“Such an agreement would have seemed impossible only a few weeks ago,” Bach said. “The Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 are hopefully opening the door to a brighter future on the Korean peninsula.”

The 22 North Korean athletes mark more North Koreans at a Winter Olympics than the last six Winter Games combined.

North Korea had zero athletes in 2014 and two in 2010.

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