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Five takeaways from world figure skating championships

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Five thoughts wrapping up the figure skating season after the world championships ended in Milan last weekend … 

1. Nathan Chen finished one program shy of a perfect season

Chen had the best season imaginable for somebody who did not earn an individual Olympic medal. Though the Olympic short program disaster made the podium unreachable, he rebounded with the best free skate by nearly nine points. He won his other six competitions and in the finale, worlds, had his best showing of them all to become the second man to break the 320-point barrier.

It creates a dichotomy going into next season and the next Olympic cycle. Chen clearly had the best overall season in men’s skating (Yuzuru Hanyu won the Olympics but was second in his other two competitions before missing two months due to injury), but to the casual fan the next four years will be a comeback from a fifth-place finish in PyeongChang.

About next season: No Olympics, but Chen’s task is tall. The world championships will be on home ice for Hanyu and Olympic and world silver medalist Shoma Uno.

2. Russian dominance defeated

After going one-two at the Olympics, Russia nearly failed to qualify the maximum three spots for 2019 Worlds.

Olympic champion Alina Zagitova‘s three-fall free skate dropped her to fifth overall in Milan. Olympian Maria Sotskova also fell and had four jumps called under rotated, sliding from fifth to eighth. If either Zagitova or Sotskova slipped one more place, Russia would have two women instead of three at next year’s worlds.

Credit Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond for being the only gold-medal contender to deliver in the free skate. It had been her nemesis early this eason. For all the praise Zagitova received leading into and during PyeongChang (deserved), Osmond actually beat her in the short program at Grand Prix France and the Grand Prix Final in the autumn before struggling with late jumps in her free skates.

Osmond will benefit next season from this: Russia’s two best junior skaters can’t compete at senior worlds until 2020. So it will be up to Zagitova and Olympic silver medalist Yevgenia Medvedeva to keep it rolling, each coming off a defeat to end her season.

3. Bradie Tennell is the U.S. hope

Tennell, who was not on the Olympic radar until late last summer, was the top U.S. finisher at all of her competitions this season (not done since Ashley Wagner in 2012-13), closing with a solid sixth-place finish at worlds.

Mirai Nagasu (10th at the Olympics and worlds) is about to turn 25. Ashley Wagner is soon to be 27. Neither has publicly committed to skating next season. Tennell is the new face of U.S. women’s skating now and perhaps for years to come.

The 20-year-old from suburban Chicago had the benefit of her first healthy year as a senior. She went into the Olympics as the only woman without a fall the entire season. Tennell finally looked human at her last two events — a fall in her Olympic short program, two under rotations in her Olympic free skate and four negatively graded jumping passes in her world free skate. Not surprising for a skater at the end of by far the busiest season her young career.

4. Rivalry missing at the top of ice dance

Ice dance was defined by rivalries between training partners at the last two Olympics, but now it looks like the discipline with the clearest No. 1 heading into next season (pending rule changes that could impact scoring).

By all indications (but not official yet), PyeongChang gold medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are done competing. The silver medalists, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, haven’t lost to anybody other than Virtue and Moir in more than three years. And that included a world title on Saturday with the highest score under the current points system.

Papadakis and Cizeron, who three years ago became the youngest ice dance world champs in 40 years, scored 200-plus points at all six of their top-level international events this season. Minus Virtue and Moir, no other couple has ever scored 197.

As for everyone else, keep this in mind: Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue may have missed the Olympic medals with Donohue’s free-dance fall, but they finished the season with the world’s best score in the non-Virtue/Moir/Papadakis/Cizeron division. Their world-silver-medal score would have beaten Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani for bronze at the Olympics by four points.

5. Questions for pairs

Russia missed the pairs’ medals at an Olympics for just the second time since 1964, but by next season could be back atop the discipline.

PyeongChang bronze medalists Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford retired after the Olympics.

PyeongChang silver medalists Sui Wenjing and Han Cong missed worlds due reportedly to another significant foot injury for Sui. In 2016, Sui underwent right ankle and left foot surgeries and was unable to stand for three months. Though she is only 22 and came back from those surgeries to win a world title in 2017, this is a concern.

The Olympic and world champions from Germany, Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot, could continue to dominate, but the 34-year-old Savchenko hasn’t committed to skating next season.

Russia had two of the top four pairs at worlds — Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov and Natalya Zabiyako and Aleksandr Enbert. None are older than 28.

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Kaetlyn Osmond wins world title after Zagitova, Kostner crumble

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Kaetlyn Osmond moved from fourth after the short program to win Canada’s first women’s world title in 45 years after Olympic champion Alina Zagitova fell three times and short-program leader Carolina Kostner also struggled jumping.

Osmond, the Olympic bronze medalist, overcame a 7.54-point deficit to Kostner and won by 12.33 points over Japan’s Wakaba Higuchi, who was eighth after the short program. Another Japanese, Satoko Miyahara, took bronze.

“To be able to make the podium was my ultimate goal,” said Osmond, who landed seven triple jumps and scored 1.65 points shy of her personal-best free skate from PyeongChang. “I never thought being champion was possible.”

Osmond was a national champion at age 17 in 2013. She missed the 2014-15 season with a broken leg, then went from being ranked 24th in the world in 2015-16 to winning world silver in 2017.

Kostner, at 31 looking to become the oldest female world champion in history, ended up fourth, 1.2 points out of bronze in what may have been her final competition. She fell once, had a single Axel and no triple-triple combination. Kostner won a world title in 2012 and Olympic bronze in 2014.

“This fourth has a bitter taste,” Kostner said, according to Agence France-Presse, adding to The Associated Press, “You can see the fatigue in everyone’s legs. We are all human beings. We have strong emotions when we are out there. I think that above all, the fact of feeling nervousness means it is important for us. You know how much work we have put in.”

Zagitova, a 15-year-old looking to cap an undefeated season as the youngest Olympic and world champion since Tara Lipinski, finished fifth. She was second after the short program, looking for her fifth come-from-behind win in eight international events this season.

WORLDS: Full Scores | Recaps | TV Schedule

Americans finished sixth (Bradie Tennell), 10th (Mirai Nagasu) and 12th (Mariah Bell) after the U.S. women at the Olympics were ninth (Tennell), 10th (Nagasu) and 11th (Karen Chen). No U.S. woman finished in the top six for the first time in Winter Games history.

Friday’s results mean the U.S. drops from three women to two for the 2019 Worlds because the top two finishes didn’t add up to 13 or fewer (sixth and seventh, for example). The last time the U.S. had fewer than the maximum three spots at an Olympics or worlds was 2013.

This is the first time since 2010 that the U.S. didn’t put a woman in the top five at the annual worlds.

That said, Tennell capped her rise the last two seasons — from ninth at the 2017 U.S. Championships and seventh at the 2017 World Championships to ninth in her Olympic debut and sixth in her senior world debut. And that U.S. title from January.

“I feel really good about that performance,” Tennell said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “I went out there and I just wanted to enjoy myself and skate a clean program and I feel like I did that.”

None of the U.S. women fell, but judges docked them for under rotations (Nagasu had three; Tennell two) and negative grades of execution.

“I think we could all say that [the season] was a very difficult but rewarding journey, and I’m glad to have finished it the way that I did,” said Nagasu, a 24-year-old who said before worlds she hasn’t decided if she will continue competing.

Worlds lacked the 2016 and 2017 champion, Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva, who withdrew before the event with an ankle injury that plagued her this season before she took silver in PyeongChang.

Earlier Friday, French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron broke the world record short dance score, one month after Papadakis’ wardrobe malfunction in the Olympic short dance. A full recap is here.

Worlds conclude Saturday with the free dance and men’s free skate.

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Carolina Kostner tops Alina Zagitova in world champs short program

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Italian Carolina Kostner is the surprise leader after the short program at figure skating worlds, topping a woman half her age, Olympic champion Alina Zagitova, by .76 of a point in Milan on Wednesday.

Kostner, 31, tallied a personal-best 80.27 as she eyes a second world title to join her 2012 crown. Kostner earned the 2014 Olympic bronze medal and was fifth in PyeongChang as the oldest woman in the field by more than six years.

She can become the oldest women’s world champion by more than four years if she hangs on in Friday’s free skate, according to reports when Maria Butyrskaya won at age 26 in 1999.

“If I think back 15 years ago, when I started skating internationally, nobody in Italy followed figure skating,” said Kostner, who could retire after worlds. “Now, there’s a venue full of people sharing this passion with me.”

Zagitova, 15 and trying to become the youngest world champion since Tara Lipinski in 1997, struggled on the back end of her triple-triple jump combination. Her score of 79.51 was 3.41 points fewer than her world record at the Olympics.

“I felt, somehow, tight in my body,” Zagitova said through a translator. “I think it was nerves, but I don’t know why.

“I was more nervous here than at the Olympic Games.”

Zagitova, undefeated in her first senior international season, entered as the clear favorite with Olympic silver medalist and 2016 and 2017 World champion Yevgenia Medvedeva withdrawing from the event due to a right foot injury.

Japan’s Satoko Miyahara and Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond are in third and fourth, reversing their final placements from the Olympics. The U.S. women are in seventh (Bradie Tennell), ninth (Mirai Nagasu) and 17th place (Mariah Bell).

Full results are here.

The top two U.S. women’s results must add up to no more than 13 (sixth and seventh, for example), or they will be dropped to two spots at the 2019 World Championships. The last time the U.S. had fewer than the maximum three spots at an Olympics or worlds was 2013.

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Tennell, the 20-year-old U.S. champion who led the Americans at the Olympics in ninth, swung her fist after a clean short that scored 68.76 points. She was .18 off her personal best from the Olympic team event.

“This is my first world championships, so to go out there and put out a program like that, I’m very proud of myself,” Tennell said, according to U.S. Figure Skating.

Nagasu, who was 10th at the Olympics, performed a double Axel rather than the triple she landed in the Olympic team event. She also had her triple-triple combination downgraded to a triple-double.

Bell, the second alternate who made the team after Olympian Karen Chen withdrew and Ashley Wagner passed, struggled on her opening combination, only able to tack on a single jump.

Later Wednesday, Olympic pairs’ champions Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot topped the short program with a personal best.

Key Free Skate Start Times (Friday ET)
Mariah Bell (USA) — 2:32 p.m.
Bradie Tennell (USA) — 4:05 p.m.
Mirai Nagasu (USA) — 4:12 p.m.
Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN) — 4:36 p.m.
Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 5 p.m.
Alina Zagitova (RUS) — 5:08 p.m.
Carolina Kostner (ITA) — 5:16 p.m.

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