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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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MORE: Best figure skating moments from PyeongChang

French ice dancers win third world title; first medal for U.S. champs

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French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron won their third world title, one month after an Olympic silver medal, while U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue earned their first world medal, a silver in Milan on Saturday.

Papadakis and Cizeron captured their third world title in four years by breaking world records in the short and free dances. The pre-event favorites totaled 207.20 points and prevailed by 10.56 over training partners Hubbell and Donohue.

Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje grabbed bronze.

It’s the largest margin of victory in ice dance at an Olympics or worlds since the 6.0 system was thrown out in 2004.

WORLDS: Full Scores | Recaps | TV Schedule

Papadakis and Cizeron’s score would have won the Olympics by 1.13 over Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who skipped worlds and may never compete again. Papadakis’ dress came undone in their short dance in South Korea, exposing her breast, though they were just .14 off their personal-best short dance score at the time.

Hubbell and Donohue became the fourth different American couple to earn an Olympic or world medal in five seasons. They broke Meryl Davis and Charlie White‘s U.S. record for total score set in winning the Sochi Olympics.

It’s been a breakout year for the newest stars in the U.S.’ deepest figure skating discipline.

Hubbell and Donohue won their first national title in January after placing third or fourth the previous six years and were fourth at their first Olympics, giving up a potential bronze with Donohue’s fall in the free dance. Donohue also fell in the 2017 Worlds free dance after they were third in the short.

“We’ve done a lot of work toppling our demons, the fear, or all the what-ifs that go through our mind,” Hubbell said. “We had a history of making some errors and giving up our place.”

The French and U.S. couples shared coaches in Montreal the last two seasons, along with Virtue and Moir.

“Our goal is to get drunk together as many times as we can,” Cizeron said, drawing laughter at a press conference before adding, “that’s a joke.”

The world field lacked the Olympic gold and bronze medalists (Virtue and Moir and American siblings Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani). Medalists often skip the post-Olympic world championships due to off-ice opportunities, exhaustion or retirement.

The second U.S. couple in Milan, two-time world medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates, were fifth after placing ninth at the Olympics, where they tangled skates and both fell in the free dance.

The third U.S. couple, 2014 World junior champions Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, improved from 15th after the short dance to finish 10th overall in their senior worlds debut.

The U.S. put three couples in the top 10 at worlds for the seventh time in eight seasons.

The 2018-19 figure skating season starts in earnest in October with Skate America in Everett, Wash.

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French break world record, month after Olympic wardrobe malfunction

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Gabriella Papadakis‘ dress was secure. Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron‘s performance was extraordinary.

The French broke the world record short dance score at the world championships in Milan on Friday. Papadakis wore the same style costume that came slightly undone in the Olympic short dance and exposed her breast in South Korea.

“Back in Montreal [training after the Olympics], I just fixed a couple things in my dress, and I made sure it wouldn’t be able to break or to open in any way,” Papadakis said, before adding with a laugh, “and it didn’t.”

Papadakis and Cizeron tallied 83.73 points Friday, beating Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir‘s record from the Olympics by .06. The two-time world champs and Olympic silver medalists lead Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue by 3.31 going into Saturday’s free dance.

Two-time world medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates are fifth, 2.75 points out of medal position.

WORLDS: Full Scores | RecapsTV Schedule

The field lacks Olympic gold and bronze medalists Virtue and Moir and American siblings Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani. Medalists often skip the post-Olympic world championships due to off-ice opportunities, exhaustion or retirement.

Papadakis and Cizeron entered the Olympics as, at worst, co-favorites with Virtue and Moir. Though Virtue and Moir won their three head-to-heads in 2016-17, Papadakis and Cizeron this season posted the four highest total scores under the eight-year-old system in their four international events leading into PyeongChang.

Disaster struck in the Olympic short dance, where Papadakis had that wardrobe malfunction. The couple still tallied 81.93 points, just .14 off their personal best. They outscored Virtue and Moir in the free dance, but the Canadians won overall by .79.

This week, Papadakis and Cizeron eye their third world title after back-to-back crowns in 2015 and 2016 as the youngest ice dance world champs in 40 years. A triple would match Virtue and Moir and give them one more world title than 2014 Olympic champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White.

“The season has been so demanding,” Cizeron said. “It feels really good to end a season on a note like this.”

The third U.S. couple, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, is in 15th place after Hawayek fell in their short dance. The 2014 World junior champions made the field due to the Shibutanis withdrawing.

Key Free Dance Start Times (Saturday ET)
Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker (USA) — 11:27 a.m.
Anna Cappellini/Luca Lanotte (ITA) — 12:56 p.m.
Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 1:04 p.m.
Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 1:12 p.m.
Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje (CAN) — 1:20 p.m.
Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 1:28 p.m.

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