Johnny Weir, Tara Lipinski preview Skate America

Johnny Weir, Tara Lipinski
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The post-Olympic figure skating season begins in earnest this weekend at Skate America, the first of seven events in the Grand Prix series.

Here’s a look at the men’s and women’s fields in Hoffman Estates, Ill., with analysis from NBC Olympic figure skating analysts Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski. (NBC will have live coverage of the women’s free skate Sunday from 4-6 p.m. ET)

Men (short program — Friday, 9:30 p.m. ET; free skate — Saturday, 9:40 p.m.)

Both U.S. Sochi Olympians are in the field — Jason Brown and Jeremy Abbott, who were ninth and 12th at the Olympics, respectively.

Brown, 19, made his Grand Prix debut at Skate America last year and finished fifth, filling in for 2010 Olympic champion Evan Lysacek.

Brown, the youngest U.S. Olympic men’s singles skater since 1976, won his first senior international title at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany, in his season debut in September. He did so without a quadruple jump, which he hopes to add to his arsenal once he’s more comfortable with it.

Weir said the quad is important for Brown to grab the reins as a leading man as the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics approach. Lipinski echoed how vital the four-revolution jump is.

“I feel among the judges no one has really taken [Brown] that seriously as a technical threat to other skaters, because the quad is what everyone is looking for,” Lipinski said.

Abbott, who is 10 years older than Brown, planned to retire after the 2013-14 season but felt reinvigorated after finishing fifth at the World Championships in March. The four-time U.S. champion is back for another season, in part, to try to win his first World Championships medal in March.

“I find it very endearing and charming just the way that he’s looking at the rest of his career,” Lipinski said. “He just really wants to do it for himself. I wonder how that will change his performance and how he changes as a competitor with a new outlook.”

Brown and Abbott’s biggest competition at Skate America will come from Sochi Olympic bronze medalist Denis Ten of Kazakhstan and Japan’s Tatsuki Machida, who won Skate America last year, finished second at the World Championships and fifth at the Olympics.

“My personal favorite of the field is Machida,” Weir said of the 24-year-old. “He is so strong technically. He’s growing as an artist. He really does something interesting every time he’s on the ice.”

Jeremy Abbott, rebuilt and motivated, begins 10th season

Women (short program — Saturday, 2:30 p.m.; free skate — Sunday, 4 p.m.)

U.S. champion Gracie Gold seeks her first senior international title and a better performance than her third-place effort at Nebelhorn last month. Gold was fourth at the Olympics and fifth at the World Championships, better results than anybody else in this weekend’s Skate America field.

“I know [Gold] had sort of a rough offseason this summer, maybe some growing pains, and just troubles with her consistency,” Lipinski said. “But obviously she is the top American to beat. And coming into this event of Skate America there’s no reason she shouldn’t walk away with the gold.”

The other Americans are 2010 Olympian Mirai Nagasu and Samantha Cesario, who was fifth at the 2014 U.S. Championships. But Gold’s biggest threat appears to be Russian Elena Radionova, the two-time reigning World junior champion who was third at Skate America as a 14-year-old last year.

Radionova was too young to compete in Sochi, but she took part in the post-competition exhibition gala. That’s where Lipinski saw her skate live for the first time and nudged Weir, saying this would be the woman to watch moving forward.

“We say that every year there’s a new little Russian, but this one is really, really good,” Lipinski said. “She has this fire, and she’s consistent. And it’s going to be hard, obviously, as she grows into her body. She’s very limby. She has this little deer look with she’s out on the ice.”

Gracie Gold calls audible, adds lyrics for post-Olympic season

The pairs field includes Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim, the only U.S. pair competing this season with Olympics or World Championships experience, and Russia’s Yuko Kavaguti and Aleksander Smirnov, who were fourth at the 2010 Olympics.

The ice dance field includes Sochi Olympians Maia and Alex Shibutani and Madison Chock and Evan Bates, the top U.S. couples with Olympic champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White taking the season off.

NBC figure skating broadcast schedule

Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara
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Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)
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There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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