Takahito Mura wins Skate Canada; Grand Prix analysis

Takahito Mura
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Japanese men are the class of the early Grand Prix season, and Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu hasn’t even skated yet.

Takahito Mura won Skate Canada, coming from behind after the short program to top Spain’s Javier Fernandez in Kelowna, British Columbia, on Saturday.

Mura, who didn’t make Japan’s Sochi Olympic team, prevailed one week after Tatsuki Machida romped at Skate America in the Grand Prix season opener.

On Saturday, Mura landed two quadruple jumps in his clean, personal-best free skate.

Fernandez, the World Championships bronze medalist, led after the short program Friday and took second overall, falling on one quad, putting his hand down on another and stepping out of a third. He is coached by two-time Canadian Olympic silver medalist Brian Orser.

Max Aaron, the 2013 U.S. champion, moved ahead of countryman Stephen Carriere for third place.

Japanese men have won the last four Grand Prix events dating to last season, including Hanyu’s win at the Grand Prix Final and Machida at last year’s Rostelecom Cup. This is the first time skaters from one nation won the first two Grand Prix events since 1999, when Russia’s Alexei Yagudin won both Skate America and Skate Canada. Yagudin won Skate America in 1998, followed by countryman Yevgeny Plushenko at Skate Canada.

It’s the first time U.S. men have won medals at the first two Grand Prix events since 2010 (Jason Brown won silver at Skate America last week). U.S. men won medals at every Grand Prix event in 2010, except the Grand Prix Final.

The Grand Prix series continues at Cup of China next week.

NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra will air Skate Canada coverage Sunday from 1-2:30 p.m. ET.

Skate Canada men’s results
1. Takahito Mura (JPN) — 255.81
2. Javier Fernandez (ESP) — 244.87
3. Max Aaron (USA) — 231.77
4. Stephen Carriere (USA) — 231.67
10. Adam Rippon (USA) — 201.92

Leaders in Grand Prix season
1. Tatsuki Machida (JPN) — 269.09 (Skate America)
2. Takahito Mura (JPN) — 255.81 (Skate Canada)
3. Javier Fernandez (ESP) — 244.87 (Skate Canada)
4. Jason Brown (USA) — 234.17 (Skate America)
5. Nam Nguyen (CAN) — 232.24 (Skate America)
Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu to debut at Cup of China next week. Olympic silver medalist Patrick Chan not competing in Grand Prixs.

U.S. men’s leaders in Grand Prix season
1. Jason Brown — 234.17 (Skate America)
2. Max Aaron — 231.77 (Skate Canada)
3. Stephen Carriere — 231.67 (Skate Canada)
4. Jeremy Abbott — 219.33 (Skate America)
5. Douglas Razzano — 204.48 (Skate America)
6. Adam Rippon — 201.92 (Skate Canada)
Richard Dornbush to debut at Cup of China next week. Josh Farris pulled out of Cup of China.

Alpine skiers beaten out for Austria Sportsman of the Year award

Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

Kendall Gretsch
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Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

Kyle Smaine
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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”