Tara Lipinski, Johnny Weir analyze Grand Prix season at halfway point

Johnny Weir, Tara Lipinski
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The first half of the Grand Prix figure skating season bounced from storyline to storyline — from lyrics to Russian and Japanese dominance to Olympic champions’ injuries.

NBC Sports figure skating analysts Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir provided thoughts as the series shifts to the fourth of six events, the Rostelecom Cup this weekend, before the Grand Prix Final.

The Grand Prix season began with skepticism about a new rule allowing skaters to perform to music with vocal lyrics. Many adopted the change, including U.S. champion Gracie Gold, who was initially against it.

Weir said before the season he was “terrified” of what the programs might look like. Now that he’s seen it, the two-time Olympian said it’s “a little bit mind-blowing” listening to lyrics, especially in the instances it’s for an entire program.

“It can work for and against a skater,” Weir said. “So far, it’s been more against skaters than it is for them.”

The 2013 U.S. champion Max Aaron‘s short program is set to Kenny Loggins‘ “Footloose,” a performance that placed him fifth at Skate Canada (he moved up to third after the free skate, in which he mostly performed without spoken words).

Four-time U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott took second in the Skate America short program, accompanied by Sam Smith‘s “Lay Me Down.” He struggled in his lyric-less free skate, dropping to fifth overall.

Another trend surfaced as the Grand Prix series shifted to Skate Canada and Cup of China the last two weeks. Russian women and Japanese men have won five of the six individual competitions so far. In the only outlier, Japanese Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu finished second at Cup of China despite falling five times in his free skate with a head injury.

What was so impressive about three different Russian women sweeping the first three events was not only that it was unprecedented but also that Olympic champions Adelina Sotnikova and Yulia Lipnitskaya were not among the trio.

Sotnikova is out with an ankle ligament tear. Lipnitskaya finished second in her Grand Prix season debut at Cup of China, calling her free skate the worst of her life and pouring her stressed soul out in an interview.

“Yulia was thrown onto the cereal box, per se, for such a huge country that has such a long history in figure skating,” Weir said. “She didn’t look as prepared as she has in the past for competition [at Cup of China], but she’s very mentally tough, and she has ice in her veins in some ways.”

Next month’s Russian Championships will arguably be the deepest women’s competition in the world this season. Russia can send only three women to the World Championships in Shanghai in March.

“It’s been predicted for a few years now, the Russian ladies’ dominance,” Weir said. “We’re not just watching a renaissance in skating in Russia. We’re also watching these ladies jostle for position in their country.”

None of the three U.S. women’s Olympians have overly impressed Lipinski.

“I haven’t seen someone that’s jumped to the forefront,” Lipinski said. “At the same time, I’ve seen progress from the skaters.”

Like Polina Edmunds, the youngest U.S. Olympic skater since Lipinski. Edmunds fell on the first jump in her first-ever Grand Prix skate at Cup of China and finished seventh in the short program.

But Edmunds placed second in the free skate, landing seven triple jumps. Edmunds can build on that in two weeks at NHK Trophy in Japan, which is wide open with Sotnikova’s absence.

Gold was third at Skate America, messing up a simple spin, and has yet to win a senior international competition. Ashley Wagner took second at Skate Canada, the best result of any non-Russian this season. Still, Wagner could do better, Lipinski said.

“I haven’t seen [Wagner] really exploring, pushing her own technical merit up to a higher level yet,” she said.

Weir sees a similar complacency in Wagner’s countrymen.

“The American men, for the most part, are sitting a little bit in their comfort zone,” he said. “Yes, they’ve won medals in all three Grand Prixs so far, but they haven’t put up performances that are capable of competing with the likes of Yuzuru Hanyu, [Russian] Maksim Kovtun and [Spaniard] Javier Fernandez, who are kind of leaders of the sport at the moment.”

In particular, Jason Brown hasn’t progressed as much as Lipinski expected.

The ponytailed skater who thrilled with his “Riverdance” free skate last season looked shaky technically at Skate America. Brown finished second, nearly 35 points behind winner Tatsuki Machida, who is another of the elite class of men’s skaters.

Brown, who hasn’t added a quadruple jump to his competition programs yet, fell on a triple Axel and stepped out of a triple-triple combination in his free skate.

“It would have been great after the Olympic year to reset the tone and have the judges look at him as a serious threat every single time,” Lipinski said. “I don’t think that’s happened.”

Brown leads the U.S. singles entries at Rostelecom Cup this week. NBC will air coverage Sunday from 4-6 p.m. ET.

Lipinski, Weir talk collisions in figure skating

Ilia Malinin wins U.S. Figure Skating Championships despite quadruple Axel miss

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One year ago, Ilia Malinin came to the U.S. Championships as, largely, a 17-year-old unknown. He finished second to Nathan Chen in 2022 and was left off the three-man Olympic team due to his inexperience, a committee decision that lit a fire in him.

After the biggest year of change in U.S. figure skating in three decades, Malinin came to this week’s nationals in San Jose, California, as the headliner across all disciplines.

Though he fell on his quadruple Axel and doubled two other planned quads in Sunday’s free skate (the most ambitious program in history), he succeeded the absent Chen as national champion.

Malinin, the world’s second-ranked male singles skater, still landed two clean quads in Friday’s short program and three more Sunday. He totaled 287.74 points and prevailed by 10.43 over two-time Olympian Jason Brown, a bridge between the Chen and Malinin eras.

“This wasn’t the skate that I wanted,” said Malinin, who was bidding to become the second man to land six quads in one program after Chen. The Virginia chalked up the flaws at least partially to putting more recent practice time into his short program, which he skated clean on Friday after errors in previous competitions.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Results

Brown, a 28-year-old competing for the first time since placing sixth at the Olympics, became the oldest male singles skater to finish in the top three at nationals since Jeremy Abbott won the last of his four titles in 2014. As usual, he didn’t attempt a quad but had the highest artistic score by 9.41 points.

Brown’s seven total top-three finishes at nationals tie him with Chen, Michael WeissBrian Boitano, David Jenkins and Dick Button for the second-most in men’s singles since World War II, trailing only Todd Eldredge‘s and Hayes Jenkins‘ eight.

“I’m not saying it’s super old, but I can’t train the way I used to,” Brown said after Friday’s short program. “What Ilia is doing and the way he is pushing the sport is outstanding and incredible to watch. I cannot keep up.”

Andrew Torgashev took bronze, winning the free skate with one quad and all clean jumps. Torgashev, who competed at nationals for the first time since placing fifth in 2020 at age 18, will likely round out the three-man world team.

Japan’s Shoma Uno will likely be the favorite at worlds. He won last year’s world title, when Malinin admittedly cracked under pressure in the free skate after a fourth-place short program and ended up ninth.

That was before Malinin became the first person to land a quad Axel in competition. That was before Malinin became the story of the figure skating world this fall. That was before Malinin took over the American throne from Chen, who is studying at Yale and not expected to return to competition.

Malinin’s next step is to grab another label that Chen long held: best in the world. To do that, he must be better than he was on Sunday.

“You always learn from your experiences, and there’s always still the rest of the season to come,” he said. “I just have to be prepared and prepare a little bit extra so that doesn’t happen again.”

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Mark McMorris breaks Winter X Games medals record; David Wise wins first title in 5 years

Mark McMorris
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Canadian snowboarder Mark McMorris broke his tie with American Jamie Anderson for the most Winter X Games medals across all sites, earning his 22nd medal, a slopestyle gold, in Aspen, Colorado.

On the final run of Sunday’s contest, McMorris overtook Norway’s Marcus Kleveland with back-to-back 1620s on the last two jumps. McMorris’ last three Aspen slopestyle titles were all won on his final run (2019, 2022).

“It’s something I never thought would ever come to me as a kid from Saskatchewan,” McMorris, 29, said on the broadcast. “Everything’s just been a bonus since I became a pro snowboarder.”

In a format introduced three years ago, athletes were ranked on overall impression of their best run over the course of a jam session rather than scoring individual runs.

McMorris won his record-extending seventh X Games Aspen men’s slopestyle title, one day after finishing fourth in big air.

“It just keeps getting crazier because I keep getting older,” he said. “People just keep pushing the limits, pushing the limits. Last night was such a downer, almost bums me out, like, dude, do I still have it? … To have one of those miracle wins where you do it on the last run and someone makes you push yourself, those are the best feelings.”

McMorris won slopestyle bronze medals at each of the last three Olympics and reportedly said last February that he was planning to compete through the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games.

Canadian Max Parrot, the 2022 Olympic slopestyle champion, is taking this season off from competition.

Anderson, a two-time Olympic snowboard slopestyle champion, is expecting her first child.

Later Sunday, American David Wise earned his first major ski halfpipe title since repeating as Olympic champion in 2018. Wise landed back-to-back double cork 1260s to end his winning run, according to commentators.

“I wouldn’t still be out here if I didn’t think I had a chance,” Wise, 32 and now a five-time X Games Aspen champ, said on the broadcast. “I’m not going to be the guy who just keeps playing the game until everybody just begs me to stop.”

U.S. Olympian Mac Forehand won men’s ski big air with a 2160 on his last run, according to commentators. It scored a perfect 50. Olympic gold medalist Birk Ruud of Norway followed with a triple cork 2160 of his own, according to commentators, and finished third.

Canadian skier Megan Oldham added slopestyle gold to her big air title from Friday, relegating Olympic champion Mathilde Gremaud of Switzerland to silver.

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