Adelina Sotnikova’s return headlines Rostelecom Cup; preview

Adelina Sotnikova
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Don’t be surprised if Olympic champion Adelina Sotnikova finishes off the podium at the Rostelecom Cup Grand Prix event in Moscow this weekend, the Russian’s biggest competition since her Sochi triumph.

That’s because Sotnikova, who essentially missed all of last season with an ankle injury, appears to be slowly trying to regain her form. She finished fourth among a decorated field at the free skate-only Japan Open exhibition and second in a lower-level Russian event, both in October.

“I had certain problems with motivation after my recovery from injury,” Sotnikova said, according to Agence France-Presse. “But after a short period of hesitation I understood that I’m too young to finish my career. I want to show the fans something different, some new features of my skating.

“I was really missing the competitions throughout this year. I want to feel adrenalin in my blood ahead of the new start again.”

This week, she must deal with two countrywomen who weren’t age-eligible to compete when Sotnikova became the first woman to win an Olympic title with zero prior World Championships medals.

The Rostelecom Cup favorites are arguably 16-year-olds Yevgenia Medvedeva and Yelena Radionova, the last two winners of Skate America and the World Junior Championships.

Medvedeva will clinch a spot in December’s six-skater Grand Prix Final if she finishes on the podium after Saturday’s free skate. Radionova, who was third at Cup of China two weeks ago, will clinch a Grand Prix Final spot if she wins Rostelecom Cup.

Both skaters can make it with lower finishes depending on the performances of other skaters in Moscow and next week at NHK Trophy in Japan, the final Grand Prix Final qualifier.

World champion Javier Fernandez leads the men’s field in Moscow. He will clinch a spot in the Grand Prix Final in his home nation in Barcelona if he lands on the podium Saturday, after his Cup of China victory.

Needing better finishes are U.S. silver medalist Adam Rippon and Canadian champion Nam Nguyen, who took fourth and fifth at Skate Canada.

Icenetwork.com will stream for subscribers live coverage of men’s, women’s, pairs and ice dance short programs and free skates. NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra will have coverage Sunday from 12-1:30 p.m. ET.

Men’s short program — Friday, 8:25 a.m. ET (start order here)
Women’s short program — Friday, 12:30 p.m. ET (start order here)
Men’s free skate — Saturday, 7:35 a.m. ET
Women’s free skate — Saturday, 11:35 a.m. ET

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Top Grand Prix season scores

WOMEN
1. Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 206.01 (Skate America)
2. Gracie Gold (USA) — 202.80 (Skate America)
3. Ashley Wagner (USA) — 202.52 (Skate Canada)
4. Mao Asada (JPN) — 197.48 (Cup of China)
5. Rika Hongo (JPN) — 195.76 (Cup of China)
6. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS) — 188.99 (Skate Canada)
7. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 188.07 (Skate America)

MEN
1. Patrick Chan (CAN) — 271.14 (Skate Canada)
2. Javier Fernandez (ESP) — 270.55 (Cup of China)
3. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 261.23 (Cup of China)
4. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 259.54 (Skate Canada)
5. Max Aaron (USA) — 258.95 (Skate America)
6. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 257.43 (Skate America)
7. Daisuke Murakami (JPN) — 252.25 (Skate Canada)

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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