Johnny Weir, Tara Lipinski
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Tara Lipinski, Johnny Weir preview Grand Prix Final

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With the Pyeongchang Olympics coming in 14 months, any year-out figure skating predictions will lean heavily on what happens at this week’s Grand Prix Final.

The top six per discipline from around the world gather in Marseille, France, to crown the best skaters of the first half of the season.

The fields include every reigning world champion. The broadcast schedule is here.

NBC Olympic figure skating analysts Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir offered their takes on the men’s, women’s, pairs and ice dance favorites:

Men
Field (Highest Grand Prix season score)
1. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 301.47
2. Javier Fernández (ESP) — 292.98
3. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 285.07
4. Patrick Chan (CAN) — 279.72
5. Nathan Chen (USA) — 268.91
6. Adam Rippon (USA) — 267.53

Preview
Hanyu can become the first singles skater to win four straight Grand Prix Finals in the event’s 22-year history. The Japanese Olympic champion broke his own scoring records at this event last year, but he is not a heavy favorite. Fernandez, the two-time reigning world champion, is the only men’s skater to go undefeated in the fall. Chen and Rippon are the first U.S. men to qualify for a Grand Prix Final since 2011.

Lipinski’s Take
It’s Yuzu’s to lose, but then there are times you never know what you’re going to get from Yuzu. He could skate flawlessly, or he has these crazy falls and the program kind of falls apart and you can have Javi or Patrick Chan swooping in. … Chen is definitely a dark horse. If there are mistakes (from others), and he does his job, you can’t deny the technical difficulty in his program (six total quadruple jumps).

Weir’s Take
What Yuzuru did was very good at the NHK Trophy (two weeks ago), but he wasn’t in the normal state where he would have been maybe a year ago. But he does always bring it around the Grand Prix Final. … It’s huge that there are two American men in the Grand Prix Final. A year ago, we were looking at a world championships in the United States, thinking the Americans didn’t have a shot. Even if the Americans finish fifth and sixth, it’s a huge accomplishment.

Women
Field (Highest Grand Prix season score)
1. Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 221.54
2. Anna Pogorilaya (RUS) — 215.21
3. Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN) — 206.45
4. Yelena Radionova (RUS) — 205.90
5. Maria Sotskova (RUS) — 200.35
6. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 198.00

Preview
Medvedeva hasn’t lost in more than one year and is a clear favorite to repeat. It very well could be a Russian sweep, given Pogorilaya has been the clear No. 2 this season, and Radionova has made the podium in both of her Grand Prix Final appearances. No U.S. women are in the field for the first time since 2008.

Lipinski’s Take
Medvedeva is sort of like Yuzu. She’s at a different level. I haven’t seen a skater like her in a long time. You talk about the complete package, whether it’s artistry or technical ability. She has that. She has this unique personality on the ice. She has this charisma that captures the audience. She has a tough, competitive mental outlook when she steps on the ice.

Weir’s Take
Yevgenia Medvedeva is definitely in a class by herself, but should she make a small mistake, Anna Pogorilaya has been looking very strong this year. And (Pogorilaya) has the woman image on the ice. She’s the woman among girls.

Pairs
Field (Highest Grand Prix season score)
1. Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford (CAN) — 218.30
2. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 206.94
3. Yu Xiaoyu/Zhang Hao (CHN) — 203.76
4. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 197.96
5. Natalya Zabiyako/Alexander Enbert (RUS) — 197.77
6. Julianne Séguin/Charlie Bilodeau (CAN) — 197.31

Preview
Duhamel and Radford, the two-time reigning world champions, became heavy favorites after the withdrawal of Germans Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot due to Savchenko’s ankle injury last week. Duhamel and Radford are the only pair in the field that owns medals together from any major international competition (Olympics, world championships, Grand Prix Final).

Lipinski’s Take
I love Savchenko and Massot, I really do, but there’s something over these past few years with the Canadians, that when I watch them, I feel their fire. I don’t know if it’s their personalities or attack they have. It’s more of a personal preference.

Weir’s Take
The pairs has been a year of growth. Nobody has really delivered a stellar performance at any of the Grand Prixs yet. So I think Duhamel and Radford are definitely looking for that moment where they are the class of the field. I’m really missing (2015 Grand Prix Final champions Ksenia) Stolbova (injured) and (Fedor) Klimov this season.

Ice Dance
Field (Highest Grand Prix season score)
1. Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir (CAN) — 195.84
2. Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 193.50
3. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 188.24
4. Yekaterina Bobrova/Dmitry Soloviyev (RUS) — 186.68
5. Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) — 185.75
6. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 175.77

Preview
Two weeks ago at NHK Trophy, Virtue and Moir handed Papadakis and Cizeron their first defeat in nearly two years. The Canadians, who took gold and silver at the last two Olympics, are back after a two-season break from competition. A U.S. couple has made the Grand Prix Final podium nine straight times, and that streak figures to live on with the same three couples qualified from last season.

Lipinski’s Take
Tessa and Scott sort of dominated the French in their first matchup, but you have to remember the French made a lot of costly mistakes. If they both skate cleanly at the final, it should be much closer. If either of them have mistakes and leave the door open, it’s the Shibs (Shibutanis). 

Weir’s Take
My favorites of the season, it’s definitely the French. If their technique is solid, and they’re on point at the Grand Prix Final, they can overtake the Canadians, even though they lost to them by a considerable amount at NHK Trophy.

MORE: Javier Fernandez builds toward last Olympic chance

With four former champions in the mix, who can claim U.S. Championships pairs’ title?

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There have been four different U.S. pairs’ champions in the past four years. All four of those teams are in the field at this week’s U.S. Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina. With that in mind, who could get the nod to compete at the world championships in March?

The U.S. has two spots to fill, thanks to the efforts of Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc, who finished ninth at last year’s worlds.

Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier had the best fall of any U.S. pair, winning two bronze medals on the Grand Prix Series. Denney and Frazier finished with silver medals at last year’s national championships, too. The team has previous experience at the world championships (2015: 12th; 2017: 20th).

Cain-Gribble and LeDuc won the national title last year after a season that was nearly sidelined by Cain-Gribble’s concussion in December 2018. As the solo U.S. representatives at the world championships, they succeeded in earning back two world berths for 2020.

This season, they won two B-level competitions and finished fourth and fifth at their Grand Prix assignments. LeDuc said last week that despite their win at Golden Spin in December, “there was a little bit of room for improvement, which is exactly what we want from a competition going into nationals.”

“We feel like we’ve improved a lot as far as what we’re able to take on mentally because we know that this is going to be an intense week,” Cain-Gribble said. “We’re prepared for that. We’ve never had to do this before, where we’re coming in and we’re already the reigning champions. We’ve never come in with that title before. We’ve had the opportunity to talk to a lot of people about it and what that feeling is, but overall their main thing was, ‘Be prepared. Prepare yourself beyond what you can even imagine. When you get there, just go on autopilot and do your thing.’”

PyeongChang Olympic team event bronze medalists Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim haven’t been in top form since the Games. Later in 2018, they split from short-lived coach Aljona Savchenko in Germany and moved to California.

They finished an all-time low of seventh at last year’s nationals and were not assigned to any events later in the season. In their off-season, Chris underwent wrist surgery. The couple also added Rafael Arutunian to their coaching team to address their jumping abilities. Their season consisted of a silver medal at a B-level competition, followed by two Grand Prix assignments where they finished fourth and seventh.

“We feel that many people probably have kind of written us off, because we’re an old married couple and we’re kind of labeled ‘can’t get it together,’” Scimeca Knierim said after finishing fourth at Skate Canada this fall. “That’s almost an advantage, because I feel like for so long, we were considered the front-runners. I still believe we are. We’re trying to show we can get it together.”

The last time the Knierims competed at a nationals in Greensboro, in 2015, they won the first of their two titles. That year, they notched their highest placement (seventh) across five total trips to the world championships.

Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea won their national title in 2016 and were also sent on their only trip to the world championships where they finished 13th. In 2017, Kayne underwent knee surgery, but they returned to the national podium in 2018 and won silver. Last year, they finished fourth after a disastrous free skate.

This season, they collected a silver medals and a fourth place finish at two B-level competitions as well as a pair of sixth-place finishes on the Grand Prix.

MORE: 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships TV, live stream schedule

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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Maddie Bowman, first Olympic ski halfpipe champion, ends competitive career

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Maddie Bowman knows she has been very fortunate. She just turned 26 years old and has already accomplished everything she wanted in her sport, halfpipe skiing.

Bowman, who won the event’s Olympic debut in Sochi in 2014, recently decided to retire from competition.

“I’ve really given the sport everything I could that was positive, and I knew the sport would be in great hands when I walked away,” she said. “So I decided it was my time to be done.

“I just felt like I couldn’t give anything else to the sport because I was a little bit afraid [of injury], but also it’s mentally exhausting. It drained my mental health for sure, but I loved doing it, and I still love skiing. Competition just isn’t for me anymore.”

The decision weighed on the South Lake Tahoe native last season. She competed at the Winter X Games for the last time, taking fifth place. She earned medals each of the previous seven years, including five golds, despite undergoing two major knee surgeries in that span.

“I was thinking [last year] that this is really hard, and I don’t know if I want to keep doing this,” she said. “It was really hard for me to get into the right mental state again. It’s painful. My knees hurt, but I was torn. I was torn between wanting to walk away and the love I had for the people I was around, people I competed against and just the lifestyle. I worked really hard on opening up other doors for myself besides skiing, which is making my transition a lot smoother.”

Those opportunities include activism, spreading awareness around climate change for Protect Our Winters. Bowman wants to finish her college degree and teach high school biology and health. She aims to continue public speaking regarding motivational talks and mental health.

Bowman struggled with depression between the Sochi and PyeongChang Olympics. She is equally proud of her second Olympic performance — finishing 11th in South Korea — as her landmark gold medal in Russia. While in PyeongChang, she believed it would likely be her last Olympics.

“I had doubts if I would even make it to PyeongChang, and making it there was one of my huge accomplishments,” Bowman said. “It was such a special event. Even though I only got 11th, I skied my freakin’ heart out. I gave it everything I had.”

Bowman, the daughter of two former professional skiers, took gold in Sochi as the youngest finalist. She landed back-to-back 900s for the first time in her career (by accident after having to improvise her opening run). She did so in front of family that included 78-year-old Lorna Perpall, who wore a T-shirt that read “badass grandma.”

Afterward, Bowman spoke about friend Sarah Burke, the Canadian ski halfpipe pioneer who died after a training accident in 2012.

“It means so much for us to be able to show the world what our sport is,” Bowman said that night in Russia. “She’s here with us.

“I sure hope I, and everyone else, made her proud because we would not be here without her.”

Bowman has her own place in history. No matter how long ski halfpipe is in the Olympics, she will always be the first woman to earn gold.

“I know as our sport gets more solidified into the Olympic Games, it can become pretty national, cutthroat and competitive,” she said. “I would love to see it stay this free-spirited work of art, something beautiful like that.”

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