Tara Lipinski, Johnny Weir preview Grand Prix Final

Johnny Weir, Tara Lipinski
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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

Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier top pairs’ short at U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier
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World champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier lead after the pairs’ short program in what may be their last U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Knierim and Frazier, who last March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979, tallied 81.96 points to open the four-day nationals on Thursday.

They lead by 15.1 over Emily Chan and Spencer Howe going into Saturday’s free skate in San Jose, California. The top three teams from last year’s event — which Knierim and Frazier missed due to him contracting COVID-19 — are no longer competing together.

After nationals, a committee selects three U.S. pairs for March’s world championships in Japan.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

Before the fall Grand Prix Series, the 31-year-old Knierim said this will probably be their last season competing together, though the pair also thought they were done last spring. They don’t expect to make a final decision until after a Stars on Ice tour this spring.

“I don’t like to just put it out there and say it is the last or not going to be the last because life just has that way of throwing curveballs, and you just never know,” Frazier said this month. “But I would say that this is the first nationals where I’m going to go in really trying to soak up every second as if it is my last because you just don’t know.”

Knierim is going for a fifth U.S. title, which would tie the record for a pairs’ skater since World War II, joining Kyoka Ina, Tai Babilonia, Randy Gardner, Karol Kennedy and Peter Kennedy. Knierim’s first three titles, and her first Olympics in 2018, were with husband Chris, who retired in 2020.

Knierim is also trying to become the first female pairs’ skater in her 30s to win a national title since 1993. Knierim and ice dancer Madison Chock are trying to become the first female skaters in their 30s to win a U.S. title in any discipline since 1995.

After being unable to defend their 2021 U.S. title last year, Knierim and Frazier reeled off a series of historic results in what had long been the country’s weakest discipline.

They successfully petitioned for an Olympic spot and placed sixth at the Games, best for a U.S. pair since 2002. They considered retirement after their world title, which was won without the top five teams from the Olympics in attendance. They returned in part to compete as world champions and to give back to U.S. skating, helping set up younger pairs for success.

They became the first U.S. pair to win two Grand Prix Series events, then in December became the first U.S. pair to make a Grand Prix Final podium (second place). The world’s top pairs were absent; Russians banned due to the war in Ukraine and Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong from China leaving competition ice (for now).

Knierim and Frazier’s real test isn’t nationals. It’s worlds, where they will likely be the underdog to home favorites Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara, who edged the Americans by 1.3 points in the closest Grand Prix Final pairs’ competition in 12 years.

Nationals continue with the rhythm dance and women’s short program later Thursday.

NBC Sports’ Sarah Hughes (not the figure skater) contributed to this report.

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2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships scores, results

2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships
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Full scores and results from the 2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose …

Pairs Short Program
1. Alexa Knierim/Brandon Frazier — 81.96
2. Emily Chan/Spencer Howe — 66.86
3. Ellie Kam/Danny O’Shea —- 65.75
4. Valentina Plazas/Maximiliano Fernandez — 63.45
5. Sonia Baram/Danil Tioumentsev —- 63.12
6. Katie McBeath/Nathan Bartholomay —- 56.96
7. Nica Digerness/Mark Sadusky — 50.72
8. Maria Mokhova/Ivan Mokhov —- 46.96
9. Grace Hanns / Danny Neudecker — 46.81
10. Linzy Fitzpatrick/Keyton Bearinger — 45.27
11. Nina Ouellette/Rique Newby-Estrella — 43.99

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Broadcast Schedule | New Era for U.S.

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