Mirai Nagasu, inspired by RuPaul, is top U.S. woman at season opener

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It’s a new season for Mirai Nagasu, the beloved U.S. figure skater tearfully left off the 2014 Olympic team.

Season five, to be exact.

“Today, before I competed, I watched season five, episode one of ‘RuPaul‘s Drag Race,’ so that I could channel my inner queen,” Nagasu said after finishing second at the U.S. International Classic on Saturday night.

Japan’s Marin Honda, 16 and the country’s new female face after Mao Asada‘s retirement, won the international season opener by 11.79 points in Salt Lake City.

Full scores are here.

That was to be expected, even though Honda had never before skated on the senior international level.

That’s how ballyhooed she is. Honda has 217,000 Instagram followers. Her personal-best score from last season — in junior competition — was higher than any U.S. senior woman at worlds.

Instead, the drama as the Olympic season began concerned three of the top four U.S. women from last year.

It’s rare that so many Olympic team contenders gather for one competition in September, five months before the Winter Games.

Nagasu, fourth at the last two U.S. Championships, overtook U.S. champion Karen Chen for silver by 1.22 points at the B-level International Classic after being in third place after Friday’s short program.

Nagasu easily outdistanced U.S. bronze medalist Mariah Bell by 14.88 points.

None of the three skaters were close to clean.

Nagasu, though she became the second U.S. woman to land a triple Axel in international competition (after Tonya Harding), two-footed landings on the jump in both programs. Not so bad.

But what hurt more was having six other jumps called under-rotated in her free skate, including a fall.

It’s the kind of performance that, if repeated at the U.S. Championships in January, could give Olympic team selectors reason to leave Nagasu home again.

“My butt hurts a little bit, so I’m going to go ice it,” Nagasu said. “Which is ironic, because I fell on ice.”

Chen and Bell also both fell in their free skates.

The Olympic team of three women will be announced after nationals. Nagasu’s finish there will largely determine whether she makes her second Olympic team at age 24 — eight years after placing fourth in Vancouver.

But, as what showed four years ago when Nagasu was third at nationals and passed over, results before the U.S. Championships matter.

Nagasu will go into the fall Grand Prix series knowing she has bettered two of her main rivals for places in PyeongChang.

But Nagasu was not the highest-scoring American this weekend. Bradie Tennell, 19 and making her senior international debut in Italy, tallied 13.16 points more than Nagasu.

Granted, scores at the Italian competition were higher across the board than in Salt Lake City.

Three-time U.S. champion Ashley Wagner‘s season debut is set for October.

Earlier Saturday, world silver medalist Shoma Uno won the Lombardia Trophy with the fourth-best score of all time — 319.84 points. Only Olympic and world champion Yuzuru Hanyu has scored higher.

Uno’s total was also the highest score ever in a competition in September, the month some (but not all) skaters ease into their seasons at lower-level events.

The previous high was 275.04, set by Nathan Chen at the U.S. International Classic earlier this week.

Comparing scores between B-level events isn’t quite apples to apples, but that Uno outscored Chen by 44.8 points this week was noteworthy.

They are the only male Olympic medal contenders to compete internationally so far this season.

Uno attempted and landed seven quadruple jumps between two programs at Lombardia. Chen, who has the ability to throw seven quads, eased into the Olympic season with three quads in Salt Lake City.

At Lombardia, Uno distanced second-place Jason Brown by a whopping 59.96 points.

Brown, a Sochi Olympian and 2015 U.S. champion, is in the running for one of three U.S. Olympic spots along with Chen, Vincent Zhou and Adam Rippon, among others.

Brown attempted one quad at Lombardia, falling in the short program. His score — 259.88 — was 1.67 points fewer than 2013 U.S. champion Max Aaron totaled at the U.S. Classic this week.

The figure skating season continues next week with the last two male world champions — training partners Hanyu and Javier Fernandez — facing off at the Autumn Classic in Montreal. Medvedeva also makes her international season debut in Slovakia.

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At U.S. Open swim meet, teens make a splash with Olympic trials on horizon

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While Olympic and world champions Katie LedeckySimone Manuel and Chase Kalisz notched expected victories at the U.S. Open on Thursday, a trio of teenagers lowered personal bests to further establish their Tokyo Olympic hopes.

At the top domestic meet of the winter, Alex WalshCarson Foster and Kieran Smith each earned runner-up finishes, but their performances stood out in the big picture: looking at June’s Olympic trials, where the top two per individual event make the team.

Walsh, a rising Nashville high school senior, took 2.23 seconds off her 200m individual medley best. She clocked 2:09.01, overtaken by .17 by Melanie Margalis, the Rio Olympic and 2019 World Championships fourth-place finisher.

Full meet results are here.

Walsh moved from fifth-fastest in the U.S. this year to No. 2 behind Margalis, passing Olympic and world championships veterans Ella EastinKathleen Baker and Madisyn Cox. Of those swimmers, only Eastin was also in Thursday’s final.

Walsh joined her younger sister, Gretchen, in Olympic qualifying position based on 2019 times. Gretchen, 16, ranks fourth in the U.S. in the 100m free this year. The top six in that event at trials are in line to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool.

The Walshes could become the third set of sisters to make the same U.S. Olympic swim team, and the second to do it in pool swimming after Dana and Tara Kirk in 2004.

Foster, 18, continued his ascent Thursday in taking second to Kalisz in the men’s 200m IM. The world junior champion lowered his personal best in the prelims and the final, getting down to 1:57.59. Foster passed Ryan Lochte, who is nearly twice his age, in Thursday’s final and in the 2019 U.S. rankings. Only Kalisz and Michael Andrew have been faster among Americans this year.

Foster is trying to become the youngest U.S. Olympic male swimmer since 2000, when a 15-year-old Michael Phelps made his Olympic debut. Foster, who has been breaking Phelps national age-group records since he was 10, committed to the University of Texas in March 2018, two years before he graduates high school in Ohio.

Then there’s Kieran Smith, now a prime candidate to fill a huge void in the 400m freestyle. Zane Grothe is the only American ranked in the top 20 in the world this year.

Smith, a 19-year-old from the University of Florida, took 2.29 seconds off his lifetime best on Thursday to jump from outside the top 10 to No. 2 in the U.S. on the year. Smith was already ranked No. 2 in the country in the 200m free.

Two more runners-up in the 50m freestyles — Erika Brown to Manuel and Zach Apple to Brazilian Bruno Fratus — lowered personal bests to move to No. 3 in each U.S. ranking list this year.

The U.S. Open continues Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. ET with live coverage on NBCSN and streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

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Nathan Chen distances Yuzuru Hanyu in Grand Prix Final short program

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A brilliant Nathan Chen outscored a flawed Yuzuru Hanyu for a fourth straight head-to-head program, taking a 12.95-point lead at the Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy, on Thursday.

Chen, the two-time reigning world champion, tallied 110.38 points going into Saturday’s free skate. He landed a quadruple Lutz, triple Axel and quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination.

It’s the highest short program score in the world this season, leading the American to say “wow” in the kiss-and-cry area. His coach, the often-gruff Rafael Arutyunyan, banged his knee against his pupil’s.

Hanyu, the two-time reigning Olympic champion, hit a quadruple Salchow and triple Axel but then stepped out of a quad toe landing. He therefore failed to include a required jumping combination and ended up in second place.

“I wanted to do a great performance and do a good competition against [Chen], but that didn’t happen this time,” Hanyu, who was without longtime coach Brian Orser, or any other coach, said through a translator. Hanyu said Orser was busy last week, so he chose to use his lone accreditation on another coach who had travel delays.

Hanyu is not out of title contention. His world-leading free skate score this season is 16.61 points better than Chen’s best free skate from the fall Grand Prix Series.

Chen is undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics, but this is just his second head-to-head with Hanyu in that span. Chen defeated Hanyu at March’s world championships, where the Japanese megastar was likely affected by an ankle injury.

After Thursday’s program, Chen repeated what he said before the competition: he still feels like he’s chasing Hanyu.

“Yuzu is like the goat, he’s the greatest of all time, really,” Chen said. “So, to have this opportunity to be able to share the ice with a guy like that, someone that I’ve looked up to for a long time, someone that I’ve watched grow up through the junior ranks when I was like a baby, it’s really cool to be able see him now. It’s really cool to even just be able to see him person.”

The Grand Prix Final, the biggest annual event outside the world championships, continues Friday with the rhythm dance, women’s short and pairs’ free skate. A full TV and live stream schedule is here.

Earlier in pairs, Chinese Sui Wenjing and Han Cong took their first step toward a first Grand Prix Final title. The Olympic silver medalists tallied 77.50, leading Russians Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitriy Kozlovskiy by .85 going into Friday’s free skate.

Sui and Han were imperfect, with Sui putting her hand down on a throw triple flip landing. They are undefeated in this Beijing Olympic cycle and own the world’s top total score this season.

The U.S. failed to qualify a pair for the six-team Final for the 11th time in the last 12 years.

Grand Prix Final
Men’s Short Program
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 110.38
2. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 97.43
3. Kevin Aymoz (FRA) — 96.71
4. Dmitriy Aliyev (RUS) — 88.78
5. Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 81.32
6. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 80.67

Pairs’ Short Program
1. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 77.50
2. Aleksandra Boikova / Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 76.65
3. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 75.16
4. Anastasia Mishina/Aleksandr Galliamov (RUS) — 71.48
5. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 69.67
6. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN) — 67.08

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