Grand Prix of France figure skating preview, TV schedule

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The fields for December’s Grand Prix Final are starting to take shape, and the news lies with the skaters who won’t be there.

Particularly on the men’s side. It’s likely that the three men who combined to win the last seven world championships (and 2014 Olympic gold) won’t be in Nagoya at the final.

Yuzuru Hanyu and Patrick Chan are definitely out. Javier Fernandez, in this week’s France Grand Prix field (facing Japanese star Shoma Uno), is virtually eliminated, too.

In an Olympic season, this is big. The Grand Prix Final is the second-most-important annual event behind worlds. It’s also the most exclusive, taking the top six skaters per discipline from the six-event fall Grand Prix series.

With the Olympics in three months, the Grand Prix Final will be the best single indicator of PyeongChang medal favorites.

This week’s France Grand Prix and next week’s Skate America are the last two qualifying events for the Grand Prix Final.

While the top U.S. stars go next week, the competition in Grenoble will sort out plenty before Skate America.

Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA will air live coverage, which will also stream for subscribers on NBCSports.com/live, the NBC Sports app, OlympicChannel.com and the Olympic Channel app.

Internationaux de France broadcast schedule
Friday

Women’s Short — 9-10:30 a.m. | SKATE ORDER | STREAM LINK
Short Dance — 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. | SKATE ORDER | STREAM LINK
Pairs Short — 12:30-2 p.m. | SKATE ORDER | STREAM LINK
Men’s Short — 2-4 p.m. | SKATE ORDER | STREAM LINK

Saturday
Women’s Free — 7:30-9:30 a.m. | SKATE ORDER | STREAM LINK
Free Dance — 9:30-11 a.m. | SKATE ORDER | STREAM LINK
Pairs Free — 1-2:30 p.m. | SKATE ORDER | STREAM LINK
Men’s Free — 3-5 p.m. | SKATE ORDER | STREAM LINK

MORE: Figure skating season broadcast schedule

Men
The rest of this fall is an opportunity for the new generation of male skaters. It starts this weekend with Shoma Uno, the diminutive, soft-spoken, baby-faced 19-year-old whose demeanor belies his athleticism.

Uno, the world’s second-best skater last season, has undoubtedly been No. 1 this fall. He’s the only man to break 300 points this season, which he did in both of his competitions in September (five quadruple jumps in a free skate) and October (four quads in a free).

A top-three finish Saturday puts Uno in a third straight Grand Prix Final.

His top challenger is two-time world champ Javier Fernandez, who is virtually assured of missing the Grand Prix Final for just the second time in six seasons. The Spaniard was shockingly sixth at his Grand Prix debut in China two weeks ago, reportedly slowed by a stomach bug. It was his worst Grand Prix finish in seven years.

There is a chance that two men from this field aside from Uno make their first Grand Prix Final.

If American Max Aaron, Israel’s Alexei Bychenko or Russian Alexander Samarin is runner-up to Uno or Fernandez this week, he’s likely into the six-skater final pending how Skate America shakes out.

Also watch Vincent Zhou, the U.S. silver medalist and world junior champion. Zhou came into this season as a favorite to grab one of the three U.S. Olympic men’s spots. He fell three times in his Grand Prix debut two weeks ago and is fighting with Aaron, Jason Brown and Adam Rippon for spots behind Nathan Chen going toward nationals.

Women
Perhaps the two biggest threats to Olympic favorite Yevgenia Medvedeva square off in Grenoble — Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond (world silver medalist) and Russian Alina Zagitova (world junior champion).

Each skater won her first Grand Prix start last month. A top-three finish for either this week is enough for a Grand Prix Final spot.

Osmond, 21, followed her surprise world silver medal from last season with personal-best short program and free skate scores at her first two events this fall.

Zagitova, 15, has scores this season bettered only by training partner Medvedeva.

American Polina Edmunds is a long shot for the podium here, but she could really use a decent performance.

Edmunds, the youngest U.S. Olympian across all sports in Sochi, competed for the first time in 20 months at a small event in October. She was 13th with three falls and eight under-rotated jumps. This is likely her last event before nationals in January, where she is looking like a big underdog to make the three-woman Olympic team.

Pairs
With every competition, China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong seem to be cementing Olympic favorite status. With the Chinese now qualified for the Grand Prix Final, this week is an opportunity for the top Russian pair to answer.

Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov won the two biggest events before worlds last season — the Grand Prix Final and Europeans. At worlds, Tarasova sliced her leg on Morozov’s skate in a practice accident hours before the short program. Ten stitches later, they went on win their first world medal — a bronze.

Tarasova and Morozov opened this season by winning a Grand Prix in Russia with the highest score in the world for the season. Sui and Han then topped it by 6.82 points two weeks ago and went even higher last week in their two events before December’s Grand Prix Final.

A top three puts Tarasova and Morozov back in the Grand Prix Final. They’re strong favorites this week, with the biggest challenge coming from France’s Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres.

The lone American pair in the field — U.S. silver medalists Marissa Castelli and Mervin Tran — are not eligible for the Olympics due to Tran not being a U.S. citizen.

Ice Dance
France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron injected suspense into the Olympic ice dance picture two weeks ago by breaking the world record total score.

That record had been held by Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who bettered the mark four times in an 11-month stretch from November 2016 to last month.

Virtue and Moir, Olympic gold medalists in 2010 and silver medalists in 2014, are undefeated in their comeback after taking the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons off. That included three wins over Papadakis and Cizeron, the 2015 and 2016 World champs, last season.

But last week, Virtue and Moir were unable to challenge Papadakis and Cizeron’s world record. If the French can score 199 or 200 points again this week, they arguably enter the Grand Prix Final as favorites.

There’s more drama ahead this week. Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje are likely battling for second place and a guaranteed Grand Prix Final spot.

Weaver and Poje outscored Chock and Bates by 5.51 points at each couple’s first Grand Prix last month, though they were not at the same events.

A third-place finish by either couple would put them in a tiebreaker scenario with Russians Yekaterina Bobrova and Dmitry Soloviyev for the last Grand Prix Final spot.

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Valencia Marathon produces historic times in men’s, women’s races

2022 Valencia Marathon
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Kenyan Kelvin Kiptum and Ethiopian Amane Beriso won the Valencia Marathon and became the third-fastest man and woman in history, respectively.

Kiptum, a 23-year-old in his marathon debut, won the men’s race in 2 hours, 1 minute, 53 seconds. The only men to ever run faster over 26.2 miles are legends: Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge (2:01:09 world record, plus a 2:01:39) and Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele (2:01:41).

Kipchoge made his marathon debut at age 28, and Bekele at 31.

Beriso, a 31-year-old whose personal best was 2:20:48 from January 2016, stunned the women’s field Sunday by running 2:14:58. The only women to have run faster: Kenyans Brigid Kosgei (2:14:04) and Ruth Chepngetich (2:14:18).

Ethiopian Letesenbet Gidey finished second in 2:16:49, the fastest-ever time for a woman in her marathon debut. Gidey is the world record holder at 5000m and 10,000m.

Valencia is arguably the top annual marathon outside of the six World Marathon Majors. The next major marathon is Tokyo on March 5.

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Aleksander Aamodt Kilde wins Beaver Creek downhill

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BEAVER CREEK, Colo. — Norway’s Aleksander Aamodt Kilde won his second straight World Cup downhill race to start the season, despite feeling under the weather.

Although dealing with an illness all week in training, Kilde powered through the challenging Birds of Prey course Saturday in a time of 1 minute, 42.09 seconds. It was enough to hold off Marco Odermatt of Switzerland by 0.06 seconds. James Crawford of Canada was third to earn his second career World Cup podium finish.

Kilde also won the opening downhill last weekend in Lake Louise, Alberta.

“It’s been a tough week,” Kilde said after the race. “I caught the flu in Lake Louise after a very, very nice weekend. It really hit me hard. Then I got a couple of days to rest and take it easy. … I felt OK. Still feeling it a little bit in my system.”

The Beaver Creek crew members had the course in solid shape a day after a downhill race was canceled due to high wind and snowfall.

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Kilde reached speeds around 75 mph in picking up his eighth World Cup downhill victory. That tied him with Kjetil Jansrud for the third-most downhill wins in the World Cup discipline among Norwegian men. The total trails only Aksel Lund Svindal (14) and Lasse Kjus (10).

“I found a really, really good set-up with my equipment and also with my skiing,” Kilde explained. “I believe in myself. I trust in myself. I have a good game plan. When I stand on the start, I don’t dwell on anything. I know that this plan is what I do and when I do that it’s going to be fast.”

Odermatt has been on the podium in all four World Cup races this season as he tries to defend his overall World Cup title. The 25-year-old finished third in the opening downhill of the season last weekend. He’s also won a giant slalom race and a super-G.

Ryan Cochran-Siegle wound up in seventh place for the top American finish. He was ninth in the downhill in Lake Louise.

“It’s been solid,” Cochran-Siegle said of his strides in the discipline. “A couple of little things here and there that pushed me off that top three. You have to ski with a lot of intensity and ski without abandon, in a sense. Today was a good step.”

Switzerland’s Beat Feuz, who won the Olympic downhill gold medal at the Beijing Games last February, tied for ninth.

The Beaver Creek stop on the circuit comes to a close Sunday with a super-G race. Odermatt will be the favorite after holding off Kilde in the opening super-G last weekend.

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