Alina Zagitova’s win ups pressure on Ashley Wagner for last GP Final spot

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Russian Alina Zagitova‘s Olympic-medal-worthy free skate at Grand Prix France meant one thing for American Ashley Wagner.

Wagner essentially must win Skate America next week to qualify for December’s Grand Prix Final, the biggest international competition before February’s Olympics.

Zagitova, the 15-year-old world junior champion, leaped from fifth after Friday’s short program to win in Grenoble on Saturday.

GP FRANCE: Full Results | TV Schedule

The training partner of Olympic favorite Yevgenia Medvedeva recorded the third-highest free-skate score under a 13-year-old judging system.

That’s 151.34 points with seven triple jumps — all in the second half of the four-minute program to earn 10 percent bonus.

Only Medvedeva has scored higher — 160.46 and 154.40 at her last two events of an undefeated 2016-17 season.

Zagitova outclassed a field headlined by world silver medalist Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada.

Osmond, who led by 1.26 after the short program, fell on a triple loop and singled an Axel in her free skate to fall to third place — 7.03 behind Zagitova.

Another Russian, Maria Sotskova, remained in second place, 5.02 back of Zagitova, with a personal-best 208.78 points.

Medvedeva, Zagitova and Sotskova are all going to the Grand Prix Final, which takes the top six skaters from the fall Grand Prix season. Russia can send three women to the Olympics, and these are the clear favorites to be chosen after nationals in late December.

Olympic bronze medalist Carolina Kostner of Italy (the only woman from the top six in Sochi skating this season) and Osmond are also qualified for the Grand Prix Final.

The last Grand Prix Final spot will be decided at Skate America in Lake Placid, N.Y., next week.

It will go to one of three skaters — Russian Polina Tsurskaya, Japanese Wakaba Higuchi or Wagner.

Higuchi is the clubhouse leader with second- and third-place finishes in her two Grand Prix starts this fall. She is the last hope for Japan to keep a streak of qualifying at least one woman for the Grand Prix Final for a 17th straight year.

Japan has promising skaters, but zero Olympic medal favorites and only two women’s spots in PyeongChang. It had the maximum three spots at the Olympics in 2006, 2010 and 2014.

Wagner and Tsurskaya are tied in Grand Prix points, having finished third in their respective events earlier this fall.

If either Wagner or Tsurskaya wins Skate America, she goes to the Grand Prix Final.

A Skate America win would be a major resume boost for Wagner, since the three-woman U.S. Olympic team picks will be based not only on January’s nationals results but also from finishes in major competition the previous two seasons.

Wagner is the only active U.S. woman to win a Grand Prix (she’s done it five times) and the only one to make a Grand Prix Final in 10 years (also five times).

Wagner could make the Grand Prix Final with a runner-up at Skate America.

In that case, Tsurskaya would obviously have to finish lower, plus Wagner would need a personal best by more than 20 points to beat Higuchi via tiebreaker scores.

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MORE: Figure skating season broadcast schedule

Internationaux de France
Women’s Results
1. Alina Zagitova (RUS) — 213.80
2. Maria Sotskova (RUS) — 208.78
3. Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN) — 206.77
10. Polina Edmunds (USA) — 157.77

‘Race and Sports in America: Conversations’ primetime special covers social justice, combating inequality

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Athletes, including Olympians, discussed social justice, locker room conversations about race and ways that sports can help combat inequality in “Race and Sports in America: Conversations,” airing Monday at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, Olympic Channel, Golf Channel and NBC Sports Regional Networks.

NBC Sports’ Damon Hack hosted roundtables with active and retired athletes at the American Century Championship Golf Tournament in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, last week.

Panelists, including Olympians James Blake and Charles Barkley and Tokyo Olympic hopeful Stephen Curry, also reflected on personal experiences.

Barkley, an Olympic gold medalist in 1992 and 1996, said coaches recently reached out to him to speak to their teams.

“First of all, relax and breathe,” Barkley said. “This crap started 400 years ago. We can’t do nothing about that. We can’t do anything about systematic racism. What I challenge every Black person, every white person to do: What can I do today going forward?

“You have to ask yourself, I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Because if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

Blake, a retired former top-five tennis player and 2008 Olympian, was wrestled to the ground, handcuffed and arrested by a plainclothes New York City police officer in 2015 in a case of mistaken identity caught on video. The police officer’s punishment was a loss of five vacation days.

“The first thing I said when I got tackled was, I’m complying 100 percent,” Blake said. “And that shouldn’t have to be your response the first time you interact with a police officer. And because that’s the way my dad taught me is stay alive. Do whatever you can to stay alive. Sort it out later with lawyers or however you want to do it, and stay alive in that moment. The fact you have to have those rules in 2020 means maybe we have to do something drastic to change the way police interact with the African-American community and the way the community interacts with the police.”

Curry said his daughters, 7-year-old Riley and 5-year-old Ryan, asked questions about the images they recently saw. He’s not shielding them, but rather being honest about society, going back centuries.

“We have to continue to double down and double down and keep people accountable in all walks of life, all industries, all forms of leadership, the judicial system, all those type of things,” Curry said. “And hopefully for my kids’ generation, their kids, we will see change. I’m hopeful and optimistic about, but I understand how much work will need to go into that.”

The full list of athletes who participated in the “Race and Sports in America: Conversations” roundtables:

• Charles Barkley – 1992 and 1996 Olympic basketball champion
• James Blake – 10-time ATP tennis champion, 2008 Olympian
• Stephen Curry – two-time NBA MVP, two-time FIBA world champion
• Troy Mullins – World Long Drive competitor
• Anthony Lynn – Los Angeles Chargers head coach
• Jimmy Rollins – World Series champion shortstop
• Kyle Rudolph – Minnesota Vikings tight end
• Ozzie Smith – Major League Baseball Hall of Famer

Additionally, Hack was joined by Super Bowl champion running back Jerome Bettis for an extended interview that will be published on NBC Sports’ digital and podcast platforms.

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Shelby Houlihan shatters American 5000m record

Shelby Houlihan
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Shelby Houlihan chopped 10.52 seconds off her own American 5000m record, clocking 14:23.92 at a Bowerman Track Club intrasquad meet in Portland, Ore., on Friday night.

Houlihan, who was 11th in the Rio Olympic 5000m, has in this Olympic cycle improved to become one of the greatest female distance runners in U.S. history.

She first broke Shannon Rowbury‘s American record in the 5000m by 4.47 seconds in 2018. In 2019, she broke Rowbury’s American record in the 1500m by 1.3 seconds in finishing fourth at the world championships in 3:54.99.

On Friday, Houlihan and second-place Karissa Schweizer both went under the American record. Schweizer, 24 and three years younger than Houlihan, clocked 14:26.34, staying with Houlihan until the winner’s 61-second final lap.

“I knew Karissa was going to try to come up on me and take the lead. She does that every time,” Houlihan told USATF.tv. “I had decided I was not going to let that happen.”

Houlihan improved from 41st to 12th on the world’s all-time 5000m list, 12.77 seconds behind Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba‘s world record.

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