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Five takeaways from world figure skating championships

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Five thoughts wrapping up the figure skating season after the world championships ended in Milan last weekend … 

1. Nathan Chen finished one program shy of a perfect season

Chen had the best season imaginable for somebody who did not earn an individual Olympic medal. Though the Olympic short program disaster made the podium unreachable, he rebounded with the best free skate by nearly nine points. He won his other six competitions and in the finale, worlds, had his best showing of them all to become the second man to break the 320-point barrier.

It creates a dichotomy going into next season and the next Olympic cycle. Chen clearly had the best overall season in men’s skating (Yuzuru Hanyu won the Olympics but was second in his other two competitions before missing two months due to injury), but to the casual fan the next four years will be a comeback from a fifth-place finish in PyeongChang.

About next season: No Olympics, but Chen’s task is tall. The world championships will be on home ice for Hanyu and Olympic and world silver medalist Shoma Uno.

2. Russian dominance defeated

After going one-two at the Olympics, Russia nearly failed to qualify the maximum three spots for 2019 Worlds.

Olympic champion Alina Zagitova‘s three-fall free skate dropped her to fifth overall in Milan. Olympian Maria Sotskova also fell and had four jumps called under rotated, sliding from fifth to eighth. If either Zagitova or Sotskova slipped one more place, Russia would have two women instead of three at next year’s worlds.

Credit Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond for being the only gold-medal contender to deliver in the free skate. It had been her nemesis early this eason. For all the praise Zagitova received leading into and during PyeongChang (deserved), Osmond actually beat her in the short program at Grand Prix France and the Grand Prix Final in the autumn before struggling with late jumps in her free skates.

Osmond will benefit next season from this: Russia’s two best junior skaters can’t compete at senior worlds until 2020. So it will be up to Zagitova and Olympic silver medalist Yevgenia Medvedeva to keep it rolling, each coming off a defeat to end her season.

3. Bradie Tennell is the U.S. hope

Tennell, who was not on the Olympic radar until late last summer, was the top U.S. finisher at all of her competitions this season (not done since Ashley Wagner in 2012-13), closing with a solid sixth-place finish at worlds.

Mirai Nagasu (10th at the Olympics and worlds) is about to turn 25. Ashley Wagner is soon to be 27. Neither has publicly committed to skating next season. Tennell is the new face of U.S. women’s skating now and perhaps for years to come.

The 20-year-old from suburban Chicago had the benefit of her first healthy year as a senior. She went into the Olympics as the only woman without a fall the entire season. Tennell finally looked human at her last two events — a fall in her Olympic short program, two under rotations in her Olympic free skate and four negatively graded jumping passes in her world free skate. Not surprising for a skater at the end of by far the busiest season her young career.

4. Rivalry missing at the top of ice dance

Ice dance was defined by rivalries between training partners at the last two Olympics, but now it looks like the discipline with the clearest No. 1 heading into next season (pending rule changes that could impact scoring).

By all indications (but not official yet), PyeongChang gold medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are done competing. The silver medalists, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, haven’t lost to anybody other than Virtue and Moir in more than three years. And that included a world title on Saturday with the highest score under the current points system.

Papadakis and Cizeron, who three years ago became the youngest ice dance world champs in 40 years, scored 200-plus points at all six of their top-level international events this season. Minus Virtue and Moir, no other couple has ever scored 197.

As for everyone else, keep this in mind: Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue may have missed the Olympic medals with Donohue’s free-dance fall, but they finished the season with the world’s best score in the non-Virtue/Moir/Papadakis/Cizeron division. Their world-silver-medal score would have beaten Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani for bronze at the Olympics by four points.

5. Questions for pairs

Russia missed the pairs’ medals at an Olympics for just the second time since 1964, but by next season could be back atop the discipline.

PyeongChang bronze medalists Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford retired after the Olympics.

PyeongChang silver medalists Sui Wenjing and Han Cong missed worlds due reportedly to another significant foot injury for Sui. In 2016, Sui underwent right ankle and left foot surgeries and was unable to stand for three months. Though she is only 22 and came back from those surgeries to win a world title in 2017, this is a concern.

The Olympic and world champions from Germany, Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot, could continue to dominate, but the 34-year-old Savchenko hasn’t committed to skating next season.

Russia had two of the top four pairs at worlds — Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov and Natalya Zabiyako and Aleksandr Enbert. None are older than 28.

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MORE: Best figure skating moments from PyeongChang

Nathan Chen defends world title, defeating Yuzuru Hanyu at World Championships

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Nathan Chen is now the first U.S. man to win back-to-back World titles since Scott Hamilton did so four times, from 1981-1984. He defeated two-time world champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan in their first head-to-head competition since the PyeongChang Olympics on Saturday in Saitama, Japan.

Performing to “Land of All” by Woodkid, Chen landed four quadruple jumps and scored 216.02 points in the free skate, a new highest score in the world this season. His free skate, 323.02 points, was also the highest score in the world this season. The Yale University freshman extended his 10.59-point lead from the short program to 22.05 points to claim his second consecutive World gold medal. He heads back to class next week, after spending his spring break at this competition.

“It’s breathtaking to be in this arena. Thank you so much for being loud and carrying me through my program,” Chen told the Saitama crowd.

“I’m glad I was able to put out two strong skates both here and last year and I hope to be able to compete against Yuzuru further in the future,” Chen continued later in the press conference. “Every time Yuzu skates, he does something amazing and incredible and it’s just a huge honor to be able to skate with him, skate after him, especially knowing that how he sets the bar. It’s great to be able to follow that.”

Skating after Hanyu wasn’t an unfamiliar situation for Chen, he told reporters in a press conference following Thursday’s short program.

“It’s not my first time skating after him,” he said. “The raining of the Pooh bears is actually a pretty amazing sight to see. Knowing that fact, it’s something that I can prepare myself for — it’s not even something I have to prepare myself for. It’s an amazing thing. It’s amazing to see the fans love us, care for us and do all this to hypothetically make us happy. That’s such a great feeling.”

Two-time Olympic gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu told reporters he was 100 percent, recovering from a lingering ankle injury, and he proved it. Skating at home, at the site of his first of two world titles, he was third after the short program but rallied to score 206.10 points in the free skate and 300.97 points overall. His Origin (“Art on Ice”) by Edvin Marton free skate earned him the silver medal. Afterward, his fans covered the ice with stuffed Pooh bears, as has become tradition for whenever Hanyu takes the ice.

“I was thinking about Plushenko when skating this program, because I am somehow lending it from him, and I feel that I have done what I could in this free program,” Hanyu said, referencing four-time Olympic medalist Yevgeny Plushenko of Russia. “But I lost, that is about it. To tell the truth, it is like death to me. I really want to win.

“When I was going through my rehabilitation, I watched the American Nationals where Nathan Chen was performing,” Hanyu continued. “I am a really competitive person, and I want to compete with a strong opponent. I respect Nathan in this sense. Now I will have enough time until the next season, and I will try not to get injured and do my best to get stronger.”

Vincent Zhou performed to the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon soundtrack, skating first in the final flight of skaters. He was called for two under-rotations — on his quad toe and the triple flip in his triple Lutz, Euler, triple flip combination — to score a season’s best free skate (186.99) and a season’s best total score (281.16). Zhou had his best-ever World Championships finish, claiming the bronze medal.

“I had a good Nationals and Four Continents and used the momentum to build and build, and finally, I was able to put out two great performances in the same competition, here at Worlds,” Zhou said. “I really couldn’t be happier to do what I did here.”

The last time the U.S. put two men on a World Championship podium was 1996, when Todd Eldredge won gold and Rudy Galindo claimed the bronze in Edmonton, Canada.

The third U.S. man in the field, Jason Brown, fell from second after the short program to ninth overall with a 157.34 point free skate and a total overall score of 254.15 points. He skated to a Simon & Garfunkel medley.

For Brown, skating last and closing out the competition was a little less familiar from a logistics standpoint, he said in the post-short program press conference. Once he found out the draw, he texted coaches Brian Orser and Tracy Wilson to figure out how it would work — as he shares those coaches with Hanyu.

“I feel great, it is not the performance that I had wanted, but I am so proud of the fight that I put out there, the growth that I made this year,” Brown said. “Also I am so proud at my teammates. It feels amazing to perform here, I love the Japanese crowd, I love the feeling of performing out on that ice, especially in Japan.”

Full results are here.

Shoma Uno, January’s Four Continents gold medalist, likely buckled under the immense pressure of a home World Championships. He stepped out of both of his first two quad jumps in his program, both of which were called under-rotated. He managed 178.92 points in his Moonlight Sonata free skate for a total overall score of 270.32 points. His medal streak (silver 2017-18) snapped in Saitama and he finished in fourth place.

“I really admire Yuzuru Hanyu who always seeks for high scores and good results, which made me realize I am still immature,” Uno said. “Overall I am still disappointed in myself. I need to become mentally much stronger. I want to skate better next year so that when I look back this World in the future, this would be a good lesson for my skating career.”

MORE: How to watch the World Figure Skating Championships | Sui Wenjing, Han Cong recapture world pair titleAlina Zagitova wins first world title | Papadakis, Cizeron win fourth world title; Hubbell, Donohue land on podium

As a reminder, you can watch the world championships 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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Papadakis, Cizeron win fourth world title; Hubbell, Donohue land on podium

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France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron captured their fourth World Championship ice dance title on Saturday in Saitama, Japan.

Skating to selections from Rachael Yamagata, Papadakis and Cizeron scored a season’s best 134.23 points in the free skate for a total score of 222.65 points. They extended their short program lead over the field to 10.89 points. They now join six other ice dance teams in winning four World Championship titles; no team has one five, but one team has won six titles.

The last time the World Championships were held in Saitama, in 2014, Papadakis and Cizeron made their event debut and finished 13th. In the years to come, they went on to win three more titles: 2015, 2016, and 2018.

“We were exactly here five years ago for the World Championships in Saitama,” Papadakis recalled. “It’s funny to remember the whole experience we gained from those five years and where we were at that time, and where we are now. It’s incredible. We are just very, very proud of us.”

Viktoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov scored a season’s best 127.82 in their free dance for a total score of 211.76. They won their first World Championship medal, a silver, marking Russia’s first world ice dance medal since 2013. Their teammates, Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin finished fourth with 208.52 points.

Two-time U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue scored a season’s best 127.31 in their “Romeo and Juliet” free dance which included all Level 4 elements. They notched a total score of 210.40 and the bronze medal. They won their first World medal, a silver, in 2018.

“We feel like we put our strongest performance this season here at Worlds, and that was our goal,” Hubbell said. “Our goal was to do our best performance and the rest we can’t control, that was really what we have achieved. Next season we would love to be competing for the top of the podium. We think that Team USA is incredibly strong in ice dance, so it keeps us on our toes. We would love to be the number one team heading into the Beijing Games [in 2022], and going to bring the gold home for Team USA — that is really the plan.”

Full results are here.

Canada’s Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje skated a tribute to their late friend and two-time world medalist Denis Ten of Kazakhstan.

Their free skate earned 122.78 points and all of their elements were called Level 4, except for Weaver’s twizzles, which earned a Level 2. They scored a total of 205.62 points and finished in fifth place. Notably, Weaver and Poje have been inside the Worlds top five for the past nine years, including a silver in 2014 and two bronzes (2015, 2018).

“When the tragedy struck, we knew our mission in this program was to do it for Denis,” Weaver told NBCSports.com/figure-skating earlier this season.

Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates moved to Montreal for a new start this season and spent nearly 10 months away from competition before returning in January. The Four Continents gold medalists earned Level 3 on their one-foot step sequence and Level 4s on the rest of their elements in Saitama for a free skate score of 122.60 and an overall score of 204.92 points. They finished in sixth place.

“It feels so good that our best performance of the season happened here, on the World Championships,” Chock said afterwards. “Now we are going to go on with our next season, but firstly enjoy our vacation.”

“I think it is our favorite free dance that we have ever had, and it is really our tempo, especially the last piece of music. It is very audience-friendly,” Bates added, confirming it’s the last time they will compete the Elvis medley.

In what has been a personal storytelling vehicle for them this season, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker‘s free dance to The Irrespressibles earned 113.16 points for an overall score of 189.06. Their ninth place at the World Championships caps their best season ever. At last year’s Worlds, they finished 10th and then moved to Montreal for a new training environment.

“It was a really great Worlds experience for us,” Hawayek told media. “It’s always such a pleasure to be in Japan and just continue to put out memorable performances for everyone and I think we set out with a goal of doing just that, and we are very happy to feel like we did that. We feel like we put out two solid and emotionally connected, memorable performances.”

World ice dance champions title leader board:

6 titles: Lyudmila Pakhomova/ Alexandr Gorshkov (Soviet Union; 1970-74, 1976)

4 titles: Jean Westwood/ Lawrence Demmy (Great Britain, 1952-56); Eva Romanova/ Pavel Roman (Czech Republic, 1962-65); Diane Towler/ Bernard Ford (Great Britain, 1966-69); Jayne Torvill/ Christopher Dean (Great Britain, 1981-84); Natalia Bestemianova/ Andrei Bukin (Soviet Union, 1985-88); Oksana Grishuk/ Yevgeni Platov (Russia, 1994-97); Gabriella Papadakis/ Guillaume Cizeron (France, 2015-16, 2018-19)

MORE: How to watch the World Figure Skating Championships | Sui Wenjing, Han Cong recapture world pair title | Nathan Chen, Jason Brown in first and second after men’s short | Alina Zagitova wins first world title | Nathan Chen defends world title, defeating Yuzuru Hanyu at World Championships

As a reminder, you can watch the world championships 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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