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Hubbell and Donohue ahead of ice dance field at U.S. International Classic

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Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue sit in first place in the ice dance field after their rhythm dance (formerly known as the short dance) scored 79.11 points at Fridays U.S. International Classic in Salt Lake City, Utah. It’s the first true weekend of figure skating competition for the 2018-19 season.

Last season, Hubbell and Donohue won the national title, finished fourth at the Olympics and won silver medals at the world championships.

“We’re reaching a new level in our partnership. It’s fun to play with the dynamics of a new program in competition. More so than the points, we were focused on being one on the ice and feeling each other while creating our own moment,” Donohue said.

Hubbell and Donohue lead fellow Americans Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko, who scored 68.61 points, and Canadians Haley Sales and Nikolas Wamsteeker, who earned 54.11 points.

RESULTS: RHYTHM DANCE | LADIES’ SHORT | PAIRS’ FREE | MEN’S FREE

Also Friday, 2018 world bronze Satoko Miyahara from Japan held a slight edge over the rest of the field, scoring 67.53 points. Her triple Lutz, triple toe combination was called under-rotated, as was her triple flip. South Korea’s Eunsoo Lim sits in second with 64.85 points and Olympic team gold medalist Gabrielle Daleman from Canada is third with 63.28 points.

Americans Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc extended their lead on the pairs’ field, winning the event with a total score of 173.05. Despite Cain’s fall on the throw triple Lutz in Thursday’s short program, she saved the landing in the free skate and the element was called clean.

Nam Nguyen from Canada landed two clean quads in the free skate for a total score of 213.52, good enough to hold his lead on the men’s field and win the event. Czech skater Michal Brezina totaled 208.27 points  for second place, while Team USA’s Jimmy Ma held on for bronze with 206.10 points.

Ma’s teammate Vincent Zhou moved up from sixth after the short program to fourth overall after scoring 204.62 points. Both of the 2018 Olympian’s attempted quads were called under-rotated, as well as two of his triples.

“Every competition is a learning experience,” Zhou said. “Whether it’s good or bad, there’s always something to learn. Obviously, this is just the start of my season. I’ve had a difficult summer but have been battling through. I’m really happy just to be here competing and skating. Today I was able to skate for myself and enjoy myself out on the ice.”

Competition continues Saturday in Salt Lake with the ladies’ free skate and free dance, streaming live on NBC Sports’ Gold Figure Skating Pass (more on that here).

At Lombardia Trophy in Italy on Friday, 2015 world champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva from Russia handily won the ladies’ event with 206.07 points. She attempted her trademark triple Axel, but was given negative Grades of Execution on the element, likely for stepping out of the landing. Russians Natalia Zabiiako and Alexander Enbert won the pairs’ event, tallying 196.15 points. The men’s and dance events conclude Saturday in Italy.

Alina Zagitova wins Rostelecom Cup; Gracie Gold withdraws

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Olympic champion Alina Zagitova dominated the Rostelecom Cup, while Gracie Gold withdrew before Saturday’s free skate at her first competition in 22 months, citing emotional stress.

Zagitova skated a flawed free, but still totaled 222.95 points and prevailed by 24.94 over countrywoman Sofia Samodurova. Zagitova qualified for December’s Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual international competition, which takes the top six skaters from the fall Grand Prix Series.

Gold, coming back from treatment for anxiety, depression and an eating disorder, was in last place of 10 skaters after struggling with jumps in Friday’s short program.

Gold, a Sochi Olympian and two-time U.S. champion, later tweeted that she withdrew because competing in the free skate would be damaging to her mental health and confidence.

“It was a difficult decision to make, but ultimately I need to put my mental health first and focus on the big picture,” was tweeted from Gold’s account. “Looking forward, I need to keep improving both my physical and mental condition. I thought checking into treatment last fall was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, but skating my short program last night might have topped it. I do not want to undo the tremendous progress I’ve made in these last few months.”

The Grand Prix season continues next week with Nathan Chen headlining Internationaux de France, the last event before the Grand Prix Final.

ROSTELECOM CUP: Results | TV/Stream Schedule

Zagitova, 16, is undefeated in three events this season and owns the world’s top overall score (238.43) by a whopping 14.12 points. However, Japanese 16-year-old Rika Kihira has the highest total on the Grand Prix of 224.31.

Zagitova struggled Saturday with the difficult triple Lutz-triple loop combination and doubled a flip at the end of her free skate.

Her primary rival last season, countrywoman Yevgenia Medvedeva, has finished second or third in her four competitions in the last year and likely must reach the podium next week in France for a chance at the Grand Prix Final and her first matchup with Zagitova since PyeongChang.

It’s likely that no U.S. woman makes the Grand Prix Final for a third straight year, after never previously going back-to-back years without a qualifier. U.S. champion Bradie Tennell likely must win in France to reach the Final.

Earlier Saturday, double Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu won the men’s event, hours after twisting his right ankle in a hard practice fall. Hanyu hopped on a crutch backstage and said he is uncertain for the Grand Prix Final and Japanese Nationals later in December. More here on Hanyu’s day.

Russian favorites Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov and Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin won the pairs’ and ice dance titles, respectively, qualifying for the Grand Prix Final.

Tarasova and Morozov, two-time world medalists, posted 220.25 points, moving up to No. 2 in the world behind French Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres, who were not in the Rostelecom field. None of the Olympic pairs’ medalists are competing this fall. Earlier Saturday, Tarasova received five stitches after cutting her chin in a practice crash into the boards.

In dance, Stepanova and Bukin tallied 199.43, keeping them close to U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue in the world rankings. Those two couples face off for the first time this season at the Grand Prix Final.

The top returning couple this season, French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, competes next week at the top international level for the first time since winning a third world title in March. They are not eligible for the Grand Prix Final after withdrawing from last week’s NHK Trophy due to Cizeron’s back injury.

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. GO HERE 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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MORE: Ashley Wagner on her competitive future, coaching

Yuzuru Hanyu wins Rostelecom Cup, hops on crutch to press conference

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Yuzuru Hanyu won Rostelecom Cup by nearly 30 points, then hopped on a crutch backstage.

The double Olympic champion twisted his right ankle in a hard practice fall Saturday morning, then several hours later had the highest-scoring free skate with three quadruple jumps.

Hanyu said he is uncertain for the Grand Prix Final in three weeks — and a showdown with Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno and, likely, world champion Nathan Chen according to The Associated Press.

“It really hurts,” Hanyu said, according to Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “This injury made me change my program, and sadly I couldn’t perform the way I wanted. I could have done better.”

ROSTELECOM CUP: Results | TV/Stream Schedule

Hanyu apologized to a TV camera following his free skate, after falling and popping an Axel on his last two jumps.

Last November, Hanyu damaged right ankle ligaments in a practice fall, forcing him off the ice for more than a month. He said this injury is not as bad. Still, coach Brian Orser said “it was a big question” whether Hanyu would withdraw before the free skate, according to Olympic Channel.

Hanyu endured, taking out the quadruple loop that he fell on in practice but still adding 10 points to his lead from Friday’s short program. For the first time in nine seasons, Hanyu won his two Grand Prix Series qualifying events, cruising into December’s exclusive, six-skater Grand Prix Final.

Georgian Morisi Kvitelashvili took second, followed by Japanese Kazuki Tomono.

Two other men who came to Moscow with Grand Prix Final hopes — Russian Mikhail Kolyada and Canadian Keegan Messing — struggled in Friday’s short program and could not get onto the podium, placing fourth and fifth. They won’t be at the Final, assuming Chen finishes in the top six at next week’s event in France.

Rostelecom Cup continues later Saturday with the free programs for ice dance, pairs and women, streaming live on NBC Sports Gold.

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. GO HERE 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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Ashley Wagner on her future, role as coach