Alina Zagitova tops Grand Prix Helsinki short program

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Olympic champion Alina Zagitova leads at Grand Prix Helsinki despite a short program jumping error in her first top-level event of the season.

Zagitova, who in PyeongChang became the second-youngest singles gold medalist after Tara Lipinski, singled the back end of her opening triple-triple combination on Friday.

She scored 68.9 points and leads by 5.13 going into Saturday’s free skate after the other top women also made mistakes. Japan’s Yuna Shiraiwa is in second place, followed by Belgian Loena Hendrickx.

Zagitova’s score is 11 points fewer than she tallied at a lower-level event in September. The 16-year-old later noted she is two inches taller than at the Olympics.

“I don’t really know why everybody is so interested in how much I’ve been growing,” Zagitova said through a translator.

Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto was Zagitova’s biggest threat going in, but she fell twice and into seventh place.

Earlier, Italians Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise topped the pairs’ short program.

Later, Russians Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin led the rhythm dance with 78.18 points. U.S. couples Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter and Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko were third and fourth.

Nobody in the Helsinki field has won an Olympic or world pairs’ or dance medal or a Grand Prix event.

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Zagitova, 16, can afford mistakes this week given her top rivals — namely Olympic silver medalist and former training partner Yevgenia Medvedeva — are not in the Helsinki field. Zagitova will not face Medvedeva until December.

Sakamoto earned silver medals at the last two Skate Americas and ranks third among the deep Japanese on the early season.

Another Olympic champion, Yuzuru Hanyu, makes his Grand Prix season debut in Helsinki on Saturday. Hanyu has never won his Grand Prix season debut.

This is the first top-level event with both reigning Olympic singles champions since the 1992 World Championships.

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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